Wondrous Love/Anatolian Folk Song

For the Good Friday service of the Stations of the Cross during Holy Week, I worked up an arrangement of the deeply moving hymn tune, “Wondrous Love,” by William Walker, (1825). I’ve also been working on Carlo Domeniconi’s “Variations on an Anatolian Folk Song,” and found that the original tune and first variation add a unique contrast to Walker’s hymn tune, especially using a “drop D” tuning on the guitar.

I spent this afternoon (Easter Tuesday) playing this arrangement on my Breedlove Passport c25, which is a short-scale guitar voiced a fourth up from standard tuning; like playing a standard guitar capoed at the 5th fret. It’s an evolving piece I hope to keep working on in the future.



Living and Practicing Easter

From my Easter Sermon:

It’s not theories about the historical basis for the resurrection that we need, but the practice of resurrection in our lives and communities. We build the resurrection into our thinking about what will happen to those we love and what will ultimately happen to all of us.  We know that can’t redeem the world by our own efforts; it will take a mighty act of God to complete it at the last.  But we can build for the kingdom.  Every act of justice, every word of truth, every act of genuine beauty, every act of forgiveness, every act of generosity, ever act of self-sacrificial love, is an act of resurrection.

The prayer that comes from the heart on behalf of one in need, the setting aside of my own longings in order to support and nourish someone who depends on me; the work done in the office or home with integrity and care; all of these and many more are ways we practice resurrection and make it a verb.  We may not yet see, in this often-dark world, how these actions will fit into God’s eternal purpose; but the fact of the Resurrection, assures us that they will.  We have a destiny beyond death.  That hope is born today.

Let me end with a few lines from the wonderful philosopher and poet, William Berry:

So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute.
Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Put your faith in the two inches of hummus that will build under the trees
Every thousand years.
Listen to carrion–put your ear close,
And hear the faint chattering of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world.
Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable.
Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.
Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary,
Some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Full sermon here.

Holy Saturday – The Space Between

Where are you? It’s a question I’ve whispered in my heart numerous times since death robbed me of the warmth and physical presence of my father nearly two years ago.  I thought of him during our slow procession through the Stations of the Cross yesterday.

The impermanence of human life is one of those “hard truths” we come face to face with in our human journey, and most certainly on this day of emptiness in the space between Good Friday and the dawn of Easter.

Holy Saturday is not a day for answers.  It is a threshold day, a liminal day, a day of watching and waiting.  It is a day of remembering that God in Christ descended into the places of our deepest pain and darkest fear.

For the disciples and the women at the tomb, death has fully arrived.  It can seem for a while that all our hope has died as well.  Even we, who live on the other side of resurrection faith, lose our hope and find our souls aching to know if what we believe is in fact within the realm of possibility.

On Holy Saturday, I will make my way to the Church, don my cassock, and gather the members of the altar guild who will be busy preparing for the Feast of Easter.  Other parishioners will join us, and as we pray we will seemingly hang between two worlds—the world of darkness, death, and despair, and the world of resurrection life and creation reborn.

When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain,
Thy touch can call us back to life again,
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.  (Hymnal 204)

It is an in-between and all-too-quiet time, this Holy Saturday.  A time when all is still and death seems to have the last word.  The dogwood’s are in full bloom on this rain soaked morning in Vienna, Virginia.  I admire their courage, their answer to the dead of winter, the wisp of resurrection hidden in their delicate scent.  Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.

Easter Hope in a Good Friday World from Rowan Williams

Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, has written an inspiring ecumenical Easter letter to the heads of other Churches and Christian world communions.  In the letter he outlines some of the present-day tragedies occurring around the world, but urges that “The victory is won: however terrible the conflict in the present moment, the truth of God is not in danger of defeat.”

God has, from all eternity, loved us: and, when we realize that fact, nothing else can finally shape our minds and hearts. We are anchored in that love: it does not protect us from harm, or from hard decisions, or from emotional turmoil and profound grief, or anger at the pain of the world. It simply assures us that there is finally no contest between God’s love and the forces of disintegration in the world and in the human spirit. When this unqualified love is denied and abused, even when it is pushed away with the utmost arbitrary violence, it proves itself indestructible. The Crucified is raised to life.

The letter offers a wonderful summation of Easter hope in a Good Friday world.  The full text of the Letter “The Victory is Won” can be found here.

The Gestures of Maundy Thursday

The season of Lent ends at sundown today and we enter the Paschal Triduum, the three ‘Great Days’ which commemorate the Last Supper, Passion, and Death of Christ. These, together with Easter, are the most solemn and distinctive celebrations of the liturgical year.

The washing of feet and the sharing of a meal are the two transforming gestures of Maundy Thursday. The gestures are at once utterly simple and profound, speaking, as only gestures can, more eloquently than the most polished words.

In the sharing of his final meal with the disciples, Jesus creates a new covenant community.   No one can sustain a life of faith by himself or herself.  To eat this meal together is to meet at the level of our most basic human need which involves our need not just for nourishment but for each other.  This first gesture reveals our need for community, the second gesture reminds us of our need for love.

Washing the disciple’s feet is a gesture of surprising reversal, and it jolts Peter and the others into thinking things out anew. The one to whom we tend to look for leadership and in whom we invest authority is seen kneeling and tenderly serving others.  In John’s account (John 13:1-16), Jesus is quite explicit about the gesture’s meaning.  This is a new command.  Love a new way.  Love by being available to one another.  Love by serving.  Love by literally putting our hands underneath one another’s feet, caring, helping, serving.

In this gesture, Jesus is telling us that love is demonstrated behaviorally and love is manifest when the importance of another’s needs and desires rises to the level of our own.  We can “wash feet” in many simple ways, and Jesus tells us, that as we do, others will begin to recognize that we are his disciples — ordinary people seeking to live in a distinctively human way.  The gestures of Maundy Thursday remind us that the “church” is not something we go to, but something we are.

Wednesday in Jerusalem

Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night (John 13:27b-30).

This gospel reading, which continues the lection we will use on Maundy Thursday, tells the story of Jesus’ singling out Judas as the betrayer.  Coming right after the intimate moment of the footwashing, this statement of Jesus startled the disciples.  No one had any idea who he was talking about.  Judas was simply one of them and it is important to remember that Jesus had washed his feet too.

After being identified by Jesus when he gave Judas a morsel of bread, we are told that “Satan entered into him” (27).  We should not read this to mean that Judas became “possessed” in the same way as other individuals we meet in the synoptic gospels.  The word ‘satan’ in Hebrew means ‘accuser’ and is used as a legal term for someone who brings a charge or accusation against someone else.  What we do see is Judas becoming an instrument of darkness to bring a charge against Jesus, the true light. The end of verse 30 offers a powerful image as the door opens on to a dark night and Judas disappears into it.

I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that just 8 verses later, Jesus says to Peter, “Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.” Not only Judas, but Peter will betray Jesus, in fact all the disciples will abandon him in the end.  Though Judas’ betrayal is the most egregious perhaps, he is not qualitatively different from the other disciples, nor is he qualitatively different from you and from me.

To enter into deep friendship is also to know the wounds that only friends can give.  Love and betrayal are possibilities for each of us.  In this story, we learn that even the darkest wound is held ultimately in the greater design of God’s purposes of love and redemption.  The light will go on shining in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.

Wondrous Love

From my Invitation to Holy Week on Palm/Passion Sunday:

We have entered into Holy Week, the week of greatest depth, wonder, and solemnity in the Christian liturgical year.  It is a week full of emotional highs and lows, a week that touches the depth and complexity of our human condition, our desire for love and our failure to love.

The American folk hymn “Wondrous Love” provides a central guiding question for Holy Week: “What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to lay aside his crown for my soul?” We are being invited, to walk differently and live with that question this week, as we walk in the steps of Jesus’ suffering, his humility, his courage.  And we bring ourselves, as best we can, wherever we are, and we place ourselves in the midst of this man, dare we say it, in the midst of this God, whose love for you and for me, transcends the worst that we can possibly do.

Because we are being invited to walk differently and to live with that question this week, I’ve taken the initiative to “re-frame,” our worship space to help us experience that difference in the way we gather as the people of God.  One of the things that you learn in seminary, a bit of wisdom that is passed on to those who are beginning their ministries is, “When you come to your first cure, do not change the furniture. For at least five years, do not attempt to change the furniture!” Sixteen years later, I’ve moved the furniture.  Why?

This week is all about the life and wondrous love of Jesus the Christ, who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, who goes all the way to Jerusalem and the cross for you and for me.  It is a week above all weeks, when we are invited to come closer to that life and to surrender our troubled hearts to that healing love.  That’s what this simple, and yes, temporary, movement of wood, candles, fair linen, and gifts of bread and wine are meant to convey to us this Holy Week.  Jesus is in our midst.  “Walk with me,” he asks. “Stay close to me.” “Do this in remembrance of me.”

And so we will.   Maundy Thursday, we will gather with Jesus for the Last Supper, breaking bread together and seeing one another as brothers and sisters who share in the Agape feast of Christ.  Following his example we will remember the tenderness and care of serving one another in the washing of feet.  We will end that evening by stripping this altar, and placing upon it a stark crown of thorns.  On Good Friday, the dying of Jesus will appear closer to us than ever before and we will fall silent in the contemplation of so great an act of sacrificial love.  On Saturday, at the Great Vigil of Easter, the new fire will shatter the darkness of our lives as Jesus, takes our human nature through a new Passover, through the experience we call death, and he will show us that beyond death, there is always life, resurrection life, new creation, new possibilities, a new kingdom, a new world.  And on Sunday, this altar will blossom with the unbridled joy of the Risen Lord, who will remind us with his life-giving presence, that he alone is the true host of this Eucharistic feast, and will be with us to the end of the ages.

So brothers and sisters, come close to Jesus this week. Live with this question over the next seven days: What wondrous love is this, O my soul?

The full invitation to Holy Week can be heard here.