Forward Today: Happy Easter! It’s a Season, Not a Day!

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott reflects on spending Holy Week in Jerusalem, and the ways it inspired him to think about the fullness of Easter.


Dear friends in Christ,

 

I wish you all a very blessed and joyous Easter! I am still basking in the glow of my pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where I celebrated Holy Week and Easter with Ethiopians, Greeks, Armenians, Russians, and Anglicans. You can see photos from my pilgrimage on my flickr page. It was inspiring to walk through Holy Week in the places Jesus and his disciples inhabited.

 

 

One thing that struck me is the exuberant way people shouted the Easter Greeting. “Christos Anesti! Alithos Anesti!” That’s Greek. Anglicans of course shouted, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” These shouts came in sets of three and they were repeated many times throughout liturgies. These were not the subdued liturgical speech that I’ve come to expect among my fellow Episcopalians. Rather, people shouted with reckless abandon, befitting the absolute triumph over death, fear, sin, and destruction that Christ’s Resurrection represents.
 
I wonder what our lives would be like if we celebrated the fullness of Easter for the fullness of the entire Easter season. Our church has set side 50 days for Easter. You might follow along on a wonderful website, 50 Days of Fabulous (www.50days.org). Or maybe you’ll take on an “Easter discipline.” Read a book, maybe one of Forward Movement’s 50 Day Bible Challenge readings of the gospels. My favorite habit to suggest is one that comes from some of our Orthodox friends. During the entire season, instead of greeting people with a hello or a good morning, they greet everyone with “Christ is risen!”
 
However you choose to celebrate Easter, I do hope you’ll make the joy and the transformation last longer than a day or a week. Easter isn’t just one day with full churches, extravagant music, and beautiful flowers. When we celebrate Easter, we are celebrating God’s absolute victory over death and our captivity to sin. Easter means that there is always hope, and that is good news, indeed.
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

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Forward Today: Holy Week for Holy Lives

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott writes from his Holy Week pilgrimage in Jerusalem, where he’s reminded that Holy Week isn’t just historic–it’s “very much about today.”


Dear friends in Christ,

 

As I mentioned last week, I’m in Jerusalem on pilgrimage for Holy Week. You can follow along on Twitter or Instagram or Flickr (where I’m posting lots of photos). It’s been an extraordinary experience. On Palm Sunday, I marched with tens of thousands along the traditional route from the Mount of Olives to the Old City of Jerusalem. I suppose much like the original parade, there was both joy and sorrow, hope and dread.

 

 

Later in the week, the group I’ve joined from St. George’s College here will worship with Anglicans here in the Diocese of Jerusalem. Perhaps if you are an Episcopalian, your church will take part in the Good Friday Offering for the work of the Diocese of Jerusalem. If so, please be generous. They do much good and vital work under very difficult circumstances.
 
This week, something has struck me in a particularly strong way. Holy Week is not, of course, just a re-enactment of past events, even here in Jerusalem, where some of the processions and services take place in the very locations the commemorated events took place some 2,000 years ago. No, Holy Week is very much about today.
 
This week, our liturgies draw us toward a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. They invite us afresh to glorify God. Maundy Thursday, for example, surely reminds us of an ancient meal. But it also invites us to glorify God for God’s great mercy and love for us. Maundy Thursday invites us to loving service in our whole lives. Here in this week, past, present, and future all meet.
 
How will you move through Holy Week? What will it show you about God?
 
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

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Forward Today: Getting Ready for Pilgrimage

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott writes about Holy Week pilgrimages, both mystical and literal. He’s headed to Jerusalem this year!


Dear friends in Christ,

 

One way to understand Holy Week is as a great pilgrimage, in which we are mystically transported to Jerusalem to walk alongside Jesus during the events of his final week and, ultimately, his great triumph on Easter Day. This is not a historical re-enactment, but a holy journey for every those of us to who “enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby [God] have given us life and immortality” (Palm Sunday collect). There is a flip side, of course. Maybe it’s more useful to think of Jerusalem, and Jesus’ great journey, being brought to us. It’s not that we go away, but rather that the Paschal Mystery is manifest for us. Either way, we realize that we are entering a great mystery, a Love that is larger than we either deserve or conceive.

 

Usually around this time, I’m preparing for the pilgrimage of Holy Week by writing sermons or proof-reading bulletins or leading rehearsals. It’s a lot of work, but I’ve always found it deeply rewarding. This year, I’m doing a different kind of preparation. I’m blessed to be heading to Jerusalem for Holy Week. So I’ll be savoring both a mystical and a literal pilgrimage this year. This year’s preparation involves suitcases and travel logistics and exercise. I expect to do a lot of walking and standing as I attend many services during the week. I’m taking the St. George’s College Easter Fire course, and they’ve got us quite busy! I’ve always wanted to do this, and I’m not sure yet how it will form my observance of Holy Week in future years. Ask me next year.
 
I invite you to join my pilgrimage, and I’d be blessed if you prayed for me and for all pilgrims (literal and mystical) in this holy time. If you want to follow along on my particular journey, you can find me on Instagram or Twitter, and I’ll probably blog a few thoughts along the way. I’m taking along a list of people to pray for while I’m in Jerusalem, so please do let me know if I can pray for you while I’m there.
 
Wherever you are, I do hope you’ll make time in your life for Holy Week. If you can set aside time during the Three Holy Days (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Eve) for worship, you will find yourself transformed by the stories, the liturgies, and Christ’s presence with us through the journey.
 
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

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Forward Today: The Church in Our Time

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott reflected on John Keble, who we remembered on the church calendar this week–and what his ministry can teach us in tumultuous times.


Dear friends in Christ,

 

Today the church remembers John Keble, an English priest who died in 1866. He lived in a time of foment, when the role of the church in society was under debate. Pitched battles were fought over the church and how worship was offered. Keble and others insisted that the church is a divine institution with a purpose beyond the earthly realm. Keble didn’t just launch the Oxford Movement within the church, but helped to reclaim the church from secular forces, insisting on the primacy of prayer and sacraments. High church, broad church, low church – all have benefitted from Keble’s ministry.
No time in history has ever been completely peaceful. In this present time, conflict and strife are more visible to more people, perhaps because of 24/7 news and social media. The good news in this is that oppression and suffering are manifest for all to see, so that all might work toward justice and peace. Of course, the difficulty is that we can be overwhelmed by all the challenges.
 
What are we Christians to do? Perhaps Keble offers a way ahead. We might do well to remember that the church, the Body of Christ, is divine in nature. This means, on the one hand, that the church must surely align itself with the suffering of all kinds. But it also means that the church is bigger and holier than our human frailties. We don’t have the rescue the church from anything. Rather, the church points us all toward Jesus, who rescues us and the whole world.
 
How does the church propel you into the world? How does the church draw you to Jesus?
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

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Browse Pamphlets for Easter

Looking for good resources for Easter? As we approach Holy Week, we invite you and your parish to consider the following Easter pamphlet offerings from Forward Movement. All pamphlets are sold in bundles of 10.

During the Easter season, we hear the accounts of Jesus’ appearances to his friends in the days immediately following the Resurrection. As you reflect on the passages in Resurrection Living , Christine McSpadden invites you to enter into these strange, evocative stories-and open yourself to the transfiguring power of the risen Christ.

 

The fifty days of Easter offer an opportunity to practice living as a resurrected people- and then to take that practice into the rest of the church year. Author Nancy Hopkins-Greene explores ways let go of fear, cultivate signs of new life, read the Bible, bring new life to others, and invite God into your questions. Pairs nicely with  Lent: Preparing Us for Easter. 

 

To enter fully into Christ’s resurrection, we must first follow him in his passion. Observing Holy Week, the week preceding Easter Sunday, is an invitation to do so. This pamphlet explains all of the worship experiences available during Holy Week, from Palm Sunday through Tenebrae and Holy Saturday to Easter Sunday.

Forward Today: Love So Amazing

In this week’s edition of our weekly newsletter, Scott reflects on the great line from Isaac Watts, and how we can all reflect on it this Lenten season.


Dear friends in Christ,

 

Today, as I was praying morning prayer, I was struck by this line from Romans: “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (5:8). It’s so simple, really, but yet so extraordinary.
 
Even though we’ve all messed up pretty badly, God still loves us enough to effect our salvation. Jesus Christ was willing to live among us and, ultimately, to die for us. The cross proves that our God is not a distant, remote God. God is willing to live in solidarity with us, to enter every human pain. And, of course, Jesus was raised from the dead, showing us that God’s love is stronger even than death.
 
Paolo Veneziano [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
This Lenten season, I invite you to join me in reflecting on all this. Let us not ignore our sins and failings. Let us give thanks for God’s great love for us. And let us prepare ourselves to celebrate God’s victory over evil and death on Easter Sunday.
 
So simple. So extraordinary. “When I survey the wondrous cross,” Isaac Watts’ beloved hymn, ends with this: “Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.”
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

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Guest post: Greeting Pachuco

We received the following letter a few weeks ago from Rev. Jim Nelson, a priest in Texas. As we reflect on themes of hospitality in our Lenten Season of Prayer: 40 Days in the Desert series, we wanted to share Jim’s story here. 

I’m an Episcopal priest in “The Valley,” as this part of Texas is called. We’re way down south on the border with Mexico, in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley. Reynosa is just across the river from us, and is our sister city. Though “Winter-Texans” love it here, and flock in droves to enjoy our mild winters, the rest of the state of Texas sees us only as the necessary part to travel through to get to the beaches of South Padre Island. We live in an in-between place—not Mexico but  not the United States exactly, either. We’re simply The Valley.

Because of our location and climate, the Rio Grande Valley is home to many people living between the layers of society. I meet a lot of them at my church, Saint John’s.  I first met Pachuco (not his real name) one evening here at the parish, while I was checking the grounds and locking up for the night.  Saint John’s has a beautiful garden in the center of the parish grounds, and as I was coming around one of the hedge-lined walkways, I suddenly came face to face Pachuco. He had a bandana around his forehead, the clothes he was wearing were about 10 sizes too big, he was sporting an array neck tattoos, complete with a Fumanchu-style mustache and soul patch just under his bottom lip.

His first words to me were, “I’m not here to hurt ya, Boss.”  From that statement, I figured it was likely he might have indeed hurt people before. When he called me, “Boss,” I was pretty sure he had probably also served time in prison. I ended up finding out I was right on both counts. He looked like an aging gang-banger from East LA, which is really just a part of who he is.

Pachuco wanted money for a place to stay (the first of many such requests), and after talking with him some more I invited him  back the next day to see if we could come up with some solutions for him. He did return,  and I gave him a small check from my clergy discretionary account. He had the proper ID to cash a check, so I sent him to the bank that’s right next door to us. About five minutes later, the bank called to ask if I had written a check to this man—I could hear the incredulity in their voice.

That was the start of what is still an on-going relationship between this guerro (white guy) and a displaced gang-banger.

Over the course of five years, I’ve had countless talks with Pachuco. He counts me as a dear friend, even though I seldom tell him what he wants to hear. He could change —find “amendment of life,” if he truly wanted that.  Of course, we all could. I’ve also made friends with another ex-gangbanger who teaches college. I invited him and Pachuco out to lunch with me, in order that the professor might inspire Pachuco to change. 

I’ve prayed with and for Pachuco countless times. I’ve purchased clothes for him that might be a little more professional-seeming in interviews, so Pachuco could look more like the other viable applicants, and actually get a job.  He’s come to church at Saint John’s  a few times. I love Pachuco, and he frustrates me like none of my other regular visitors who come seeking assistance and prayer. The police regularly pick him up for criminal trespassing. I know he is capable of doing differently, but he always justifies not shedding the vestiges of his old life.  Even his clothes have captured him, serving an identity that doesn’t particularly serve his best interests, or who he really is as a beloved child of God.  

I realize that how I feel with Pachuco is how God must feel with humanity—with you and with me.

I care about Pachuco. God cares more about all of us. I see the potential in Pachuco for a contented and joyful life—and I want that for him. God sees that in me and in you, too. And just like us, Pachuco fearfully clings to his old identity—as though that truly is who he is. So do we. Pachuco claims to want more, even though he won’t do the one thing that will allow him to cross over into a better life.  He’s afraid of losing himself and the identity he’s clung to all of these years. He holds back. So do we. 

Jim Nelson is the rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in McAllen, TX.

ICYMI: Week of 3/19

Welcome back to the latest In Case You Missed It, a.k.a. ICYMI, our weekly blog roundup of the latest stories around the @fwd_mvt and #Episcopal world.

How is your Lenten practice going? Have you found time for prayer and reflection? Perhaps the best “new” prayer resource to try is the one readily available in any pew: The Book of Common Prayer. In this week’s Forward Today, Scott wrote about this remarkable resource, noting that “the prayers that we use week in and week out are like beloved friends, but there are also some gems lurking in the lesser-trod parts of our prayer book.”

And on Facebook, we invited folks to share their favorite prayers. We got some great answers, including:

  • “Prayer for the morning on p. 461. I pray this one with nursing home residents.”
  • “The one that endorses doing nothing gallantly!”
  • “The entire 1928 BCP.”
  • “I so like this simple BCP prayer at day’s end: O Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in thy mercy, grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last. Amen.”

 
We hope you’ll say hi on Facebook—and like Forward Movement if you haven’t already—and share your favorites!

For more on what the Book of Common Prayer has to offer, we also highly recommend Inwardly Digest, Derek Olsen’s terrific new book on how to use the BCP as “a map to a deeper relationship to God.”

On the subject of daily prayer and practice: We always love to hear how readers have used Forward Day by Day over the years. And this week we heard a really cool story: Duke Ellington was a Forward Day by Day reader! He even marked up his copies in ways that connected to the music he was working on. Here’s one from 1969:

How cool is that? You can read more about Ellington’s Day by Day practice here (p 347–350).

A certain famed March tournament saw some a big upset this week. We speak of course of Lent Madness, in which Franz Jägerstätter edged Joan of Arc to advance. Perhaps the extra umlaut powered him to victory.

Is your bracket already busted? Can Franz make it to the Elate Eight? If you haven’t joined in the Madness fun, do stop by and cast your votes—and check out the informative and entertaining saintly bios contributed by LM’s celebrity blogging squad.

Wishing you a peaceful week—and bracket success!

Forward Today: The Riches of Common Prayer

In this week’s edition of our weekly newsletter, Scott looks at a treasure trove of prayer hiding in plain sight in a pew near you, and wonderful for Lent: the BCP.


Dear friends in Christ,

 

I’ve been writing a book on Episcopal beliefs and practices lately, and so I’ve been poking around the Book of Common Prayer quite a bit. Whenever I have occasion for a project like this that takes me deeper into the prayer book, I always walk away grateful for our tradition of common prayer. The prayers that we use week in and week out are like beloved friends, but there are also some gems lurking in the lesser-trod parts of our prayer book.

 

 
Consider, for example, “A Litany of Thanksgiving for a Church” (BCP 578) or the seasonal prayers in the Order for Evening (BCP 111) or any number of other places. There are precious gems waiting for us to find and examine them.
 
If you have a moment this Lenten season, I invite you to dig out a prayer book and flip through its pages. Visit old friends and find new ones. Learn a bit more about how our life of prayer is organized. Savoring common prayer does not prevent us from talking with God in our own words. In fact, it might give us new language for our conversations with God.
 
This week, I close with another favorite prayer, “For Quiet Confidence” (BCP 832).
 
O God of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength: By the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray thee, to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

To get future reflections from Scott in your inbox, subscribe to Forward Today.

ICYMI: Week of 3/12/17

Welcome back to the latest In Case You Missed It, a.k.a. ICYMI, our weekly blog roundup of the latest stories around the @fwd_mvt and #Episcopal world.

Lent Madness got going in earnest this week—how’s your bracket looking? In their weekly video, Scott and Tim shared snapshots from some brackets around the globe. We enjoyed this picture from Marin Catholic in Kentfield, CA.

And here’s a post on how we play in the Forward Movement office.

Last Wednesday was #InternationalWomensDay, and we saw some excellent posts from across the Episcoplan/Anglican social media community (and across the world). A particular favorite was this photo of Trinity Wall Street staff with the new ‘Fearless Girl’ statue across from the famous Wall St bull.

Daily meditation and prayer are for many a solo practice, but it can be immensely rewarding when we realize we’re part of a larger prayer community. We saw two examples of that this week. Our Question of the Week asked:

A few of the many answers we received:

  • “First thing with my coffee. Sets up the day for a better chance at being, well, better…”
  • “Early before anyone is up around 4:45 am, then again later in the evening.”
  • “Around 6:00 AM. Peace on porch.”
  • “I try to do before work and before bed, but the times vary because my schedule varies.”
  • “Lunch time. If the morning was bad, it helps me turn the day around.”

 
It’s pretty cool to think that when you’re reading the daily Forward Day by Day meditation, or whatever you use in your practice, there’s a community of many others reflecting on those same words at the same time.

Speaking of community, we also read a great blog post on ECF’s Vital Practices from Linda Buskirk, a regular contributor to Forward Day by Day’s daily comments forum. Linda writes:

Nearly every morning, I enjoy morning prayer time with a group of friends. I think most of us are Episcopalians, but I don’t know for sure. We come from all over the United States, the Caribbean, and beyond … We’ve done this so long now, we call each other family. Sometimes people share their worries, ask for prayer, or admit struggles and questions. In response, many prayers and words of encouragement offered. New people easily come into the mix and are welcomed. Anyone can participate.

We’re so glad this forum has become such an important place for so many Day by Day readers. If you haven’t checked it out, it’s here. And of course, you can also connect with Day by Day readers on Facebook and Twitter.

Have a great week!