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Photo by Rui Silva sj, Instagram: @ruisilvasj, courtesy of Unsplash.

Isaiah 52:13-53:12

Psalm 22

Hebrews 10:16-25

John 18:1-19:42

Collect: Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinner, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Prayer: We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you. Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world. Amen.

I’d like to begin by drawing our attention to the statement at the back of our bulletin today. It may seem obvious, but these things are buried deep in our psyche and while John’s Gospel may be the most overt, it comes out in all the gospel tellings of the Passion. And so, because it is such a part of our stories, and of our own history, and lives on till this day, it is necessary for us to name it so that we can hope to be aware of it when it manifests in our own lives.

“Jesus was a Jew. Christianity began as a movement within Judaism that took time to form and evolve into the institutional Church of today. There were areas of contention and disagreement among the Jews in Jesus’ time [just as there are among Jews today, and among Christians as well], and the leaders of the early Jesus movement did not shy away from hostile rhetoric against their detractors, as evidenced by a number of New Testament passages. The Greek term usually translated here as “the Jews” varies in meaning and application, alternately referring to the most powerful Jewish religious leaders; Jews of the region of Judea specifically—[Judeans]; or to those Jews who had reservations about Paul’s mission among Gentiles. In essence, “the Jews” function in the New Testament as “the other” against which Christianity came to define itself. When the Roman Empire [legalized] Christianity, Christian rhetoric against Jews gained power, and Christian texts inspired anti-Semitism, most notably during the Crusades and the Holocaust [but also in a variety of other contexts as well]. In our modern context, it is important for us to remember that while New Testament writers took issue with Jews who disbelieved in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, these texts do not take issue with anyone’s race or origin. Nor do they prescribe for us, in contradiction with Christ’s central purpose, mistrust or hatred of non-Christians.”

Today is a hard day. It is one marked by profound violence and suffering. It is the story of the horror and tragedy of humanity on full display.

We see Judas betray the one he purports to love. We see Peter draw his sword and then try to save his own skin while warming himself by the fire by denying his knowing of Jesus. We see the destruction that results in people’s lives from trying to maintain power and authority. We see the chaos that can be created from a misguided crowd worked into a fervor. We see the devastating weight and cruelty of empire in response to one who would challenge it.

We see the shock amongst the disciples as Jesus is taken away. We see the grief of the women as they remained by the cross. We see the need of Jesus when he says, “I am thirsty.”

As I walked the Stations of the Cross this Lent, I was struck anew with just how very gritty this story is. Jesus falls. And then falls again. And again. As he walks, he encounters people along the way, some who show him pity and compassion, and others scorn. He says goodbye to his mother, and when he dies, he is laid in her arms.

So much suffering and cruelty. And yet there is beauty, too, even here: upon the cross Jesus sees his mother and his friend and entrusts them to one another’s care. Amidst his own suffering, he says to those he loves, “take care of each other.” Jesus sees the horror we can inflict on one another and responds with: “you need each other.”

And this is just a microcosm of what he does on the cross. For in that moment when Jesus tells Peter to put his sword away in the garden, he chooses to interrupt the cycle of violence that we enact upon each other every day. He does not respond to violence with more violence. He makes a spectacle of that violence—a spectacle intended to convey one thing by the Romans, but Jesus makes about another. For in his death, he turns the mirror back on us.

We are the perpetrators of violence. We do this to each other.

We are here in the story—at different times, different people. We are Judas who betrays. We are Mary Magdalene who waits. We are the disciple whom Jesus loved who adopts. We are Mary the Mother of Jesus who grieves. We are Peter who denies—and then Peter who later defends.

We mark this day not just because it is unique, but because it is also universal. It is universal in its depiction of the human story. In suffering. In violence. It is unique in that God shows up in the midst of all of it, experiences it alongside us, and then chooses to interrupt it. Universal in its experience. Unique in Jesus’s response.

In a few moments we’ll have the opportunity to meditate around the cross. I’ll be honest, I struggled with this practice for a long time—it was so informed in my mind by the theology that had formed me in my early days: that the cross was the way Jesus satisfied the need for sacrifice to an angry God. I no longer see it that way. Theologian and priest Maria McDowell puts it this way instead: “through the cross, we come face to face with a God so willing to be one of us that they will suffer all that it is that we do to one another, even death on a cross.”

That is, indeed, something worth meditating on.

And as we meditate on the radical love demonstrated in Jesus’ act on the cross, we would do well to meditate on what that act asks of us as well as violence continues to make headlines, from Ukraine to Jerusalem, from Brooklyn to Grand Rapids.

Northern Irish peace activist and writer Gareth Higgins writes in his most recent book, “catering to fear and pessimism is a function of the most dangerous belief: that violence can bring order out of chaos. Healing the world requires recognizing the damage this story has done.”

We must recognize the damage that story has done, as Jesus did. In his action, an instrument of death becomes for us a means of solidarity, salvation, and liberation. Our response must be to work to continually and again and again acknowledge and purge that violence from our own hearts. The violence is not “out there” somewhere in those “others,” whoever those “others” might be. It is within us each time we choose to warm ourselves around that fire where its safe and warm rather than stand with the one cast out. It is within us each time we allow ourselves to get caught up in the fervor of the crowd. It is within us each time we set ourselves apart from “them.”

And when we hear that cock crow, we commit ourselves anew to this man from Nazareth and the radical self-emptying love he demonstrates for us, remembering that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” God does not wait for our perfection to come near us. God enters into the world in Jesus, living amongst us, and experiencing the depths of sorrow and the worst that we do to one another. And through the spectacle of the cross, liberates us, saying a resounding, “no!” to the cycle of violence to which we are enslaved.

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world. Amen.

Joshua 5:9-12

Psalm 32

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Collect: Gracious Father, whose blessed Son came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Prayer: Grant us stillness of heart, Oh God, that we might have eyes to see and ears to hear the moving of your spirit among us this day. Amen.

There are few of Jesus’ parables that are more familiar than this one. That image of the father running down the path and throwing his arms around his wayward son is one hammered home in countless sermons and hymns. We quite possibly were taught that this parable is an allegory, demonstrating the abundant love and forgiveness of God to all those who repent. We were also perhaps taught that the younger brother, with his time spent among the pigs symbolized the inclusion of the gentiles in salvation history based upon grace and love, and that the grumbling older brother represented the scribes and pharisees—or perhaps even all Jews—committed to a law of duty and obedience rather than love and grace.

While there is some good news in at least the first part of that telling, there is also an ugly shadow side—one that leads people to see a distinction between the God of the Hebrew scriptures and the God of Jesus, and that strips Jesus of his Jewishness. At its worst this kind of us and them set up has led to all sorts of antisemitism—something about which we as Christians need to be particularly aware, especially as we approach Holy Week: a time when historically Jews have been the subjects of the most violence, often at the hands of Christians.

So what if there was another way to read this parable? Remember, a parable in Jewish tradition—of which Jesus is a part—is a way of telling a story that is meant to provoke, to raise more questions than it answers, to remind people of what they know to be true in their heart of hearts, but may have forgotten or let slide along the way. We in the church have tended to read—particularly this parable—as allegories, with direct and exclusive correlations between characters—the Father in this parable and God, for instance—but that’s not exactly the way parables worked historically and literarily. They are, simply, stories, and sometimes we have to work really hard at hearing them in that way without all of the theological interpretation that has been imposed upon them along the way.

I know I’ve mentioned this book before, but I’ll give it another plug: Amy-Jill Levine’s book, “Short Stories by Jesus: the Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi”[1] is an excellent place to begin to look at these stories with fresh eyes. She’s a Jewish New Testament scholar, and I am particularly indebted to her for my reflection today.

So I invite you, as best you can to hear the story anew this morning.

“There was a man who had two sons . . .” I’ve been reading a book with some other folks here in the parish looking at the stories of the brothers in the book of Genesis: Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob. So the first thing that came to mind with this opening line is all of these historical brothers. These are the foundational stories, and Jesus is likely alluding to them with this opening line, and so we need to hold them in the back of our minds as we hear this story if we want to try and hear it as those who were listening to Jesus all those years ago might have.

There was a man who had two sons. One day, the younger comes to the father and asks for his share of the inheritance and his father gives it to him. And so the younger son leaves and travels to a distant place and squanders all that he’s been given. Famine strikes and the son finds himself with nothing and so hires himself out, but finds that the pigs he’s feeding are eating better than he is.

He decides he should head home. His father’s servants eat better than this! He could offer to be one of those! He rehearses what he’ll say and heads back home.

And so he goes, and while he’s still far off, we’re told, the father sees him and runs out to him and embraces him. The younger son begins to relay the speech he had rehearsed but his father interrupts him: he calls to have a robe, ring and sandals brought, to have the fatted-calf prepared for a celebratory feast, “for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!”

Now this parable is the final of three parables told in a row all pertaining to lost things. The first is about a lost sheep that the shepherd goes out to search for and finds. The second is about a coin that a woman loses, searches for, and finds. Both end with celebration. And so here we have the father proclaiming that what was lost has been found and now it’s time to celebrate.

Except is it? Oftentimes we end the story here. Or if we continue we do so as a kind of afterthought or epilogue, not a continuation of the story itself. But the narrative focus shifts here. Before the story is about the younger brother. But what happened to the elder brother? Remember, “there was a man who had two sons.” We’ve forgotten about him—and so, it seems, has the father.

The elder brother, who had not been told about the party, learns of it as he approaches home after working in the fields. He is angry, and, from what he says next, clearly hurt. He refuses to join the party.

The father, finally realizing perhaps that the son which he had lost was not, in fact, the younger one, but the elder, goes to him, like the shepherd to his lost sheep and the woman to her lost coin. He pleads with the elder son—a word that in the Greek also connotes comfort (it comes from the same root as the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit Jesus promises in John’s Gospel). But the elder son is inconsolable. He feels disregarded and unseen, taken for granted by his father.

And his father keeps trying, “Child, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”

And here the story ends. We don’t know if the brothers reconcile, if the family is again made whole. We hope so—again holding those stories of the ancient brothers, we know that Isaac and Ishmael came together to bury their father, and Esau embraced and kissed Jacob when they had opportunity to reconcile. But ultimately, the story leaves us in a place of uncertainty.

And this is where we most often are in life, are we not? We don’t know how it will end. There are relationships that are strained or broken—and sometimes we’re not even aware of it until it seems too late. Were we oblivious, negligent, willfully ignorant sticking our heads in the sand . . . ? Perhaps any of these. I know many of us feel this way about our broader society, too. How did we get to this place of seemingly insurmountable conflict and what do we do about it? What can we learn from this story of an oblivious dad, a careless and wasteful younger brother, and a resentful and wounded older brother?

First, I think we are reminded that restoration and wholeness are worth fighting for. In each of these three parables of something precious that has been lost, we see the compulsion to rectify it. To reunite that lost sheep with its flock, to return that lost coin to the woman, to restore a whole family. God’s heart is for wholeness and restoration. Historically, reconciliation has been one of the focal points of Lent, both with God and the community. Pastor Rachel has talked about the availability of the sacrament of confession; what we call, “reconciliation of a penitent.” In the early church, folks who had been separated from the community were restored to right relationship within the body of the church during this time as well.

Second, it’s not easy or clear-cut, and sometimes we don’t even know if it’s possible. The parable of the Lost Son leaves us in suspense. Will this family find a way to reconcile? The ancient stories that are alluded to are a mixed bag: Jacob and Esau reconcile, but Cain and Abel certainly do not. When the younger son comes home, restoration seems simple—let’s throw a party! But with the elder son, there is deep hurt and grievance and that process will likely take a much longer time.

Third: it’s not always up to you; you can’t compel someone else to reconcile with you. The father seeks reconciliation with his eldest, but while he earnestly tries, the eldest is not yet ready.

Fourth: even if it’s hard and messy and even if we don’t know that restoration and reconciliation are possible, we still work towards it, and the work required will look different in every circumstance. The younger son returns home. The father pleads with and comforts his eldest. A party is thrown even in the midst of an unresolved conflict.

I love what Dr. Levine says: she says, “recognize that the one you have lost may be right in your own household. Do whatever it takes to find the lost and then celebrate with others, both so that you can share the joy and so that the others will help prevent the recovered from ever being lost again. Don’t wait until you receive an apology; you may never get one. Don’t wait until you can muster the ability to forgive; you may never find it. Don’t stew in your sense of being ignored, for there is nothing that can be done to retrieve the past.

“instead, go have lunch. Go celebrate, and invite others to join you. If the repenting and the forgiving come later, so much the better. And if not, you still will have done what is necessary. You will have begun a process that might lead to reconciliation. You will have opened a second chance for wholeness. Take advantage of resurrection.” (p75).

Go have lunch. Go celebrate. Create openings for second chances. Whom have you lost? Who do you need to go searching for? What steps do you need to make to work towards restoration and wholeness with others? And then how can you celebrate even the smallest of reunions?

let us pray:

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP, p823)

[1] Amy Jill Levine, Short Stories by Jesus: the Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi. HarperOne, 2015.

Isaiah 58:1-12

Psalm 103

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness: through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.


Church, we had a delightful Shrove Tuesday gathering yesterday. We ate and laughed and flipped pancakes and decorated the parking lot with sidewalk chalk . . . The weather even cooperated. It was so great and just what this girl’s heart needed.

And yet, mingled in between trips to the condiment table and coffee station, there were also plenty of comments about the perceived heaviness of the world right now.

The world continues to feel like it’s on fire. Russia has invaded Ukraine. Western nations are rallying around the invaded state when they said previously they would not. President Putin seems particularly reckless and unpredictable. He has made threats about nuclear weapons. It all feels so 20th century (which is, admittedly, a very strange thing to say)—whether that be World Wars or Cold Wars . . . things we haven’t necessarily thought were still before us. And after years now of pandemic—or plague—floods, fires, droughts, murder hornets . . . the world feels particularly frail and on edge right now.

“Remember you are dust. And to dust you shall return.”

Perhaps Ash Wednesday is the perfect day for this moment. A day when we remember before God the fleeting nature and frailty of our lives—and how there is a paradoxical, or counterintuitive, permanence and even comfort within that idea: from God we came and to God we shall return. If we can count on nothing else, we can count on this.

And yet here we are still, now. In this moment. In all our brokenness and frailty. That comfort that we just spoke of is the big picture, but we are here still in the thick of things. What do we do with this moment?

Lent is a season where we journey with Jesus to Jerusalem, and ultimately, to the cross. We bear witness to his life, as indeed God bore witness to our own lives in becoming human and suffering alongside with us.

Annie Dillard, in her essay Teaching a Stone to Talk, says, “we are here to witness.”* The world’s wonder and beauty, its quirkiness and awkwardness, and—yes—its brokenness and heartache . . . we are here to witness all of it.

And what does it mean to witness but to pay attention? It strikes me that this is part of the issue at play in our reading from Isaiah today. The prophet is calling out a people who have forgotten how to bear witness, how to pay attention. They are fasting, and making offerings, and worshipping, but can’t see that they are treating their own workers unjustly, they can’t see their own fighting, they can’t see the one who is hungry, who is sleeping on the temple steps as they make their way in to worship.

Lent is a season where we look inward, yes, but it cannot only be that. It is an intentional dialogue between us and God about the relationship of ourselves to the world. There is deep wisdom in an ancient tradition that says, “we must make this journey to the cross before we can properly recognize the significance and the joy of Easter.” To rush to Easter celebration without the long, long road of Lent is to risk turning Easter into a caricature of toxic positivity.

And so here is where we begin. With our frailty, our impermanence. This is the way we mark the beginning of our journey. What is mortality to you or to me? We ask that question of ourselves and each other today.

Author and liturgist Cole Arthur Riley takes that idea from Annie Dillard further and asks, “how will we bear witness to the dust this Lent?”** How will we pay attention? How will we bear witness before God to the suffering, frailty, and mortality all around us in this beautiful and broken world of ours in an intentional way this Lent?

Rather than giving something up for Lent this year, I’m planning on praying through the news each day as I endeavor to bear witness to the dust. We are bombarded with news, but I don’t think that merely hearing it, or seeing it, or being aware of it is the same as bearing witness to it. I do not want to close myself off from the suffering of this world, but neither do I want to succumb to it. That is all too tempting when the world feels as it does right now. So I’m going to do something with that suffering, however small that something might be. I’m going to pray. And maybe in that small way I might learn better how to bear witness to this world of ours in a way that motivates rather than immobilizes. It may often feel like there’s nothing we can do. But we can always pray.

So that’s what I’m going to do. You might choose to intentionally look around when you’re downtown and make eye contact with folks you see there. You might choose to read something written by someone of a different race, socio-economic status, gender, or sexual orientation than you.

And whatever you do, remember that there is always beauty in the dust of our lives. Afterall, our creation came from the dust. That beauty is what equips us to carry the weight of the world. There are moments like we had yesterday at our Shrove Tuesday gathering. There is joy and there is courage and there is love. Bear witness to the brokenness and suffering, yes. But bear witness to the beauty, too. And whenever possible, join in. As Frederick Buechner once said, “here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

In a few moments we will all be invited to the observance of a Holy Lent. We will be reminded of our own and each other’s mortality as we receive the imposition of ashes. We will bear witness to our acknowledgement of our mutual frailty. We will begin our walk to Jerusalem and the cross with our eyes, ears, and hearts wide open to this world around us. We will try to walk in the solidarity that Jesus himself modeled with us. And ultimately we’ll bring it all to the cross, where Jesus stands with us. But first we must make the journey.

Let us pray with Cole Arthur Riley:

“God of the Ashes, Today, let us hold the tension of this story of our making—born of the dirt, beautifully connected to the earth we walk on. And yet, the reality of our own mortality. That our common decay cannot be escaped. As we begin Lent, help us to become honest about the ways our societies and selfhoods are marred by injustice, cruelty, neglect, and greed. Help us to see our own role in the decay of the world; that as we push back evil, we might become people capable of admitting those secret evils which dwell in us. And as we name how we’ve been complicit in the ashes of this world, help us to bear them in solidarity and hope knowing you are a God who has always seen sacred potential in the dust.”*** Amen.

* Annie Dillard, “Teaching a Stone to Talk,” in Teaching a Stone to Talk.

** Cole Arthur Riley, @Blackliturgies, Instagram. February 26, 2022,

*** Cole Arthur Riley, @Blackliturgies, Instagram. March 2nd, 2022.

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