Patience and Thanksgiving

the Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 21st, 2020
Happy Father’s Day

Today’s readings are:
Genesis 21:8-21
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
Romans 6:1b-11
Matthew 10:24-39

If you don’t have a Bible handy, you can click here to access these readings.

Back in late March, I saw a meme on Facebook. It was a little picture of a far road, and there were chickens all running across it. The road was thick with them, and they were all rushing out in the same direction. And the little caption was, “what we’ll look like the day quarantine is over.”

And I thought, yup, probably. We’ll all be rushing back to our normal lives with this dire thirst. It will be like a dinner bell rung for a troop of hungry children, or like the start of the Belmont Stakes, where all the doors are suddenly flung open and a dozen or more horses and their riders rush out onto the track. It’ll be pandemonium!

And in some ways, yeah, it has been; but in others, not. We here at St. James, and at many of the churches in Coquille, are taking it slow. We’re being cautious and thoughtful. There are some people here in the church building, and there’s a camera here for people to continue to watch at home. We’re celebrating the Lord our God in Morning Prayer. We’re building things up, slowly. We’re taking baby steps. We’re looking towards the time when we can all join together again and celebrate the Eucharist, but we’re taking our time. And we’re trying, oh we’re trying so hard, to be patient.

As Christians, and especially as Christians who worship God in the liturgy and through the Church Year, we know about patience. I mean, we just got finished with Lent a little bit ago. And we know what it means to wait upon the Lord. Jesus is coming back, sometime, but the man himself told us that we won’t know when. -You’ve got more than enough to do already- Jesus said. -Heal the sick, proclaim the Good News, be good to one another. Don’t worry about when I’m coming back. Be patient. Take it easy. Chill out.-

But asking you all to be patient might be kinda like asking poor Hagar to be patient. Hagar, who was cast out from all she knew, thrown into the wilderness with only a bit of water and bread, all on her own in a world that doesn’t treat women on their own too kindly. We may feel: yeah, patience is fine for Lent, or for Advent, but what about now? Times are rough. I don’t want baby steps. I want that well of water God shows to Hagar. I want our usual life back. I want salvation now.

Now, we’re not exactly Hagar, but we can learn a lot from her. One, we can see that things that we do have. We have ample food and water. Our church community is pretty healthy. Coquille is a pretty safe place when compared to the rest of the world, and even for those online who aren’t living in Coquille, we have doctors, nurses, and medical staff working around the clock to help us. We’re in pretty decent shape, and we have a lot to be thankful for.

There is something else, though, that we can learn from Hagar and her story, and that is that patience is not something we muster on our own. Christian patience, like all true things in life, is sharing in the life of God. Patience isn’t just another way to say ‘grin and bear it’. Patience isn’t setting a firm jaw against adversity. Patience is a lot less about our muscles and a lot more about opening our eyes to the life of God around us. Patience is much less about saying, “I just can’t wait until Jesus comes” and a lot more about asking God, “Show me your life that is all around me.”

St. Paul says it well in his letter to the Romans: we’re not shackled to sin anymore. Sins all around us, and we often fall into it, but sin and death isn’t our lord and master anymore. God is. Jesus is. Jesus died to sin once and for all; he is now alive to God. And we, through faith and our baptism in God’s name, we’re linked up to that life. We’re submerged into it. That life is the air we breathe, the blood coursing through our bodies. It’s the language we Christians speak (or should be speaking), it’s the food we eat, the water we drink. God’s life is now our life.

So I want to end this sermon by being thankful. I’m thankful that we can have in-person worship, that our county is healing from the virus. I’m thankful that, all this time, Lisa has come in to help me with everything, and I’m thankful for Bill who was able to join her. There’s life in all this, the life of God.

I’m thankful that, even though we’re all tired of Zoom and online coffee hours and Facebook streaming, I’m thankful that we have those things. God was in them. God was in the fact that we could still do all this stuff, and do it well, even if it wasn’t perfect. God is in the fact that things that aren’t perfect can still have God’s life in them. I know pretty well that I’m not perfect, and I’m thankful each and every day that God’s around to help me not make a complete fool out of myself.

And speaking of Zoom and online meetings, I’m thankful that I’ve gotten to see so much of my colleagues and our bishop these past few months. Being so far from Portland we didn’t get to see them often. I’ve seen them more than ever before.

I’m also pretty thankful that people all around the country get to see the inside of our church here in Coquille. I think it’s pretty stunningly beautiful (something else to be thankful for), and I’m happy that we get to share it with folks far, far away. There’s life – God’s Life – in the beauty of this building, and there’s life – Holy Life – in being able to share it.

So today’s lesson: it’s pretty simple. Live a life of thankfulness. Search out and find the holy waters in the world, just as God is seeking you out. Be thankful for that water, that Life, and be thankful for every step of the way. Be thankful.

God’s Call to Love

the second Sunday after Pentecost
June 14th, 2020

Today’s readings are:
Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7
Psalm 116:1, 10-17
Romans 5:1-8
Matthew 9:35-10:23

If you don’t have a Bible handy, you can click here for these readings.

      Maybe it’s because I wrote this sermon right after breakfast, but I feel like the church year is kinda like waking up in the morning. Think about it. Our calendar begins in Advent, in December, when things are still dark and cold and you just want to pull the blankets over your head and go back to sleep. Then we wake with Christmas and hear the call of God in Epiphany to start a new day in the Good News of Jesus Christ. Then there’s that groggy time, Lent, when our bodies are waking up and we’re praying that God direct us to the new day.

      Then there’s Easter: breakfast, where we sit down with our loved ones, or sit down alone with a nice, quiet cup of coffee, and feel new life pour into us. And, finally, Pentecost, when we turn our eyes to the day at last and go to do the good work of God in the world. In other words, Ordinary Time.

      Now, I like this image because it reminds me of some really important things. Each morning – each morning – we hear the voice of God again. Each morning is an Epiphany, for each morning we wake again to God’s creation and God’s presence in our lives and in the lives of those we meet.

      It also reminds me that, just like we often skimp out on breakfast, we also skimp out on Easter. Easter in our calendar isn’t just a quick morning celebration but fifty whole days, just like breakfast should be (as much as possible) nice and drawn out, full of good cheer or quiet moments, whatever the Good Lord provides. Easter is part of a balanced diet.

      And this image also reminds me of that forgotten time between Pentecost and Advent: ordinary time. Green time. Ho hum time, as we kinda think of it. It’s the season of the church that we’re beginning just now. There’s nothing special about ordinary time. There are some high holy days in it, sure, but nothing like Easter, no Christmas, not even the feast of the Epiphany.

Well then, we often think, ordinary time is when we can rest and relax, maybe, it’s that seventh day of Creation where we rest with God, but instead of just doing it one out of seven we do it for half the year. Mmm, comfy, kind, summery and autumny ordinary time.

      But, if we remember the image of the church calendar, ordinary time isn’t when we slip back into bed after breakfast, or our afternoon siesta, or evening when we lay all our work, good or ill, at the feet of God. Ordinary time is the sunshine of the bright day, the driving to work, or continuing projects we were working on yesterday. It’s seeing folks in our lives, whether they’re folks we want to see or folks we really wanted to avoid. Ordinary time is getting stuck in traffic and having to find something to do while sitting in a hot car. Ordinary time is running across someone in need and having to decide, right then and there, what would Jesus do – and do I really feel like doing that today? Ordinary time is ordinary because it’s, well, ordinary.

      But Jesus calls us to the ordinary. Jesus calls us to the ho-hum parts of life and calls us from within the ho-hum parts of life. I’ve preached on this a lot, and for those watching today from Coquille, you’ve probably heard this all more than a few times. It’s the hobbit sermon: that God is in the good, simple things of the world. That digging in the garden and walking down the street, just in themselves, can be an act of faith and love and godliness. There are gardens in heaven, probably, vast gardens that need to be tended by folks who love the sun and dirt. There are early morning walks in heaven. Tea time in heaven is at 4:00, and God’s always there to sit down with you and breathe in the warm, fresh air.

      But I want to say something a little further this morning. Ordinary time is not only important because we find the presence of God in the ordinary but, also, because we find the call of God in the ordinary. The Christian life is rarely lived in high adventure and while doing important things. Some of us are called to that sort of work, but, even for folks like Michael Curry, our presiding bishop, whose words of love calm and guide literally millions, even for him, the fullest work of his Christianity is done while standing in the line at the supermarket, in walking down the street, in simple, honest, ordinary prayer.

      Jesus tells the disciples, “I’m gonna send you out into the world”, and, yeah, sometimes we’re called to heal the sick and even cast out demons, but often it’s to stand at the table at Senior Meals downtown, waiting for someone to come up so you can scoop some lasagna onto a paper plate. Not too glorious, but good, good work. Often it’s to sit at the food back at Holy Name, waiting for someone hungry enough to come by for a bag of food. With each bag you give you have changed someone’s life. Often following Jesus is in wishing someone else ‘peace’ and really mean it.

      What do we want our world to look like? What do we want our communities to look like? Whether it’s here in Coquille or wherever you’re listening from right now, or your state or your country – what do you want your community to look like? Another way to say this and get at the heart of what I’m asking is: how do you want your kids or your grandkids to see your community? Where do you want them to grow up?

      These are good questions to ponder, and it is here in ordinary time that we figure out ordinary ways to answer them. And to ground ourselves in our Scripture and the Life of the Spirit to have even the hope of answering them.

But Jesus asks a follow-up question. Jesus is good at that, right? Just when you’ve got it figured out, here he comes with something that just drives that question home. Jesus asks us, great, that’s your community that you want. Now, how do we make sure that everyone, everyone, can get the peace, joy, safety, and love that we want in our community? How do we make sure that ‘ordinary’ for everyone – no matter your age, race, color, identity, whatever – to make sure that ‘ordinary’ for everyone is not hatred, anger, and fear, but calm mornings and laughter with our neighbors? How do we welcome those who have never known peace into a world where love is normal?

      As my dad used to say, that’s the question of the day. That’s the question of the season. Because Jesus didn’t call us into this life so we could wipe our hands off and be done with it all. No, Jesus called us to join in his good work of searching out the lost sheep and bring them home. So let’s keep our ears open to that call and keep our hearts ready and willing to give ourselves, just as Jesus gave himself, to those in need.

Happy Birthday, the Church! (and thank you Holy Spirit!)

May 31st, 2020

Today’s readings are:
Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
John 7:37-39

If you don’t have a Bible handy, click on this sentence to find these readings.

       Happy Birthday, the Church! Today is Pentecost, which means that it’s the Church’s birthday! It’s the day when we celebrate the founding of the Church, and the founding of the Church not just by human hands but by the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Fire, and the Light, to guide us wayward and confused folks into a life lived as Christ’s Body in this world. It’s on this day, just short of two thousand years ago, that all of this began.

       You can learn a lot about something from its beginnings. You can learn a lot about something from how it’s made, when it was made, and what sorts of things went into it. First impressions are important. I remember when we brought Gwen into her school just before she started pre-school, and all the teachers had their doors decorated in fun colors and with silly animals. Going to school for the first time can be tough for a kid, and that first impression is important. One of the reasons the transition into school life was good, I think, was because the door, and inside that door the teacher, and the room, was so welcoming.

       So when we sit down and wonder, what is the Church, who are we as the Church, it’s important to remember what we’re founded on. And this is a particularly important question these days. For the past few months, what we usually know of as church sure didn’t look like church. We’ve been watching our worship services online, and few of us have received the Sacraments at all, be they the Eucharist, Baptism, Reconciliation, and so on. And as we move on into these times, and even as we begin in-person worship again, church might still look pretty different, and I don’t mean just what we do on Sunday mornings. This is a good time to reflect on what we are as the Church. What does it mean to be the Church? What does it mean to be the Christian Church, capital C? What does it mean to be the Anglican or the Episcopal Church? And what does it mean to be St. James Church in Coquille, Oregon?

       Luckily, we’re not beginning at square one. God may have created the world out of nothing, but we’ve got two thousand years of history (and, really, more than even that) to stand on. And we’ve got Pentecost. We don’t, and we shouldn’t, try to reimagine the Church from the ground during in these difficult times. The Church isn’t something that we’ve built; it’s something that the Holy Spirit gave us two thousand years ago.

       So, then, what does Pentecost tell us about the Church? Well, quite a lot. Too much for a single sermon, that’s for sure. Too much for a whole life, or even two thousand years of life, because the grace and the love and the joy that was spilled out by God upon the disciples, that the Holy Spirit himself, the third person of the Trinity, gave to all humanity, that grace and love and joy is more than we can possible imagine. It has taken two thousand years to even catch a glimpse of what the Church, founded by the Holy Spirit, can and should do in the world. And we’ll never get to the bottom of it, because there’s no bottom, no end, to a life lived, in community, as the Body of Christ, living that life of love another day and yet another day.

       But I do want to point out something so very important about Pentecost. It’s the languages. It’s the wealth and breadth of all those languages and, specifically, all those personal languages proclaiming the Good News and Love of Jesus Christ. If you have ever traveled abroad, you know how important your own language is. For what the disciples were speaking weren’t just a bunch of different languages, as if the Holy Spirit went down the list of a bunch of classes you could take at college. You know, like, “Well, Peter, you’ve got Arabic; James, you take French; the other James has German; John, sorry, I know it’s a tough one, but you’ve got Irish. But buck up, you can do it; Bartholomew, you take Swahili”, and so own. You see, each of those languages they spoke was the home language, the mother tongue, of someone in the crowd. It was like one of the disciples started speaking French, but not just French from Paris but the dialect of some guy who was born and raised in some little village out in the middle of nowhere; it’s like that someone didn’t just speak English but spoke Jersey.

       I mean, pretty much everyone there that day could probably speak Greek, or at least make it out with a struggle, so that if the disciples proclaimed the Good News in Greek, most of the folks would have gotten it. But that’s not the point. For these people were abroad, away from the land they knew. And when you’re abroad, you’re in a strange land, and nothing’s familiar, even the food, even the bathrooms, and from dawn until dusk you’re surrounded by differences. And even if those differences are wonderful, it gets tiring after a while.

But then imagine this. Imagine that you’re one of these people in Jerusalem. You’re far from home, you’re yearning for just something that’s familiar – anything. And then suddenly, suddenly, you hear your own language spoken, and not just by someone trying it out but by someone fluent, who knows it, as you know it, from the first day you were born – your heart is moved to its depths. And oh, it’s not just someone reading off a list of stuff to do, or sometone making a crude joke. What this person is saying, in that language that touches your heart, is the most amazing and wonderful news that you have ever heard. And this message, this message of love and hope, this message that you’ve loved and you’ve hoped for down in the depths of your heart, maybe this message that you could barely admit to hope for because it’s just too good to be true, that God loves you, that God loves the whole world and will go to the ends of the earth and back just to tell us about that love, that this message is proclaimed in your own language. Two hearts: the longing for home and the message of love, they meet on this day of Pentecost. Nor is this message just for anyone, but it’s for you, and you, and you. This is the miracle of Pentecost, that the hope of the world isn’t just something you can look up in a book, but that’s it’s personal, it goes to the heart of our hopes and longings. And it is here that the Church, the community of the faithful, the very Body of Christ, is born.

       This says something so very important about the Church and about our lives as Christians. God speaks to our hearts, to the things that we care about and love the most. Most of us were converted, or stepped into a deeper conversion to God, because we heard a voice calling to us from something we loved. God spoke to me through good stories and the natural world, two things I already loved; and God has continued to speak to me through family, my children, my good friends, food and travel and laughter. You don’t gotta get rid of those things in order to become a Christian. But through those things God speaks to us, and turns us more fully to God’s light through them. And as God does this, those beautiful things become only more and more beautiful, until all our lives shine with the glory of God.

       But there’s something else, too, and it’s one of the biggest lessons of Pentecost: the Church isn’t just for us. Just as we follow the example of Jesus Christ, who is God, so too do we, the Church, which was founded on Pentecost, follow the example of the Holy Spirit, who is also God. We’re to go outside of ourselves, outside of what we know and serve others from where God has touched them. We don’t proclaim the Good News in our own language or from our own experiences alone, but from the hurts, needs, hopes, and loves of those we serve. So that when we serve the world in Christ’s name, we’re not just doing what makes us feel good and happy but that we’re answering that call from God within each and every person who we meet. And this can be tough sometimes, because it requires patience, an open ear, and an open heart to the experiences of others.

       It’s tough to do sometimes, but, in the end, what a gift, right? What a gracious and beautiful gift, that we are given the privilege to serve God’s voice in the life of those around us. It is a humbling gift, truly; you can’t be proud when you do this work. You can’t think you’ve got all the answers. And it can be a hard gift sometimes, especially when the world is hurting so deeply, and those in front of us see only darkness and despair. But even still, what a gracious and beautiful gift, to be able to serve in God’s Name, the Gospel, that most glorious Good News, that before all else you are loved and that salvation is a free gift. And our work, now, two thousand years later, it’s the same as it was two thousand years ago: to listen to the love of God singing out through Creation, to serve that voice and that love, and to live together, together, with the love of God upholding it all.

Knowing God

the Seventh Sunday after Easter
May 24th, 2020

Today’s readings are:
Acts 1:6-14
Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36
1 Peter 4:12; 5:6-11
John 17:1-11

If you don’t have a Bible handy, you can click on this sentence to find these readings.

I brought a prop in today for my sermon. You all know I’m kinda a fan of Lord of the Rings and Tolkien, and this is the first book of Tolkien’s I ever read. It’s the Hobbit. It’s an old version of the Hobbit. You have to be real careful opening it. I’m not sure if you can hear online, but you can hear it cracking when I open the cover. And I’m not sure if you can see it, but the corners are all bumped up. The green of the cover has worn away, and you can see the cardboard underneath. And this is all a testament of years upon years upon years of reading this book.

I first read the Hobbit when I was in middle school. And I loved it. It was full of adventure, of dragons and dwarves and wizards. It excited me and moved me. I absolutely loved it.

Then I read it again in high school, and again in college, then again while traveling abroad, and each time, I learned something new about the book. It was still about dragons and dwarves and wizards, sure, but I saw that the journey of Bilbo Baggins was also about trust, about hope, about friendship and pushing on even when fear told us to run away. Bilbo’s journey spoke to my own fears, my own hope, my own life, just as all good literature does.

And then I read this story – this same story from this battered copy – to Gwendolyn. She was just born, and I had that aching parent-feeling that I wanted to share something with her that was meaningful to me. And you know what? This book that I had read time and time again, it still had room to grow. Reading it to my daughter, it became not just about me and about my hope, but spoke to the hope I had for my child, the fears and worries I had (and, if I’m honest, that I still have) as a father. It helped me understand those fears and face them.

I wonder if you’ve ever had a book like that? Some story that has followed you through your life, teaching you and guiding you. Or, maybe it’s not a book. Maybe it’s a recipe, something that your grandmother taught you to make, or that you made with your father on Saturday mornings. Or maybe it’s a sport. Maybe it’s football or baseball or soccer, this game that we as a country can come around, cheer for our team, and stick with that team through thick and thin. I remember my father-in-law’s devotion to the Mets, who lost so often but you know he tuned in to each game anyway, because they were his team since he was young. Whatever they are, these are things we grow with, that we learn to understand more and more fully, that seem to grow as we grow, even though they’re the same old game they were yesterday.

The world is deeper than we imagine. Beneath the surface of all things there are worlds to explore. This past Thursday, in our Greek and Latin Bible study, we read the Lord’s Prayer in Greek. Now, I know this prayer. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know this prayer. My parents taught it to me before my brain could start making memories. I could rattle the thing off in my sleep. But when we slowed down, when we read this prayer word for word, stopped and pondered over each and every part of speech, we found that this prayer, that we all know so well, was new and fresh and beautiful. “Hallowed be thy name”, what does that mean? What does it mean to ask – to truly ask – for God’s kingdom to come on earth just as it is in heaven? And that most simple and common thing, bread, that we slop mayonnaise on or cut the crusts off of, that simple, simple thing bread – what if it could be the gateway to eternal life? What does that say about other common things, like the smell of cut grass, or the rain falling in the evening, or our neighbor, for whom God has as much hope as God has for you?

Jesus tells us that eternal life is prepared for us. And just when we might be reveling in this, our hand to our brow, “Wow, I mean, wow, that’s amazing! How can this be?” Jesus comes right in and says, “Yeah, so this is eternal life: to know God. To know God.

But is “knowing”, is “knowing” just a one-time thing? If you were to ask me, “Do you know the book the Hobbit?” I’d be like, yeah, I know it, I’ve read it. But is just having read the book really knowing it? You might ask me, “You know what baseball is?” and I’d say, yeah, sure, the game with the bat and ball, right? But then if you were to ask someone like my dad, who has loved the game since Mickey Mantle played, who coached kids to not just play it but to love it, who could imagine the crack of a bat or the smell of the field just as easily as I could imagine Bilbo Baggins playing at riddles with a dragon – he knows baseball.

“Knowing” isn’t just a one-time thing. It’s a lifetime spent in love. It’s a lifetime of turning the pages of a book and reading those words we know again and again and again. It’s sitting down with someone who we’ve seen so often that we could draw their faces with the most intimate detail, but who continue to surprise and delight us, to frustrate and test us, and who love us with a love that reaches beyond this world and back.

Jesus tells us that eternal life is prepared for all. And that eternal life is this: to know God. To learn more and more about the love, the hope, and the life that is at the center of all reality. To continue to get to know the creator of all things; to hang out with the one who died for us, who was raised for us, and who lives, even now, praying with a never-giving-up heart that we’ll stick around; to bring that love to others, to become love ourselves – these are just some of the ways that we can know God better.

And God is there, saying, come on, let’s sit down and grab coffee together and talk. Let’s go out for a walk beneath the blue sky that I created, because the sun is warm and the air fresh, and there’s just so much to talk about and to learn about each other. And hey, I heard your neighbor’s not doing well; let’s go see if we can cheer them up. And this isn’t just some vague call, some voice that comes and goes like the wind; this is the lord of life, God Almighty, the creator of heaven and earth, inviting you, you, to turn yet again, yet again, to love.

Gates, Bread, and Jesus

May 3rd, 2020
the fourth Sunday of Easter

Today’s readings are:
Acts 2:42-47
Psalm 23
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10

If you don’t have a Bible handy, you can click here to access these readings.

       As I mentioned this morning already, today is the first day that we’ll be praying morning prayer instead of celebrating the Eucharist. Our liturgy this morning probably looks pretty much the same so far, and it will until after our prayers. Then we’ll say the Lord’s Prayer, wave goodbye, and sign off. It’s a pretty short service.

       And it can feel, I think, like it’s a too short service. That it’s not long enough. I know, I know, Episcopalians often joke about how, if a Sunday service is too long, or if a sermon is too long, we get all antsy. We mumble and grumble and say, “Come on, come on, I’ve got to get to lunch!” But when it comes to praying morning prayer on a Sunday, after the dismissal, often we all sit in our pews for a bit and wonder, “Wait a sec. Something’s missing.” Something big is missing.

       For Episcopalians, and I’m sure for other Christians who celebrate God in the historic liturgy, it’s not really about length; it’s about robust worship. Even if we don’t sing, we love music, and music that is deep and soul-searching. Even if the sermon should be only ten minutes, we want a good, thought-provoking sermon that hits the heart as much as the head. And we’ve come to want, to expect, to hope for, the Eucharist. Whether the service is too long or too short, whether the prayers of the people are straight from the Book of Common Prayer or prayed in the Spirit, really, we Episcopalians want to make sure that the Eucharist is celebrated. And we hope for it every week.

       This isn’t how it always was. Back before our current prayer book, a time when some of you might remember, we celebrated the Eucharist once a month. And back even earlier, folks celebrated it four times a year, or just once a year. And that’s all just fine, but over the years the Church has come to realize that there is great joy in meeting Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament week after week after week. There is great spiritual depth, an open well of life, a hope, and a joy that exceeds anything in this world, in reaching out our hands and receiving the Body and the Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ each and every week.

       I remember the first time I received Communion in an Episcopal Church. It was in Athens Georgia. My good friend Joseph had suggested we go. I had read about the Eucharist while studying medieval literature, and I had seen in while at a Roman Catholic friend’s funeral in high school, but I had never participated in one, I had never been part of one. And so we joined my friend and went.

Now, the first part of the service, the part we’re praying this morning, I knew – readings, prayers, I got that; the kneeling and standing was new, but that’s cool. But then the priest, Father Edwin, sung the sursum corda, and my heart began to sour, just like those words sursum corda mean: lift up your hearts! In just the prayer I saw hinted the beauty of heaven, and that was even before I went up with everyone else, knelt at the altar rail, and received the Body and Blood, and, as we Episcopalians believe, literally tasted heaven. And my thought at the end of it all was: This is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I want to do this forever.

       Jesus is the most beautiful thing we will ever see. And that’s not to say that sunsets and springtime flowers and the faces of our spouses and children and the good love of someone giving up their lives for those around them, that these things aren’t beautiful. But the source of their beauty, the source of all beauty and goodness and love, of hope and truth, the source of all that, the very Gate of Heaven, is Jesus, who we meet in the Most Blessed Sacrament. For the Eucharist is not just something we humans made up because we like making up ritual. It’s not something we created with our own hands, but that we received from the hands of God in Jesus Christ. For the Good Man said, “Take, eat, this is my Body, given for you!” And our Scriptures remind us, “And Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of the bread!” and “The Bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the Body of Christ?”

       And now, on this fourth Sunday of the Easter season, now your priest has said, hey, let’s take a break from all that. This Eucharist, a gift from our Lord Jesus Christ himself, yeah, let’s take a breather from it. Even though you yourselves haven’t been literally partaking in the Bread and the Wine but have, with Lisa, prayed a prayer for Spiritual Communion, even so, just sticking to morning prayer may seem for you like we’re stopping worship, not just easing off the gas but stopping the car and stepping out the door. What gives? What do we do now? How do we wait until the last Sunday of the month (which, I’ll note here, is the festival of Pentecost, the very birthday of the Church), how do we get along without it?

       I will answer this question with a story. Back after college, I spent two years in Japan teaching English. And while I had studied Japanese before, all I could really do was ask for simple directions, talk about the weather, ask for the time (and understand the answer); you know, stuff you learn in a class. I could hold simple conversations, but, man, when it came to reading, on the whole, I was completely illiterate. I went from studying literature in college, reading stuff like Shakespeare and knowing what the man was saying, to not knowing how to find a sign for the bathroom. I mean, I could catch a glimpse of things in English, sure. And there was an English bookstore in Kyoto, and I’d go there and devour whatever I bought. But for the most part, I was illiterate. The world around me was full of symbols that I didn’t have the first idea of how to read.

       And it was horrible. I’m a reader. It’s how I understand the world around me and the world within me. It’s the bread for my butter, the burger for my ketchup. I imagine that folks who play sports might feel this way when they’re injured and laid up in bed. Sure, they can watch a game on the television, and that’s great, but it’s just not the same. They want to be on the field, hearing the crowd roar, pushing their bodies to the limit and then finding they can push themselves more. That’s how I felt about reading, and about not being able to read.

       Now, I’m not sure if this is how it works for people who play sports, but for me as a reader, being illiterate for a while – changed me. When I returned here to the US, at first I read things voraciously. I took a good friend to a bookstore with me and asked him, “Give me anything you think I should read.” He gave me $150 worth of books. And that was fine. I didn’t care. I wanted to read.

       But something else began to happen. I began to hear my language differently. This language that I had spoken ever since I was a little toddler, I heard it with new – with renewed – ears. Where once I had found it just kinda ho hum, now I found it to be beautiful. I read good old Shakespeare, who I thought was sometimes just confusing to be confusing, but now found him to be full of wisdom and heart and humor (though still a bit confusing). I even saw signs on the side of the road and marveled at the beauty that they were in English. My language had been a tool before, just something that I’d used to order a pizza or tell a stupid story or, mea cupla, insult someone. Now I saw it to be just what it is: a gift. And I wanted to use it as a gift.

       This is, at least, my experience, and I offer it to you as we think about Holy Communion. For now, we cannot receive the Eucharist, we cannot celebrate the Sacraments as they ought to be celebrated: the Sacraments, those most holy gifts of God. We’ll be praying a different prayer, something from our prayer book tradition in which we turn our hearts to God. For somewhere in the world the Eucharist is being celebrated, and that celebration of the Heavenly Banquet, which is the heart and soul of each celebration of the Eucharist, is eternal. It knows nothing of place and time because it looks to Heaven, not to Earth. But the Eucharist won’t be celebrated here at St. James at that altar behind me. And that’s okay. God is still with us. The Eucharist isn’t the only way to God – Jesus is the Gate, and Jesus is all throughout the world, walking in the forests, sitting there with you at home, in the open hands of the poor who are begging for food, in our own open hands, giving, giving, giving.

       And it’s okay to mourn the fact that we aren’t celebrating here, that we’re just praying Morning Prayer a while. It’s okay to mourn something like this. But while we mourn, while we long for and miss and feel weird about just praying Morning Prayer, let’s reflect on what the Eucharist means. What does it mean to us? What does it mean to the Church? What does it mean to our lives as Christians? What does it mean to you, being given a gift from God each and every week; and what does it mean to you, unable to receive that gift fully during our time of quarantine? And what will it mean to you when, finally and at long last, you can come to this altar, hold your hands out once more, and have those hands filled with the very stuff of Life Eternal?