Tag Archives: Forward Today

Forward Today: Shepherded by scripture

Dear friends in Christ: While Scott is traveling this week, we bring you an excerpt from his book of meditations for Eastertide, Easter Triumph, Easter Joy. In this meditation, Scott reflects on the scripture texts for this coming Sunday, the Fourth Week of Easter.

Image from the catacomb of Domitilla shows one of the oldest known images of Jesus Christ as the good shepherd / Wikimedia Commons

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
—Psalm 23 (Authorized or King James Version)

I have strong memories from several funerals I led during my time as a parish priest. Most of my memories are of families gathered in the church to say goodbye to their loved ones and to hear a word of Easter hope.

One of these memories is from a service held at the funeral home. The family was barely connected to the church, but for whatever reason, they asked me to lead the service. They made it pretty clear they weren’t looking for anything “too churchy.”

I didn’t print out leaflets. When it was time for the service, I mostly read the burial office from our prayer book. Those ancient words offer, I think, just the right measure of sorrow and hope. Anyway, when it came time for the scriptures, I read a lesson and then said something like, “I’m going to read Psalm 23 aloud now. If you know the words, you are most welcome to join me.” Much to my surprise, when I started, nearly everyone in the room said this beloved psalm from memory.

I have had similar experiences at the bedsides of those near the end of life. Sometimes a person who is beyond the point of conversation will be silent in our prayers until I begin the Lord’s Prayer or Psalm 23. Then their lips move, praying along. Generation upon generation have been steeped in these words of liturgy and scripture that go all the way to the core.

But why Psalm 23? I think it is profoundly reassuring. God is our shepherd. When we need companionship, or protection, or guidance, God is there with us. When we face danger, God is there with us. Even at the end of our days, God is there with us.

I worry that in today’s church, we don’t do enough to encourage people to memorize scripture and prayer so deeply that it gets to our core. When people are in grave crisis or facing their own imminent mortality, how will they be equipped to meet these moments?

In our prayer and study, we prize novelty but at the cost of perseverance and immersion. I hope we can do a better job of balancing the two tensions. In my own life, I hope there are prayers and scriptures that go all the way to my core. I hope that’s true for you, too.

The Lord is truly our shepherd. But perhaps the Lord seeks to accompany us at times in the words of scripture. Let us all commit to loving scripture so much it shapes our hearts and our lives.

More from our ministry:

Pray the psalms and reflect on scripture each day: Forward Day by Day app

Embed scripture in everything to nurture spiritual growth: RenewalWorks

Read through the Bible through a new lens: The Way of Love Bible Challenge

Carry prayer with you wherever you go: Hour by Hour


Forward Today: Alleluia! What’s it to you?

We welcome The Rev. Ryan Fleenor, member of Forward Movement’s board, as our guest author this week.

Photo by Pisit Heng on Unsplash

Dear friends in Christ,

I served for many years alongside an organist who taught me a great deal about what it means to serve God’s people and to gather them for prayer and praise. He was a deeply pious man— if also a bit quirky and irreverent in his humor. When he retired, the choir collected all his various aphorisms and quips into a song. It was hilarious. But my favorite was his typical Easter greeting. Throughout the 50 Days of Eastertide, whenever I’d run into him in the halls, he’d say with a wry smile: “Alleluia! What’s it to ya?”

“Alleluia? What’s it to ya?” This, I have come to believe, just might be the most important question we could ask ourselves in this holy season.

Each of the Gospels has an “Alleluia! What’s it to ya?” story—a story of the difference it makes that Christ has been raised from the dead. On Easter evening, we heard Luke’s story: the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus who felt their hearts burning within them as they walked alongside the risen Christ and came to recognize him in the breaking of the bread. Last Sunday, we heard one of John’s stories: the story of the risen Christ coming to reassure fearful, faithful Thomas that what he’s heard from the others is in fact true. And there are other wonderful stories too! Perhaps this Eastertide, consider making a spiritual practice of reading and meditating on the stories in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20-21.

Alleluia! What’s it to you? Christ is alive! He lives to give us new life, rescuing us from the power of sin and death and empowering us for service in his kingdom. What difference does that make in your life?

Yours in Christ,

The Rev. Ryan Fleenor
Forward Movement Board Member
Rector of Saint Luke’s Parish in Darien, CT

More from our ministry:

Easter meditations from Scott Gunn: Easter Triumph, Easter Joy

Reflect on Eastertide through art and writing at 50days.org

Take a close look at your own spiritual life: Vital Signs of Faith

Follow the stories of the Bible from beginning to end: The Path

Forward Today: My Lord and my God!

Thomas the Apostle. Detail of the mosaic in the Basilica of San Vitale. Ravena, Italy. Photo by Richard Mortel.

Dear friends in Christ,

Happy Easter! I hope your Easter season has begun with raucous joy. I don’t think it’s possible to have too much Easter joy.

This Sunday, we hear the story of St. Thomas the Apostle asking to see Jesus’ wounds. Sometimes we pejoratively call him Doubting Thomas, but I wish we’d call him Courageous Thomas or Good Question Thomas. After all, he had the courage to ask what others surely wondered.

It’s clear from the scriptures that those around Jesus had trouble making sense of the new reality in which Jesus was raised from the dead. And who can blame them? If I saw someone dead and buried and then ran into them on the street a couple days later, I’d question my sanity! Even though Jesus had been saying he would be raised on the third day, perhaps Jesus’s disciples quite understandably had trouble getting that idea into their minds.

To St. Thomas’s great credit, he moved from doubt to belief. Jesus did not condemn him, but rather showed him signs. And belief followed quickly: “My Lord and my God!”

If we ponder Easter for more than a few seconds, we might also find ourselves doubting. Can this really have happened? Did our Father raise his Son to new life? Are sin and evil really vanquished? If we doubt, we could follow St. Thomas’s example and ask questions. We might ask fellow members of the church, or we might go to God in prayer. And when we receive assurance that grace and mercy have triumphed, let us be quick to proclaim this glad news.

Easter is not for the faint of heart. It’s OK to admit that. But let us not stay in a place of murky doubt. For God has triumphed, and our world surely needs to hear this message.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

More from our ministry:

Read Scott’s Easter meditations in ebook format: Kindle | Apple Books

Celebrate the whole season of Easter at 50days.org

Explore St. Thomas’s story in the Gospel of John: A Journey with John

Meet Jesus in the scriptures each day: Forward Day by Day

Forward Today: Encountering Jesus

Light shines down on the edicule, the building holding Christ’s Tomb at Church of the Holy Sepulchre. (Photo: Scott Gunn)

Dear friends in Christ,

Starting tomorrow, the church observes the Triduum Sacrum, or the Three Holy Days. We gather to observe Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Eve. In these liturgies, we enter into the heart of the Christian story—into the heart of God’s love for us.

I sincerely hope you’ll make time to be in church all three days. It’s a big commitment, but it’s well worth it. If you’ve never tried it, this could be the year. I don’t think I’ve yet met a person who came to the whole set of liturgies with any regrets over their time.

In these observances, we see the whole picture. We see Jesus’ deep love of his friends. We see the desolation and betrayal as Jesus’ friends turn on him. We see agony and death. We see mystery and sorrow. Finally, we see ultimate joy as God’s love triumphs over sin, evil, and even death.

These are not just reminders of things that took place long ago, though that’s certainly part of what we do. These liturgies are promises of the depth of God’s love for us in this life and in the life to come.

If you know someone —Christian or not—who has not experienced these Three Holy Days, consider inviting them along for our holy pilgrimage into the heart of our faith.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

P.S. Easter is coming! If you are looking for a way to celebrate the fullness of Easter joy for the whole 50 day season, check out my latest book, Easter Triumph, Easter Joy.

More from our ministry:

Vote for this year’s Golden Halo winner at lentmadness.org

Keep vigil with this free download from Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book

Pray with us each day: prayer.forwardmovement.org

Forward Today: The world, or your life?

Photo by Adriel Kloppenburg on Unsplash

Dear friends in Christ,

This Sunday’s Gospel brings a challenging message from Jesus. Among other things, Jesus says, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”

Wow. That’s rough. But it makes total sense. If all I worry about is protecting myself, I end up closing myself off from opportunities for God’s grace to work in my life and, through me, in the world. It makes everything about me. But if I can make everything about God’s grace and mercy, I begin to live a life that is steeped in gratitude and overflowing with love.

Jesus says we have to choose whether riches are more important to us than living an abundant, joyful life. If I spend my life chasing earthly things, I will almost certainly miss out an knowing heavenly things. Focusing on stuff leads me to lose my soul for the sake of… not much, really.

But when we make God’s grace and mercy the core of our being, we discover gratitude beyond our imagining. And we cannot help but spill over with mercy and grace for the world around us. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is truly astounding.

This season of Lent offers us the gift of a time to focus on what’s important. Perhaps we first need a reminder so we notice what’s important! And then we can try to live the life to which Jesus calls us—rooted in gratitude, grace, and mercy.

I hope you’ll join me in asking the big question. What’s most important? Chasing worldly things? Or seeking heavenly things?

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

More from our ministry:

Explore this gospel text: A Journey with Mark

Hear from churches focusing on what’s important: Signs of Life

Reset your approach to money and faith: The Unjust Steward

Start your day with scripture and prayer: Forward Day by Day

Forward Today: Lent is about true love

Photo by Ahna Ziegler on Unsplash

Dear friends in Christ,

Today’s juxtaposition of Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday offers the perfect occasion for a critical reminder. This season of Lent is all about love. No, it’s not necessarily about romantic love. But this season invites us to return to the Lord—to focus on love of God and love of neighbor.

89 years ago, the very first publication of Forward Movement was a set of Lenten devotions. The founding leaders of Forward Movement saw Lent as a vital time to move forward on our journey as a church and as individuals. A few weeks ago, a friend sent me a transcript of a sermon preached at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine just before Lent in 1935. Bishop William Manning offered what he called “A Charge to the Diocese of New York on the Observance of Lent and the Forward Movement.”

Bishop Manning said, in part:

In the Forward Movement that we now need, and are undertaking, the first step must be a movement back to the use of our Bibles and our Prayer Books. A sincere, intelligent, and believing use of these two books by all of us will bring an awakening of interest, a deepening of conviction, a revival of faith and life which will arouse the whole Church, and at this time in which we are living we need this in every Diocese, in every Parish, and in every Home. Every man and woman who will faithfully read his Bible, and faithfully follow the teachings of his Prayer Book, will come near to Jesus, and this is the soul of our religion as Christians.

I encourage you to read the whole charge for some inspiration and very specific practices to try this Lent as we all repent and return to the Lord. What’s old is new again in our spiritual practices.

If you do not own a Bible you love, buy one to read and study at home. If you do not own a Book of Common Prayer, ask for one at your church or enjoy this lovely gift edition Book of Common Prayer from Forward Movement. If you are on the go, you can pray the Daily Office wherever you are, by reading or by listening to our podcasts, on our prayer website. However you do it, I strongly encourage you to take the good bishop’s advice and use this season to savor the scriptures and the prayer book.

The Bible and the Book of Common Prayer are not in themselves the ends of our spiritual journey, but they are treasures which can help us discover true love: the grace of God, the joy of loving God, and the delight of loving our neighbors. Have a blessed Lent.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

P.S. Do you want to pray through Lent with a devotional this year? It’s not too late. Download an ebook of Will You?, our newest Lenten devotional, from Amazon or Apple Books. You can also listen to Will You? as an audiobook from Audible or Apple Books. Our other Lent devotionals are also available as ebooks – browse to see which one speaks to you this season.

More from our ministry:

Laugh and learn about the saints this season: Lent Madness

Start your day with scripture and reflection: Forward Day by Day

Prepare for Easter: Order your Easter calendars today

Forward Today: Giving thanks for the Book of Common Prayer

Dear friends in Christ,

Years ago, when I served as a parish priest, I spoke with quite a few folks who found their way to the Episcopal Church. Our church was growing, and new members came from other church backgrounds and from no church background. I loved listening to what God was doing in their lives.

A common thread in those stories was gratitude for Episcopal liturgy, especially for the prayer book. People said they loved the sense of connection to the church in all times and places, liturgies that were hundreds of years old yet still compelling in today’s world. They spoke highly of the poetic and theologically rich language.

If you’ve read Walk in Love: Episcopal Beliefs & Practices, you’ll know how much I love our liturgy. The Anglican liturgical tradition certainly not the only way to rightly and beautifully worship God! But the prayer book is certainly a treasure to enjoy.

Forward Movement publishes a beautiful edition of the Book of Common Prayer (1979). We want you to have a book that is as beautiful as the liturgy. The edition we publish has a leather cover, gilt-edge pages, and a ribbon. Perhaps most exciting to me personally, the book also offers red rubrics. The word “rubric” literally means red, after all. So the red-letter days are actually red! It looks lovely.

So if you need a prayer book, or if you’re looking for a gift for someone on a spiritual journey, check it out. (There are bulk discounts if you’re buying several at once.)

But that’s not all. Today I also want to share a new PDF of the prayer book. As we prepared this edition, we realized that some of the PDFs floating around have quite a few errors. And they don’t show rubrics in red. As a gift to the church, Forward Movement is glad to share a PDF of the whole prayer book. By canon, the Book of Common Prayer (1979) is not copyrighted, and neither is our PDF. You are welcome to share it or post it on your church website, or whatever you like.

Whatever book or digital resource you use, I commend the richness of the prayer book to you.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

P.S. We also offer the complete BCP in Braille.

More from our ministry:

Listen to this year’s Lent devotional on Audible or Apple Books

Explore the spirituality of the BCP: Inwardly Digest

Another beautiful, portable prayer book: Hour by Hour

Pray from the Book of Common Prayer each day: prayer.forwardmovement.org

Forward Today: Savoring Lent

Dear friends in Christ,

It’s hard to believe, but Lent begins two weeks from today. From many conversations over years, I know that some people really look forward to this season and others dread it. A long time ago, I didn’t love the subdued season of Lent, but I grew to love it.

Lent can be a joyful time. Shocking? It shouldn’t be—even the Book of Common Prayer speaks of this season as a time to “prepare with joy for the Paschal feast.” With joy!

How can this be? Lent is a time to turn back toward God’s ways, to repent. Lent is a time to grow closer to Jesus. Lent is a time to live the life that God intends for us. What could be more joyful than that?

In its wisdom, the church suggests several ways to use the season of Lent for our good. We are encouraged to practice fasting and self-denial, to realize that our health and happiness doesn’t come from things, but only from God’s grace and mercy. We are urged to spend time in prayer and in studying the scriptures. We are commended in giving alms.

I encourage you to take advantage of whatever opportunities your local church offers. It is good to spend this time in the company of others. Forward Movement also offers a wide array of resources to support your Lenten journey. We have published Lenten daily devotions. We have a website and an app with resources for daily prayer. We offer a joyful practice in Lent Madness—learning from the saints.

With just two weeks until Lent starts, now is the time to make a plan. How will you savor this season, this time to return to the Lord?

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

P.S. Your church might want to order copies of our colorable Lent and Easter calendar posters. These engaging posters are fun for all ages—to color in the pictures and to find ways to engage these seasons.

More from our ministry:

Follow along with Lent Madness with this 2024 Bracket Poster

Meet Amanda Perkins McGriff, the author of this year’s Lent devotional

Look ahead to Easter: Easter Triumph, Easter Joy

Savor God’s word with this bite-sized devotional: Forward Day by Day

Forward Today: Full of grace and truth

Saint John’s Bible exhibit, St. Mary’s Abbey, Morristown, New Jersey. Photo by Randy Greves (CC BY 2.0)

Dear friends in Christ,

Ready or not, Christmas is almost here! An occupational hazard for those of us who “work” at church— as clergy, altar guild, choir, lectors, staff, whatever — is that we get so busy with the details that we miss the mystery and awe of Christmas. I suppose that same hazard exists for all of us, between gift-giving, meal preparation, decorations, parties, and all the traditions of the season.

Consider this message your invitation to spend a few moments in quiet contemplation of the awe and wonder of Christmas. And then if you can manage that awe again at church in a few days, so much the better!

I encourage you to find a quiet spot. Grab a Bible or a connected device. Read Luke 2:1-20 and John 1:1-14. It might be helpful to read them in a couple of different translations, perhaps a familiar one and a less familiar one. Read them several times.

What is God doing? How is the birth of Jesus like any other, and how is his birth different from all others? What does the way his birth unfolds teach us about God? How might we be inspired to live more faithfully because God loves us so much that he was willing to live as God-with-us, fully enfleshed?

I love Christmas carols and festive traditions. But what gets me every year, if I make time for it, is the fresh realization of God’s great love for us all, both in its simplicity and in its majesty.

Have a joyous AND contemplative Christmas, friends.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

More from our ministry:

Spend the last days of the season with AdventWord

A guide to “good news of great joy” in the Bible: The Path

Explore these gospels with the Bible Challenge series

Pray every day with us: prayer.forwardmovement.org

Forward Today: Most affecting and majestic manner

Dear friends in Christ,

Advent offers us an invitation to renew our study of scripture and our life of prayer. As an Episcopalian, I naturally think of the Book of Common Prayer in this season of repentance and growth. Given that this is a time of year when I buy Christmas gifts, I find myself wondering who I know who might enjoy the gift of the Book of Common Prayer at Christmas.

In the larger sense, the prayer book is a gift for all of us. The preface to the 1789 edition, which is reprinted in our current 1979 book, ends with this flourish:

And now, this important work being brought to a conclusion, it is hoped the whole [book] will be received and examined by every true member of our Church, and every sincere Christian, with a meek, candid, and charitable frame of mind; without prejudice or prepossessions; seriously considering what Christianity is, and what the truths of the Gospel are; and earnestly beseeching Almighty God to accompany with his blessing every endeavor for promulgating them to mankind in the clearest, plainest, most affecting and majestic manner, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our blessed Lord and Savior.

Isn’t that lovely? I’ve always loved the Book of Common Prayer since I first encountered it, but thinking of it as a means of transmitting our faith “in the clearest, plainest, most affecting and majestic manner, for the sake of Jesus Christ” really hits home.

Forward Movement publishes the finest personal edition of the Book of Common Prayer you can buy. The rubrics are, as the name would suggest, printed in red ink. This edition features a leather cover and gilt-edged pages with a ribbon. It’s an ideal size for holding. You’ll love it. And I’m happy to say it’s on sale this week for just $39.95, discounted from the usual retail price of $55.

You might like this lovely book for your own use, or it makes an excellent gift. It has a gift plate inside the front cover. What better Christmas gift than the gift of prayer? If a prayer book isn’t right for your recipient, Forward Movement also publishes Hour by Hour and Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book, both also with leather covers and gilt pages.

Of course, you don’t have to buy books to have a rich life of prayer. However you choose to pray in this Advent season, I encourage you to talk to God and to listen for God’s still, small voice in this noisy world.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn's signature

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

More from our ministry:

Pray each day of the season with words of scripture: AdventWord

Explore the spirituality of the Prayer Book: Inwardly Digest

New this year: Calendars for the Twelve Days of Christmas

See more gift items: Devotionals, prayer books and more