The Bell Newsletter of the Episcopal Church in Chester
St. Paul’s, 301 E. 9th St. St. Mary’s, 7th & Edwards St.
From the Priest-in-Charge
Joy is the most important Christian emotion. Duty calls when gratitude fails to prompt.
William Sloane Coffin
Having recently walked with all the good people of St. Paul’s through Lent, watched and prayed with you in Holy Week and celebrated the Sunday of the Resurrection for the first time in this community, I am more convinced of the wisdom of Coffin’s words than ever. This cycle of the church year can be the most emotionally and spiritually taxing for us because it includes the broadest spectrum of human feeling: the deep preparation of our minds and souls beginning on Maundy Thursday, the mingling of love and betrayal in the liturgies preceding Easter Sunday and the unbridled celebrations of the Resurrection are indeed an emotional “joy ride”, and I feel immense gratitude to the people of this parish for taking them so seriously.
I have often felt that our understanding of joy is impoverished, that many of us think of it as a kind of overwhelming happiness, one that obscures feelings we find less welcome. Joy does indeed include happiness, but it also gives us the ability to feel all the other emotions integral to our humanity, sadness, longing, expectancy and hopefulness among them. C.S. Lewis has called it the desire for desire, and our lives will be imbued with it as we look for the risen Lord among us this Easter season.
Again, I am deeply grateful to be part of this worshipping community, particularly because the capacity for joy is so palpable among the people I have met at St. Paul’s. I look forward to the coming weeks with you, seeking Jesus in unexpected places and guises around us and experiencing the most profound joy possible in our search.
Grace and Peace,
Resurrections Large and Small
Midway through Eastertide, I was reading an article about John Polkinghorne, a British physicist turned Anglican priest who was, in part, responsible for the discovery of the quark, an impossibly small particle integral to theories of microphysics. Polkinghorne received an award some years ago for his contribution to ideas linking science and faith. One of his most interesting ideas was the changing states of matter and the parables they provide for our belief: a boiling kettle of water, he asserted, was the same matter exhibited in a “phase change”, as scientists call it, analogous to the death and resurrection of Christ.
As we move into a new season of the church year, I am reminded of the salient quality of the Holy Spirit, which is its unpredictability. As a people living “in-between times,” it is helpful to remember that change is the only constant in our lives. As we make our way through one of the richest and most sacred seasons of our church year, I believe it is important to remember that we have the Holy Spirit to guide us. Like Polkinghorne’s quarks, we are able to see movement, but the process is under the guidance of the sacred, as much as we would like to control it.
It is easy to see how we can be changed by the large things in our lives, events like confirmations and baptisms, the death of people around us, discoveries that we make about ourselves that forever change the way we think about our lives. As we begin to think about a season of summer vacations and travel, it is my hope that we can be attuned to the Spirit in small things: the look of a child at a monument for the first time, the trips we make to the beach simply treasuring the hours with people we love. God the Spirit is present in these events too and we do ourselves a disservice if we overlook them.
I think often about the vision of Dame Julian of Norwich, in which she was shown a vision of something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of her hand. When she asked, “What is it”, she was told that “it was everything which is made”. There is nothing that is too small for the intimate attention of God, not a hazelnut or a shell plucked from the water by a child, not even a quark. My hope is that we can see the work of God not only in the overturning of all we know about our sacred and secular lives but in the smallest things we encounter, that in holding them, we might begin to see how God holds us.
Easter-Living Into the Unexpected
Frederick Buechner, the prominent Presbyterian theologian, described the road to Emmaus as the one we are on after we have lost hope in what we see in the world, after we have decided, “it can all go hang’. It is where we go after we have seen what is beautiful in the world exploited by selfish people for selfish ends, where even the best and the brightest die and decay. It is in the midst of our despair that we encounter the risen Lord, who has been our companion all the while, who reveals himself in the most unlikely circumstances.
I am reminded of a story that I have heard several times in several forms, but its essentials have been so constant that I believe it is true. There was an eight-year-old boy named John who was in a Sunday school class with several other children. They had just reached the age when they were becoming aware of the differences among them, and they all noticed a profound difference with John, who had Down’s syndrome. Although he had a placid temperament, John was slower at many tasks than the other children, and they did not miss an opportunity to tease him about it, despite the best efforts of the teacher.
One Easter, the children were given the task of going on a hunt around the church grounds to find things that symbolized new birth to them. This was in the days when panty hose came in eggs: they were given a few minutes for their search, instructed to put their findings into the egg the teacher had given them, and come back to the class to show everyone what they had discovered. The teacher dismissed them and all, including John, set off around the church property. After they had re-gathered, they took turns opening their eggs and showing off their treasures. One boy opened his egg and, beaming back at the teacher, showed half a robin’s egg he had found in the woods. Another child opened his and displayed a part of a butterfly wing he had discovered, and so it went around the circle.
When it was John’s turn, all the class looked eagerly to see the results of his search. He opened his egg slowly and it was immediately apparent there was nothing inside. Instantly, his classmates began to taunt him: “John why can’t you listen”, “why can’t you follow instructions”. When the teacher finally quieted them, she looked earnestly at him and asked him, “John, why is there nothing in your egg”? He looked back at her and replied, “But the tomb was empty”.
My deepest hope is that, in these Great Fifty Days, we may find our joy in the unexpected, our own fullness in the empty tomb.
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