“O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen”
This coming Sunday is the Last Sunday after the Epiphany and marks the liturgical “hinge” as we move towards the penitential season of Lent. It also marks the time as we approach the one-year anniversary of the major disruptions we’ve been experiencing in the midst of a global pandemic. On an encouraging note, we are seeing more and more people being vaccinated, declining numbers of cases in our city which gives me a sense of hope as we will be able to start gathering together in person again.
We will begin regathering in-person with outdoor worship (after the arctic blast of this weekend subsides) on Ash Wednesday. We will have several offerings, two opportunities to come through the parking lot in your car for the imposition of ashes, an outdoor service at noon with imposition of ashes and Holy Eucharist, and a streamed service at 7.00pm which will invite us into the observance of a Holy Lent through scripture, poems, and music. I continue to be so grateful for the creativity of our staff and resilience of our community as we find new ways to express our core beliefs.
When we review our lives, the mountain top moments are important. They can change our perspective forever. But they are only moments. There are a lot of steps up and down in- between. So much has changed for us in the past year we might want to imagine the season of Lent in a different way. Less perhaps as a season of penitence or reminder of our mortality—it seems we hardly need reminding of that. But perhaps there is an invitation to take stock.
We will be publishing an annual report soon, and I think you will be struck by how very much we have experienced together as the people of St. Mark’s this past year. There have been mountain top moments and some good old-fashioned slogging. But that is the nature of our faith. In both settings though we have the opportunity to see ourselves unexpectedly captured by grace, so much so that we see the world in a new light filled way. Trappist monk Thomas Merton many years ago had an experience which he described in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. He said, “In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world. . . .
This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . . I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.
I feel blessed to be in a community where I have had that same experience. Your resilience, courage, and love for God makes you shine like the sun! I hope you see it in yourselves and all those you encounter.