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
(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.
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.
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?
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.
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.”
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.
In this week’s edition of our weekly newsletter, Scott reflects on a letter he recently received, from an inmate on death row—and shares a powerful prayer.
Dear friends in Christ,
This week I received a letter that I won’t forget any time soon. As you may know, we at Forward Movement donate resources to prisons and prisoners. Sometimes it is a chaplain who contacts us, and sometimes it is an inmate. This unforgettable letter was from a man who is now on death row. He was writing to thank us for Forward Day by Day, which he said had given him lots of comfort over the last few years. He also shared that the date of his execution has been set for April, and he was asking for prayers.
I can’t imagine what his life is like right now. What is it like to know the exact date of your death? As I was trying to decide what I might say in response, I happened to come across a prayer card. The prayer, which comes from Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book, seemed just right for him, and, I think, for all of us.
Be Thou, O Lord, a light unto mine eyes, music to my ears, sweetness to my taste, and a full contentment to my heart. Be thou my sunshine in the day, my food at the table, my repose in the night, my clothing in nakedness, and my succor in all necessities. Amen.
Jesus is everything for us and for all who follow him. I pray that not only those who are near death, but all who are in the midst of life, will find strength and courage from Christ’s presence in our lives. In this Lenten season, we remember that Jesus was tempted in the desert, knew every human pain, and suffered the sting of death. God loves us so much that Jesus Christ dwelled with us in great humility. And, in the end, Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, showing us that God’s love is stronger than death.
May we all be inspired to live fearlessly and compassionately, confident in Christ’s presence. And I beg your prayers for all who face death, whatever the reason or circumstance.
In this week’s edition of our weekly newsletter, Scott writes about how challenging it must have been to wander in the desert–and the yearning for home shared by all who are displaced.
Dear friends in Christ,
We are just a week away from Lent. I can hardly wait. This year more than ever, I will welcome this great season in which we are invited to focus on returning to God, on recommitting ourselves to following Jesus.
The length of the Lenten season, 40 days not counting Sundays, comes from the accounts of Jesus’ time in the desert, when we spent 40 days in prayer and fasting, meeting God and facing temptation. I was hiking in a desert not too long ago, and my appreciation for the extreme nature of Jesus’ journey only grew. The desert is not a hospitable place. Because he was fully human, he must have yearned to be home.
Jesus’ 40 days in the desert find an antecedent in God’s people wandering in the desert for 40 years. I can’t imagine. Forty years of wandering, of yearning for home, a home in the promised land.
The plight of refugees has recently come into focus for many of us. Their struggle is not new, but more of us are paying attention now. More than 65 million people around the world have been displaced from their homes by war, strife, or persecution. Having visited refugee camps in the West Bank and in Rwanda, I have a tiny amount of awareness of their struggles. Most refugees will live the rest of their lives in camps, unable to return home because it is not safe, and unable to find a new home because no one will let them in. All these people want is what anyone wants, a place to call home. Refugees are wandering and yearning, but for more than 40 days or 40 years.
This Lent, we at Forward Movement invite you to join in a Season of Prayer: 40 Days in the Desert. During this time, we will pray and read scripture about hospitality, about wandering, and about caring for refugees. Let us all fervently pray that every person – all of whom are made in God’s image – finds a place to call home. Let us pray that those of us with homes will open them to a world in need.
In this week’s edition of our weekly newsletter, Scott writes about Lent Madness, the annual saintly smackdown that’s all in good fun–but can have a powerful impact, too.
Dear friends in Christ,
We are just around the corner from the eighth year of Lent Madness, the “saintly smackdown” that pits 32 saints into a competition for the Golden Halo. It’s all very silly, but it has a profound impact on participants. You see, over the course of Lent, as you vote for your favorite saints, you read about them and their witness. By the end of Lent, we get a glimpse into the extraordinary ways God works in ordinary women and men.
Some will object that this kind of silly and slightly irreverent fun isn’t appropriate in a world rife with serious problems. But as I blogged yesterday, there are no saints of the status quo. That is, every saint we remember is known for their advocacy of the vulnerable or for calling people to transformed lives or for prophetically calling the church to return to its Gospel life. To celebrate the saints is to celebrate rocking the boat. To celebrate the saints is to discover that God works for justice through people like you and me.
This year more than ever, I’m looking forward to a fun, informative, and inspirational season of Lent Madness. As in previous years, I know a vibrant online community will form as we discuss the merits of various saints. Perhaps you will join us, if you haven’t played before. This might be in addition to your regular Lenten discipline, or maybe it will be your first-ever Lenten discipline. Whatever you do, I invite you to use the season of Lent to recommit to following Jesus. It is hard work, to be sure. But sometimes it can be fun. This is appropriate. After all, the Book of Common Prayer describes Lent as a season to “prepare with joy for the Paschal feast.” Indeed. Let us prepare with joy.
In this week’s edition of our weekly newsletter, Scott writes that the harder it seems to make the time and space for daily prayer, the more important it is.
Dear friends in Christ,
Sometimes it seems that our world is spinning out of control. Whatever your political persuasion or nationality, we can all agree that conflict is on the rise. Those of us on social media might feel that we’re witnessing daily stress and angst increase by the minute. And the nonstop pulse of news cycles leaves us breathless, with little room for contemplation.
When something terrible happens in our world, we often hear a response of “thoughts and prayers.” This inevitably leads to a conversation about whether prayer is enough. I’d like to suggest that prayer and contemplation are essential, but that when we pray fervently, we’ll often be led to other kinds of actions. The key is making space for prayer in the first place, something increasingly difficult in the chaos of the present time.
Habits of daily prayer and reflection are absolutely essential for followers of Jesus. The harder this seems for us, the more important it is. Prayer is our anchor. Prayer is the thing that keeps us grounded and focused.
Praying for our enemies will help us to follow Jesus’ commandment to love them. Praying for a decrease in violence will push us to work for peace. Praying for God’s strength when we are afraid will help us live as Jesus told us when he said again and again, “Be not afraid.”
It’s just a month until Lent, thanks be to God. Soon enough we’ll be in the midst of a whole season devoted to helping us follow Jesus every day. I hope you’ll find ways, during Lent or before, to join me in focusing on our lives of daily prayer.
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.
The story in much of the #Episcopal world has been around prayer this week. We were impressed by the way Ryan Casey Waller preached about the subject here:
(If you were impressed by Ryan’s preaching, too, keep an eye on this space—he’s writing a book for Forward Movement this spring!)
This week we celebrated the Conversion of Saint Paul. What does this have to do with us? Plenty, says Scott Gunn, who wrote in Forward Today that “We will be asked to admit that we were wrong – again and again – and to start over. It’s incredibly counter-cultural in a world which urges us all to resist admitting error or to acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers.”
Marcus Halley added that Jesus’ treatment of Saul, claiming him rather than destroying him, causes him to rethink how he pictures Christ: “Maybe Jesus isn’t my avenging superhero, and maybe that’s okay.”
In #Episcopal world, the conversation has also begun shifting toward Lent. At Forward Movement, we’re really excited about our newest book of Lenten meditations, Ashes and the Phoenix. We made this graphic explaining what it’s all about:
Another one that’s great for the season is On the Way: 7 Reflections on Life with Jesus, which is beautifully illustrated and bilingual in English and Spanish. Here’s Hugo speaking more about the book.
Of course, our own resources are hardly the only ones for this season. One other Lenten activity that caught our eye is Episcopal Relief and Development Sunday. Here’s a post from Episcopal Cafe sharing bilingual resources for your church to participate.
Wishing you all a blessed and peaceful week!