Grief, Hope, and the Saints

A Homily for All Saints

Texts: Revelation 7:9-17; St. Matthew 5:1-12


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the first-born from among the dead who calls all the saints into new and everlasting life. Amen.

Grief shows up at the strangest of times, doesn’t it? It sneaks up months after the tears stop, years after the funeral. Sure, there are the occasions we expect to be hard, the anniversaries and holidays. We might brace for how difficult Thanksgiving or a birthday may be, but then grief catches us unawares on a random Tuesday. A simple smell may remind you of your grandparents’ home, and suddenly you remember weeping at the graveside as a child. Or walking through a park, the particular shade of a flower reminds you of your late husband’s favorite shirt, and the pain feels as fresh as the day he died. After a long day, you reach for the phone to call a friend who could always tell a joke to make you smile, was always there to listen to you complain, always offered good advice – only to remember she died three years ago, and all of a sudden, the wound is reopened.

There’s no rhyme or reason for it, nothing you can do to prevent it. Grief is normal, but it feels so isolating and hurts so much. I cannot tell you how many people have said, “Pastor, I know it shouldn’t hurt so much after all this time,” but of course it does! And the closer the person was to you, the longer and more painful it will be. Yes, it’s normal, yes, it’s expected, no you shouldn’t just get over it, but it still hurts.

Continue reading “Grief, Hope, and the Saints”

Departed Saints and the Coming Kingdom

A Homily for the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

Text: 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13*


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, Who Is, and Was, and Is To Come, the First Born from among the Dead. Amen.

There is no denying it: the days are getting shorter – even if we hadn’t “fallen back” last night. Nature drove this point home rather starkly for a few hundred thousand of us in north Georgia as we spent Thursday without power. By 7, it was dark enough that I was reaching for oil lamps to illuminate the dinner table – a far cry from the long days of summer when Suzanne and I could take long strolls until 9 or 9:30 at night.

For two millennia, the Church has incorporated this natural cycle into our calendar, using the long nights as an expression of our yearning for Christ’s birth and return in glory – the themes of Advent, which we will mark in a month.

Continue reading “Departed Saints and the Coming Kingdom”

Homebound Apostles

A Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter

Text: St. John 20:19-31


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, who calls and equips the entire church for ministry. Amen.

In years past, I’ve preached this text as a reminder that the modern Church is apostolic, sent out like those first disciples to proclaim our faith in the Risen Christ while also remembering our kindred in distant lands who live in fear of violence. “Come out from behind your locked doors,” I said.

But today, that is truly terrible advice. Continue reading “Homebound Apostles”

Rejoice, for this is the Night!

A Homily for the Great Vigil of Easter*


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Rejoice! Sisters and brothers, again I say Rejoice! and greet the Lord with shouts of acclamation!

Rejoice! For this is the night!

Rejoice! For Christ our Lord is victorious! He has conquered the grave, triumphed over Hell, and vanquished Death!

Rejoice! For tonight we celebrate the turning point of history! Continue reading “Rejoice, for this is the Night!”

Bart Simpson Among the Sadducees

A Homily for Vespers during the Fifth Week of Lent

Text: St. Matthew 22:23-33


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the Resurrection and the Life. Amen.

Waaaaaay back in the very first season of The Simpsons, young rapscallion Bart badgers his Sunday School teacher with question after question before asking:

Ma’am. What if…your leg gets gangrene and it has to be amputated. Will it be waiting for you in heaven?

Continue reading “Bart Simpson Among the Sadducees”

Flesh, Bone, and Empty Tombs

A Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Texts: Ezekiel 37:1-14; St. John 11:1-45


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus the Lord, the Resurrection and the Life. Amen.

As we enter into the Valley of Dry Bones, it’s not difficult to feel Ezekiel’s sense of desperation. He is a Judahite sent into exile, a priest who has heard of the Temple’s destruction, a prophet striving to make sense of why the Lord would abandon the Chosen People and let the Land of Promise fall into such ruin.

This morning’s imagery, the bones stripped bare by decay and rot, provides a vivid image of the doubt and fear Ezekiel and the other exiles felt. Staring out over the wasteland of a battle lost long ago, asked if these bones might live again, you can almost hear the defeat in Ezekiel’s voice:

O Lord God, you know.

His same resignation is on the lips of the rest of the exiles and those still living in the smoldering waste left behind in Judah. They cry out: Continue reading “Flesh, Bone, and Empty Tombs”

Jesus Is Lord; Caesar Is Not

A Homily for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Colossians 1:15-28


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The chains of Saint Paul, Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls, Rome

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the image of the invisible God, the Firstborn, through whom all things were made and by whom all things are renewed. Amen.

We’re reading the words of a man about to die.

The lectionary is taking us through Saint Paul’s letter to the Colossian Christians. This short series began last week and will continue through the next two Sundays, taking only a few verses out of this short book (it’s only four chapters) and scattering them over the course of (roughly) a month. Reading the letter this way, it’s difficultto pick up the flow of the argument.

So, let’s start with the context: it’s important to remember we are reading the words of an imprisoned saint facing death. Recalling the stories told in the Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s own writings, we know that he was accustomed to hardship and repeated arrest, but after traveling the Roman world and proclaiming the Gospel, he was eventually arrested one final time in Jerusalem and shuffled between different Judaean cities as he was tried by various officials. As a Roman citizen, he exercised his right to appeal his arrest to the Emperor. The trip from Judaea to Rome was long and arduous, including shipwrecks, hunger, and months in detention between legs of the journey. He spent years imprisoned in Rome before ultimately being taken outside the city walls and beheaded by order of Emperor Nero. Today’s Epistle lection is among the final surviving words of someone on death row.

And what do we read? A glorious hymn of praise giving all honor to Christ. Continue reading “Jesus Is Lord; Caesar Is Not”

“Set His Face to Go to Jerusalem”

A Homily for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Luke 9:51-62


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who calls us to follow him even unto Jerusalem. Amen.

As a Junior ROTC cadet in high school, I had the opportunity to attend a summer camp at an old air base in Salina, Kansas. We lived in the barracks, did push ups, ate at the mess hall, got yelled at, did push ups, flew in a Black Hawk helicopter, and did more push ups – all in the July heat of the Kansas prairie while wearing long pants, a field jacket, heavy-duty leather boots, and several pounds of gear and water harnessed around our shoulders. It was a blast.

Each year, we would load onto a bus and go out a large patch of grassland for a crash course in map reading and orienteering. We learned and re-learned how to find an eight digit grid coordinate, shoot an azimuth on a compass, and measure distance traveled via our hundred-meter pace count. In theory, it’s all quite simple. While sitting under the shade of a tree, the “classroom” portion made perfect sense so long as you remember a few key rules: maps are read to the right and then up, azimuths are measured clockwise, make sure you keep track of your step count, and even some fifteen years later, I could probably still do a fair job on a written test.

Once we had that down, it was time to put it into practice in the parking lot. And you know what? Land navigation on a flat gravel surface is really easy! Grid coordinates for the nearest intersection? Got it. Azimuth to that water tower? No sweat. Distance from the bus to the water cooler? Easy.

But then they sent us out on the course in the wilderness, full of sudden dips and rises, briar patches, and groves of low trees. Suddenly, the goal that seemed so simple on the gravel was nearly impossible. Continue reading ““Set His Face to Go to Jerusalem””

Hear the Good Shepherd’s Voice

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Texts: Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; St. John 10:22-30


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Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, the Good Shepherd. Amen.

We’ve been dropped at the end of a familiar story: “I am the Good Shepherd,” says our Lord. (Indeed, this is Good Shepherd Sunday, and over the three years of the lectionary cycle, we make our way through the entirety of this extended metaphor. This time last year, we read that more famous portion of the text.) The Lord is our shepherd – not just any shepherd but the Good Shepherd. Christ isn’t some mere hired hand who runs off at the first sign of trouble but rather the very one who seeks out the lost sheep, who wades into the swift waters to rescue the drowning, who crawls through the briar patch to free the ensnarled, who fights off bandits and wrestles wolves to save the lambs. Far from the clean-faced and bed-sheet-clad shepherds of modern Nativity plays, Christ is the shepherd who smells like the sheep and lays down his life for the flock.

Hearing this imagery, the crowd is… Continue reading “Hear the Good Shepherd’s Voice”