My Friend Joe

I am not the type of man that has many friends. It is not easy for me to let people into my life, so I tend to keep most people at arm’s length. But every so often, someone special crosses your path, and you just know that this guy, this person is a true friend. For me, that person is Joe.

I first met Joe virtually before that was even a thing. I had only been ordained a few years, and I was finding my progressive theological voice, and I stumbled upon this guy from Scranton who taught me about living the Gospel in everyday life. Joe cares deeply for everyone that he encounters. Joe lives the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his command to love your neighbor without condition. Joe is a strong advocate for everything that he believes in and fights hard for those beliefs.

Myself, Bishop Thomas Bryant, Fr. Joe Grieboski

Although I met Joe about 13 or 14 years ago, it was not until 2018 that we met in person. Joe had helped me find my progressive theological voice, and I had moved on from the denomination that ordained me and was serving in another, more progressive denomination. Joe had been ordained a priest in the Independent Old Catholic Church, one of the churches affiliated with Utrecht in Holland. Old Catholic Priests have valid orders but are not under the authority of Rome. I asked Joe if there was room for an ex Orthodox priest now serving in the United Church of Christ, and he paved the way for me to join. Joe was standing beside me when I knelt at the altar in the War Memorial Chapel at the Washington National Cathedral as I was welcomed into the fold.

Joe is a dreamer and a planner, and we talked for hours on the phone and on Zoom about the Church and how we were going to make it a place that welcomed everyone regardless of their background or any of the other things that keep people out of Church. We wanted a different Church, not one hung up on buildings and material wealth, but that worked to make lives better for not just a chosen few, but for everyone. Yes, I know it is a lofty dream, but Joe made it sound possible. Joe so desperately wants to spread the love of God to everyone.

Last fall, Joe was elected Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of the Eastern United States of the Independent Old Catholic Church. At the same time, I was elevated to Monsignor, and I saw Joe’s fingerprints all over that honor that was bestowed on me. I had the honor of being the Master of Ceremonies for his consecration, and what will be one of the greatest joy of my life, I celebrated the Eucharist with him at the High Altar at Washington National Cathedral. That holy ground where so many theological giants have stood and that place from which the message of love rings forth each and every day.

Me showing Bishop Elect Joe and is wife Tracy how to put his new Crozier together prior to his consecration as Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of the Eastern USA, IOCC

Joe did not know this, but I had decided that my gift to him was to create his Bishop’s Staff his crozier, the symbol of his Episcopal Office that he would carry with him for the rest of his life. I crudely fashioned it out of wood as a reminder to Joe of the wood of the Cross of Jesus the Cross that we must bear each day in ministry. It was not perfect, and there were some rough spots, just like in our spiritual lives, but over time, with use, those places would become smooth. I had the privilege of presenting my gift to him at his consecration.

Joe was there for me when my mother died, and he was there again, two years later when my father died. Joe was one of the first people I told about my wife and me expecting our daughter. And Joe was one of the first I told when she was born this past April. Joe shared my moments of great joy and great sorrow. Joe is my mentor and my confessor.

On Wednesday, my friend Joe died, and his death has left a large hole in my heart.

I think I can honestly say that Joe was more than my friend, Joe was my brother, and I loved him. Joe will be missed by so many, but I have to smile thinking about Joe sitting with Jesus, arguing some fine point of theology.

My friend, I never told you how much you mean to me, and I am sorry for that; I hope I brought a little humor into your life. Joe and I used to Facebook Message each other these funny little MEMEs and other things that we might not want to post on Facebook. The day before he died was the feast of the Chair of St. Peter. I took a picture of my chair, the very chair I am sitting in to write these words, and I sent it to him and wished him a happy feast day. He responded with a heart, and that was the last communication I had with my friend.

Joe, you will always be in my heart. Thank you for all that you taught me. Thank you for giving me the courage to preach God’s message without apology. I hope I make you proud.

Love you brother!

The Great Litany

In The Book of Common Prayer, on page 148 is the Great Litany. The Great Litany, like all Litanies, is a prayer of supplication consisting of several petitions and responses. Interestingly, this particular Litany is the first prayer translated into English by Thomas Cranmer. He would eventually assemble The Book of Common Prayer, most of which is still in use today.

In writing this Litany, Cranmer borrowed from several others, including the Sarum rite and the Litany of Martin Luther. The original 1544 version included invocations to the Saints and the Blessed Virgin Mary, but these were omitted in 1549. The Litany was ordered to be used in Church processions by Henry VIII when England was at war with Scotland and France.

The rubrics are quite simple:

To be said or sung, kneeling, standing, or in procession; before the Eucharist or after the Collects of Morning or Evening Prayer; or separately; especially in Lent and on Rogation Days.

The Great Litany strikes a penitential tone and is often used on the First Sunday in Lent. The Litany contains an invocation to the Trinity, several petitions for the deliverance from evil, spiritual harm, and all kinds of “calamities.” The Litany also includes petitions pleading the power of Christ’s Incarnation, life, death, and resurrection asking for deliverance; prayers of general intercession; the Agnus Dei; the Kyrie; the Lord’s Prayer. The Litany ends with a versicle and response based on Ps 33:22; a concluding collect; and the grace.

Most all Christian Churches have some Litany. Although I am not sure it could be considered a litany, one of the most beautiful is the prayer said by Orthodox Christians during the time of Lent called the Prayer of St. Ephraim. This is prayed individually or during worship, and after each verse, one makes a complete prostration. This prayer, like the Great Litany, is penitential.

 O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk.

But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.

Yea, O Lord, and King grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen.

Lent is a time of prayer and repentance, and the prayers of the Church, like the Great Litany, are a reminder of that penitential nature of the Season.

First Sunday in Lent

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities, and powers in submission to him.

1 Peter 3:18-22

Humans have an understandable aversion to suffering. Who in their right mind wants to endure any suffering for any reason, not me. I work as a chaplain for a hospice agency. The hospice philosophy is to help the patient have a good death, and one of the ways this is accomplished is by ensuring that there is little or no suffering as best we can. In hospice, we holistically achieve this by treating the patient physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Here we are at the start of Lent, a season that has, as its focus, the suffering of Jesus, and in this pericope from 1st Peter we face it head-on. Suffering has been a hallmark for Christianity for most of history. There was, and still is, this idea that we must suffer as Christ suffered to be good Christians. Well, I don’t think that is necessary. There is also this mistaken idea that God wants us to suffer and that God causes us to suffer. Again, I don’t see it this way.

This notion that suffering is a spiritual disciple has led to all sorts of abuse by the church and by others for centuries. This type of theology has allowed pastors to counsel women to remain in abusive relationships and others to abuse themselves to become closer to Christ. This type of theology is offensive. Christ suffered not to bring more suffering upon us but to save us from eternal suffering.

As I mentioned, there is also this idea that God causes human suffering. If this were true and God did cause human suffering, which is often unpredictable and undeserved, God becomes an arbitrary God who does not appear to love us. Can we trust such a god? If God does cause some to suffer, then, by some perverse sense of logic, humans would have little motivation to intervene to stop that suffering. Is this why we feel we do not have to address the suffering of others?

What is needed is a better understanding of suffering. The text from 1st Peter reminds us that Jesus suffered terribly before he died on the cross. God did not cause his suffering; instead, it resulted from Christ’s faithfulness to his reconciling mission. By suffering and dying, Jesus defeated death and suffering.

Through his life, suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus has become the one who walks with us. There is no experience, be it a tragedy, triumph, joy, or sorrow that is unknown to Christ. Even in our suffering, be it by accident or by design, Jesus is with us. St. Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, says that “nothing is able to separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:39).

In hospice, my aim is to relieve the spiritual suffering that many of my patients experience. For some, there is a feeling that God has abandoned them and, because of something they have done in the past, God is causing their illness. Some will find comfort in confession and forgiveness, and some find comfort in the knowledge that God is with them, and through his own life, Jesus walks along with them and understands. My role is to bear witness to the love of God through the suffering of Jesus Christ in their lives.

As we enter this season of Lent, we should not forget Christ’s passion. Most of us want to skip over the suffering parts of the story and jump right to the joy of Easter, and that is understandable. But what about the garden, betrayal, arrest, trial, and the cross? These events are essential to the story and should be embraced and not skipped over. Understanding how and why Jesus suffered is as necessary to the story as the resurrection. Understanding that Jesus suffered helps me in those times of suffering to know that I am not alone.

Amen.

Ash Wednesday

“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

‘So, whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Today is the start of the observance of Lent. I don’t know about you, but I feel like we have been in a perpetual state of Lent this entire last year. Just about a month from now, we entered lockdown thinking that it would be short, and we would get back to normal. But here we are, anything but ordinary and preparing for another Easter in lockdown. Like the pandemic, Lent is a time to take stock of our lives to see what we might be willing and able to change.

The Gospel passage appointed for today is part of the Sermon on the Mount. At first glance, the words appear to be a condemnation of hypocrisy, and that it indeed is, but it is more than that. There is something offensive about hypocritical displays of piety. The etymology of hypocrisy, from the Greek; play-acting, pretending, concealing the true self, suggests a lacking of integrity. There is this idea that hypocrites can hide their true motives and character from us.

However, Jesus is saying much more in this passage. Contained here are some of the most profound and perceptive spiritual words of Jesus. Jesus speaks of doing things in secret, “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (v 6). Jesus is urging us to look at why we do what we do and ask ourselves what our motivation is?

Our spirituality should be intrinsically motivated and focus on our existential, personal relationship with God. We do not look to what can be gained socially in this relationship or achieve anything other than a relationship with God. This relationship with God is its own reward and an end within itself. The passage tells us that we must pray, fast, and give alms “in secret” because it is “in secret” where our relationship with God is its own reward.

There has been much discussion amongst my clergy colleagues concerning the distribution of ashes during the pandemic. Is there a safe way, or should ashes be distributed at all? There is a desire amongst the faithful for this ritual as it lends a sense of normalcy to what has been happening in our world. But at the same time, we ask, is it necessary? The ritual says it is optional but is it essential?

Why do we receive ashes? When the ashes are placed on our forehead, the ritual words used are, “Remember thou art dust, and to dust you shall return.” Ashes are a reminder of our mortality in an outward and visible sign. If there was ever a time when being reminded of our mortality was unnecessary, it certainly has to be during these last months of the pandemic. COVID-19 has touched the lives of many and taken loved ones and friends from so many I am confident we are aware of our mortality.

Rituals are essential, and the imposition of ashes is only a part of the larger ritual for Ash Wednesday.

Several years ago, I participated in “Ashes to go.” We took ashes out of the church and to the people at the local train station. The notion was that our lives had become so busy and folks could not get to church, but there was a desire for the ritual in our lives. We had a sign, and folks would approach. We would say a short prayer and impose ashes on their forehead. The ritual was complete; the box was checked, but what came next.

Earlier I mentioned that we must seek an existential, personal relationship with God, which is true. But that relationship cannot exist in isolation. There is a communal aspect to our relationship with God, where we work out our spirituality. Community is not what it was a year ago, but community still exists and is vital to our spiritual maturity. Yes, the imposition of ashes is part of that communal experience, but it is not the only way.

Traditionally Lent was a time when those separated from the church were reconciled to the church and to others. In the Orthodox Christian church, Lent begins with forgiveness asked and forgiveness granted. If we require an outward sign of our Lenten observance, look towards forgiveness and reconciliation and repair relationships. Each day we are reminded of our mortality, do not wait until it is too late.

As we start Lent I will leave you with the words from the Ash Wednesday Service as found in the Book of Common Prayer and wish you a holy season.

Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.

Last Sunday after Epiphany

Last Sunday after Epiphany

After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Mark 9:2-9

Today we come to the end of the Christmas/Epiphany Season, and Wednesday begins Lent. During these past weeks, we have been witness to the start of the Ministry of Jesus and some of the miracles but today, as Thomas Aquinas put it, the greatest of miracles the Transfiguration. Although not the Feast of the Transfiguration, that is, in August, we have the story of the Transfiguration and an essential bridge between Christmas/Epiphany and Lent/Easter. Just like with the Feast of the Presentation, today we turn our gaze from the cradle and face the cross.

I have written before about the role of John the Baptist being the connecting point between the Old Covenant and the New, and today, we witness Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. The vision we see on that mountain top is Jesus, joined by Moses, the Lawgiver, and Elijah, the last of the Prophets. In this vision, we see the completion of the law and the prophets, as Jesus will say later.

The Transfiguration is a pivotal moment; this is the point where human nature meets God. It is the meeting place of the temporal and the eternal. Jesus is the point of connection and becomes the bridge between heaven and earth. In this feast, we also see the uniqueness of Jesus. Jesus is not only the fulfillment of the law and the prophets; he is not to be equated with the spiritual stature of Moses and Elijah. But, as unique as this is, Jesus does not want this made known. The divinity of Christ is known only to those to whom it is revealed. Knowledge of Jesus’ divinity is a revelation that comes as a gift from God in God’s own way and in God’s own time.

In this feast, we find a powerful word to us to take up our cross and follow Christ but not in a personal way but in a communal way, a way that seeks to transform the world through the power of divine love, a powerful, assertive love. This divine love will ultimately change the world through a fierce pursuit of social and personal righteousness. The Transfiguration is a story that calls us to affirm the ultimate truth that the nonviolent way of Jesus is truly the way of salvation, healing, and eternal life.

But the theme of Transfiguration is as much about us as it is about the world. The Transfiguration of Jesus was personal; there was a change that took place on that mountain top. Mark places this story at the very center of his Gospel; it is equal distance between the birth story and the Resurrection story. The Transfiguration story is a reminder that before we can ever hope to participate in the transformation of the world, we need to be willing to allow a transformation of ourselves.

Lent is a time of spiritual transformation and Transfiguration. Lent is a time when spiritually, we climb that mountain and see the divinity of Jesus. But Lent is also a time for us to see the humanity of Jesus. Jesus chose to become human to show us a new way of life, a new way of living that was not as much about sacrifice for our sake but a way of love for all of creation. During Lent, we follow the way of the cross, we follow the way of love and see Jesus at his most human. We encounter the love that God has for all of humanity, without condition on full display.

The story of the Transfiguration, the story of Lent, the story of the Gospel is the story of love and, as Bishop Michael Curry puts it, “The way of Jesus is the way of love and the way of love and change the world.”  

This Lent, let us follow the way of love and let it transform us, and then, maybe we can transform the world.

The Journey of Discernment

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1

The dictionary defines discernment as “the ability to judge well.” There is also a Christian context to discernment listed in that same dictionary, “perception in the absence of judgment with a view to obtaining spiritual guidance and understanding.” Discernment, in a spiritual context, is a journey of discovery and understanding. It is a journey of listening to God and others for a sense of direction. I am embarking on such a journey.

Discernment is or should be a lifelong process. The Scripture from John’s first letter that I quote above lays out why Christians should be of a discerning mind. “Test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” Sometimes we think we hear God’s voice, but actually, it is our voice that sounds like God’s voice. Discernment is a way to determine where that voice is coming from.

Discernment also involves other people. It has been said that God calls, but the church confirms. I may think God is calling me to this or that, but there needs to be a confirmation of that call. It is that confirmation that I am seeking. That confirmation also is a way to determine if it is God’s voice or my voice.

I am embarking on a journey to discern where that voice of God is leading me, but this is also a journey of self-discovery. Self-discovery involves patients, as this journey will not be a short one—patience with the process and trust in those who will be on this journey with me. As with any journey, especially spiritual ones, one has to be willing to go where the spirit leads, and I pray that I am open to that direction. I would ask that you hold me in prayer during this journey.

Artistic Expression and the National Anthem

I consider myself a patriotic American. I fly an American Flag in my yard. But I do not think that if you chose not to, you are less patriotic. I am a veteran of the United States military. But I do not feel you are less of an American because you chose not to serve, nor do I believe it gives me extra patriotism. I guess I am just an average American when it comes to this stuff.

I am also of a mind that appreciates artists and artistic expression. An artist’s ability to tell a story comes through their expression of that story and how it speaks to them. This sort of expression makes the story, or the music, or the painting come to life. But certain songs do not need any expression; they speak just fine all on their own. The National Anthem of the United States of America is one of those songs.

I am not a big fan of the words of our National Anthem. It has always sounded very war-like to me, and it has to be one of the most challenging songs to sing but, it is the song that represents America. I get it that music and art evolve over time, but some things need to remain as they were; they are the foundation for all the rest. Our National Anthem’s singing for any event should be looked upon as a great honor and should be treated as such. Respect the song.

Before the Super Bowl this past Sunday night, I had not heard of the two musicians who were given the honor of singing the National Anthem. Musically their talent was very apparent, so it is not their ability that I take issue with. I take issue with their interpretation of a song that needs no interpretation.

Many years ago, Whitney Houston walked out the field and sang the National Anthem, and it is still, in my opinion anyway, one of the best performances I have ever heard. She sang it straight, and she respected the song and what it stands for.

A few weeks ago, at the Inauguration, Lady Gaga sang the National Anthem and did a fantastic job. I already mentioned that I am not a big fan of the Anthem’s war-like words, but when she pointed to the flag as she sang, “the flag was still there,” it sent chills up my spine. With the sing action of pointing to the flag, she reminded us of the importance of symbols and why they matter. She sang it straight, and she respected the song and what it stands for.

I am sure many of you will disagree with me, which is fine; I do not think you are any less patriotic or any less an American because of that belief. I just think that a song of that importance, a song with so much meaning written into it, should just be sung the way it was written.

Express yourself in the half-time show but leave the Anthem alone.

Jeep and Unity

I will admit I was a little surprised by the Jeep commercial with Bruce Springsteen during last night’s Super Bowl. I was surprised in a good way. It is not often a commercial truly moves me and makes me think, but this one did.

The ad is called “The Middle.” It begins with a voice-over from Springsteen talking about a little chapel at the center of the lower 48 in Kansas. He mentions that this chapel is always open and welcomes everyone. I am not sure how everyone would feel about entering this chapel with its overtly Christian symbolism, and I was a little uneasy about the Cross on top of a cut out of the United States in the color of the flag.

Springsteen goes on to talk about our fear and the fact that fear has “never been the best of who we are,” and I would agree fear is not the best of emotions, and many of us have been operating out of fear these last few years. Fear very often divides as one side has to make the other side afraid. Fear becomes the wedge driven between two groups, and it is very often irrational.

“Freedom,” says Springsteen, “belongs to us all, whoever you are, wherever you are from. It’s what connects us, and we need that connection.” Freedom is a tricky thing. Pure freedom is a sacrifice that not many of us are willing to endure. Freedom comes with many different perspectives, and there is no one freedom that is American. But he is correct in saying that “Freedom connects us all” it has too. America is at its best when we can express our freedom as individuals and accept the fact that our freedom comes with limits and with a tremendous amount of responsibility.

As I have written about in the past, I am all for unity. I am all for finding the middle ground. However, there can be no unity without justice and accountability. There can be no unity with white supremacists. There can be no unity with people who fly the Nazi flag. There can be no unity with Anti-Semites. There can be no unity with Christian Nationalists. There can be no unity with people who believe it was Jewish lasers that caused the fires in California. There can be no unity with people willing to take by force what they clearly lost at the ballot box and in numerous courts. There can be no unity with those calling people to violence. There can be no unity without justice and accountability.

Springsteen says we need the middle, we need to find that common ground, and he reminds us that “the very soil we stand on is common ground.” Most of America is in the middle. It is the fringe on both sides that have divided us over the years, and it is up to us in the middle to take it back.

Unity is a nice idea, and I applaud Jeep for using two minutes of Super Bowl airtime to remind us of the idea of unity. Yes, together, we can do more than we can apart, but it has to start by holding people accountable. We cannot turn a blind eye to what has happened.

As a Christian, I am all about the idea of forgiveness, but that forgiveness does not include forgetting, and that forgiveness includes holding those accountable for their actions regardless of who they are or the positions they have.

Yes, we need the middle, and we can get there, but it will take more than a commercial to do it.

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ 38He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Mark 1:29-39

This week we pick up right where we left off in the story of last week. Jesus was teaching in the synagogue when a man “with an unclean spirit” interrupted the service. Jesus cast the spirit from the man, and he was well.

Today Jesus leaves the synagogue and goes to Simon’s house. This is the same Simon who Jesus would later call Peter. Upon entering, he learns that Simon’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever. Jesus goes to her, “took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”

Jesus’ teaching and healing ministries are all part of the same ministry. In the previous verses, Jesus has set the course for his public ministry, and there will be no discrepancy between what he teaches and what he practices.

There is a close parallel between the words “healing” and “salvation.” The last verse of today’s Gospel makes that abundantly clear, “And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons” (1:39).

Jesus rejects the idea that sickness is linked to God’s punishment for a person’s sin. Jesus has an understanding that would be in line with our modern thinking about illness, that it is un-wholeness, and Jesus sees healing as a restoration of that wholeness. When Jesus turned to the woman that has pushed her way through the crowd just to touch the hem of his garment, he said to her, “your faith has made you whole.”

There are a significant number of instances in scripture where touch is used. Jesus took Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand, the angel that touched Jacob’s thigh, Jairus’ daughter, the blind man Jesus touched, and so forth. There is power in touch. In scripture, touch is a metaphor for intimacy, for presence, for relationship. Humanity was created to be in relationship with one another. This has been difficult during the pandemic.

Jesus understood what we are slow to comprehend, the power of a touch, of intimacy, of nearness, makes us whole. Love not expressed, love not felt is difficult to trust. God understands this human condition and humanity’s need for closeness. This is the reason for the incarnation. Jesus is the incarnation of God’s love. And it is that love that will make us whole.

Ordinary Time Begins

The Ordo is the liturgical book that sets forth the instructions for the celebration of the liturgical services for each day of the year. The Ordo includes any Saints commemorated on that day, the biblical readings, and the liturgical color, to name just a few. Yesterday, February 3rd, there was a small notation “Ordinary Time begins today.” Liturgically we are in between things.

Ordinary Time is that time of the year that is not connected to the two great seasons of the Church year, Christmastide and Eastertide, or the period of preparation leading up to those times, Advent and Lent. The Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, which is celebrated February 2nd, ends the Christmas/Epiphany Season on the Anglican-Episcopal Calendar. This year, Ash Wednesday or the beginning of Lent is on February 17th, so the time between is Ordinary Time.

But Ordinary Time is anything but ordinary. During these weeks, and the weeks that will come after Eastertide, the ministry of Jesus occurs. Jesus encounters ordinary people and has ordinary experiences. Sure, there are miracles in there, but Jesus is with the ordinary during these days.

As with all other things related to liturgical celebrations, the colors have meaning. The color for Ordinary Time is Green. Green represents the Christian life and growth in the faith. Our faith is not just about Christmas and Easter; although those seasons are essential, much of the faith life of the Church happens in those in-between times those ordinary encounters that we have during the year.

I think we lose sight of the fact that we encounter the divine in the ordinary places of our life and not just the special times. The divine is around us in all of creation, and in each person, we meet. Honor those times of encounter and those in-between times. It’s where the real work is.

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