the politicization of death

On October 4, 2017, Staff Sergeant Bryan Black, Staff Sergeant Jeremiah Johnson, Sergeant La David Johnson, and Staff Sergeant Dustin Wright, members of a 12-man unit on routine patrol in Niger, were ambushed and killed by a larger force of ISIS militants.

This past week, we have borne witness to what I consider the sordid politicization of death.

First, believing no two people ever mean the same thing when employing the same words and, thus, as the firmest believer in the necessity of defining one’s terms, I digress.

Politicization, in my lexicon, is the act or process of becoming politically conscious. Here, I understand “politically” in the primary sense, derived from the Greek polis (city) and, broadly applied, the human community (which is as expansive – locally, regionally, nationally, globally – as one’s imagination allows). Thus, to be politicized is to be aware and to practice with effective, respectful care the art of human relationships.

In the clutch of human selfish self-interest, politicization can be distorted. An example: One’s negative description and definition of the word or action (or unspoken word or untaken action) of another so to depict, so to diminish that person as lacking in character or virtue or falling short of accepted ethical norms.

This, for me, is when politicization is made sordid. This is what we witnessed this past week.

President Donald Trump telephoned Mrs. Myeshia Johnson, wife of Staff Sargent La David Johnson, to express his condolences and those of a grateful nation, saying, in part, as it has been reported, “He knew what he signed up for, but it still hurts.” U.S. Congresswoman Frederica Wilson of Florida and a friend of the Johnson family criticized Mr. Trump as lacking empathy. Mr. Trump defended himself, denying Representative Wilson’s characterization.

I am no fan of Donald Trump. I consider him zealously egoistic and injudicious in speech and action, at times, dangerously, given his role and responsibilities. (However, I am not one who claims, “He’s not my President.” I am an American. Mr. Trump is the American president. Therefore, he is my president.)

I also am less than sanguine about Representative Wilson’s public and repeated declarations of her discontent with the content of Mr. Trump’s words to Mrs. Johnson. For her criticisms, in my view, precipitated a furious round of point-and-counterpoint because of which the primary attention has been given to the politicization of death and not on the lives and legacies, the memories of and the memorials to the dead.

I never served in the military. In World War II, my father, William, served honorably in the army in the Philippines. Through his recounts of his experiences and his revelations of the scars he bore, some invisible, but no less abiding, I, at an early age, learned to honor the sacred sacrifice of all who wear the uniform and bear arms, whether near or far, to maintain the liberties Americans enjoy (though, yes, it must be confessed, imperfectly and unequally).

Thus, this day, I want to – I will – do nothing but pray:

O gracious God, Sovereign Source of all life, Supreme Solace for the dead, I pray You receive into Your nearest, dearest Presence in Your heavenly habitations the souls of Staff Sergeant Bryan Black, Staff Sergeant Jeremiah Johnson, Sergeant La David Johnson, and Staff Sergeant Dustin Wright: Heal their wounds, bind them fast and forever in Your peace. And, by the living breath of Your Spirit, comfort, come with strength upon the families and friends of these fallen brothers in arms, guiding them through the shadowy valleys of their grief with the grace of the light of Your everlasting love; through Jesus Christ. Amen.

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An Instructed Eucharist: Rite II, Part 1 – The Liturgy of the Word

epiphany-laurens-sc-facade

The Episcopal Church of the Epiphany

Laurens, South Carolina

The mission of Church of the Epiphany is to celebrate the light of Jesus Christ, proclaim the Gospel, deepen our faith, nurture and encourage all people

The 19th Sunday after Pentecost, October 15, 2017

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Introduction

This morning’s Instructed Eucharist, covering the first part of the service, the Liturgy of the Word, is intended to give us a greater understanding of the Holy Eucharist, “the principle act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day.”[1] Today, we will explore in depth the first part of the Holy Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Word. Next Sunday, we will continue with an in depth consideration of the second part of the Holy Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Table.

The word eucharist means thanksgiving. The essence of Christian worship is giving thanks to God for creation and especially for the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ.

The early Church established the Eucharist based on Jesus’ actions on the eve of Passover; the annual Jewish celebration commemorating the liberation of the Hebrew people from Egyptian bondage. Moses, at God’s command, told the Hebrews to place the blood of a sacrificial lamb on their doorposts as a sign to God’s avenging angel to pass over their households. Death was visited on the Egyptians and the Hebrew people were freed.[2]

Jesus’ last supper with his disciples before his crucifixion coincided with Passover. The Church proclaims that Jesus is our Passover Lamb, whose death liberates us from bondage to sin. So the Apostle Paul declares: “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast.”[3]

At that Passover meal, Jesus took, blessed, and offered to his friends bread and wine; symbols of his coming sacrifice of his body and blood on the cross. Thus, we call the Holy Eucharist[4] a sacrament; the bread and wine being “outward and visible signs of the inward and spiritual grace”[5] of communion with God in Christ. Although a bishop or a priest presides at the Eucharist, Jesus is the chief presider and all the people are celebrants.

The Liturgy of the Word

Processional Hymn 383 – Fairest Lord Jesus, Ruler of all nature

Narrator: The Opening Acclamation and Response is an invitation to holy conversation between God and us. It also declares why we have gathered.

Presider          Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

People             And blessed be his kingdom, now and for ever. Amen.

Narrator: Entering God’s presence and remembering Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,”[6] in the Collect for Purity we pray that God cleanses our hearts.

Presider          Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord.

All                   Amen.

Narrator: Thankful that God, who loves us, has cleansed us, we sing Gloria in excelsis, “Glory to God in the highest.”

All       Glory to God in the highest,

and peace to his people on earth.

Lord God, heavenly King,

almighty God and Father,

we worship you, we give you thanks,

we praise you for your glory.

Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father,

Lord God, Lamb of God,

you take away the sin of the world:

have mercy on us;

you are seated at the right hand of the Father:

receive our prayer.

For you alone are the Holy One,

you alone are the Lord,

you alone are the Most High,

Jesus Christ,

with the Holy Spirit,

in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Narrator: The Salutation acknowledges our interdependence as priest and people in our offering of worship. We also express our unity in our customary response to prayer. When we say, “Amen”, meaning “so be it”, we affirm our agreement with what has been said.

Presider          The Lord be with you.

People             And also with you.

Presider          Let us pray.

All kneel.

Narrator: The Collect of the Day gathers together or collects the themes of the day as expressed in the Bible passages to be read.

Presider          Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we   may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

All                   Amen.

All sit.

Narrator: The Liturgy of the Word focuses on the Bible. The order of the readings was established in the 7th and 8th centuries.

Old Testament reading – Exodus 32.1-14

After the reading, the Reader says, The Word of the Lord.

All                   Thanks be to God.

All stand to chant the psalmPsalm 106.1-6, 19-23

New Testament epistle reading – Philippians 4.1-9

After the reading, the Reader says, The Word of the Lord.

All                   Thanks be to God.

Sequence Hymn 645 – The King of love my shepherd is

Narrator: The Gospel, taken from one of the biblical accounts of the life of Jesus, precedes the sermon. Hence, it is read from the pulpit.[7] The Gospel is read by an ordained minister signifying the historic continuity of the Church from ancient times to the present day. We stand and face the reader to indicate the importance of this reading.

Presider          The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew (22.1-14)

All                   Glory to you, Lord Christ.

After the reading, the Presider says, The Gospel of the Lord.

All                   Praise to you, Lord Christ.

All sit.

Narrator: Having heard biblical readings that originally were directed to a particular group of people, at a particular time and place, and for a particular purpose, the Sermon seeks to interpret these texts for the current day.

The Sermon – Party Hardy!

Narrator: The Sermon concludes with the Nicene Creed. The Creed, from the Latin, credo, meaning, “I believe”, is a summary statement of Christian belief.

All stand.

All       We believe in one God,

the Father, the Almighty,

maker of heaven and earth,

of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

the only Son of God,

eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made,

of one Being with the Father.

Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation

he came down from heaven:

by the power of the Holy Spirit

he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,

and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;

he suffered death and was buried.

On the third day he rose again

in accordance with the Scriptures;

he ascended into heaven

and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,

and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.

He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look for the resurrection of the dead,

and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Narrator: The Prayers of the People largely are intercessory in nature. We pray for the Church, its life and mission, the nations and all in authority, the welfare of the world, the concerns of the local community, the needs of those who are afflicted, and the departed.

All kneel.

Reader  In peace, we pray to you, Lord God.

Silence

Reader   For all people in their daily life and work;

People    For our families, friends, and neighbors, and for those who are alone.

Reader   For this community, the nation, and the world;

People    For all who work for justice, freedom, and peace.

Reader   For the just and proper use of your creation;

People    For the victims of hunger, fear, injustice, and oppression.

Reader    For all who are in danger, sorrow, or any kind of trouble;

People     For those who minister to the sick, the friendless, and the needy.

Reader    For the peace and unity of the Church of God;

People     For all who proclaim the Gospel, and all who seek the Truth.

Reader  For Michael, our Presiding Bishop, Andrew, our Bishop, Paul, our Priest, and for all bishops and other ministers;

People   For all who serve God in his Church.

Reader  For the special needs and concerns of this congregation.  Hear us, Lord;

People   For your mercy is great.

Reader  We thank you, Lord, for all the blessings of this life. We will exalt you, O God our King;

People   And praise your Name for ever and ever.

Reader  We pray for all who have died, that they may have a place in your eternal kingdom. Lord, let your loving-kindness be upon them;

People  Who put their trust in you.

Narrator: Having opened ourselves to God’s presence through scripture, sermon, and prayer, we offer ourselves once more in the Confession. We acknowledge the ways in which we sin or “miss the mark” of authentic and faithful living.

Reader  We pray to you also for the forgiveness of our sins.

Silence

All           Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Narrator: In response to our confession and our intention to reform, the priest, in the Absolution, does not absolve sins, but rather declares God’s forgiveness made available to us through Jesus’ sacrificial death.

Presider  Almighty God, have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins through our      Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life.

All                   Amen.

Narrator: The restoration of our relationship with God is reaffirmed in the pronouncement of the Peace. In our renewed peace with God, we share it with others.

Presider          The peace of the Lord be always with you.

All                   And also with you.

All exchange the Peace.

The Holy Communion or the Liturgy of the Table

Offertory

Doxology

Praise God, from whom all blessing flow;

Praise Him, all creatures here below:

Alleluia, Alleluia!

Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host;

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost;

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

The Great Thanksgiving

Presider          The Lord be with you.

People             And also with you.

Presider          Lift up your hearts.

People             We lift them to the Lord.

Presider          Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

People             It is right to give him thanks and praise.

Presider          For you are the source of light and life, you made us in your image, and called us to new life in Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven, who for ever sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your Name:

Sanctus – Holy, holy, holy

The Breaking of the Bread

Communion Hymn 325 – Let us break bread together

Prayer of Thanksgiving

Blessing

Recessional Hymn 625 – Ye holy angels bright, who wait at God’s right hand

Dismissal

 

Footnotes:

[1] The Book of Common Prayer, page 13

[2] See Exodus 12

[3] 1 Corinthians 5.7-8

[4] The Holy Eucharist is known by a variety of titles, each focusing on an aspect of its meaning or arising out of its historical development. The Lord’s Supper affirms that the meal belongs to no Christian assembly, but to Jesus, who offers it to us. The Holy Communion affirms that through this meal we are brought into union with Jesus and one another. The Mass is derived from the Latin dismissal in the Roman Catholic Eucharistic liturgy, “Ite, missa est”, “Go, the mass is ended.” The Divine Liturgy emphasizes that Eucharist is a communal act of God’s people responding to God’s love in Jesus by offering themselves in worship.

[5] The Book of Common Prayer, The Catechism, The Sacraments, page 857

[6] Matthew 5.8

[7] In many places, the Gospel is read in the midst of the congregation following a procession, symbolizing the carrying of the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ to the world. When the Gospel is announced, we may make a sign of the cross on our foreheads, lips, and breasts indicating our intention to keep Jesus’ words in our thoughts, speech, and hearts.

the victims – those who died and their families and their friends and their communities and the world and all of us

Tonight, I watched the reporter and commentator Anderson Cooper’s CNN broadcast, AC360 Special Report: Las Vegas Lost: Remembering the Victims; a compilation of vignettes of the lives of the 58 victims of the mass shooting in Las Vegas on Sunday, October 1.

Las Vegas

As I watched, I noted the differences; never hard to seek and to find in any crowd of people. The victims were…

women and men,

young and old (the youngest, 20, the oldest, 67),

mothers and fathers, daughters and sons,

grandmothers and grandfathers, granddaughters and grandsons,

mothers-fathers-daughters-sons-in-law,

wives and husbands, partners and lovers, fiancées,

Asian, black, Hispanic, white,

Americans, mostly, and two Canadians,

small town and big city folk,

outdoor-and-indoor folk,

patriots and rebels,

straight and gay,

people of faith and not,

beer-lovers, wine connoisseurs, and teetotalers,

teachers, truck drivers, medical practitioners, construction workers, military and police personnel, combat veterans and pacifists, students and retirees.

And as I watched, I noted the similarities; never hard to seek and to find in any crowd of people. The victims were lovers of country music who, when shot, bled the red blood of our unmistakably, ineradicably common humanity and died.

And as I watched, I noted the similarities in the testimonials of families and friends who, with tearful, confessional honesty, and who, in their grieving, grappling with their paradoxically excruciating numbness, described their loved ones, almost to a person, as…

“kind”

“thoughtful”

“enthusiastic about life with a contagious smile and infectious laughter”

“filled with love”

“loyal”

“self-giving”

“joyful”

“putting others ahead of herself/himself”

“caring”

“compassionate”

And as I watched, I beheld (never hard to seek and to find) the composite, thus, magnified goodness of these 58 souls – all they did, all they were for all they knew and all who knew them – now lost to their families and friends, to their communities, to the world, and to all of us.

We never will, never can know all the more good these 58 souls would have done. And we who live to exercise our freewill toward the fulfillment of goodwill have lost 58 comrades in the daily labor to make this world a better place. So, let us, by the grace of God and in the strength of the Spirit, redouble our efforts.

all that should have fallen – at a time of tragedy, a Christian prayer

O God, as thousands of Your children gathered under Your gracious canopy of stellar space to celebrate Your gifts of life and music, all that should have fallen as the day ebbed and the night came was the mantle of warm darkness; all that should have fallen upon ready ears attuned to mirth was the wail of the guitar, the beat of the drum, the strains of the human voice singing, telling a story in country song, and the accompaniment of merrymakers joining in gladsome chorus…

What should not have fallen were the bullets, sent down, by the heated, hateful hand of another of Your children, in deliberate rain, falling in a fearsome fusillade…

What should not have fallen were the bodies of Your children struck down, dead or wounded, others scattering, crouching, running in terror…

What should not have fallen to the pitiless ground were the screaming, weeping cries of disbelief, fear, and grief.

O God, as what should have fallen was halted in savage mid-flight by all that should not have fallen, I pray You hail the dead in the heavenly halls of the everlasting Light of Your peaceful Presence, I pray You heal the wounded in mind and heart, soul and spirit, and I pray You hasten the day of Your coming that Your living will that countenances no killing – through Your Spirit, making benevolent habitation in all of Your children – be done on earth as it is in heaven; in the name of Jesus, I beseech You. Amen.

the push and pull of mystery

I awoke this morning in a melancholy mood thinking about the cares that beset any human under the sun, the daily reminders of our limitations, the not (never?) having enough time, energy, or money (or any two or all three), in the face of our desires and needs, to complete, compete, or compensate.

Then I pushed beyond my personal, largely small cares, thinking about greater current woes of the world. Among them:

  • The horrific destruction of hearth and health and hope wrought by the winds and waves of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and the tectonic tumult of earthquakes; turning verdant lands barren, bringing darkness, save for still-shining stars, to what seem endless nights, cancelling the coming day for the final closing of the eyes of the dying, and
  • The dread specter of rising, billowing nuclear clouds, and
  • The social, cultural unrest of an America stirred by the symbols of flags, anthems, and statues, and actions, whether to stand and salute or lock arms and kneel.

Then pulling back from these painful thoughts, as I oft do, I meditated on mystery – not a riddle to be resolved by human reason, but rather the reality of all things beyond human power to control, perhaps even human ability to understand and, thus, to amend.

mystery - Hubble telescope

My meditations provoked, as they always do, questions. Among them:

  • Why do, must people suffer?
  • Why, after centuries of observing and studying the futility of war to resolve disputes, do we, as peoples and nations, continue to lust for combat and long for conquest; the latter, given the superior and spreading nuclear capacity to destroy both enemy and self, being a fool’s goal?
  • Why, despite our best ambitions toward equality, do we continue to separate ourselves along lines, some invisible, yet all seemingly inerasable, of race and class, culture and clan, party and perspective; resulting in our apparent inability and unwillingness to acknowledge the existence of another point of view?
  • Why, long recognizing the incontestable truth that we occupy one planet (notwithstanding the dreams of lunar and Martian colonization) and that we form a global community of inseparable, interlocking interests, do we remain blinded by our prejudices, refusing to see the common humanity that we all irrefutably share?

Underneath these realities, as I behold them, lies unfathomable mystery. Understanding so little, I cannot answer my questions. One thing I do know. I cannot end suffering, war, inequality, prejudice, and a legion of human ills. However, as a person of faith, I can and do pledge to repent, daily, praying the Holy Spirit to make me more conscious of my:

  • time, energy, and money and how to use what I do have to serve, to share with my sisters and brothers of greater need;
  • anger, oft rooted in my sense of an affront to my personal honor and how to channel its virulent energy toward efforts to make peace with others and myself;
  • individuality of self and my commonality with all, so that in acknowledging the former I never disavow the latter;
  • biases and how to peer more deeply into the eyes of “the other” and mine own to behold our common God-given image.

I am not sure how this does, can, or will work. For I perceive it as mystery. By faith, I shall trust God, the greatest Mystery, to bring it to pass.

under a threatening cloud of nuclear annihilation, a Christian prayer

nuclear cloud

O God, Your Apostle Paul hath testified that all authority, e’en that of the agents of governance of worldly principalities, flows from the Font of Your Power.[1]

With fervent faith, I pray, too, that Your Wisdom wend its way into the minds and hearts, souls and spirits of all leaders that they can and will build bridges of common care, paving paths of peace that all Your children of Your creation may dwell in safety.

For, today, on “this fragile earth, our island home”,[2] men – the “Leader of the Free World” and the “Supreme Leader” (though You both are alway and in all ways), with the ad hominem bombast of “Rocket Man”[3] and “dotard”[4] – wield weapons of hostile intent threatening decimation, each of the other, and of Your world.

Into this cauldron of roiling vanities, this hubris-stirred maelstrom of wounded honor-shame, pour Your balm of Gilead, the sweetness of Your solace;[5] that we may walk back from the dread precipice of war to face a future, though, yea, uncertain, that bears the possibility of continued existence and, dare I hope, armistice.

Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares (1959), Evgeniy Viktorovich Vuchetich (1908-1974), United Nations Art Collection

And, O God, I pray, in the words of Your Prophet Isaiah, that You ceaselessly call us to come unto the mountain, the holy hill of Your Presence that we may learn of You, walking in Your paths, beating our swords into plowshares, our spears into pruning hooks, lifting no weapon against another, and learning war no more.[6]

All this, by the breath of the Holy Spirit in the Name of Jesus, I beseech You. Amen.

 

 

Illustration: Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares (1959), Evgeniy Viktorovich Vuchetich (1908-1974), United Nations Art Collection

Footnotes:

[1] See Romans 13.1

[2] From The Holy Eucharist, Eucharistic Prayer C, The Book of Common Prayer, page 370

[3] Donald Trump’s derisive reference to Kim Jong Un, Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) or North Korea

[4] Kim Jong Un’s derisive reference, meaning a senile old person, to Donald Trump

[5] See Jeremiah 8.22, 46.11, 51.8

[6] A reference to Isaiah 2.3a, 4bc

at a time of tempest and tremor, a Christian prayer

O God, You who create all things, Your Earth is wroth; cyclonic winds overhead tear across the sea and seismic waves erupt beneath; destruction and death, though ne’er their conscious aim, alway their catastrophic end.

I pray You provide…

through Your illimitable Love, perfect peace for the dead, free forever from all fear;

though Your plenitude of Power, the strength of will to work for all those who labor to liberate all who are held captive, whether under the thrall of the wind and the sweep of the waves of newly-fashioned rivers or in newly-crafted dungeons of fallen bricks and beams, broken metal and mortar;

through Your succoring Spirit, consolation for all who mourn, foremost the loss of life and, too, health and happiness; and

through Your unfathomable font of Wisdom, teach us all deeply to respect the Earth as Your creation, ne’er our possession; that we, as Your faithful stewards, may exercise our dominion, which You graciously have granted unto us, in a sacred, selfless generosity that glorifies You and cares for all who live and for generations yet unborn;

All this, I ask, I beg You, my God, through Jesus Christ. Amen.