Last week the Bishop sent a memo indicating that, according to Provincial protocol, churches are now able to conduct indoor services with up to 10 people present, provided that proper social distancing and other Covid-19 guidelines are in place and followed. Parish Council met via tele-conference on Tuesday evening, June 2, to review and work out rationale and logistics. The following was determined:
Services will begin on Sunday, June 14.
Service times will be 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., with additional services added as necessary.
Attendance will be by reservation only, with first come, first served. To register, please call or email the office no later than 8:30 a.m. of the Thursday preceding the date of service, leaving your name and preferred service time. Please note that because of limited numbers, you may not be scheduled in every week for your preferred time. You will receive a call/email back, confirming your reservation.
The service will continue to be live streamed for those who are unable to join us in person.
Service type will be Morning Prayer, with no singing as directed by the Bishop.
Social distancing must be adhered to. Church pews will have markers to indicate where you should sit. Individuals may, of course, sit with those with whom they live or with whom they “bubble.” Masks are not mandatory but are recommended.
Please enter by the main entrance on Bayers Road as all other doors will remain locked. If you should require the use of the lift, please advise the office when reserving.
The services will alternate between the BAS and the BCP. If you have your own personal books, please bring them with you. Otherwise, you may borrow the books from the Church to take home with you. We are not permitted to hand out and share these books from service to service.
The Church area will be cleaned/disinfected before and after each service. Hand sanitizer is available as you enter the Church and should be used on entering and leaving.
Offering plates will be stationary; there will be no presentation of the offering.
Please remember social distancing as you enter and leave. There can be no lingering, no hugging or shaking hands, and no receiving line after service.
As we move forward, this will be an evaluative process, and we look forward to your input.
We recognize that there are many restrictions being imposed and ask your cooperation and good will in honouring the conditions under which we are able to gather at this point. It is a start, and we look forward to the time when we will be able to gather in full.
Further update from Archbishop Cutler
Covid 19 Restrictions
This is an update to the information I distributed on Wednesday. (see below)
The Province of Nova Scotia announced this afternoon that gatherings of up to 10 people (indoors) can now take place. As I understand the news release, this would also apply to gatherings for worship. Please add this information to the material which I distributed on Wednesday. Groups of up to 15 (with the mandated physical distancing) plus an officiant, may gather outdoors for weddings or funerals.
In Prince Edward Island, the number permitted to gather is 15 persons indoors or outdoors.
The Prince Edward Island Government requires the maintaining of a “register” of the names and contact information of those attending each worship service. On Wednesday I said this was a best practice. I now need to say that it is a requirement.
The Most Rev. Ron Cutler
Archbishop of Nova Scotia & PEI
Next week we will celebrate the Feast of the Ascension (albeit from our individual homes) where we commemorate the 40 days after Easter, where Christ was taken up into heaven and seated at the right hand of God the Father. Do not get bogged down with spatial images that will no doubt seem odd to modern folks. The point of the Ascension is moral and spiritual, not spatial. The idea is that placing Christ, whose story we know, at the “helm” of creation, would give us an understanding of the “character” of the universe itself. That is to say as Christ is good, and true and beautiful, so the fabric of life and the world is the manifestation of “the good the true and the beautiful”. The ascension therefore is nothing less than a world view where happiness, virtue, kindness, peace and the like, are the intended purposes of everything.
Yesterday the funeral motorcade for Abbigail Cowbrough, processed through Halifax. We witnessed a bereaved family while also being mindful of the families of the 5 other young crew members who perished in the crash . This tragedy, along with , the loss of three year old Dylan Ehler, the April 18-19 shootings that began in Portapique, and all in such a close span of time while under global quarantine- I dare say the unlikeliness of such an onslaught has shifted the horizon of our expectation for tragedy and uncertainty.
What I have to offer at this juxtaposition is the witness of the saints. I tell you that after the Ascension many tragedies befell the Apostles and all of Jesus disciples. And yet, rather than doubting the goodness of life and the world, it was in fact knowledge of the good- revealed at the Ascension- that caused them to persevere, heal and overcome. A world worth persevering for, a world of the good the true and the beautiful, the reflection of Christ in his glory.
Miss you all
Two months ago we would never have imagined a global quarantine. Two days ago we would never have imagined Portapique. This is a time for prayer. Surreal days to be sure. You are all in my prayers. God’s blessings be upon you. Keep well; after sadness often comes good cheer.
Just a phone call away.
Easter Morning 2020
The well known philosopher and atheist Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would say, if after death he found himself standing before God. Russell replied, “I probably would ask, ’Sir, why did you not give me better evidence?’” Richard Dawkins, who is essentially the pope of modern atheism, quoted Russell when asked the same question. I have never forgotten the day when as a young student minister, I arrived at the home of a parishioner to pay a visit, and found her husband digging in the garden. He was a kindly, welcoming elderly man with a ready smile and keen conversation. When he found out who I was however, things “went off the rails” real fast. He basically chased me out of the yard with a litany of anti-christian insults, his crowning challenge “Would your religion hold up in court?” Not enough evidence.
This is nothing new, people have always wanted signs and proofs of God’s existence particularly related to Christ. Jesus himself addresses this in Matthew, “A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed.” (Matthew 16:4) And so the answer that Jesus gave to and still gives to the Bertrand Russells of the world is His bodily resurrection from the grave. On Jesus own terms therefore, the proof of God, and who the Christ is, is not in “ontological philosophy” or “cosmological philosophy” or “esthetic philosophy”, or “visions” or any such thing. The evidence is far more solid, and far easier to understand and believe once seen. He will rise from the dead. There can be no surer proof.
But there are a couple of problems: namely limited number of eye witness, credibility of eye witnesses, and in our case historical distance. If the witnesses were talking about the something normal, such as someone giving a speech on a certain day, or where they built a house or anything else, there would be no problem. Resurrection of the dead? Well I suppose the point is that the unbelievable happened, so the very nature of it is a hard sell.
So here goes-
Limited number of witnesses- Sure on Easter morning there were only a few, but during the 40 days after, Paul says there were over 500 who saw Christ. That’s a lot to see a dead man walking.
Credibility of witnesses- The big objection here is oddly enough based around a conspiracy theory, that the Apostles falsely claimed resurrection to gain political advantage. As if they were all willing to die as martyrs so that 1000 years later some guy would live in a bishop’s palace. It is also true that people are willing to be martyred for false causes, but never for false causes that they themselves willfully fabricate. Also, witness the quality and dedication of writing of the New Testament. It’s wisdom, insight, skill, and weightiness demonstrates not only the authenticity of the author’s intent, but the sober and healthy state of mind they possessed. No Charlatan, criminal or disturbed individual authored any part of those books, they are intelligent, sane and of good character and yet they all attest to the resurrection.
Historical distance- The resurrection happened 2000 years ago. It transformed the ancient world. In an ironic twist, modern ethics, science, and philosophy, three most important foundations of modern advancement and quality of life, have by and large abandoned and in many cases become hostile to Christianity. Ironic, because western ethics, science and philosophy have their genesis and STILL foundation in the necessity of an underlying Christian world view. In short, echoes of the power of the resurrection can still be LOUDLY heard.
But it is Easter, and my purpose here is not to pit us against others who see things differently. I just think that the real reason the resurrection is doubted and has always been doubted, even by those who saw the living Christ, is not as Russell would say “not enough of evidence”. I am convinced that it is a frame of mind that for pride sake is afraid to hope. And so as Christians, our task is a joyful one. We are the bearers and witnesses of the reasonableness and efficacy of holy hope. This Easter, that message is more important than ever.
To go back to the old man in the garden, the answer is “maybe yes” with a good enough lawyer and a sympathetic judge, maybe yes.
Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople 347ad
The Paschal Sermon
If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived thereof. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; He gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.
And He shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one He gives, and upon the other He bestows gifts. And He both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.
O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.
Sermon for Good Friday April 10
“Why did Christ have to die on the cross for our sins? Why didn’t God just forgive them?”
This question which I am sure, to the annoyance of many a rector and Sunday School teacher, has been asked at some point in every Sunday School in every Church since the dawn of Sunday Schools. It is a very old question. When St. Anselm was formulating the doctrine of the atonement, one of his students, a fellow monk named Boso (from which we get the word bozo) asked his master why God could not have granted forgiveness from heaven, and there-by avoid the violence of the cross. But Boso was not a Bozo. It is a very Good question.
Up until the last 100 or so years, Anselm’s doctrine of “Substitutionary Atonement” was the standard teaching on the Cross. (The doctrine actually predated Anselm by centuries and find’s its genesis in the New Testament most notably in the writings of St. Paul. Anselm was an 11- 12th century English monk) Substitutionary atonement accounts for the necessity of Christ’s death on the cross by the requirement of a perfect blood sacrifice in order to pay the price for our sin, there-by purchasing our redemption. Every Sunday we see that doctrine spelled out in the prayer of consecration where it says “(Christ)…once offered a full perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world”.
Like Boso, many people in our own time will take umbrage with substitutionary sacrifice, noting the juxtaposition to the Christian God of love. Many fear that so understood, God becomes a divine despot and a sadistic filicidal maniac. The objection has had substantial influence in contemporary protestant theology which underwrites the move to sequester medieval doctrine to the presumably dark past. In essence I believe that many concede Boso’s objection, and proceed in the tacit theological move of God’s loving forgiveness from heaven…no need for substitutionary sacrifice. Is that a prudent theological move?
Firstly, let us get our terminology straight.
The word forgiveness is translated from the Greek, Apoluo which actually means to “set free”. Apoluo is not about God getting over a grudge, it is about us being set free from what Paul describes as the bondage of sin. This can easily be interpreted to refer to matters related to and about human character, about getting over ourselves and about dying our own “spiritual deaths”. Also, the Greek word Sozo, which is commonly translated salvation, is applied and in many ways essential to the theology of the cross. We say for example that Jesus “saves” (sozo) and that saving grace is tied in with his atoning substitutionary sacrifice. But sozo can also be translated to mean “healing”. There are infact a number of places in the New Testament, where sozo , is translated as such. When the woman in the gospels for example, touches Jesus cloak, she is sozo, that is, she is healed. Next time you read the bible, read the word save as the word healed. It will add dimensions to your understanding
And so the answer Anselm’s gave Boso. He said simply, “You have not considered the weight of sin.” One can understand for example how easy it would be to forgive a petty thief or someone who takes the Lord’s name in vain. One might even see the adulterer or the purger granted absolution. But what about the murderer. Or the rapist. Maybe. But down and down it goes into creepy things. Political tyrants, serial killers, mass murderers. I have held back in my description, you know there are dark place. There is much evil, and sin, and it is angry and vicious and it destroys, maims and tortures and does things we dare not bring ourselves to look upon. And what of the victims? God grant forgiveness from the safety of heaven? Dwell not among us? Be not with us? Join not with us in our burden? The weight of sin requires that God not simply forgive from heaven, but be with us in it’s defeat, in our healing, in Apoluo and Sozo
There is more to this day than, the promise of forgiveness, much less forgiveness from an angry God. God is with us in the darkest places. Places that need healing, and health and transformation, and cleansing which only he can give- places that can be transformed only by the grace, love and suffering of God himself.
Reflection for Maundy Thursday April 9 2020
Today is Maundy Thursday. The day upon which Jesus met with his disciples in the upper room and broke bread with them saying “This is My Body…This is My Blood, do that as oft as ye shall, in remembrance of me”. Now the word which we translate “remembrance” is the Greek word “anamnesis”. This word carries a nuance that the word “remembrance” does not reflect. When we say we “remember” we are referring to cerebral task such as remembering where I put my keys, or perhaps a feeling related to something in the past, like my wedding day, or my deceased grandmother. But anamnesis has far extending roots in Greek philosophy that has to do with platonic forms and actual “participation” in primal realities. Needless to say, the concept of “anamnesis” has a long complicated history requiring much exposition. No need or time to go down that road. Suffice it to say that Holy Communion, is not just an intellectual remembrance, or a sentimental recollection, but a way of making real the presence of Christ, in the same manor that he was present to his disciples on the first Maundy Thursday. Christ, in the sacrament of “Holy Communion” becomes a real presence in the world now, albeit, for Anglicans, in a spiritual manor. Any Church going Anglican will be familiar with this general understanding of the Holy Communion.
Underscored in the sacrament so understood, is the acknowledgment of our human need not only to recall in our hearts and minds a thing that we desire, but to actually be in the presence of, and to experience that person or thing in the real world. To give an example, if we have a favorite song by a particular artist, it is not enough to merely recall the words and melody and simply hum or sing to ourselves. We must actually hear the song, performed by the artist, and there are no substitutions…in most cases not even a close facsimile by another artist will suffice. So just remembering Christ is not enough, desire and receive the authentic experience.
It is interesting to note, that when Jesus Christ instituted the sacrament at the Last Supper he did so in the context of a shared meal, a communal event. The significance of this is not lost on us- we do, after all call the sacrament “Communion”, and it is our principle corporate act as a Church. The implication is profound and obvious, and it is that as human beings, striving to come to the fullness of what God has made us to be, we need not only the real presence of God, but also the presence of others.
At the core of our most basic spiritual act, as mandated by our God, is the natural, healthy and God given need to be around one another. Not to be sentimental about it, even if we are shy or easily annoyed by other people, the reality of our very being is that nothing has a visceral effect on our moods or state of mind like other people. How many times might we be determined to address a person with a particular request, or demand, or idea- say for instance demanding a pay raise from the boss, asking someone out on a date- only to realize, once corporally present our resolve is over ridden and we change our minds. No wonder public speaking is one of our greatest fears. The “wiring” for this runs very deep, is subtle and ubiquitous and no small part is played out in the largely unnoticed world of encountering passing smiles, frowns and general attitudes. The point is, human beings are, fundamentally and immutably communal creatures. As such, any disruption to our normal comings, goings and interactions will be noticed, and will affect us.
And so to my point.
Everyone has been self- isolating and social distancing for a month or so. By and large, we are resilient, and have phones, maybe computers and if we are lucky, family and or living companions, so that we are not so very alone and life goes on. Be that as it may, the situation is so unprecedentedly peculiar, I would like to offer the following.
We are a Communion based piety, but the Christian faith is a rich one and we have other resources as well. We are in the Triduum of Holy Week, the apex of the Lenten season. The spiritual discipline of Christ alone in the desert has been an example encouraged and spiritually replicated by Christians every lent for almost 2000 years. It is entirely possible to take this time apart from others and use it in the most efficacious of ways. As surely as Christ initiated communion, he also instituted a piety of solitude. As the Psalmist writes “Be still and know that I Am God”. Such refinements are rarely if ever offered. We are in the midst of what may be a soulfully rich time.
On the other side of things, if social isolation is taking it’s toll, remember that the Church is not closed…just the Church house. We are still brothers and sisters in Christ willing to avail ourselves for one another albeit in unconventional circumstances. We do not need to feel alone.
Such is the paradox of Maundy Thursday, and the Triduum
A Brief reflection for Holy Monday and Holy Tuesday.
On these two days we read St. Mark’s Passion.
I am always struck by St. Peter. Such a juxtaposition- the stubbornly determined one whose pride and strength would never fail nor deny his most beloved Lord, hours later caves to the pressure of passersby and denies Christ not once but three times. As the cock crows, Peter bursts into tears and we all understand his regret, his remorse his shame, his defeat.
Peter’s denial, in a rare and pointed instance, lifts the veil off of humankind’s most ubiquitous lie and the struggle it masks.
Earlier today while searching YouTube for tutorials on posting my videos (pathetic I know) a “recommended” video of holocaust survivor, author and psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl popped up. I was reminded that Frankl made famous one of Nietzsche’ simplest and best known aphorisms “He who has a “why“ to live can bare almost any “how”.” This is a hard earned authentic wisdom for Viktor Frankl –he miraculously survived five years in Auschwitz.
As Peter stepped out into the crowd a sharp heavy cleaver would divide his soul. The threat of losing his life, was his obvious concern. Survival itself a sufficient “why”- a substantive reason to subvert any alternative priorities. Clearly there was no dark motive in the denial, just the preservation of life and a safe return to things as they had been before- but of a sudden, the terrible truth fell upon Peter. Survival alone is, when tested, not a substantive reason to exist. His substantive reason, his “Why” was no longer survival, but was in fact Jesus. He had denied his legitimate purpose and in so doing, rendered the lesser purpose obsolete. Through tears the truth was now intelligible, he had made a tragic error.
As you know, Peter would go on to be Christ’s chosen one upon whom the Church would be founded. His life and journeys a series of dreadful challenge met with virtue and courage. Each obstacle overcome not by inward strength and resolve as he had once sworn, but the deep purpose of the love of Christ. Thus untethered, Peter would finally know real courage and strength.
Sermon for Palm Sunday 2020
The celebration of Palm Sunday is always an ironic affair. Clearly, celebrating God’s victory over all that ensnares us is the superlative cause for celebration, but from our perspective (ie historical knowledge of the violence which is about to unfold) it is at least incongruous with the upcoming week. But the paradox of the day is not accidental, or inessential. As the Christ makes his way into the city, the crowd shouts out “Hosanna” (ie. salvation now!), They are quoting Psalm 118, where we see that the one who will deliver the nation, is sent to Jerusalem and is greeted with glad adoration for what is about to be achieved. But, amid the victory celebration is the troubling phrase “God is the Lord, which hath shewed us light: bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.” The fundamental demonstration is the primal truth of the necessity, of the way of the cross. The pattern of life indispensable to the Christian world view, acknowledged at the moment of baptism.
We are reading from Matthew today, and perhaps it is an unfortunate oddity of our lectionary that the events that take place immediately following Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, are not read out at the Eucharistic liturgies during Holy Week. For here we see explicitly the unfolding of events that lead from triumph to cross. So much narrative light Matthew sheds on the matter.
As you will know, the Hebrew law required all offerings made to God in His temple to be ritually pure. The idea is that God is worthy of the best we can offer, and that we cheerfully offer the sacrifice of our best to Him. Included on list of acceptable vs unacceptable temple sacrifice, was financial currency. Roman currency was decidedly an unacceptable offering. It was after all, the currency of the oppressor, and it did bear the image of the “god” emperor- but the fact that it was gentile was enough to defile it in any event. The only currency assuredly undefiled was the temple currency, known as the shekel (the shekel is still the denomination in modern day Israel). Since the standard trade currency for the Roman empire was the denarii, Jews, in making an offering to the temple had to convert their denarii to the shekel…hence the need for “money changers”. Now it was the case, as you can surmise, money changers and priests were in cahoots, gouging people with currency rates. Also, pigeons and turtle doves purchased in a local market, were named ritually impure, so that very expensive temple doves had to be purchased for sacrifice. Very lucrative. So essentially, God’s law, and the healthy spiritual union of “all things come of thee and of thine own have we given thee” was used to exploit the piety of God’s faithful.
Now we understand Jesus’ fury.
Entering into the city with “loud hosannas”, it looks, in Matthew, as though an urgency which only anger can generate takes Jesus immediately to the Temple. Here is the scene,
Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’[e] but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’[f]”
14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.
16 “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.
“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,
“‘From the lips of children and infants
you, Lord, have called forth your praise”
So not only are the chief priests and teachers outraged at Jesus temple spectacle but further enraged at the insult of the cheering of children and admiration for Jesus from the blind and the lame. Further, Jesus, applies prophetic significance from the scriptures. The Pharisees are now “pushed to the edge”. Deicide is now their consuming ambition and the only recourse of action they desire. There was an easier option of course. They might have considered repenting.
The remainder of the week, up to Maundy Thursday, consists mostly of a combination of parables, and instances of the Pharisees and Sadducees trying to discredit Jesus and catch him up. It is worth noting one other event however…
The morning after cleansing the temple, Jesus passes by a baron fig tree, and curses it, saying “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered. The disciples are astonished at his power “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked. This passage has puzzled us every bit as much as it does the disciples. What, has the poor sickly fig tree done? But clearly, it is a metaphor for what has happened the previous day… God’s wrath at the spiritual desolation and waste of the Temple establishment and the spiritual impoverishment imposed on it’s people has raised his ire. Now the fig tree foreshadows its end, and the rightness of God’s wrath.
So this day, “it’s on”. God’s wrath is about to unfold.
And now another paradox- His wrath is His perfect love, sacrifice and forgiveness.
I will send more to you throughout the week.
Just a couple of things. Firstly, the Bishop sent an update (April 1) regarding Church closure and other matters. Of first interest and surely no surprise, the Church buildings will remain closed until further notice. It may be one or two more months before reopening.
Secondly, I will continue to send sermon texts, and other messages via email, website and facebook. I will also be sending video presentations of the readings for Holy Week and Easter with short reflections. Please excuse, in advance, my shoddy technological abilities. I shall do my best.
In the meantime, here are a few prayers, which come from the BCP but I have been using in my personal daily devotions. Bless you all.
ALMIGHTY God, who art afflicted in the afflictions of thy people: Regard with thy tender compassion those in anxiety and distress; bear their sorrows and their cares; supply all their manifold needs; and help both them and us to put our whole trust and confidence in thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
PROTECT and prosper, O Lord, all those who labour at tasks of danger and difficulty especially those who work in hospitals, that they may be preserved in safety and health; and grant that, knowing the dangers which beset them, they may ever take thought one for another, and be sustained by a sure trust in thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
O GOD, our heavenly Father, who by thy blessed Son hast taught us to ask our daily bread of thee: Behold, we beseech thee, the affliction of thy people, and send us relief in this our necessity. Increase healing of the earth by thy heavenly benediction; and grant that we, receiving with thankfulness thy gracious gifts, may use the same to thy glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
ALMIGHTY God, who hast given a day of rest to thy people, and, through thy Spirit in the Church, hast consecrated the first day of the week to be a perpetual memorial of thy Son’s resurrection: Grant that though a this time your people may not gather together, we may nevertheless keep the holy day of rest that, refreshed and strengthened in soul and body, we may serve thee faithfully all the days of our life; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
LORD of all power and mercy, we beseech thee to assist with thy favour the Prime Minister of this Dominion, and the Premiers of the Provinces. Cause them, we pray thee, to walk before thee in truth and righteousness, and to fulfil their office to thy glory and the public good; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
NOW unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end. Amen. Ephesians 3. 20, 21.
Theology and preaching in contemporary Anglicanism has taken upon itself a decidedly “here and now” approach to the deepest questions of God and life. What I mean is that opposed to a traditional theology that spoke freely on death and the afterlife, we now focus almost entirely on ethics and quality of life here and now, with, I suppose, a tacit nod to universal salvation in the afterlife should such unsavoury subjects come up. (That admittedly is how I preach) Today’s Church goer would be gobsmacked if a rector stood with the children at the Advent wreath and taught “the Four Last Thing: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell.” But indeed, in the tradition, this is the focus of the start of the liturgical season, and the lead up to the incarnation and Nativity of Christ. It has been replaced by “Hope Peace, Love and Joy” which is not just a “softening” or light handed “rebranding”, but a theological shift away from death and the afterlife, to life so long as we are alive, and the present benefits of virtue and spiritual living. The Church has not been clandestine in championing this paradigm. It has been the foremost intention of synods, councils and seminaries for 60 years. Look for instance at some of your favorite hymns. The 20th century hymns “Sister Let Me Be Your Servant”, or “Shine Jesus Shine” are community and world based, as compared to old hymns such as “Holy, Holy, Holy” or “Jerusalem the Golden” which are about heaven and afterlife. I am not cherry picking- flip through your hymnals, look at the new hymns and the old hymns and compare. Not every hymn will exhibit this, but you will see a pattern. It is no aberration that in our own diocese, we recently unveiled an evangelism program called “It’s About the World”. When I was in theology school, the final credit coarse necessary for conferring the degree was titled “Church and World”. The wisdom in this is that it satisfies these pragmatic times, where people are looking for practical applicable spiritual things that make a tangible positive difference regarding, family, friend, neighbour, world, and self. Not a bad idea. BUT!
What are we to make of Bible stories of resurrection of the dead and these scriptural descriptions of the heavenly? More especially, what are we to make of our own death. All of the “here and now” theology in the world can’t take that question away. That question is arguably prior to every other and it is certainly much older than many of our current ethical queries.
In the Book of Job, Job asks “If a man dies does he live again?” concluding “My redeemer lives and shall stand at the latter day upon the earth” Daniel writes, “Those who sleep in the earth shall wake again”. Psalm 22, 23 and 49 speak about fear of death and promise of resurrection. Isaiah writes “But your dead will live, LORD; their bodies will rise— let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy— your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead”. Hosea promises ransom from the power of the grave. Then of course there is Ezekiel’s resurrection of “Valley of Dry Bones”
So the Old Testament contains the promise of life after death, but given that the Pharisees and Sadducees came to no consensus on resurrection, history finds these books on their own surprisingly insufficient to establish the doctrine of eternal life.
The Age of Philosophy was born between the two testaments, and the question of life after death was pondered at length. If I were to caricature the philosophers on afterlife, I would simply say Plato believed in everything and nothing, and Aristotle believed in nothing and everything. Not much earth shattering insight teased out of philosophical method, mostly weird combination of wild speculation and sceptical doubt.
And so we come to the struggling world of the New Testament, where we see the question of eternal life taken up in John’s gospel. Here Lazarus, who, with sisters Mary and Martha shares the distinction of being explicitly named as friend of Jesus, dies and is buried. So dear to Jesus is Lazarus he is the only individual for whom Jesus is seen weeping. When Jesus arrives three days after the death of Lazarus, Martha runs to him saying “Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died.” Much as a statement of faith in Christ’s power as it was, it sounds to me like Martha is angry with Him. Jesus did after all delay his arrival. His reply is “Your brother will rise again”… At that point the world changed. “I am the resurrection and the life” Jesus claimed, and Lazarus was raised from the dead. At the center of what would become the Christian world view, from that point on, was resurrection from the dead in Jesus Christ. The definitive statement of course would be Christs own resurrection three days after the Passover.
As much as the Christian faith is ethically pertinent on a daily basis, Christ’s power over death is a primary defining feature.
The human body is fearfully and wonderfully made. If you factor in the human brain and consciousness, it is complex beyond anything else we know of. Blood pressure, body temperature, digestion, heartbeat and all these “automatic” things that “just happen” are not counted as miraculous only because of habit of mind. And so we are enraptured by this wonder. We serve our biological needs and pleasures and spend not only time and effort but spiritual predisposition on the wonder of the body. We protect it at all costs, and stave off its’ death to the bitter end if need be. Nevertheless, glorious as the body is, perfectly ordered as it is, we are not intended nor created only to live after its’ needs. The resurrection means that God did not intend that we be ruled by biological needs, but by Him and the way of the spirit. If I am bound up with the body, I am bound up with a losing game. I will die. That is the only thing I really know for sure. Oh yea, you will die too…that’s for sure. I am, while consumed with the body and the world, inevitably filled with fears, worries, paranoia, strife, maybe cynicism, selfishness, and if I am honest, ultimate despair, because I do in truth wish I could live and not die, probably more than anything. Though I choose not to think upon it. If I am after the spirit, if I trust in God, if I dare share in the optimism of Christian hope and trust in the resurrection to eternal life in Christ, there is peace, and freedom. Only those who live without being paralyzed by fear can be effective, and wise and consider others first. The ultimate ethical and meaningful life can only be achieved in the promise of eternal life and release from the great existential stress of eternal death.
We are now in Passiontide. Victory over death is about to unfold.
I will write you again next week.
I write today on the Feast of the Annunciation to Mary. It is a day when we give thanks for the message brought by an angel to Mary that she had ”found favour with God” and that she would bear a son who would be called “Son of the Most High”… whose kingdom would have no end. It is an account both deeply comforting and deeply disturbing (at least for Mary). It required her active affirmation of God’s plan and the assuming of no little risk. The times were perilous and they would be even more dangerous for her. Yet she says yes - “Here am I the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Reflecting on Luke 1:26-38 today I wonder: To whom are we an angel (messenger) today, bringing a word from God? What is the word from God being spoken to us? What is the task we are being asked to undertake in our own perilous time? What new thing from God is coming to birth? Do we appreciate how much we are “favoured (loved) by God?
We give thanks today for parents and children, for strength and wisdom for parents amid `the additional pressures on family life at this time. We give thanks for our own parents and those whom we have experienced as parents in our lives.
Since I wrote to you last Friday, a state of emergency has been declared in both Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. There are some minor differences in the restrictions which this places on residents in both provinces but the most significant message is – Stay Home! Don’t go out except for necessary trips such as buying groceries. Even then it should be only one person in a household.
One of the consequences for parishes is that there are further restrictions on numbers of people permitted to gather. Gatherings are limited to a maximum of 5 persons in both provinces, and proper physical distancing must take place. Please take this into consideration if there is a necessity to gather. There have also been further restrictions on visitation to nursing homes and hospitals. Clergy may visit those who are at the end of life to bring the sacraments, although this may require advance conversations with heath authorities.
It is wonderful to read of the ways that parishes are responding to the restrictions on gathering by offering a variety of forms of worship. In some places this has been a variety of technological ways to come together ‘virtually’. In others worship leaders have shared printed resources and invited people to worship in their own homes, together in prayer but separate in location. On March 16th, 2020, I directed that there be no gatherings for public worship at least until April 3rd, 2020. This time frame was consistent with the decisions by both provincial governments to close the public school system until April 6th, 2020, and would give us time to plan for Holy Week and Easter.
It seems clear from comments made by government officials in the past few days that restrictions on gathering will continue past April 3rd, 2020. I am now requesting clergy and parish leaders to plan for a suspension of gatherings for worship for at least two months. This will mean that our observances of “the journey from the glory of the triumphal entry to the glory of the resurrection, by way of the dark road of suffering and death” will need to take unconventional forms. We continue to add resources to the Covid 19 section of the diocesan website to assist leaders in planning worship. If you have resources or suggestions, please send them to Canon Lisa Vaughn (firstname.lastname@example.org) I also want to recommend the resource booklet distributed at last year’s MORE Mission School for “finding God in the neighbourhood.”
The Financial Management and Development Team met by video conference yesterday. They have agreed to proposals to put before a special video meeting of Diocesan Council on Friday March 27th, 2020. These proposals are for additional ways that the Diocesan structure may support parishes at this time. We are fortunate that budget surpluses over the past few years and good management, have given us a pool of working capital which we may use at this time. While this provides us some security in the short term, I need to be open about the fact that if the restrictions on gathering continue for more than three months, more difficult decisions will need to be made. Clergy and Parish leadership should plan accordingly.
These are strange and difficult times. Patterns and schedules are disrupted. We want to know when these changes to ‘normal’ life will end, even though there is no answer to this question at this time. Powerlessness can bring anxiety, it can also bring liberation. Be gentle with yourself. This is not a sprint this has become a marathon. Use some of the time, newly available in your calendar, to be quiet, to read and to pray. Be gentle with one another, we’re all feeling some extra stress at this time. We are making the best decisions that we can, knowing that tomorrow things will probably change. We are not alone.
May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Most Reverend Ron Cutler
Archbishop of Nova Scotia & Prince Edward Island
Greetings in Christ
Last week, in response to COVID19, Bishop Cutler, suspended all public liturgies, church meetings and gatherings, with the hope that we will resume regular Church life on April 3. Many are now interpreting the April 3 date as optimistic. Further, all nursing homes and hospitals are closed to visiting clergy. In the event of a funeral, clergy have been instructed to recommend graveside committal, and or, a small service with immediate family, as large public gatherings are now “off the table”. Same rule for weddings.
This is a double edge sword for Church going faithful. There are practical and real stresses of quarantine. Some people are under the financial strain of being out of work, some are feeling isolated and detached, some are concerned for close friends and family members, some just plain fear catching corona virus. Some are just bewildered. I am sure there are many other stresses with multiple dimensions. As Church folk, these challenges are compounded by the fact that Sunday worship, and the comforts thereby provided are now suspended- perhaps when we need it most. I would like to make some suggestions with regard to this last piece.
I am sure that everyone has much to do and many tasks to attend to, even if homebound, but I would guess that most of us will have more time on your hands than when keeping a normal routine. With that, I would encourage you to use this time of “isolation” to do the spiritual things for which you previously felt you have no time. Here are a few suggestions:
(Everything listed is available on the internet, Amazon, and, if possible your local library and Chapters.)
These are just a few random suggestions that come to mind because of their classic and timeless appeal. Most of the books mentioned are “must read” in the Western literary and spiritual canon. But my real purpose is not to make book recommendations, rather to suggest we use this rare time of quiet to a productive end. “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” Timothy 1:7 Select what you will, but make it something significant enough to be considered an accomplishment. Right now there is a great temptation to set our minds on nothing but news cycles and quarantine. We need to hear the news, but 24 hour vigilance is not necessary or healthy. Set your mind on something else- something great, you will be lifted up and anything you accomplish at this time, will be a blessing to you always.
Your BAS and your BCP along with lectionary readings (links at- https://apostleshalifax.net) are also invaluable in maintaining a connected prayer life. Check the website from time to time for updates, and we are also on facebook. We will aim to keep you both informed and pastorally upheld. IF YOU ARE NOT ON THE INTERNET do not hesitate to call the parish office regarding this or any other matters, I will be happy to speak with you.
Church service or not, have a safe happy, healthy spirit filled Easter, and may Christ’s Blessing be upon you.
In His Name,