Saint Hilda's House

through the gates and into the city

Filtering by Tag: Lent

Rend Your Hearts: Lent and the Space of Mourning

Ed Watson preached this sermon for Ash Wednesday.  We bid you pray for his student and her family, and for all of us mourning this Lententide.

'Rend your hearts, and not your garments.'

This is the third time I've been in Church today. The first was for morning prayer; the second was for a funeral.  It was the funeral of the mother of a young women I taught in fifth grade.  The Pentecostal church where it was held was today a place of profound grief and mourning, especially for my student, who is having to cope with a sense of inexpressible loss that no twelve year old should have to experience.  

This grief is made even more profound by the importance this student placed on family.  When I heard about her loss, I was reminded of a series of poems she had written for my English class, poems about family and about love.  As it happens, I still have all the work my fifth graders did for me, and I was able to dig these poems up.  At the centre of one them is a line of such powerful simplicity, that it could only have been written by a ten year old: love is when you are not alone.  

We are today entering into Lent, those 40 days of the Church year set aside, in part, as a period of mourning.  It can be difficult to mourn in the Christian tradition: the message of Christianity is so centred around the redemption of the world and the victory of Jesus Christ, that it can be easy to forget the proper place of grief.  Because we know that everything will be alright in the end, we can feel foolish for expressing the pain we feel because things aren't alright now.  

This is why Lent is important.  It is why Ash Wednesday is important.  It reminds us that mourning has a place, even, perhaps especially, in a religion centred around unquestionable hope.  And it seems to me that the reason for this mourning can be perfectly and precisely stated in the simple words of my student who is today grieving the loss of her mother: we mourn because love is when we are not alone.  

The fact that we are not alone makes us vulnerable.  It makes us responsible.  It means that when we see another's pain, we cannot help but share it.  It means that when we grieve, we grieve in the company of God.  It means that we fear our mortality and our frailty, because they mean that we can fail others, that we can hurt others.  It means that we can be hurt by others, even as they seek to love us.  This pain, this grief, this fear, and this frailty, these are things that have a real impact on our lives, precisely because we love, because we are loved, because we are not alone.  

This is why we mourn.  We do not mourn so that we might proudly show our compassion to others, whether by tearing our clothes or gesturing wildly; we mourn because that compassion is a part of what constitutes our being in the presence of God.  We do not rend our hearts in order to show ourselves worthy of anything; we mourn because our hearts just are rent by the suffering of those we cannot isolate ourselves from.  We do not mourn our own sins out of introspective guilt, as if this were an end in itself, but because we know we are called to better love of God and neighbour.  We do not mourn our own suffering out of narcissism, but because God loves us, because our suffering is not just our own concern.  In short, we do not mourn because we are alone and unloved: we mourn because we are not alone, because we are loved.

I pray for my student today, and for her family.  I also pray, however, that her words might reverberate in my soul this Lent, as I seek to make space for grief before the Cross.  I pray that she will always remind me that love is when we are not alone, that it is precisely because we are not alone that we are exposed to that which gives us reason to mourn.  And in this, I hope she continues to point me towards the fact that this mourning is not counter to Christian hope, but rather premised upon the very thing in virtue of which we can hope at all: the love of Jesus Christ on the Cross, which tells us that we are not alone, that we are not abandoned, and that even in our most private and hidden grief, God is right there in our hearts.  For He is our treasure in heaven; and when our hearts are with Him, even as we are down here on earth, mourning can have a proper place in our lives, precisely because we will always be vulnerable to love.



An Invitation to an Alcohol-Free Lent

This is a guest post from Barry McMurtrey, a member of the Christ Church vestry.  It was sent round to the members of Christ Church, and we thought it was more than worth posting here.  

Friends, Lent is upon us again and many of us at Christ Church will take on some form of spiritual discipline to mark the Lenten journey, whether increased time for worship, prayer, and meditation, or increased acts of service, or increased acts of fasting and self-denial of those things, even those good things in life, which can compete for the attention we could offer our spiritual life. Perhaps your Lenten journey will include all the above.  
 Personally, it has been almost a decade since I have spent all 40 days as a Lenten fast from alcohol.  With God's grace and help, I intend to keep that fast again this year, but this time under particular circumstances and with a particular intention.  If you are not aware, the Episcopal Church found itself in the middle of a truly profound tragedy this past December when the newly consecrated Suffragan Bishop of Maryland, the Rt. Rev'd Heather Cook, killed a cyclist while driving under the influence of 3 times the legal level of alcohol.  The Bishop was texting at the time, and she made the felonious choice to flee the scene of the crime temporarily before returning to face authorities.   The man killed by the Bishop's vehicle, Thomas Palermo, was a 41 year old husband and father of 2 small children.  Bishop Cook has been inhibited from all priestly functions by the Maryland Diocese and by the National Church, and she faces a very serious indictment.  Besides the obvious prayers and support needed by the Palermo family, Bishop Cook requires our prayers, too, for the dark night of the soul she no doubt journeys  through.   
 But, my fast is not about Bishop Cook or Mr. Palermo.  There was plenty of evidence that Heather Cook had a serious problem with addiction from a previous DUI.  As she approached elevation to the episcopacy, this was excused away ("forgiven" was the terminology used) by the screening process for the episcopal election and never revealed to the Maryland Convention when clergy and laity voted for the bishop.  This tragic killing says many complex things about the Episcopal Church.  It certainly questions how responsible our church structures are at a time when our beleaguered, shrinking denomination can ill afford more bad news.  Here we have one more obstacle preventing us from sharing the boundless joys of the Episcopal Church and the Good News of Jesus Christ to a community,  nation, and world so desperately in need of both.
 When reflecting on this quandary our church faces, for me a good deal of the  conviviality and joy gets taken out of socializing with alcohol.  As one who has dealt with serious issues of alcohol abuse myself, I hear the tragedy in Maryland as a clarion call again to step back and put the issue in its place.  This will not solve the problems facing Bishop Cook, or the Diocese of Maryland, and it will do nothing for the Palermo family.  But, it is a small, personal chance to concentrate on what keeps me from spreading the Good News of Our Lord and hastening the coming of His Kingdom .... and to consecrate that reflection to God's use.  You're welcome to join me on this Lenten path.
 God's Peace,
 Barry Mc Murtrey