Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Easter People

“We are called to remember our mortality day by day with unflinching realism, shaking off the sleep of denial. Paradoxically, only those who remember that they are but dust, and to dust they shall return, are capable of accepting the presence of eternal life in each passing moment, and receiving ever fresh the good news of hope. The anticipation of death is essential if we are to live each day to the full as a precious gift, and rise to the urgency of our vocation as stewards who will be called to give account at Christ’s coming. Remembering that death can come to us at any time will spur us to be prepared, by continual renewal of our repentance and acceptance of the forgiveness of God, to meet Christ without warning. We shall remember to express to one another those things which would make us ready to part without regrets, especially thankfulness and reconciliation.” (From The Rule of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, “Holy Death,” Chapter 48.)

Earlier this month, in the midst of Lent, I celebrated my 53rd birthday. While we are now several days into the Easter Season, I have been pondering the words above this month in my prayer time.

I've been part of the Fellowship of St. John the Evangelist for years - I've lost track how many, but more than a decade. I find wisdom in the Rule that the brothers live by, and especially in the words above. The Easter Season is about new life and the promise of resurrection. If Christ has been raised from the dead then so are we. This means, to me at least, that we can face our own deaths with courage and hope. As I understand it, this frees us to live life without regrets, to live more fully reconciled and grateful lives, one day at a time. I think this is in part what it means to be Easter People. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

George MacLeod

George MacLeod, founder of the Iona Community in Scotland, once wrote these words, words that are close to my heart on this Good Friday.

Return the Cross to Golgotha

"I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the center of the market place as well as on the steeple of the church, I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on a town garbage heap; at a crossroad of politics so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek ... and at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse and soldiers gamble. Because that is where He died, and that is what He died about. And that is where Christ's [followers] ought to be, and what church people ought to be about."

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Three Holy Days Enfold Us Now

As a parish priest for almost twenty years, my favorite time of the year was Holy Week. It is also the most exhausting week of the year for parochial clergy and other church geeks.

I required (to the extent a parish priest has the authority to "require" anything) that my confirmands and their mentors attend the three evening services of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil of Easter. In truth it was an invitation and a promise more than a requirement: I assured them that their faith would grow and deepen more after these three holy days than a whole year of Sunday mornings. I still believe that.

I was blessed, both as a young associate rector and as a rector to have partners in ministry - and large enough congregations to do these liturgies well while sharing the preaching duties. One thing I see now and encourage in my diocesan role is for congregations to find local partners to share these days with, so that the week is not quite so exhausting and so that there is some kind of "critical mass" for offering these liturgies, which can be found on pages 274-295 in The Book of Common Prayer. 

T. S. Eliot once wrote, "we had the experience, but missed the meaning." Below is my attempt to find meaning based on years of experiencing these liturgies, for any who may find these thoughts helpful.

Maundy Thursday

The Latin root from which this day takes it's name is maundatum - mandate. Jesus gives us a mandate on this day: a new commandment to love one another.

In truth it's an old commandment. The Torah itself summarizes itself as love of God and love of neighbor. Jesus reiterates this in his ministry. To put it directly, religion that is not about love is not of God. Religion that peddles in fear, or hatred, is not of God - since God is love.

Why a commandment? Because love is hard. Some are squeamish about washing feet - although it always strikes me as a little ironic that people will go pay for a pedicure (before church!) without thinking twice - so they can come to church with better looking feet! Some say this belongs to a very different cultural context. But as a priest, I can tell you I "got it" every year. I have, over many years, washed the feet of people I did not particularly like - of people who hurt me, intentionally or not. But something changes when you are holding a person's foot in your hand and pouring water over it. I've come to believe that this is the most important liturgy of the year and am sad when people replace it with Christianized seders and other ways to avoid "naked" feet. I find myself wondering what it would mean for me to wash Donald Trump's feet - or to allow him to wash mine. I don't expect that to happen, and doing so would not make him "right" on anything he's wrong about. But it would change my own heart. I know this because of years of practice.

Good Friday

I've never been a big fan of the Stations of the Cross, or The Seven Last Words. I'm not criticizing those who are; it's just not my way of experiencing Good Friday, although I will say that I'm taken with recent experiences of "stations" that are out in the streets of places like Springfield, or Worcester, as a way of connecting us to all the ways that Christ is still crucified.

For me, though, the simplicity of hearing St. John's Passion (in spite of the challenges it poses for interfaith conversations) and praying The Solemn Collects (BCP 277-280) brings me to the foot of the cross, and to ask the question again: what wondrous love is this? What I love about the Prayerbook Liturgy is that it resists over-theologizing about the cross, and focuses on helping us to behold. Why does Jesus die? That's a challenging theological question upon which we can spend a lifetime. But that this good man was executed, and that the innocent continue to suffer at the hands of imperial power, used and abused, invites us to ask together what makes this Friday "good?" At least in part the answer is that Jesus stretches his arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of God's saving embrace. And that we who behold this great mystery are called to reach forth our hands in love...

Holy Saturday

Hidden in The Book of Common Prayer - and largely unknown - is page 283. I used to gather the participants for The Easter Vigil for a rehearsal, along with the Altar Guild who came to decorate the church, with this very short liturgy. I think the metaphor of "Saturday waiting" is where we tend to spend a good bit of our lives - between suffering and the empty tomb. Waiting for new life, waiting for hope, waiting not passively but as people who are part of this story of the Paschal mystery.
In the midst of life we are in death; from whom can we seek help? From you alone, O Lord...

The Great Vigil of Easter

My first Vigil was as a young associate rector at Christ and Holy Trinity Church in Westport, CT. I'd been raised a United Methodist on ecumenical sunrise services - for me Christmas Eve was candlelight and Easter morning was the sunrise. I really didn't "get" that first Vigil. Over the years, however, I have grown to appreciate the depth and wisdom of an ancient tradition that is ever new. Find a place where the Vigil is done well - you will not regret it.

Let me close by inviting you check out the Easter homily of St. John Chrysostom which was written over 1600 years ago, but it seems to me is still relevant today. How do you know if a faith is true? You know if it is about love, not fear. You know it is Easter faith if it is about welcome and hospitality and building bridges, not walls. You know if it is about non-violence, not violence.
First and last alike receive your reward; rich and poor, rejoice together! Sober and slothful, celebrate the day! You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Return to the Holy Land

Photo taken by me in January 2010

A little more than six years ago, in January 2010, this blog was "born" when I traveled to St. George's College in Jerusalem for a course on the historical Jesus. It was my second trip to the Holy Land, having gone there on "spring break" as an undergraduate, while studying abroad at the University of St. Andrew's in Scotland. I blogged throughout my trip as a way to share pictures and reflections.

The Monastery Chapel at SSJE
In April I'll be returning to St. George's, this time with my friends from The Society of St. John the Evangelist. Three monks are leading this pilgrimage, including my long-time spiritual director. Thirty-five pilgrims, all of us members of the Fellowship of St. John, will be traveling with them.

"All my life's a circle," Harry Chapin used to sing. I hope that readers of this blog will pray for us during our time away - and also come along for the ride through this blog. I'm sure I'll return to some old themes with new eyes, and discover new things as well. I'm starting to get excited!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Fifth Sunday in Lent

Today concludes my Lenten journey with the good people of Christ Church, Rochdale. The readings for today can be found here.

I had a friend was a big baseball player
back in high school
He could throw that speedball by you
Make you look like a fool boy
Saw him the other night at this roadside bar
I was walking in, he was walking out
We went back inside sat down had a few drinks
but all he kept talking about was
Glory days well they'll pass you by
Glory days in the wink of a young girl's eye
Glory days, glory days

You can’t have me here for five weeks in a row and not get some Bruce Springsteen from me! You are lucky, however, that I didn’t sing it!

Now even for those of you who didn't recognize the words of that great American theologian, Bruce Springsteen, I bet you know what he’s talking about. It’s a sad state of affairs when someone reaches middle age but is still living in the past. Glory Days. 

Sometimes we can get ourselves stuck in a moment (to quote another songwriter-theologian). Sometimes we can get ourselves stuck in a grief or loss and it wears us down. We can’t move on and we can’t let it go because the pain is too great.

But we can also get ourselves stuck in moments that were quite profound and happy and positive. It’s cool to be a star athlete in high school. And it only becomes sad when you are getting ready for your twenty-fifth high school reunion and are still wearing your high school colors down at the local bar. Life is like a river; and rivers are about change. You cannot step into the same river twice. And besides all that sometimes our memories of the past are sometimes a little skewed.

Two of the voices that speak to us today from Holy Scripture are talking about letting go and moving on, not from a tragedy or loss, but from the temptation to nostalgia. The prophet Isaiah worries that the glory days of the Exodus, when God "made a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters” are keeping the people of his day from noticing what God is up to in a new time and place. Certainly God was present on that day when the chariots and horses and riders of Pharaoh’s army drowned in the Red Sea and Miriam led the Israelites in song: “free at least, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last!” The Exodus was an amazing and extraordinary event.

But it happened a very long time ago. We are meant to sing of the faith of our fathers (and mothers) so that it might be a faith that is living still - a faith that is alive enough to pass on to our children and our grandchildren. It’s possible to get so caught up in Exodus talk that you will miss the new thing God is doing today. It happens to individuals like the guy in Bruce’s song. It can happen in families and even to nations. And yes, it can even happen to congregations. Where are the leaders we had back in the latter part of the eighteenth century, we sometimes ask? How come we don’t get leaders like Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln anymore? Where are the pastors like the pastors of old? How come kids today don’t appreciate things the way that those who lived through the Great Depression did?

Sometimes our questions are fair. But more often we have done some revisionism, intentionally or not. I’ve become something of a buff over the past decade or so in reading about the founding fathers and I’ll tell you this: while there is no doubt that they were a great generation, they were also quite human and we do them and ourselves a disservice when we forget that democracy has never been easy. Before they had memorials on the lawn in Washington, DC, Washington and Jefferson (not to mention Adams and Madison) all had their foibles. All played petty politics. All let personal agendas sometimes get in the way of making good public policy. That isn’t to say that they didn’t on occasion rise above all of that; nor to in any way diminish their greatness. It is simply to say that nostalgia for the "glory days" of this Republic will not help us deal with the messes we face today. 

These are the good old days. Or at least, with God’s help, they have the potential to be. For sure they are the days we are called to live - with God's help. These are the days that God is at work in our lives, our families, our community and our nation. And my friends, these are the days that God is at work in this congregation. Keep your eyes and ears open.  

So the prophet Isaiah says something very strong: he tells people whose whole faith is built on the Exodus: forget about it. Why would he say that? I think it’s because if you are only looking to see what God did “once upon a time” then you are in danger of missing what God is doing right now. Isaiah says, even now, God is about to do a new thing. And you will not be able to perceive it if you are looking back. You can’t drive a car forward looking in the rear-view mirror. So keep your eyes on the prize, by paying attention to the sacrament of this present moment, to this time and place. If you turn around and look back to the Exodus then you will not see what is happening right now. 

St. Paul says something of the same thing as he thinks back on his old life as a respected Pharisee. In his own inimitable way, Paul says to his brothers and sisters in Philippi: “look, if anyone had reason to brag it was me! I was
  • circumcised on the eighth day
  • a member of the people of Israel
  • of the tribe of Benjamin; a Hebrew born of Hebrews
  • as to the law, a Pharisee
  • as to zeal, a persecutor of the church
  • as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

But Paul, too, says, “forget about it.” It is rubbish compared to what I’m moving towards. I know I’m not there yet, Paul says. But I know what I’m striving towards and so “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Forgetting what lies behind us—not just the crappy stuff but the glory days—in order to strain forward, to press on to what lies ahead. Isaiah and Paul and Bruce all agree that sitting around and talking about “glory days,” even God’s glory days, gets boring pretty fast. The challenge of faith is to open our eyes to see God’s hand at work in the world around us. And sometimes we need to forget some things, let some things go, not just the difficult stuff we want to let go, but even the really great stuff that we think defines who we are, so that we can become the new creation God yearns for us to be.

Now I haven’t known you all for all that long. But over the past five weeks I’ve been really grateful to be among you. Thank you for your hospitality. I won’t pretend in five weeks to really know the story of this congregation like any of you do, who have been here for years and even decades. But I do know something about congregations in transition and I know that this Word is from the Lord – that God is not in the past but in this time right now, this in-between the trapeze bars time.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus is at the home of his friends in Bethany – the home of Lazarus and Mary and Martha. Word has it that Martha is a really excellent cook, although she is prone to get a little uptight in the kitchen. But it is Mary who has this knack of paying attention to the moment – of knowing what time it is. This is a kind of last supper before The Last Supper. Jesus is away from the conflicts of the day and away from the paparazzi, just relaxing with friends. But he knows, and they know, what is coming. And so Mary breaks open the finest nard and anoints his feet, filling the house with the fragrance. It is a bold and extravagant act of love.

We know as we prepare for Holy Week and Easter that the whole week is about God’s extravagant love for not just us but the whole world. God so loved the whole world. May we live our lives like we believe that, not just as words on our lips but in our lives.

Today’s collect reminds us that we live in the midst of “swift and varied changes” of the world. Indeed. As if we didn’t all know that before we came here today! Time passes by very quickly and it’s really easy to understand how we can try to hold onto the anchor of good and happy memories of a better time and place. But we cannot go back in time. If our better time and place is in the past, we are certain to miss what God is doing right now in our lives and our world. And so we prayed that “our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found.” 

Where is that? Where can we fix our hearts in a world where time is an ever-flowing stream? The answer, of course, is to fix our hearts on God. That is the work God has given this congregation to do right now – keep your hearts fixed on God. Do not consider the former things—the glory days of a distant or recent past. Set your hearts and minds on God and press on toward the heavenly call of God in Jesus Christ. Keep your eyes on the prize, and know that you will be in my prayers, and the prayers of our bishop.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Keeping First Things First

Recently I gathered with a bunch of Episcopal clergy-types for whom I have the utmost respect. As often happens in such settings, however, the conversation turned quickly to grief and loss for the Church that no longer exists. You can say that the mainlines have been sidelined, or that Protestant hegemony is no longer. Either way it involves loss...

There are many ways to frame this and many responses. I agree with the overall contours of the conversation, however, which goes something like this: we are living in a post-Constantinian, post-Christendom world. On a more local level, the big buildings we Episcopalians built in the nineteenth century no longer serve the mission of God in the twenty-first century. There are ample places to read about this and most people who love their congregations experience it first-hand. For clergy trained to serve a Church in a different time and place, however, it can feel like the rules have changed. 

I don't dispute any of this. In fact I agree completely. But I find that when the conversation is mostly among clergy-types (and I spend a lot of time in those circles) that whining too often replaces healthy grief. Actually "whining" is probably unfair. It's closer to despair. Too often it feels narcissistic and myopic. The result is that creativity and hope are blocked. Maybe we just need to have one big long cry. But then we need to get back to work!

After the Babylonian Exile, and the destruction of the Temple - out of which emerged the Biblical texts themselves - visionaries like Second Isaiah and Ezekiel, and worker-bees like Ezra and Nehemiah emerged. There was loss but that didn't mean God was finished. There was work to be done.

In the Book of Job, Job finally seems to get unstuck when God reminds him to consider the great big world beyond him - the world that includes sun and moon and stars and Leviathan. Unlike Job's friends, God doesn't seem to dismiss Job's grief. But God does seem to want to reframe it, and maybe help Job snap out of it. Go outside on a starry, starry night, Job!

I think in a similar way we do well to get some historical and global perspective. Doing so reminds us that it has always been hard to be the Church. If our historical memory goes back past the 1950s we might remember that the Episcopal Church had to be built from scratch in the United States in the early part of the eighteenth century, with some support from our friends in Scotland (but not so much England.) We began as a Missionary Society. Remembering those roots could be really, really helpful right now in terms of reclaiming our identity. 

Going back further, the Reformation makes recent tensions in the Anglican Communion look like a cakewalk. Going back still further, when Julian of Norwich said "all shall be well," she said that in the context of the Plague, in which a third of Europe died. "All shall be well," Julian insisted. She wasn't saying that the Black Death wasn't real, or that the world wasn't a mess. She was insisting that God is still God. She was either mad or a saint. Then again maybe those aren't always mutually exclusive.

Before her was St. Francis of Assisi - who lived at a time when the Church was a corrupt mess. "Rebuild my Church," God whispered to good old Francis. And I think God says ditto to us. 

Yes, the Church needs to be reformed, rebuilt, re-imagined. But this is not the first time in human history that God's people have faced challenges. The saints lived not only in ages past - they live now and we are called to wake up, and get to work. 

God is God, with or without the Church. God's mission is in the world - a mission the Church is called to participate in. But the Spirit blows where She will, with or without the Church Pension Fund, and with or without big steeple churches.

The center of gravity has shifted and continues to shift and this causes loss and confusion and even despair. And plenty of whining. There may indeed be more "nones" in North America than Episcopalians but the Church in Africa is growing - and even when we may have some theological disagreements, we can celebrate the work being done and join it where possible. We can also hear the words "the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few" with new insight as we seek to be faithful in our own North American context. 

God is indeed doing a new thing. Our job is not to be bitter or nostalgic or to say we really prefer the old thing. Nor is it our job (in my humble opinion) to hasten the demise of the institutional church - to "blow up" what we feel no longer "works" as we look dimly through a very dark glass. Our call is the same as it has ever been: to be faithful disciples, part of one holy catholic and apostolic faith. To do the work God has given us to do. This requires faith, hope, and love. Especially love. 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Fourth Sunday in Lent

Today I am, again, at Christ Church in Rochdale. The readings for the day can be found here. The gospel reading is the familiar parable of the "prodigal son" - which might more accurately be called the parable of the compassionate father and his two sons.

Notice who is in the crowd as Jesus tells this very familiar story that we just heard from Luke’s Gospel. There are the tax collectors and sinners, who have been coming to him to hear from him a word of healing, a word of “good news.” We can almost see in our mind’s eye, however, how their mere presence causes the religious people to grumble.

Now don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a Jewish- Christian thing, that Judaism is a legalistic religion and we Christians always get to the spirit of things. Not only does that get “spun” in ways offensive to our Jewish neighbors, but it leave us hearing these words without taking a closer look in the mirror. Also it just isn’t true.

All of Jesus’ original hearers were Jewish. Better to hear this as a religious thing. Religious people are always at risk of acting “holier than thou.” The scribes and Pharisees are the religious insiders: the vestry, the altar guild, “good” church people.  The tax collectors and the sinners – those are the people who were out late last night and are headed out to brunch later this morning. Maybe they are  “spiritual but not religious” or maybe not even all that spiritual.

In any case, Jesus tells the religious folks a little story about why he spends so much time with people outside the church. He reframes the question so it’s not about good people and bad people but about found people and lost people.

Actually, he tells us three stories if we go back and look at the Bible and not just the little sheet in our bulletins today. (The clue to that is those eight verses that are missing from today’s reading.) Taken together, all three parables are what we might call “lost and found” stories. Story one is about a shepherd who has 100 sheep and one gets lost. So the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine and goes after the lost one.  The second story is about a woman with ten silver coins. (A little note in my Bible says each coin is worth the equivalent of a day’s labor, so these aren’t dimes—but more like $100 bills. I bet if you lost one you’d turn the house upside down, too!) So she had $1000, a stack of ten Ben Franklins, and then she loses one. But after looking diligently she finally finds it, and she’s so happy that she invites the neighbors over and cracks open a bottle of champagne.

Story three is the one before us today, the story most of us know as the Parable of the Prodigal Son. I imagine him as a restless soul, who lives for the moment. He can’t wait to leave home. But as soon as he does, he finds trouble. Or maybe trouble finds him. We are told that he squandered his inheritance in dissolute living. We’re also told, though, that a severe famine hit the land. So he makes some bad choices and he has some bad luck. I bet you’ve known folks like that – maybe you’ve even been that person yourself.

When I reflect upon those gathered around Jesus as he tells this story, I imagine that most of those “sinners and tax collectors” could immediately identify with this character in the story. They encountered in him a kindred soul.

But I think we misunderstand the story if we are too literal about applying the lessons of the two previous stories, the one about the lost sheep, and the one about the lost coin. For in this story I think that there is more than one lost brother. In his own way, the elder brother is just as lost as the prodigal one. It’s far more subtle, and perhaps less obvious both to him and to those around him. But no less real.

The older brother is also lost, and he, too, needs to be found. He’s an overachiever, but he’s grown to be somewhat resentful about that. Carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders has grown wearisome. I suspect he’s at least a little bit envious of his little brother, imagining what it would be like to be far from home, and living the good life, but failing to recognize that his brother ends up in a pig pen without any money. He’s perhaps bored with his life, but let’s be honest – by any objective measure his life is pretty good. No doubt the days are long and he works hard, but unlike his brother he has a roof over his head and three square meals a day.

I suspect that most of those scribes and Pharisees listening to Jesus—and as I’ve already said many of us here today as well—tend toward getting lost in the way of the older brother. We may get less lost to dissolute living than to resentments. But still lost in ways that, if left unexamined, can lead us to self-pity and self-righteousness. Those traits don’t leave much room for joy.

In any event, at the end of Jesus’ story, the younger brother has been found, and he is celebrating. His story is like the hymn, “Amazing Grace:” He once was lost, but now he’s found; he was blind but now he sees. He is the recipient of an abundant outpouring of love that helps him to see the wideness of God’s mercy. He encounters a loving father who rushes out to greet him with open arms and then serves veal piccata for everyone.

But the jury is still out on the elder brother as the story ends. Will he uncross his arms and join the party or not? Even if he does, will he be able to let go of his anger and hear the words of his father? The veal piccata awaits him, too, after all. There’s more than enough for everyone. No one has excluded him from the party.  

Those of you were here on Ash Wednesday – do you remember the line from that Easter sermon I shared with you, from the great John Chrysostom – preached in the fourth century? That golden-mouthed preacher said: The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you!The calf is fatted; let no one go forth hungry! Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.

To which our older brother might say – but that’s not fair! I don’t want to share it with my younger brother!

But to enter the party, he will need to let go of that sense that his brother is so undeserving. Like the scribes and Pharisees and the good church people who hear this story, he needs to let go of the false notion that he’s “holier than thou” and risk accepting the invitation that we all are welcomed not because we’ve “earned it” but because that is who God is.

Whether or not we recognize on any given day how lost we are, Christ desires to find us all. We are all beloved of the Father, and there is always room at the Table for one more.  If we are more like the younger brother, we need to “come to ourselves” by getting up out of the pig pen and making our way back home again. If we are more like the older brother, then we need to “come to ourselves” by letting go of our resentments and grievances and step off the porch and off our high horses and join the party. The truth is though that these two have much more in common than either realizes—not just because each is lost in his own way, but because both are children of a compassionate father.

And so are we. The Eucharistic Table is set, and all are welcome. And all means all. There’s room for everyone. We are invited to come not because we’ve earned a place here, but because we are all children of a compassionate God whose steadfast love and mercy abound. We are invited to eat and drink and sing and to dance and to live. Today we offer prayers for healing – healing that allows us to accept this invitation with glad hearts.

And once fed, we are also called to get up and then to “go and do likewise.” We are called to become more like the God who loves us by loving our neighbor. Or as that former Pharisee, Paul, puts it in today’s epistle reading: we are sent out as “ambassadors for Christ.” We are given this same ministry of reconciliation, to share with others. We who have experienced reconciliation with God are sent out into the world as reconcilers who seek out all who are lost, sharing with them the good news that there is room enough at the Table for them as well. Our mission—our calling—is not to remain children, but to become more like the father. It is to become people who are willing to risk embrace as the defining posture of the Christian life.

Both of these brothers are in need of grace and of healing and of love. But as the story ends, only one of them has recognized that fact and received that gift. Only one has allowed love to heal and transform him and to unleash the peace that passes all understanding in his soul.

Now I admit that I may be overly optimistic about this, but I like to believe that while it may have taken him a while longer, eventually the older brother joined the party too. That he, also, “came to himself.” Maybe he tentatively walked toward the party; hesitating at the door. Maybe his younger brother sees him and runs to embrace him, mimicking the role that the father played for him. And the tears began to flow. This is how the world is made new, even if it didn’t happen that day. At some point they come to see that they are more alike than different, and that they share a common responsibility that comes from being at the receiving end of such amazing grace. At some point they will both need to be there for their father when there are difficult choices to be made about his care.

The story is just a snapshot in time, and Jesus ends it where it does, forcing us to at least consider the possibility that the two never reconcile, and that the betrayal the older brother feels causes a permanent rift with his father. Perhaps he leaves home in disgust, never again to speak to his father or to his brother. We must consider that ending also, because all of us know that it can happen that way, as sad as it is to admit. We are free to refuse love; and even to convince ourselves that being right is more important to us than love.

The story confronts us where we are, with our own unique ways of being lost. It leaves us pondering whether or not we dare take the risk of being found. Like so many of Jesus’ great parables, the story lingers in the air, and across the centuries, still haunting us.  We oldest children and we prodigal children, we sinners and saints: we are all invited to join the party. 
The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted; let no one go forth hungry! Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.