Friday, May 26, 2017

Walking a Pilgrim Route

This is Part Two of excerpts from Jennifer Lord’s essay in the Spring 2017 issue of Liturgy, the quarterly journal of The Liturgical Conference, which deals with pilgrimage in a number of ways.

Here, Lord describes the experience of the walking itself––an undertaking that she and her husband completed over an 8-week period in 2014 on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. This was a 750-mile pilgrim route.

In 2013 I led a seminary travel seminar called The Way of St. James. Ten days into our pilgrimage. . . some group members discovered a booklet for sale showing each stage’s elevation gain and loss. One of our members chastised our guide: “You kept saying the day would be flat walking! And it wasn’t flat!” According to our guide’s definition, if we started and ended at relatively the same elevation then it was a flat day. We laughed: this, after a week and half. . .  (and still more days to go) of climbing in and out of river valleys! . . . 
At some point there are adjustments––to our packs, to our water supply, to bandages. . . there is café con leche and breakfast. . . there is lunch whether from a bodega, a bar, or from our packs. We stop at the chapels and churches that mark the route. At some point, there is an afternoon break or the end of the walking. . . The anxiety for a bed at the day’s end manifests as competition on the route: some pilgrims leave by 4:00 a.m. so they can walk in the cool air and also arrive ahead of the masses. . . We show our pilgrim’s passport for entrance, leave our hiking poles and boots in the appointed area, and claim a bed. We unroll bedding and hope for a shower with hot water (don’t run the water while soaping!). We rinse or wash clothes in the designated area. Perhaps we soak our feet; people trade foot rubs. Nap. Shop for supplies for the next day. . . and perhaps for a communal dinner. Have a beer. Nap or cook or attend Pilgrims’ Mass. Dinner. Camaraderie. Sleep. All of it: again. And: again. . . 
We always studied our maps and read about the coming day’s terrain. We checked the weather and our food bags, and topped up water bottles. We bandaged our feet, took anti-inflammation medicine, chose our clothing layers. But then we stepped into the day, into the unknown. We did all the familiar things and then walked into discovery. Over time, we discovered that we had become more at home in the walking than at any of the stops along the way. 
In the walking, we discovered that our sensibilities of interiors and exteriors had been inverted. Philosopher Frédéric Gros observes: “When you go ‘outside’ it is always to pass from one ‘inside’ to another: from house to office, from your place to the nearest shops. You go out to do something, somewhere else. . .” 
Walking the Camino inverts those sensibilities. . . It comes from walking the permutations of outdoors. . . Cold rain and sloppy fields, we walk it. 
The day after day after day walking is what inverts because we find out that we want to walk no matter what. . . The walking becomes the way we live in the whole world.  

Jennifer L. Lord, is the Dorothy B. Vickery Professor of Homiletics and Liturgical Studies at Austin Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas, and president of the North American Academy of Liturgy.

Jennifer L. Lord, “Walking the Camino,” Liturgy 32, no. 3 (2017): 3-13.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Ascension –– 7th Sunday of Easter, Year A –– 28 May 2017

The challenge of the message of the ascension is to realize that God's healing and redemption of humanity has begun. Our humanity has been brought into the presence of the glory of the almighty God in Christ's ascension, and by virtue of this all humanity has been validated. For this reason all human beings having been created in the image of God, have had their humanity validated.

Those of us who bear the mark of Christ by virtue of our baptism must continue this ministry of validating the humanity of all people. This has direct implications on how we minister to other people. Poverty, human trafficking and slavery, genocide and all of the other realities that dehumanize people in our world, directly contradict that value and glory that God has bestowed on all people. How can we respond when the problems are so large and complex?

This week we are invited simply to gather. . . as the community of [the] faithful, whoever we may be, and cling to the hope and promise of the risen and ascended Christ, awaiting the giving of the Holy Spirit which will empower and gift God's people to respond to the needs of the world, all to the glory of God. –– Todd E. Johnson

GOSPEL READING: John 17:1-11

Year A (this year, vv 1–11) emphasizes Jesus' prayer for himself and his disciples; Year B (vv 6–19) emphasizes Jesus' prayer for the disciples; and Year C (vv 20–26), what might be called the whole people of God. All three, however, bring together, in glorious though penultimate conclusion, the first reading we all heard on Easter Day, namely that God shows no partiality and that Jesus, ascending to glory on the throne of the cross, is precisely concerned that his disciples live that nonpartiality out (as they will be empowered to do on Pentecost). . . .

Both the prayer and the energy for responding to the prayer are properly the work of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ, work that has been fulfilled for us already. The task of disciples, and of the universal church, is not to effect or confect this, but to live it. –– Amandus J. Derr

FIRST READING: Acts 1:6-14

St. Irenaeus famously wrote in the second century that the glory of God is a person fully alive, or as one translator interpreted, “humanity at full stretch.” Today's texts are about our humanity as much as they are about Christ's divinity. They invite us to consider our glory as well as Christ's. Jesus Christ, fully human and fully divine, has been resurrected and glorified; now we humans by virtue of Christ's ascension have had our humanity glorified as well. To consider the incarnation is to consider the reality of God joining with humanity in Christ. Christ's ascension should not be understood as the separation of Christ's divinity from his humanity, returning each to their appropriate place. Instead, Christ's humanity was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven, and with it all humanity ascended. The glorification of our humanity has begun. –– Todd E. Johnson

EPISTLE READING: 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

In keeping with the thrust of the Epistles –– which is to help the church look to its furthest goals, its ultimate calling –– this passage tells the church to expect struggles and, in the face of them, to rejoice. The church is to endure hardships with humility, casting anxiety on God, for after a time “God of all grace, who has called you into eternal glory in Christ, will restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.”

Amandus J. Derr is senior pastor of St. Peter Lutheran Church (ELCA) in New York City.

Todd E. Johnson is associate professor of worship, theology, and the arts at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California.

Homily Service 41, no. 2 (2007): 172-182.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Spirit of Obedience –– 6th Sunday of Easter, Year A –– 21 May 2017

GOSPEL READING: John 14:15-21

The Spirit is already present with Jesus' followers, but Jesus promises that he will ask the Father to send the Spirit to be present within them. In this way, the disciples will know that they have not been abandoned, even though Jesus will no longer be physically present. Instead, the Spirit will draw them more deeply into life with God and they will experience God present in and among them. This mysterious and mutual relationship is opened for those who obey the commandment to love.

The preacher may note that it is αγαπη (concern for the well-being of the neighbor, expressed in serving) that is being commanded, not ϵρως (passionate love) or φιλια (friendship, affection). – Aaron J. Couch

FIRST READING: Acts 17:22-31

The speech that Luke places on Paul's lips is a work of rhetorical beauty. Paul compliments the Athenians on their religious devotion and proclaims Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of their deepest religious longing. Echoing themes from the Greek philosophical tradition and from the Old Testament, Paul declares that the living God is greater than any product of human imagination or craft. This Creator God, who is also judge of all, is calling the human family to repent and live in righteousness. God has made this known by raising Jesus from the dead.

The speech invites consideration of ways in which the Spirit of God may be active in people's lives, working through feelings of spiritual hunger, to prepare them to receive the good news of Jesus. – Aaron J. Couch

EPISTLE READING: 1 Peter 3:13-22
When facing hostility and abuse from society, believers are not to be afraid or intimidated, but instead must be prepared to defend their faith. The innocent suffering of believers may be enough to shame their abusers. It is imperative that the preacher make clear that this is a case of nonviolent resistance to evil when there is no legal recourse for the abused. It is not passive submission to evil and must not be thought of as a suitable response to abuse such as domestic violence.

The author looks to Christ as an example of how innocent suffering may hold genuine redemptive potential. It is Christ, the righteous One, whose death has made it possible for the unrighteous to stand before God. This leads to one of the more interesting and mysterious passages of scripture, in which Christ is described as “making proclamation to the spirits in prison.” Although this passage has led to much imaginative speculation about the “harrowing of hell,” the author's intent is to assert the impotence of death before the life-giving power of God in Christ, as well as to indicate the limitlessness of God's mercy.

The reference to those who perished during Noah's flood leads through a rather tenuous transition to a reflection on baptism. Just as God delivered Noah and his family through the water, so the washing of baptism is also a deliverance through water. The saving effect of baptism is described as a promise, appeal or request made to God, from or for a good conscience. – Aaron J. Couch

Aaron J. Couch is a co-pastor of First Immanuel Lutheran Church in Portland, Oregon.

Homily Service 41, no. 2 (2007): 155-162.