FROM FATHER SMITH: “IT IS TOO LIGHT A THING . . .”
At Saint Mary’s we are iconophiles. We love our images. The arguments of the Byzantine and Reformation-era iconoclasts do not move us. We are not idolaters. We know the difference between an image and the thing that the image represents. The many statues, paintings, carvings, and crucifixes in our building help us to worship and venerate. We do not worship them. Our images often lead us back to the Bible and to our tradition. They inspire reflection. They help us to “do theology.” They arouse questioning and they help us to pray.
A case in point: I’ve been thinking a lot about the Magi this year. Here at Saint Mary’s the Wise Men travel. They are placed within the Communion rail on Christmas Eve and then they move, by stages, during the twelve days of Christmas, until they finally arrive at the crèche on the feast of the Epiphany. (It does not bother us much that this arrival at the stable requires us to conflate Matthew and Luke’s two quite different stories of Jesus’ birth. Christians have been harmonizing those two narratives for a very long time.) This ritualized movement of the crèche figures gets at something essential about the Magi. They are pilgrims. Their story is filled with movement: they come, they ask, they go, they search, they arrive, they elude, and, finally, they return to their home “by another way.” These Wise Men are seekers. Is that their role in this story? Perhaps they are meant to remind us that wisdom is not easily achieved. Perhaps they are meant to remind us that no one is ever born wise. Wisdom always requires a journey, one way or another.
Another thing: the Wise Men are worshippers. At Saint Mary’s, our Wise Men may travel, but the figures themselves were actually designed to take their place, reverently, in the crèche scene. They kneel or bow. They “pay homage” to the Christ Child. This, too, is one of their roles in the biblical story. The Magi may be seekers. They may be foreigners, but they know when they have arrived at the goal of all their seeking; and so they are able to tell us where to look. They know a real King when they see him. Therefore, they invite us to enter into the strange mystery of the Incarnation: God’s Son has become a helpless child. The Eternal Word becomes flesh. Human and divine are united in one Person.
Something else: an absence. We read portions of the first and second chapters of the Gospel of Matthew many times during Advent and Christmastide. One thing that struck me very powerfully this year is how political the story is. The Incarnate One enters into a world ruled by the “powers and the principalities.” God’s saving purposes arouse opposition. The Holy Family goes into exile. Innocent children are killed. The Word made flesh is a provocation. And the three Magi must avoid playing a role in Herod’s paranoid fantasies and murderous plots. The Wise Men’s pilgrimage reminds us that following the Incarnate One can be a risky business. This aspect of the story of the Wise Men is seldom shown in the traditional images of Christmas and Epiphany. I wonder why?
At Saint Mary’s our statues and images grow familiar, becoming something like old friends. At Coffee Hour recently a parishioner asked me about one of the three Wise Men. She said, “Father, you know the one. He’s standing. He has beautiful red slippers; and he’s black. How come he always gets placed in the back of the procession to the crèche?” Now, the reason for that, I think, is that he’s standing and, therefore, placing him behind his fellow Magi has always made for a better, clearer composition. But, who knows? (I confess that the next day I moved him forward to give him a better view, and I rather liked the new composition.) At any rate, our parishioner’s observation made for a good conversation. The biblical story and our familiar images had managed to bring us back to our own times, to our own struggles and painful history, remembering those who were forced to sit in the back of the bus. Our parishioner is not alone in noticing and caring about this part of our tradition. Europeans have for a very long time depicted the Holy Family as European, blond and white. But, suddenly, there is that Wise Man, a person of color! A Latino friend assures me that this matters in East Harlem, where “Three Kings Day” is an important event, and where some of the Magi in the parade are black or brown. That image is not explicit in the gospel, but it is not unfaithful to Matthew’s intent, I think. The image of that Wise Man reminds us that all of us are invited to enter into the story of Christ’s birth and epiphany.
And so it goes. An image, a tradition, an interpretation all have the power to lead us back to the Bible itself, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” [Isaiah 49:6.] Perhaps that is the most important part of the wisdom of Epiphany: our differences matter; they’re part of what makes us who we are. Still, we are all children of God. We are all invited to enter into this story, to become pilgrims and seekers, brothers and sisters, all of us, no matter who we are. —Jay Smith.
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Vera, Amy, Lola, Dorothy, Abalda, Antony, Gerald, Penny, David, Linda, Rosa, Steve, Eric, Maureen, Peter, Barbara, John, Francesca, Pauline, McNeil, Takeem, Arpene, Paulette, priest, and Harry, priest; for all the members of our Armed Forces on active duty; and for the repose of the souls of Adam Ginther and Richard Markham, priest . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . January 11: 1914 Florence May Devine; 1925 Ida Stoeppel McHale; 1951 Florence McFall.
IN THIS TRANSITORY LIFE . . . The Reverend Richard Benedict Markham died on Friday, January 2, 2015, on Staten Island, after a long illness. Father Markham was born in 1932 on Staten Island and graduated from Wagner College in 1962, after which he served in the United States Army until 1971. He studied at the General Theological Seminary and Nashotah House (M.Div., 1973). He was ordained priest by Bishop Paul Moore in 1973. Father Markham served most of his ordained ministry on Staten Island. However, he also served here at Saint Mary’s as an assistant priest in the late 1970s. Father Markham was a kind and gentle man who remained a friend of Saint Mary’s, often attending feast-day liturgies and clergy-friend events. His funeral Mass was celebrated at Saint Mary’s, Castleton, Staten Island, on Thursday morning, January 8. Bishop Dietsche presided at the funeral Mass . . . Adam Ginther, the nephew of parishioner Steve Ginther, died in Longmont, Colorado, on Tuesday, January 6. He was sixteen years old. Adam was badly injured in a motorcycle accident on December 12. His family made the difficult decision to take Adam off life-support this week. Please keep Father Markham, Adam, their families and friends, and all who mourn in your prayers.
VOLUNTEERS ARE NEEDED . . . the Flower Guild will be removing the Christmas decorations from the church on Saturday, January 10, beginning at 10:00 AM. They are hoping that a number of members and friends of the parish will be able to help. Come and join them—many hands make light work!
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY'S . . . Monday, January 12, at 7:30 PM in Saint Joseph’s Hall, Victor Herbert & Friends: An Evening of the Best of the American Operetta, featuring Suzanne Woods, soprano; John Pickle, tenor; Boyd Mackus, baritone; and David Holkeboer at the piano. Admission is free, but a donation at the door is encouraged and gratefully accepted . . . The Mass on Wednesday, January 14, at 12:10 PM, will be a Said Mass, since organist Mark Peterson will be away on vacation . . . The Wednesday Night Bible Study Class will resume on January 14, at 6:30 PM, in Saint Joseph’s Hall . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, January 10, by Father Jay Smith, and on Saturday, January 17, by Father Jim Pace.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . The graffiti on the façade of the church was removed by a skilled team of workers on Wednesday, January 7. Further treatment of the stone will take place when the temperatures rise above freezing . . . Parishioner Gerald McKelvey had surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital just before Christmas. He spent several weeks in the intensive care unit but was moved this week to a medical-surgical floor, where he continues to recuperate. He faces a long period of rehabilitation therapy. Parishioner Penny Allen hopes to be able to move to a rehabilitation facility in Wall Township, New Jersey, this week. This follows a protracted stay, and several surgeries, in a hospital in Wall. Rector Emeritus Father Edgar Wells is doing well after a recent stay in the hospital. He has been able to return to many of his regular activities. Please keep Gerald, Penny, and Father Wells in your prayers . . . Flowers are needed for Sunday, January 18; for two Sundays the following month, February 8 and 15; and for March 15, the Fourth Sunday of Lent . . . We also hope to receive donations to defray the costs of the receptions following the Solemn Mass on Candlemas, February 2, and the Easter Vigil, April 4. If you would like to make a donation, please contact Aaron Koch in the parish office . . . Interim music director and organist Mark Peterson will be away from the parish on vacation from Sunday, January 11, until Friday, January 16. He returns to the parish on Saturday, January 17. Dr. David Hurd will play the services on Sunday, January 11 . . . Father Jay Smith will be away from the parish on retreat from the afternoon of Thursday January 15, until Sunday, January 18. He will return to the office on Tuesday, January 20 . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 206, Epiphany 197.
MUSIC THIS WEEK . . . The music of Healey Willan (1888–1968) is well known here at Saint Mary’s, but it’s easy to miss the importance of Willan’s contribution to the music of the church and beyond. Willan is best known for his sacred choral and organ works, which show evidence of his love for plainsong and Renaissance music. Many of his liturgical compositions employ Western church modes from a thousand years ago, and the modality and harmony of late nineteenth-century Russian Orthodox choral music. His vocal lines are significantly more melismatic, his style more contrapuntal and rhythmically much freer than was the case in the liturgical music of his contemporaries. The lively acoustics of the church at Saint Mary Magdalene in Toronto allowed these lines to soar. The Missa Sancti Johannis Baptistae, which we will hear at the Solemn Mass this weekend, was written for the Sunday of the Baptism of our Lord, and is one of the fourteen Missae breves that Willan wrote for the church of Saint Mary Magdalene. Willan was committed to the idea of congregational song, and the Gloria of the Mass was an element that he felt should be sung as an offering of the assembled congregation. In 1953, Willan received a commission to write an anthem for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The resulting anthem, O Lord Our Governor, continues to be frequently performed. His larger choral works, however, were very Romantic in nature. His rich harmonic palette and luxuriant, soaring melodies stand as a testament to his admiration of both Brahms and Wagner. The motet heard at the ministration of Holy Communion is by New Yorker Harold Friedell (1905―1958). Written while the composer was serving as organist and director of music at Saint Bartholomew’s Church on Park Avenue, the motet, Jesus, so lowly, is a moving setting of a work by American poet, Edith Williams (1854–1925) . . . Raymond Nagem, associate organist at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, New York City, will play the recital on Sunday afternoon, January 11, at 4:40 PM. He will play Prélude, Adagio, et Choral varié sur le “Veni Creator,” Op. 4, by Maurice Duruflé (1902–1986) . . . We are again fortunate to have Dr. David Hurd at the organ on Sunday, January 11, while I am away from the parish. —Mark Peterson
CHRISTIAN EDUCATION . . . The Wednesday Night Bible Study Class will resume on Wednesday, January 14. The class will continue its reading of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah . . . The Sunday-morning, adult-education class will resume on January 25. Parishioner Mary Robison will teach a two-part series (January 25 and February 1) on Women's Ministries in the Episcopal Church. The first class, on January 25, will focus on the work and ministry of deaconesses. ("Following the example of German Lutherans in the early nineteenth century, and later of English Anglicans, during 1885–1970 almost five hundred Episcopal women were ‘set apart’ as deaconesses to care for ‘the sick, the afflicted, and the poor.’ The 1889 General Convention passed a canon on deaconesses that recognized their ministry. This canon reflected the influence of Mary Abbot Emery and William Reed Huntington.") See the website of the Episcopal Church for more information—and come to Mary's class! Mary is an archivist and librarian at the General Theological Seminary. Here at the parish she serves in a number of ways. Among other things, she serves as an usher, a reader, and as the secretary of the Board of Trustees . . . On February 8 and 15, Father Jay Smith will lead the Sunday-morning adult-education class in a discussion of the Essential Elements of the Christian Life, using Archbishop Rowan Williams’s book Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer as a source for the discussion. This class would be useful for those preparing for Baptism, Confirmation, or Reception . . . On the Sundays in Lent (February 22 and March 1, 8, 15, 22 & 29) Father Pete Powell will continue his series on The Gospel of John . . . All the Sunday-morning adult-education classes begin at 10:00 AM and are held in the Arch Room on the second floor of the Mission House. —J.R.S.
OUTREACH . . . We continue to collect nonperishable food items for our friends and partners at the Saint Clement's Food Pantry. Cash donations are also most welcome . . . Helping our Homeless Neighbors: We also welcome donations of new white socks; new, unopened packs of underwear; toiletries; gloves; stocking caps; trail mix and granola bars for distribution to the homeless in our building and neighborhood.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR . . . Monday, January 19, The Confession of Saint Peter (transferred), Mass 12:10 PM (note that there is only one Mass on January 19) . . . Monday, January 19, Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, Federal Holiday Schedule . . . Monday, January 26, The Conversion of Saint Paul (transferred), Mass 12:10 PM & 6:20 PM . . . Monday, February 2, The Presentation of Our Lord (Candlemas), Sung Mass 12:10 PM; The Blessing of Candles, Procession & Solemn Mass 6:00 PM . . . February 18, Ash Wednesday . . . Sunday, March 8, Daylight Saving Time begins.
AWAY FROM THE PARISH. . . At the Metropolitan Museum, 1000 Fifth Avenue (between Eighty-seventh & Eighty-eighth Streets), until March 8, 2015, in Gallery 304, The Winchester Bible: A Masterpiece of Medieval Art. “This exhibition features masterfully illuminated pages from two volumes of the magnificent, lavishly ornamented Winchester Bible. Probably commissioned around 1150 by the wealthy and powerful Henry of Blois (about 1098–1171), who was the bishop of Winchester (and grandson of William the Conqueror and King Stephen’s brother), the manuscript is the Winchester Cathedral’s single greatest surviving treasure. Renovations at the Cathedral provide the opportunity for these pages, which feature the Old Testament, to travel to New York. This presentation marks the first time the work will be shown in the United States. At the Metropolitan Museum, the pages of one bound volume will be turned once each month; three unbound bi-folios with lavish initials from the other volume—which is currently undergoing conservation—will be on view simultaneously for the duration of the exhibition . . . Wednesday, January 14, 2015, 1:15 PM, New York Public Library, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Fifth Avenue at Forty-second Street, South Court Auditorium, A Lecture by T. Felder Dorn, Battle of the Bishops: A Slavery Controversy in Pennsylvania in 1863. Dr. Dorn will examine the responses of American Episcopal bishops in the period 1840–1875 to slavery and to the tumultuous events and issues that derived from that institution. The words and actions of Northern as well as Southern bishops will be discussed. The lecture will focus in a particular way on an affair that occurred in the diocese of Pennsylvania during the middle of the Civil War, when Bishop John Henry Hopkins, bishop of Vermont, wrote a pamphlet defending slavery and distributed the pamphlet in Pennsylvania, an action that outraged the bishop of Pennsylvania, Alonzo Potter, who opposed slavery and who was offended by Hopkins's interference in his diocese.