Monday, March 28, 2005

Sermon for Easter Day

Homily on the Resurrection of Christ
by The Rev'd Timothy M. Matkin, SSC
Given at S. Alban's Church, Arlington, TX on 27 March 2005

Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Familiarity is comforting; but sometimes familiarity deadens the impact something might otherwise have. Often we hear familiar phrases or sayings as if they were brand-new when the wording or vocabulary is slightly different. Looking at something in a new way helps us notice things that we might have glossed over because they are familiar. This is a great help for many in reading new translations of the Bible. Alongside older versions, familiar passages gain a renewed impact. I’ll cite one example. A verse that should be familiar to many us is Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” If you look up the same passage in the Good News Bible, you’ll find it translated like this: “Everyone has sinned, and is far away from God’s saving presence.”

I’m a “Rite One” kind of guy, and as an English major I love to pull the King James bible off the shelf from time to time just to enjoy the beauty and comforting familiarity of the language. But I was struck by something of this nature a few years ago. The church where I served as a seminarian in Sheboygan, Wisconsin is home to the American proto-shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, commemorating an appearance of St Mary in England. One Sunday afternoon while I was spending some time there, I was paging through one of the booklets from the Anglican shrine in Walsingham, England that they kept as a souvenir. It was an ecumenical collection of prayers for devotion to Mary, the virgin Mother of God.

Now we are accustomed to our prayers ending something like, “through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.” But I came across a collect that was a fresh translation from the Latin. It said the same thing, but the words hit me in a new way. It was like I was hearing it for the first time. The prayer ended, “through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is now alive, and who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and always.” Dear friends, Jesus Christ is now alive. That is a fact each one of us must come to know and experience for ourselves. He is reigning with the Father and the Holy Spirit at this very moment. There is nothing passive about Jesus’ current life and ministry.

Following the Sabbath day, long ago, just before dawn, at least two women wandered through the twilight to the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth. One of them was Mary Magdalene—a woman that Jesus had personally healed and delivered from demons during his ministry. We are told that she was the first to see the risen Lord. As far as we know, she is probably the only one within the inner circle of Jesus’ followers who had been healed by him. She knew the power of Jesus in a more personal way than the others. Her life had been completely changed by that healing. She knew from experience that Jesus could do anything he said. She knew that Jesus keeps his promises.

She found that Jesus has risen from the dead, just as he said he would. He appeared to her, and said, Go tell the brethren what you have seen. The women dashed away to tell the others, filled with both fear and joy. They told the others, We saw Jesus, standing before us. He is risen; he is alive. Just as we had seen and handled his dead body, we knelt at his feet to worship him. His skin was warm to the touch. His voice resounded in our ears (as Matthew tells the story), “Be joyful; don’t be afraid.”

Christian tradition names Mary Magdalene as the first “apostle”—the first witness to the resurrection, charged and sent by Christ to share the Good News of his joyful resurrection with the Apostles. We are likewise to be filled with apostolic joy. May the joy of Christ, of Our Lady his Virgin Mother, and of Mary Magdalene be with us this day. For all of us who share the faith, seeing Jesus alive makes us glad, for we know that he lives for a reason—to be with and in us. And in the resurrected Christ, we see a glimpse of our own future. The lesson of the resurrection is that it does not stop with Jesus. What happened to Jesus will also happen to us. It is the ultimate sign of both God’s power and authority over life and death as well as his immeasurable goodness and grace. As the Lord told Ezekiel, You will know that I am the Lord when I open your graves, and raise you up, and put my Spirit within you, and give you life (Ezekiel 37:13-14).

The resurrection of Christ teaches us a number of things about our own. It teaches us that eternal life is a quantity of life—it is a life that knows no end. As St Paul wrote in his epistle to the Church of Rome, “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also be alive with him. And we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has any power over him” (Rom 6:8-9). Death also has no power over those who live in Christ.

The resurrection of Christ also teaches eternal life is a quality of life. We see that Jesus no longer knows suffering in his body. His wounds are still there after the resurrection, but they are no longer marks of pain, they are signs of his identity. St. John describes the life of resurrected saints in his Revelation, saying, “[The Lord] will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be any mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore for the former things gave passed away” (Rev 21:4).

The resurrection of Christ also shows us that eternal life is a new kind of life. That new life is physical, but it is also something more glorious than what we know now. Jesus is bodily, physically alive; every resurrection account notes that detail. His followers do not simply see his spirit. Jesus addresses that point when he bids Thomas to put his hands in his side—to feel the reality of his resurrected flesh. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus asks the disciples to come up and touch him—to feel hid body for themselves, to know that he is not an apparition or a ghost. To make his point further, he eats in front of them to demonstrate the reality of his bodily nature.

And yet, his resurrected body shows us a new kind of existence, one greater and grander than anything yet experienced on earth. Jesus is no longer limited by suffering and death, nor is he bound by time and space any longer. Sometimes, his followers don’t recognize Jesus at first. He also seems to appear and disappear at will. The fearful disciples are gathered in a locked room, and suddenly, Jesus is there with them.

All this was told to the disciples in advance, but when they actually experienced it, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ changed their lives for ever. He opened their mind to understand the Scriptures, to see his promises fulfilled—that the Son of Man must first suffer and die, and on the third day be raised. We also can know, personally, like Mary Magdalene, that Jesus keeps his promises. We can know intimately that Jesus can and will do what he says he will do. These are God’s promises of eternal life to each of us through Christ. And the resurrection shows us that God keeps his promises.

When the Magdalene first told the story to the other disciples, they were skeptical. Perhaps it was because they just hadn’t seen it for themselves. Perhaps it was because they didn’t have that previous personal encounter with Jesus’ healing power like Mary Magdalene had. But hers wasn’t the only report coming in. Soon there were others. Two more disciples encountered him walking through the country. And Jesus himself came to offer testimony of his own resurrection.

All of us here came to faith in the risen Christ at one point or another because someone trustworthy told us the story. Now it is time for us to go tell the story. We will encounter the risen Christ today in this Eucharist—here on this Altar and within ourselves in Holy Communion. When this Mass is over, it will be time for us to go. “Go,” Jesus said, “into all the world and preach the good news to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). But you will not go alone. What did Mark tell us happened to the eleven? He said, “they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it” (Mk 16:20). That is part of God’s promise to us (and remember, God keeps his promises). If we go share the good news (share what we ourselves have seen and heard) God will be at work, confirming the message, converting souls, healing the wounded, raising up the mystical Body of Christ.

Let us pray.
Father in heaven, by the resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ, happiness entered the world : Grant that we, by the aide of the Virgin Mary, his Mother, may share in those joys of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is now alive, and who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and always. Amen.

Sermon for Maundy Thursday

Homily on the Eucharist and Priesthood
by The Rev’d Timothy M. Matkin, SSC
Given at S. Alban’s Church, Arlington, TX on 24 March 2005

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

Tonight we gather in this Holy Week to begin recalling the central mysteries of our redemption—the betrayal, death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. A few weeks ago, I was looking ahead at my books on ceremonial about the liturgies of Holy Week, and I came across a curious thing. I don’t recall many ceremonial directives about sermons in there. But there was one for one day this week—Maundy Thursday. It read, "It is proper that, at the usual point, a sermon should be preached on the Holy Eucharist and the priesthood" (E. C. R. Lamburn, Ritual Notes, 11th Ed., p. 320).

I thought I might do just that, for an understanding of the Eucharist and the priesthood seems essential, not only for grasping the truths about this night, but also about the meaning of the redemptive suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
One thing that should be made clear from the beginning is that, for his holy Catholic Church in all times and places, Jesus is our great High Priest. "Priest" comes from the Greek word presbyter, means "elder." A priest is one who is an elder or wise leader within a community, or one who is the father of a tribal family. In that position, he is set apart or "consecrated" to God and his service. A priest is devoted to God with his entire being, and thus devoted to God’s people as well. A priest is an intercessor and a mediator. He goes to meet with God on behalf of the people, and he speaks to the people on behalf of God.

We might say that priesthood began with Adam. He was created in God’s image, to do the will of God as his servant. And as a being made reflection of God image, Adam was a priest. He was consecrated to God in all his being. Humanity fulfilled God’s will through Adam, who conversed with God face-to-face. But sin damaged that office in which Adam stood as priest of God. In Adam we became rebellious priests—disobedient sons. In his disobedience, we embraced the opposite of a priestly office. Instead of consecrating our life and labor to God, we withheld it as our own, saying, "My will be done." With the advent of sin, we became unworthy to minister to the Lord.

The priestly duty of offering sacrifice means presenting a gift to God as a sign of love, in recognition of his supreme dominion over all creation. Our sinfulness wants to claim dominion for ourselves alone. Yet, in his mercy, God nurtured the ministry of the patriarchs and the elders of Israel even as they offered imperfect worship. He taught them through prophets, and raised up priests to consecrate the people to the Lord. Indeed, the people as a whole were a kind of nation of priests, sanctifying the world by being a holy presence within it—a "light to the nations."

Sin brought a new task to priestly work—making atonement for sin. Sacrifice would henceforth not merely be a sign of love, it would also be a desperate plea for mercy. The problem was that such priests, rebellious by nature, could only offer imperfect sacrifices. These were but a type or shadow of the real thing. In the fullness of time, God sent his Son into the world. The eternal Word took human flesh from the blessed Virgin Mary. This was the new Adam—the obedient and humble servant. The first Adam brought sin and death into the world, the second Adam brought forgiveness and life.

St. Paul put it this way in his letter to the Church of Rome: "For as by the one man’s disobedience, many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous" (Rom 5:19). As the righteous servant, Jesus was able to be the priest that Adam was not. Jesus could offer the one true pleasing sacrifice to God the eternal Father, because he offered it with a truly sinless and humble heart. And that fulfillment of all sacrifices was to be the gift of himself.

"For in [Jesus] all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell," St. Paul wrote to the Colossians, "and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless before him" (Col. 1:19-20). The union of the human and divine in Jesus is essential to his priestly work. Holy Week and Easter have no real meaning without the Incarnation. The human and divine natures are united in the one person of Christ, as the ecumenical council of Chalcedon puts it: united "without confusion, without change, without division, and without separation" (BCP, p. 864). He is the one mediator between God and Man—bringing God and humanity together in himself. And in bringing the two together, Jesus mediated a new covenant.

The Old Covenant was sealed with the shedding of blood. When Moses declared all the commandments of God to the people, and took the blood of calves and goats, and sprinkled both the book of the Law and the people, saying, "This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you" (Ex 24:6-8). This act of Moses long ago foreshadowed the way that the New Covenant would be sealed in the shed blood of Christ. Jesus offered himself to the Father as the Passover lamb on this night—a sacrifice to spare people from their sins, just as the blood of the Passover lamb spared the lives of the Hebrews when they marked their door-posts with its blood so the angel of death would know to pass over them.

The author of Hebrews speaks a great deal about Jesus as our great High Priest. The crucifixion is a kind of liturgy. Jesus enters the veil of heaven through his death, to offer his own blood on the mercy seat, just as the high priest of Israel offered the blood of bulls and goats in the Holy of Holies on the day of Atonement. Jesus is our great High Priest.

In his divine plan, our blessed Lord wanted to share that priesthood with us. Like Israel before, those in his Church are to be "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation . . ." (1 Pet 2:9). The laos (the People of God), by virtue of union with Christ in holy Baptism, share in what we call "the priesthood of all believers." This is a ministry of service, love, and mission, to which all Christians are called. Believers must mediate Christ’s love and his saving gospel to the world. Like Israel, we are to be a "light to the nations."

Jesus often spoke of a kind of renewal of Israel in the kingdom of God; part of that messianic mission was to renew Israel’s elders. While he is the only true priest or elder, he shares that priestly work with those whom he calls in his Church. Early in Mark’s gospel, we read, "He now went up onto the mountain and summoned those he wanted. And he ordained Twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them forth to preach, and to have the power to heal sickness, and to cast out devils" (Mk 3:14-15). Jesus called out men whom he ordained to do the kinds of things he was doing. As Moses laid hands on Joshua and gave him authority to care for the people, Jesus gave the Twelve authority to teach and to heal, and even gave them a share in his ministry of divine reconciliation.

After his resurrection, we read in John’s gospel, "Then Jesus said unto [the apostles] again, ‘Peace be unto you: as my Father sent me, even so I send you.’ And when he said this, he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit: whose sins you forgive are forgiven; and whose sins you retain are retained’" (Jn 20:20-23). However, in theological discourse down through the years, when teachers and bishops talked about the institution of holy orders, they did not so much look to this early mountaintop experience nor to this post-resurrection blessing as they did to the Upper Room. The institution of the Christian ministerial priesthood is always connected with the institution of the holy Eucharist—Sacrament of the Altar.

One of the best books for those studying for the priesthood is The Christian Priest Today by the late Archbishop of Canterbury, Arthur Michael Ramsey. In an early chapter called "Why a Priest," he outlines four unique qualities of the priest in today’s Anglican Church. The priest is the "man of theology", the "minister of reconciliation," the "man of prayer", and the "man of the Eucharist." Concerning the last quality, he notes the following:

"The liturgy indeed belongs to all the people. We being many are the one bread, one body. We take, we break, we offer, we receive . . . Where then, and why then, the priests? As a celebrant, he is more than the people’s representative. In taking, breaking, and consecrating, he acts in Christ’s name and in the name not only of the particular congregation, but of the holy Catholic Church down through the ages. By his office as celebrant he symbolizes the focusing of the Eucharist in the givenness of the historic gospel and in the continuing life of the Church as rooted in that gospel. He finds that at the Altar he is drawn terribly and wonderfully near not only to the benefits of Christ’s redemption, but to the redemptive act itself" (A. M. Ramsey, The Christian Priest Today, pp. 9-10).

Archbishop Ramsey touches upon two fundamental truths about the connection between the Eucharist and the priesthood. The first is summed up in the old theological axiom sacerdos alter Christus—"the priest is another Christ." That is, by virtue of the grace of holy orders, the Christian priest is indelibly and metaphysically conformed to Christ—the ultimate source and irreplaceable model of his priesthood. Thus, Jesus’ will that the apostles "do this as my memorial" requires that they stand in the place of Christ and speak his words (i.e., not "this is his Body", but "this is my Body.")

The second truth Ramsey touches upon is that the Eucharist is a participation in Christ’s redemptive work. It is not simply a reminder that these things once happened—a mere symbol or aide to help call to mind past events. Rather, the Eucharist is a real participation in past events, the constitutor of a present reality, and the foretaste of the future kingdom.
The Eucharist manifests past works of God’s redemption. St. Paul told the Corinthian church, "as often as you eat the bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes" (1 Cor 11:26). The catechism of the Prayer Book reminds us, "The Holy Eucharist, the Church’s sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, is the way by which the sacrifice of Christ is made present, and in which he unites us to his one offering of himself" (BCP, p. 859).

Not only does the Eucharist participate in past events, it is also a present reality. In the blessed Sacrament, Jesus is our "Emmanuel"—God with us. The Word made flesh tabernacles among us. It is in the celebration of the holy Eucharist that the Church is constituted, the mystical Body of Christ on earth.

While the Eucharist is a participation in past and present, let us not forget that the Eucharist is also about the future. Indeed, the second Advent of Christ was the dominant imagery in the Eucharist of the Church in the early centuries. Jesus said, "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (Jn 6:54). By receiving Holy Communion, we receive a foretaste of eating and drinking at his table in the kingdom (Lk 22:30).

We can see the connection between the Eucharist and priesthood from the Last Supper. At the Passover meal Jesus shared with his disciples this night, the pure unleavened bread was broken into quarter portions, and one portion, called the afikomen, was hidden away in a cloth and laid aside. No one really knew why, except that it had always been done that way before. It was also called the Bread of Redemption, and it usually went uneaten. Many suspect that it was this portion that Jesus took, broke and gave to His disciples saying, "Take eat, this is my Body." There were four cups of wine during the meal and it was the third cup, traditionally called the Cup of Redemption or the Cup of Blessing which Christ gave to them saying, "Take and drink; this is my Blood of the new covenant poured out for you." St. Paul noted, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?" (1 Cor 10:16)

And what of the fourth cup of wine in the Passover meal? At that point, Jesus said, "I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom" (Mt 26:29). The fourth cup was known as the Cup of Consummation—the cup in which God takes us as his people. After sharing the cup of his precious Blood, Jesus left the liturgy unfinished. Or perhaps we should say, the liturgy continued—in the Garden, at the cross, and at the tomb.

Jesus left the fourth cup on the table because there was another new element in the Seder liturgy; there was a new cup from which to drink; for Jesus, it would be the cup of suffering. Isaiah and Jeremiah said the Messiah would drink from the cup of God’s wrath. The grapes of wrath would be churned in the winepress and the cup of divine wrath would be poured out against sin. Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not as I want, but as you want" (Mt 26:39). We he was first put on the cross, they offered Jesus wine mingled with myrrh, but he would not take it. "I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until I drink it new in the kingdom." He hung there on the tree for about three hours.

One of the last things that happened before Jesus died was that he looked down and said, "I thirst." John’s gospel tells us there was a bowl of sour wine nearby. So they put a sponge on the end of a hyssop branch, (the same kind of branch used to mark the door-posts with lamb’s blood at the first Passover) dipped it in the wine and raised it up to his lips. And when he drank it, Jesus said, "It is finished." And bowed his head and gave up his spirit (Jn 19:30). It is finished. It is consummated. The Mass has ended. The liturgy is over. He drank the final cup, the Cup of Consummation, and brought us into the kingdom of God, for the gate of heaven’s kingdom stands at the cross on Golgotha.

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? Jesus gathers with us here tonight; he presides over our Passover meal through his priest at the Altar. He is himself the Passover Lamb slain for the sins of the world. The sacrificial banquet is spread on the table before us. "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us," St. Paul said, therefore let us keep the feast . . ." (1 Cor 5:7). Jesus bids us to come to his holy Table and eat and drink tonight. All is prepared. "Come ye blessed of my Father, and inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Mt 25:34).

Monday, March 21, 2005

Holy Week and Easter at S. Alban's

Schedule for Holy Week
Saint Alban's Episcopal Church in the City of Arlington, Texas

Monday The Holy Eucharist: Rite One, 6:30 pm
The Rev'd Timothy M. Matkin, SSC, Celebrant and Preacher

Tuesday The Holy Eucharist: Rite One, 6:30 pm
The Rev'd Dwayne R. Bauman, SSC, Celebrant and Preacher

Wednesday The Holy Eucharist: Rite One, 6:30 pm
The Rev'd Richard N. Clark, Celebrant and Preacher

Maundy Thursday The Holy Eucharist: Rite One, 8:00 pm
The Rev'd Dwayne R. Bauman, SSC, Celebrant
The Rev'd Timothy M. Matkin, SSC, Preacher

Good Friday Stations of the Cross, noon
The Rev'd Dwayne R. Bauman, SSC, Officiant

Solemn Liturgy of Good Friday: the Solemn Collects, the Veneration of the Cross, and Mass of the Presanctified Gifts, 7:00 pm
The Rev'd Timothy M. Matkin, SSC, Celebrant
The Rev'd Richard N. Clark, Preacher

[Saturday] The Great Vigil of Easter (with Holy Baptism), 8:00 pm
The Rev'd Richard N. Clark, Celebrant
The Rev'd Timothy M. Matkin, SSC, Preacher

Sunday The Holy Eucharist: Rite One, 7:30 am
The Rev'd Richard N. Clark, Celebrant and Preacher

The Holy Eucharist: Rite Two, 9:00 am
The Rev'd Dwayne R. Bauman, SSC, Celebrant and Preacher

Folk Mass in the Parish Hall, 9:00 am
The Rev'd Timothy M. Matkin, SSC, Celebrant and Preacher

Solemn High Mass of Easter, 11:00 am
The Rev'd Timothy M. Matkin, SSC, Celebrant
The Rev'd Dwayne R. Bauman, SSC, Preacher

Please join us for worship, and have a blessed Holy Week and Easter!

Sermon for Monday in Holy Week

Homily on Mark 14:3-9
by The Rev’d Timothy M. Matkin, SSC
Given at S. Alban’s Church, Arlington, TX on 21 March 2005

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

You might not have come. There were plenty of other places you could be. Indeed, this may be the first time you have been to church on a Monday. The Church encourages, but does not obligate you to come tonight. There might have even been important things that you might have accomplished otherwise. But, like the woman in today's gospel story, perhaps you sensed that it would be a special time. You sensed that it was important for you to be here tonight. And it is.

It was a very precious moment between Jesus and this woman. She brought in a jar of very costly perfumed oil--worth several hundred dollars--nearly a year’s wages. And she poured it on Jesus’ head. It seems that she truly understood the finality of the moment that they shared. Oil poured on the head is a symbol of messianic anointing; it was done as a sign of honor for rpinces and kings. But Jesus also says that she has anointed him for burial. The others there complained that it was a nice gesture, but such an incredible waste. You see, she not only anointed Jesus, she broke the jar, and used all of the perfume that she had.

They tried to correct her, saying it could have been put to much better use, such as relief for the poor. Jesus was probably hurt by their inability to understand or appreciate what she did—that this was a special time, and a precious gesture. "She has done a beautiful thing," he simply said. You can always give to the poor, Jesus added, but this is a moment that will not last.

The woman is unnamed in Mark's gospel. In John's gospel, a story very similar to this one names the woman as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. What we know about this Mary is that she was a quiet and contemplative person. She was a devout and discerning kind of woman. She was tender and compassionate. If any of Jesus' friends were to share a quite moment with him, we might expect it to be Mary of Bethany. But even Jesus seems genuinely surprised by the outpouring of devotion. St. Mark tells us he was deeply moved.

It was a very expensive gift; it was an extravagant gesture; it was impulsive and reckless. And it could not have been more perfect. When others criticize her as wasteful, Jesus rebuked them. What she has done will be spoken of throughout the world, wherever the gospel is preached, she will be remembered as a model of devotion. To many minds, faith and love and generosity and charity are but a waste. They can show no profits, no results, no material purpose. Their inability to see her act of devotion as an intensely valuable thing reveals their limited understanding of discipleship. Mary has the instinctive spiritual knowledge to understand the worth of pure love in and of itself. Pure devotion is something above and beyond loving service. To lift the dutiful up to the level of the beautiful, and then to let that beauty transform one’s duty in the world, is a mark of true discipleship. Beauty has access to a part of the soul where even reason cannot reach.

It is there that we experience intimacy with God on another level. It is the place where God imparts inner peace. Sorrow may darken inner peace, encroaching on the space of shelter in the soul. It is at the time when darkness and sorrow approaches that pure love and beauty can be most impactful. I know people who have had this kind of loving, beautiful, intimate time shared with a loved one before death, especially those who have been a caregiver for someone dying. We see much the same type of moment in the scene between Jesus and Mary of Bethany. Mary is insightful, and she knows it is her final goodbye, and all she can do is to pour out her soul to say "I love you." It is an opportunity for us to pour out our souls to Jesus during this holy week.

I have not yet had the blessing of nursing a loved one through till death. But I have been touched by two similar passings during seminary. One was Bill Mabry--he was the Director of Christian Education at First Baptist School in Shreveport, Louisiana where I grew up. I remember him telling Bible stories in chapel when I was a child, illustrated with cartoon cutouts on a felt board. He always spoke with tenderness and personal faith. I hardly saw him after first grade, because I started going to public school, and then we moved away after that. My last summer in seminary, my aunt (who had kept up with him over the years) told me that he was dying. He was living in Arkansas--which just happened to be on my route to Wisconsin.

I was more than a little nervous since I hadn't seen him since I was a child. I waited till the end of the summer to call him. Reluctantly, I said I would stop by on the way back to school. After all, what is a mere evening in the big picture? Except for the oxygen mask he wore at times as we talked before dinner, he looked practically the same as I remembered--he had the same encouraging smile, the same quiet manner, the same conviction in his voice, the same strong and nurturing faith. We talked about our vocations to ministry and about life and faith. We must have talked for hours--and it was as if he had been there every day of my life. I didn't have the maturity to be a Mary of Bethany to him that night, but Bill was Christ to me in that moment. A few weeks later, he died, and the world lost a genuinely good man.

It was a only few months later that one of the ladies from my Sunday parish in seminary--Marian Keller from Our Lady of Grace in Sheboygan was dying. She and her husband had always had a special affection for seminarians from Nashotah House. They considered it their ministry to the wider church to help nurture these young men in their calling. She always tried to mentor me in my years there as well. Lung cancer had eventually gotten the best of her. Marian and her husband John went to the Virgin Islands for a final vacation that winter. She lived life to the end. A few weeks into Eastertide, she was living her final days. The last Sunday I saw her, she was lying in bed at home with family and friends all through the house.

The Rector gave her a final sacramental unction. Later, I was asked if I would read the Litany at the Time of Death from the Prayer Book. When they prayers were finished, he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, "I bet you didn't realize this was going to be a part of your training too, did you?" A few days later, I served as the subdeacon at her Requiem Mass. I still miss her, and wish I had taken more advantage of the time I was around her.

I still think about Marian and Bill from time to time, usually in the liturgy--in joining my voice with "all the company of heaven" in worship. I don't know if I was a blessing to them before their deaths or not. But I do know that both were a blessing to me--simply by sharing intimate moments of life and fellowship as death approached.

Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her." The story will be told that we may learn from her example. Covering Jesus with costly fragrance was all she could do to pour out her soul before the Lord to say "I love you." It is an opportunity for us also during this Holy Week to spend some intimate time with Christ before his death, and to break the flasks of our personalities and pour out our souls onto Jesus. I believe that this will be a special time for each of you. I don’t believe that anyone in this church tonight ended up here by accident.

This is going to be a special time between you and Jesus Christ. He is here tonight, and he wants you to share this moment. The very mysteries of our salvation lie close at hand, and this will be your time alone with Christ, as together you begin to look toward that dark hill that lies outside of Jerusalem called Golgotha. Treasure these moments with Christ, before you begin the journey along the way of the cross. Amen.