Pathways through Lent

Death Be Not Proud

Psalm 27:5–11 1 Corinthians 15:20–28 Wisdom 7:24–8:1 John 5:19–24

John Donne was a great poet. He was also a pastor and visionary Anglican preacher, but first he was a poet, and that is how we remember him. Something of the divine permeated his poetry. His poems, like all good art, allowed limited human beings to grasp something infinite.

His poem Death, Be Not Proud is one of the greatest meditations on death in the English language. You may remember it in the movie Wit, in which Emma Thompson plays an English professor dying of cancer. She recalls being sternly lectured by her mentor on how the last line of Donne’s poem should be punctuated. It should not be, her mentor says,

Death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die but rather death shall be no more, death thou shalt die.

Death should not be followed by a semicolon, Wit says, because it is not “an insuperable barrier.” No—death is but a comma, a pause.

Death is not to be struggled against at all costs. Death, in the end, is powerless.

Next week, through the drama of Jesus’ resurrection we remember that death is a pause on the journey we share together. The pause is real, and it can be painful. In the end, though, what we learn from our faith is that death is just a pause. Death is not the end of the story for us, for those we love.

Death, be not proud.

–Rev. Mike Angell

(Click for a clip from the Movie “Wit” with Emma Thompson, Copyright HBO, 2001)

Pathways through Lent

Miss Winnie

Psalm 95 Exodus 9:13–35 2 Corinthians 4:1–12 Mark 10:32–45

Lent is a time for us to take stock of where we are in life. As we do, we might consider the dash—that mark on our gravestone representing the time between birth and death. How have we used our talents throughout our dash?

Some, like Miss Winnie, use their talents to bring joy to others. Known in my small hometown for her cross-stitch, she was always making something beautiful as a gift. Each Christmas, I received a package from her and would sigh as only an adolescent can, “More cross-stitch ornaments . . . ”

Until one Christmas in 1973.

At that time, I was smitten with horses. Miss Winnie, who was in the horse world, would include me in her family’s afternoon rides. Also at that time, the world’s attention had turned toward a remarkably talented racehorse: Secretariat. Miss Winnie even visited Secretariat at his Kentucky farm. When she would tell me of her visits, I was enthralled!

That Christmas, tucked under the tree was the usual gift from Miss Winnie. With a yawn I tore open the wrapping, and then—stopped. And stared. In the blue and white of Secretariat’s racing colors were the words:

1973 Secretariat Triple Crown Winner

These words were cross-stitched above a circle of chestnut-colored hair—from Secretariat!

Just a cross-stitched Christmas ornament, yes. But it encapsulates not only the talent of a horse, but also that of a woman bringing joy to others. And when I reflect upon Lent, taking a look at my own particular talents and how I use them, I think of Miss Winnie and her life.

What a dash.

–Alma Paty

Pathways through Lent

The Fullness of Time

Psalm 131, 132 Exodus 7:25–8:19 2 Corinthians 3:7–18 Mark 10:17–31

I lost my husband in October 1998. The next few months were consumed
with packing out of our residence in Barbados, doing paperwork, packing out
of our home in Daytona Beach, and moving to my apartment in Rosslyn. But
by January there was not enough to keep me occupied.

Until a dear friend from Raleigh asked me to go to the Organization of
American States to help her with a big event there that was not happening as
she, the nominal chairman, had planned. Actually, what she said was that I
“should stop feeling sorry for myself and get busy.”

I took her words to heart, and I began attending St. John’s. It was a discipline;
it forced me to get out of bed on a Sunday. I cannot say that it was one
particular sermon or gospel that healed me . . . but I can say that Ash
Wednesday began the process.

Throughout the Lenten period that year, I felt my anger and grief at my
loss moving more and more toward gratitude for my life together with my
husband—and acceptance of the redemption and resurrection.

More than a decade later, I know that this sort of mental process cannot
happen overnight. I know that this is why the full 40 days are a building
process, a transitional period—and, eventually, bring the joy of Easter
promise.
–Valerie Crotty

Pathways through Lent

No Fruit for You

Psalm 119:145–176 Exodus 7:8–24 2 Corinthians 2:14–3:6 Mark 10:1–16

…the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines…–Habakkuk 3:17 We’ve certainly had our fill of that feeling with the recent recession.

There is sometimes a yearning in people to be tested against adversity, and there is a certain excitement in catastrophes, in hurricanes and stock market crashes. Disasters always provide some iconic photo for the front page.

But recessions are all whimper and no bang. They do not fill us with terror but with lingering anxiety. There are no shocking headlines, and the revolution is not televised.

In Lent, we remember that our faith and optimism are not tested most severely in moments of excitement, in trials that are over quickly and retold over warm dinners on cold nights. The brave stubbornness of refusing to give in to despair rarely makes for good movies or thrilling passages of literature.

But it does make for a good Lent. It is the ongoing challenges with no promises of glory that really force us to find the strength to carry on. To look for that strength from God, and with our friends, and in ourselves.

We can find it. And we will.

–Jeremy Skog

Pathways through Lent

Alleluia

Psalm 121, 122, 123 Exodus 5:1–6:1 1 Corinthians 14:20–33a, 39–40 Mark 9:42–50

For the first time in a long time, Fred and I will not be at St. John’s for Easter.

As we complete our retirement this year in Maine, we will be seeking a new church home through faith, prayer, and discernment. It feels appropriate to be seeking a new home and life during Lent—when we, as Christians, are all seeking the new home and life given to us through Christ.

And I suppose that is the point. The purpose of an Easter service is to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ and what that has meant for the world and for each and every one of us. And, no matter the differences between the churches, this is the essence of Christianity. So the congregation in a rural church in Maine will be celebrating the same message as St. John’s and every Christian church on that day.

As we proceed through this last Lent, we are reminded how we will miss St. John’s, but we are grateful to have been led here by God. In the last twelve years, our faith has been deepened, and we have learned the real meaning of Christian community, both in Washington and around the world.

And we will not leave St. John’s, as this church will always be in our hearts. We will take the people and life of St. John’s with us on the path of our own spiritual growth—and trust that we will see them again in that last new home.

–Robin Webber

Pathways through Lent

Lenten Labyrinth

Psalm 31 Exodus 4:10–31 1 Corinthians 14:1–19 Mark 9:30–41

As a mother, I find myself dutifully leading my child through the labyrinth of life. I humbly retrace my steps through the passageways and impassible walls I encountered as a youth. This time ’round, I have faith that God’s love is a benevolent force that I trust to lead me home.

My earliest memories of Lent were in Sunday school. Children collected coins in cardboard UNICEF folders and abstained from chocolate. I wasn’t really sure what it was all about, but I recall experiencing a profound sense of empowerment from abstinence (if only from chocolate) and liberating joy from handing in my book of coins.

Today, I lead my child in a world where the needy are a constant in our field of view and evil is in disguise. Perhaps it’s just my new perspective now that I am among the bifocal-wearing members of the congregation. I tend to see things all too clearly these days.

My Lenten labyrinth carries me meditatively to the same conclusion as always. I aspire to have my child experience Lent as I did. I trust that he too will find his way home, guided by God’s love.

–Pamela R. Hudson

Pathways through Lent

The Only Thing Constant

Psalm 107:33–43 Exodus 2:23–3:15 1 Corinthians 13:1–13 Mark 9:14–29

Recently I had a conversation with a colleague about the changes his aging mother is encountering. I listened carefully because, like him, my mother is also getting up in age. (On her next birthday she will be 90 years old, or, as she puts it, she’s “stepping into 90!”) My colleague told me how his mother has gone from a loving, nurturing caregiver to someone who now needs some care herself. She is no longer allowed to drive and requires someone to accompany her when she shops for groceries or receives medical attention.

We even talked about the changes that we ourselves are encountering. I know change is inevitable. Change has come and will come to all of us.

However, it is comforting to know that at least one thing remains constant: the shining beacon that leads me though this Lenten season. The beacon shines so brightly that I am reminded that our Savior suffered death under Pontius Pilate but rose again on the third day to occupy the seat at the right- hand side of the Father. I am reminded that my Savior is the same today, tomorrow, and forever.

I have had change over the years, and I expect more changes as I continue along this life journey. I, however, am steadfast in my focus on that light, the shining beacon before me. It leads me though this Lenten season, through the changes in my life until I reach the unchangeable place, the place that promises to be the brightest light of all—the unchanging eternal home.

–Thad Daise