FROM FATHER SMITH: EASTER IN LENT
A few weeks ago I was leading the adult-education class on Sunday morning. The class was part of a series, “What Episcopalians Believe,” and we were working our way through Samuel Wells’s very fine book of the same title (Morehouse Publishing, 2011). We’d reached the section of the book entitled “Salvation” and had listed the traditional ways in which the Church has tried to answer the question, “How does Jesus save us?” (pp. 23-25). We stopped, looked at the list, and then I asked the members of the class for a personal reaction. The response was very interesting. Before they were prepared to “get technical” and launch into a discussion of incarnation, recapitulation, penal substitution, or deification, several members of the class wanted to talk first about the religious education they’d received when they were children. They wanted to talk about sin, guilt, their early images of God, as well as judgment, confession, and their anxiety about hell, punishment, and the devil. Our discussion made some things very clear: before many of us can hear the Good News of God’s infinite love for us, we must first work through the issues raised by a one-sided religious training that has sometimes stressed judgment above all else.
I was reminded of that discussion this week when I talked with a parishioner about Lent and about the seasonal changes in the liturgy at this time of year. He’d written to me, saying “Too many people I know view Lent as a depressing experience, which they would rather not undergo. Saint Mary's approach to Lent, while disciplined and restrained, focuses on a more intense spirituality, but not in an overly ‘solemn’ manner. There is a kind of restrained joy in Lent, moving us toward Easter.” I thought that put the matter very well: restraint, simplicity, even sobriety, need not be depressing. However, even more important, this parishioner’s comments include an important insight: Lent is joyful as long as the link to Easter is preserved. This insight is at the heart of the gospel.
We see this very clearly in the first chapter of Saint Mark’s gospel, which we’ve been reading through very slowly the last few weeks. The evangelist’s message is never one sided. He links good news to “preparing the way of the Lord, making his paths straight” (1:1-2). He talks about “repentance” and, in the same breath, talks about “forgiveness of sins” (1:4). He talks about “repentance” again, but does so in the context of the presence of God and the reality of God’s “good news” (1:15). Such rich, and sometimes paradoxical, connections can be found throughout the New Testament. Saint Paul insists that Christ’s death on the cross is “good news” (1 Cor 1:18). In the Scriptures, the “word of the cross” seems to lead, inevitably, to a joyful proclamation of Christ’s victory over death; and if that is true, it seems wrong to talk about Lent without talking about Easter, just as it would seem wrong to talk about judgment without talking about forgiveness, to talk about justice without talking about grace, to talk about sin without talking about hope, to talk about hell without talking about God’s insistent and abiding love.
Of course, all of that may seem a little bit abstract. One may wonder how we are to preserve the link between Lent and Easter as we live out our Lenten practices. A few ideas:
Return to the Sources: On Ash Wednesday, ashes are put on our foreheads as we read Psalm 51, one of the so-called “penitential psalms” (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143). These psalms have long served as sources of prayer and meditation during the season of Lent. Robert Alter calls these psalms songs of confession and supplication (The Book of Psalms: a Translation with Commentary, New York, 2007). This reminds us that these psalms are not the terrified cries of an abandoned sinner. They are the heartfelt prayers of the person who has an intimate relationship with God and is able to speak to God with honesty, passion, yearning, and hope. Praying these psalms helps us to confess our sins with confidence, to live in Lent while looking towards Easter.
Use the Prayer Book: The Litany of Penitence which we prayed on Ash Wednesday (pp. 267-269) is comprehensive. It can be used during Lent as a tool to “examine the conscience.” Read it; argue with it; use it to think and pray about where you stand this year in your relationships with God and with your neighbor. The Litany should not be used to promote anxiety through self-accusation. True, the words can be sobering, but when they are offered in prayer they can be the beginning of a dialogue with God, “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who desires not the death of sinners,” and who assures us of his forgiveness. The Litany can also be a way to ask how the Holy Spirit might be leading us to do new things, to discover new ways to use our gifts to serve God and neighbor in the world.
Use Our Building: Visitors from around the world often tell us that the beauty of Saint Mary’s is conducive to prayer. It is a resource that we shouldn’t take for granted. Perhaps you can find a place in the building that feels like “yours,” the place where, in silence, you are able to listen for God’s voice; or walk Stations of the Cross on Friday evenings, or by yourself (there are copies of the service on the ushers’ table at the 46th Street entrance; the stations are numbered and the first station is near the pulpit). The devotion draws a circle around the nave. Its focus is on Christ’s suffering and death. Give yourself to that focus and then as you leave the fourteenth station, Jesus’ tomb, walk to the crossing, look to the altar and the tabernacle, focal points of the living and risen Lord and pray the concluding prayers. Stations should not be pessimistic and they need not be gloomy. They are meant to lead us from death to resurrection.
Use Our City: If you are feeling the need for greater silence during the season of Lent, think about taking a walk in Central Park or paying a visit to the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, or the Brooklyn Botanic Garden near Prospect Park. Spring is not far off. In the parks, late-winter starkness exists side by side with signs of new life: crocuses and buds on the trees. Long before our culture surrendered to the symbolism of bunny rabbits and colorful eggs, Christians saw the end of winter and the arrival of spring as an apt symbol of Lent and Easter, death and resurrection.
Whatever our Lenten practice, let us always remember to pray both halves of this Ash Wednesday prayer, “Most holy and merciful Father, by the cross and passion of your Son our Lord, bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.” Jay Smith
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Vincent, Debbie, Theresa, Mary, Lee, Julie, Wayne, Betty, Gerald, Aston, Amy, Jim, Barbara, Odin, Chandra, Sharon, Arpene, Ann, Ruth, Dorothy, Richard, Linda, Gert, and Rick; for the repose of the souls of Michael Gillis and Elizabeth Anne Hopper Rowan; and for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Matthew, Mark, and Rob . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . March 4: 1911 Josephine B.F. Wilson; 1944 Harvey A. Higman.
FASTING AND ABSTINENCE IN LENT . . . The ordinary weekdays of Lent are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the crucifixion of the Lord. Fridays in Lent are observed traditionally by abstinence from flesh meats.
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY’S . . . Saturday, March 3, 10:00 AM–3:00 PM, Lenten Quiet Day, led by Father John Beddingfield . . . March 4-10, National Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS. See this website for more information . . . On Sunday, March 4, at 10:00 AM, Father Peter Powell continues his Lenten series on Genesis 1-11 . . . The Wednesday Night Bible Study Class continues on March 7 at 6:30 PM. The class is reading the Letter to the Hebrews. The Bible Study Class will not meet on Wednesday, March 14 . . . The Stations of the Cross are offered every Friday in Lent at 6:30 PM . . . Saturday, March 10, at 10:30 AM, Consecration of Canon Andrew Dietsche at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, 112th Street & Amsterdam Avenue, as Bishop Coadjutor of the Diocese of New York . . . Father Jay Smith will hear confessions on Saturday, March 3. Father Jim Pace will hear confessions on Saturday, March 10 (we are grateful to Father Pace for making himself available on March 10 so the clergy of the parish can attend the Consecration) . . . Father Gerth will be away from the parish from Thursday, March 1, until Friday, March 9. Father Smith will be away from the parish from Monday, March 12, until Tuesday, March 20. He returns to the office on Wednesday, March 21.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Parishioner Gerald McKelvey continues to do rehabilitation therapy. He is now at the Guggenheim Pavilion, 1190 Fifth Avenue at 101st St. Please keep him in your prayers . . . Daylight Saving Time begins at 2:00 AM on Sunday, March 11. Clocks should be moved ahead one hour . . . We continue to collect non-perishable food items and cash donations for the Saint Clement’s Food Pantry. Please look for the collection basket in the back of the church on Sunday mornings . . . Confirmation and the other rites of Christian initiation will be celebrated at the Easter Vigil. For more information, please speak with one of the parish clergy . . . If you would like to sponsor a reception after the Solemn Masses on Annunciation, Monday, March 26; Easter Eve, Saturday, April 7; or Ascension Day, Thursday, May 17, please speak to Father Jay Smith or contact the parish office . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 241.
FROM THE MUSIC DIRECTOR . . . During Lent the organ is played only as necessary to sustain the singing (with the exception of the feast of the Annunciation and, to a lesser extent, the Fourth Sunday in Lent) . . . The setting of the Mass ordinary this Sunday is Missa syllabica (1977/1996) by Arvo Pärt (b. 1935). Pärt, whose stark and powerful music has achieved great popularity worldwide, has composed since 1976 in a style he named tintinnabuli (“little bells”). Tintinnabulation, the practice of considering two simultaneous voices as one line (one voice part moves in a stepwise motion, the other outlines notes of the triad in leaps), is what gives Pärt’s music its inimitable sound. At the ministration of Communion, the choir sings the motet Miserere nostri, Domine by Thomas Tallis (c. 1505–1585), a hauntingly beautiful setting, outwardly simple. A true example of ars est celare artem (“it is art to conceal art”), the inner workings of the piece are nonetheless highly complex and masterfully crafted. The work is an ingeniously-crafted canon, where each of the voice parts are based on the same melodic line, heard in varying rhythms and at various points of entry. James Kennerley
VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITY . . . Calvary Hospital, which is the nation’s only fully accredited acute-care specialty hospital devoted exclusively to providing palliative care to adult, advanced-cancer patients, is a 225-bed facility with locations in the Bronx and Brooklyn. Calvary is looking for interested and compassionate individuals who would be willing to volunteer their time in their own communities. Hospice volunteers offer support in a variety of different ways. One group of volunteers is directly involved with the care of the dying by offering companionship, emotional support or respite care to the patient and/or the patient’s family. A second group of volunteers support the dying indirectly by providing services at the hospice office. Calvary Hospice serves families in the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Nassau, Westchester and Rockland counties. Calvary welcomes volunteers of all ethnicities and from all cultural backgrounds, but the hospital is always in need of bilingual volunteers (especially those who speak Spanish). For more information, contact Erika Verdejo, Hospice Volunteer Coordinator, at email@example.com or at 718-518-3811.
SUNDAY ADULT FORUM IN LENT & EASTERTIDE . . . On Sundays during Lent, Father Peter Powell is leading a five-part series on Genesis 1-11. Father Powell writes, “The most important aspect of Bible study is to do it. It is more important to start than to worry about starting in the right place. Therefore, even if you missed the opening week of the Gen 1-11 series you are invited to join us this week for the discussion of Gen 2-3, the second creation story. While this story is important for Christian theology, it is never referred to in the Old Testament and in the New Testament only once by Paul. We have placed a lot of theological weight on an interesting tale and in so doing we have lost the joy and wonder of the story itself. Whether or not you believe in The Fall or Original Sin or that Evil entered the world through the temptation of Eve or that we die because of the sin of Adam and Eve you will enjoy learning about this story. Each of the items listed above are believed to be grounded in the second creation story; none of them are there” . . . The Adult Forum will not meet on Palm Sunday, April 1; on Easter Day, April 8; or on the Second Sunday of Easter, April 15.
CONCERTS AT SAINT MARY’S . . . Saturday, March 3, 8:00 PM, The Dessoff Choirs: Midwinter Festival: Refracted Bach. . . Saturday, March 17, 8:00 PM, Miller Theatre Early Music Series, Tenebrae, with Le Poème Harmonique, Vincent Dumestre, conductor . . . Saturday, March 31, 8:00 PM, New York Repertory Orchestra, David Leibowitz, music director. Music by Mozart and Shostakovich. Admission is free . . . Wednesday, March 20, 2012, 8:00 PM, Between Heaven and Earth: Sacred and Secular Baroque Music from Germany and Italy, with Musica Nuova, Amanda Keil, mezzo-soprano; James Kennerley, tenor; Kris Kwapis, cornetto; Kelly Savage, harpsichord; Elizabeth Weinfeld, viola da gamba; Dorothy Olsson, dance and choreography. You may visit the Musica Nuova website for information and to purchase tickets . . . Saturday, April 21, 8:00 PM, Miller Theatre Early Music Series, Treasures of the Renaissance, with Stile Antico.
DONATIONS FOR ALTAR FLOWERS . . . We hope to receive donations for flowers for the Annunciation, March 26, and for Palm Sunday, April 1, as well as for some other Sundays in April. We also welcome donations for Easter flowers. If you would like to make a donation, please contact the parish office.
LOOKING AHEAD . . . Monday, March 19, Saint Joseph, Mass 12:10 PM & 6:20 PM . . . Monday, March 26 (transferred), The Annunciation of Our Lord Jesus Christ to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Solemn Pontifical Mass 6:00 PM, the Right Reverend R. William Franklin, bishop of Western New York, celebrant and preacher . . . Saturday, March 31, Eve of Palm Sunday, Blessing of Palms and Sung Mass 5:00 PM . . . Sunday, April 1, The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, Blessing of Palms and Sung Mass 9:00 AM & Blessing of Palms, Procession and Solemn Mass 11:00 AM . . . Thursday, April 5, Maundy Thursday, Sung Matins 8:30 AM, The Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper 6:00 PM . . . Friday, April 6, Good Friday, Sung Matins 8:30 AM, the Celebration of the Passion of the Lord 12:30 PM & 6:00 PM. Confessions will be heard by the parish clergy following both liturgies . . . Saturday, April 7, Holy Saturday, Sung Matins 8:30 AM, the Great Vigil of Easter 7:00 PM . . . Sunday, April 8, Easter Day, Mass 9:00 AM & 10:00 AM, Solemn Mass 11:00 AM, Organ Recital 4:30 PM, Solemn Paschal Evensong 5:00 PM . . . Sunday, May 6, 1:00 PM, Annual Meeting of the Parish.