The Feast of St. Mary Magdalen

Mary Magdalen Announces the Resurrections - St. Alban's Psalter

Mary Magdalen Announces the Resurrections - St. Alban's Psalter

This Saturday, July 22, is the feast day of Saint Mary Magdalen (Magdalene), one of the most important figures (other than Jesus) to appear in the Gospels. Not much is actually known about her at all, though, and in some ways the Gospel accounts are not much help. There may be as many as seven different women named Mary in our four Gospel narratives; there may only be three or four. Scholars and others argue over whether Mary Magdalen and Mary of Bethany are the same person and, if so, is that Mary the same "sinner" Luke describes as the woman who washes the feet of Jesus. This last idea has been helped along over one school of thought around the origin of the name "Magdalen" and also by a sermon given by Pope Gregory 1 in the 6th century. (From this homily arose the notion of the Seven Deadly Sins, taken from the seven demons Jesus cast out of Magdalen.) There are other, wilder ideas about Mary Magdalen that have persisted throughout the ages, most recently in novels by Dan Brown.

Regardless of any of these ideas or traditions, there are some things about Mary Magdalen that we do know. She is mentioned more times than nearly any other of Jesus' disciples, Peter being the most notable exception. She was present with Jesus at multiple times throughout his earthly ministry. Most importantly, she was present at both his crucifixion and his tomb after the resurrection. John tells us the most poignant of these stories - after Peter and John have returned home from the empty tomb, Mary stays and stands there, weeping for her dear Lord. Jesus then appears and calls her by name. Mary then rushes with joy to tell the other disciples, "I have seen the Lord." (The photo above depicts this moment; it comes from the 12th century illuminated manuscript "The St. Alban's Psalter.")

Mary Magdalen is in many ways my favorite saint, at least among the named saints of the Church. (There are two unnamed characters in the Gospels for whom i have an even greater fondness, but they are a subject for another time.) She comes to Jesus out of life marked with difficulty and suffering, and her encounters with him transform her into perhaps the bravest and most faithful of his disciples. When the others flee at his arrest and dare not draw near the cross, Mary is there. When they leave the empty silent and not sure what to believe, she remains, and in her grief and loss, Jesus comes to her and reminds her that she is known to him, that she belongs to him, and he sends her to be the first witness of his resurrection. 

For many in Christianity, this Saturday will pass with no mention or thought of Mary Magdalen, but we would do well to remember her and to give thanks for her faith and witness to our Lord.

VBS 2017

Many thanks to everyone who helped with and participated in VBS this year. We tried a "New Thing" this year, meeting in the evenings instead of the mornings and inviting people of all ages to take part. It was a wonderful week, with yummy food, meaningful fellowship, fun songs, and quiet worship. Most of all, it was just fun to be with one another, to worship and pray and reflect upon what it means for us to be members of the Body of Christ.

We had such a good time with each other, it may be that this week could be a model for something we do the rest of the year. Maybe once a month (to start) we could meet for dinner, conversation, singing, and worship - something very relaxed and informal, with time to be together as fellow followers of Jesus and to learn more about what it means for us to be members of the Body of Christ.

For more pictures of the week, check out our Facebook group here.

Violence downtown: How do we respond?

The Fourth of July brought terrible violence to downtown Savannah this year, violence that killed three people, injured several others, and brought fear and grief to many. While i didn't know him personally, Scott Waldrup, the general manager at The Grey, was a close friend of some of my close friends. They are saddened and angry, and - like we all are in similar circumstances - looking for answers and solutions to the problems that led to Scott's death.

There will be no shortage of suggestions there, I suspect. Some will suggest tougher and more restrictive gun control laws, others more police officers or security personnel. Still others will suggest that more "good guys" carry guns with them at all times or that we should arrest everyone known to have any connection to gangs and hand down longer prison sentences. These are just a few that come readily to mind; they are the ones we seem to hear the most whenever a tragedy like this strikes close to home. Let me be very clear - i do not believe that i have THE answer to the problem, but i do believe this: not one of those suggested reactions will solve the problem. They are simple solutions to a very complex problem, and the complex problems of society and humanity never have a simple fix. If they did, we would have solved them all long ago.

As followers of Jesus, even if we don't have the answers, we still can respond. There are real, practical, and positive actions we can take. In the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday, Jesus says, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." I believe our appropriate responses are found in these words.

Come to me - Jesus beckons all of us who are weary and (in an older translation) heavy laden and promises to give us rest. If we're honest, this is probably not our first instinct upon hearing what happened. We tend to look first for who is to blame, for some target at which to aim our anger. Then we look for other people to fix the problem until they can't, and then we can blame them as well. But Jesus knows better and invites us to turn to him instead. This course of action requires faith and patience, which at these times are often in short supply. When we are sad or angry, we want immediate relief, preferably the kind that will bring some consequences upon those we blame.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me - uh, oh. Just bringing our problems and laying them at the feet of Jesus, as comforting as that sounds, apparently isn't enough. If we turn to Jesus with the burdens we're carrying, he's going to offer us another one. Jesus asks us to learn from him, and that of course means learning to live as he did, to respond as he did, to see others as he did. Taking his yoke upon us means practicing those difficult exercises of love and forgiveness, and it means being willing to ask him not just to change the world around us but to change us, too. It means having the courage to look honestly at ourselves and ask if we play any part in how the world is. Do our own fear and selfishness,  the "devices and desires of our own hearts," contribute in any way to the things we see happening that we do not like? That isn't to say that any one of us caused these terrible events Tuesday night; it is to say that our own brokenness is part of the brokenness of the world, and we, like it, are in need of redemption.

I am gentle and humble in heart - these two qualities, gentleness and humility lie at the very heart of the problem, I believe. If we are looking for a solution to the ills of the world, we need look no further than the lack of humility and gentleness to which we are all given in some measure. If we want the world to change, if we want there to be an end to hatred, violence, and murder, that change begins with and depends upon our capacity to be gentle and humble. Humility shows us who we are and what we are, and gentleness allows us to forgive ourselves and others. To be followers of Jesus means that we hold Jesus to be the model for our own lives, to see where we fall short and, with that in mind, to deal gently with others when they also fall short.

This is not an easy path, but Jesus never promised it would be. Anger and retribution are quicker and easier, but the history of humankind shows us that they have never worked, not once. So we turn away from them and turn instead toward the One who calls us to him, to the Light of the World. We place our trust and our hope in him; we lay our heavy burdens down at his feet; and we take up in their place the one that he offers us.

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: Draw us ever closer into that embrace that we may be changed more and more into your likeness and reach out our own arms of love to those around us. Amen.

Vacation Bible School 2017

This year for Vacation Bible School, St. Michael's is going to take a different approach. In the past, we have followed the typical model of VBS every morning for a week, for children only. While that works pretty well, it does leave out the vast majority of our own congregation, many of whom are not children, who do not have the usual VBS-age children but who may have jobs. We'd like to include as many folks as possible this year, so we're changing the time and the format.

VBS 2017 will be Tuesday - Friday, July 11-14, from 5:00pm-8:00pm. It will be open to all ages. We will gather for dinner together in Patton Hall at 5:00, split into different age groups for the evening program, then re-join one another in the church for singing and worship at the end of the evening. We hope this will be fun for all and will also be an opportunity to learn more about God and our faith in God. 

Registration forms are available starting this Sunday in church and from the parish office throughout the week. Come yourself, bring your children and grandchildren, invite your neighbors. Let's show folks why we have chosen to make our home at St. Michael & All Angels.

Thoughts about Manchester

I am, as we all are, deeply saddened by the recent violence in Manchester, England. I have to say, though, i am nearly as deeply troubled by some of the responses i have read and heard from folks here, both famous and "ordinary," who profess to be Christians. They lament the wanton and senseless murder, especially since the targets were mainly young people, and offer prayers on their behalf. Good - that's what they should do. What so often follows next, though, is exactly what Christians should not do - their calls for equally violent retaliations. One of my own friends said, in response to another friend's support for "putting them all 6 ft under," "God knows if I was in charge I be asking the scientists if we can collect the oil in radiation suits?"

Knowing him as i do, i know this was meant to be a joking way to deal with the awful reality of the death of these children, and if i'm honest, i understand his feelings. This horrific murder of children makes me furious, and fury can turn quickly hate and to thoughts of violent retribution. I recognize that part of me that would want to give into those feelings, that wants to do something to make sure this never happens again and that the people responsible are held to account for what they did.

But then i remember that i am a follower of Jesus, that i want to be his disciple, and i remember what he taught us - unequivocally - "I say to you, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you" (Luke 6:27-28). Jesus commands us not to give into those first dark thoughts that come to mind in the face of violence and hatred but instead to love, do good, bless, and pray. He offers us no exceptions or exemptions to this command, no easy way out.

When i suggested to my friends that their response was not only not likely to work but was also at odds with what we profess to believe, i was told that was fine for me but not for them. Then they gave me the oft used Edmond Burke quotation, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Jesus, however, does not tell us to do nothing, quite the opposite in fact. He tells us to love and to pray - two actions that are, in the end, both efficacious and irresistible. 

The simple fact is this - the only truly Christian response to the situation in Manchester and all those others like it is to love and to pray. We can have our anger and our desire for vengeance, but then we set them aside and turn towards Jesus. And if we think we simply cannot bring ourselves either to pray for or to love our enemies, then we pray for ourselves, for God to give us the desire to pray for them and, finally, to love them. It may not be quick or easy and make us feel good, but Jesus doesn't promise us any of those things; he only promises us eternal life.

Happy Mother's Day

This first Mothers Day in the United States was held in 1907 in the small but beautiful town of Grafton, West Virginia. (There's wonderful mountain trout fishing very near Grafton, by the way.) The state of West Virginia declared it an official holiday in 1910, and the rest of the country did likewise very soon afterwards. Four years later, Congress officially designated the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day, and we've been celebrating it ever since.

While Mother's Day can be a wonderful and joyful day for many, for many others it can be a very difficult or sorrowful occasion, often for reasons people find hard or painful to articulate. On this Mother's Day we celebrate those women in our lives who have shown us and taught us the tenderness and loving kindness of God, whether or not they are our own or anyone else's actual mother. Thank God for these women, for their fierce and powerful love and for their gentle and compassionate hearts.

As we draw near to the altar this Sunday to lift bread and wine as an offering to God, i hope you also lift to the Throne of Mercy those women in your life who have shown you the face of God.

Mystery Priests to Supply at St. Michael's

Okay, not really that big of a mystery, but St. Michael's will be having a couple of guest celebrants and preachers in the coming weeks, as i will be away for a couple of Sundays at the end of May and beginning of June. The first, May 28th, Christine and i will be in Las Vegas for her brother's wedding. No jokes about Vegas weddings, please - and yes, i realize that's a challenge. The following Sunday, June 4th, the Kelly family will be on their annual vacation to Bald Head Island, what we lovingly refer to as "our annual penance." 

The liturgically aware among you are at this point thinking, "Oh no! June 4th is Pentecost, and we have our traditional Pentecost in the Park service. What will become of us?" To borrow one of the most common of Scriptural pronouncements, "Be not afraid." St. Michael's will be in better than good hands for both of those Sundays.

On May 28th, we will welcome Canon Frank Logue among us. You're probably already very familiar with Canon Logue, but you may not know about his blog, which i recommend. Here's a link to his latest post.

And on Pentecost, June 4th, please be on hand to say "Welcome back" to the Rev'd Kelly Steele, our former curate. You can check out her website here. Remember that day we have one service, in Daffin Park, with lunch following.

I'm counting on y'all to show them why we think St. Michael's is the friendliest church around.

Easter at St. Michael & All Angels

"In the darkness, fire is kindled..." The Book of Common Prayer

"In the darkness, fire is kindled..." The Book of Common Prayer

Easter begins where Good Friday left us, in darkness. The darkness is both figurative and literal: the sky darkened in mourning as our Savior hung on the cross, and surely no nights have ever seemed darker than those two that followed that terrible day. Then on that first Easter morning, St. John tells us, "Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb," to see if what Jesus had said just might be true. 

On Easter Eve, we will gather in darkness to proclaim what she went to discover, that what Jesus had said, what God had promised, is still true - "He is risen." Beyond all the preparations, all the rehearsals, all the errands, all the traveling that Easter entails nowadays, beyond music, flowers, and liturgy, these three words are still the most powerful, most important part: "He is risen." The gates of Hell are smashed apart; the power of sin and death is broken; the captives are set free; and we are given new life. All because of those three simple words. Not since God spoke "Let there be light" has one phrase so changed the fabric of creation and the course of human history.

With Christians at all times and in all places, we gather again this Easter to repeat those three words, not only to remind ourselves of their meaning but to proclaim to all who are still yearning to hear the Good News that good has triumphed over evil, love has conquered hate, and life has beaten back death. In the words by Matt Maher:

Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over death by death
Come awake, come awake
Come and rise up from the grave

This is the great truth of Easter, the simple, ancient, and eternal message that needs no embellishment or explanation: He is risen!

Palm Sunday

Hosanna to the Son of David!

Hosanna to the Son of David!

This Sunday we begin our services with the Liturgy of the Palms (in Daffin Park) as we commemorate Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Of course, things take a turn very quickly in our liturgies that day, as we move quickly from Palm Sunday to the Sunday of the Passion.

We echo the cries of the crowds who shout, "Hosanna to the Son of David. Hosanna in the highest!" While the word hosanna is associated with a joyful shout of praise to the coming king, it is helpful to remember that what it really means is "help us" or "save us." That casts our shouts in a different light - we rejoice that the King is coming, and we proclaim him as our King, but we do so because on some level we know that we need saving, and that this King is the only one who can.

Anonymous Angel

Last week i wrote about an angel whose name we know, Gabriel. This week, it seems we have an unnamed angel as our subject. The back of our church has been filling up (as it so often does) with bags and bags of food you've brought in for our I AM Food Pantry. This week, it turns out there was what Louisianians refer to as a "lagniappe" -a little something extra.

That little something really isn't little at all. Tucked away among the bags of canned goods was a stack of Kroger gift cards - 50 of them, in fact. Along with the cards was a note, unsigned, that simply reads, "FOR FOOD PANTRY FAMILIES FOR EASTER. EACH CARD HAS A $20.00 VALUE. IN CHRIST'S NAME." Fifty cards at $20 a card - $1000 worth of groceries for our pantry guests, donated by an unknown angel.

Thank you, whoever you might be, not only for the food your gift will provide but also for your example of generosity and humility. Thank you for showing us that angels do indeed walk among us.

The Annunciation

The Annunciation by Fra Angelico (c. 1450)

The Annunciation by Fra Angelico (c. 1450)

This Saturday, 25 March, is the Feast of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel comes to Mary to tell her of God's intention that she should bear the Son of God for the world. The event is portrayed in countless paintings and musical compositions, including one of my absolute favorites, "Gabriel's Message."

Mary's response to this startling request is, thankfully, "Yes," or "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." One wonders how the story of salvation would have proceeded had Mary's reply been different. The Gospel narratives give us little insight into what she was thinking at the time, only that she was "much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be." That might be one of the great understatements of the New Testament.

Regardless of what she really did think, Mary's "Yes" becomes a powerful witness to our part in God's plan for creation. God invites us in as active participants in the plan of salvation, even if that invitation now mostly comes in far less dramatic forms than it did for Mary. Like Mary, we have a choice to make each time - yes or no - and if the story of the Annunciation shows us anything, it's that saying yes to God may mean we are in for quite a ride. Saying yes means allowing our lives to follow God's plan for us, not our plan for ourselves. That can be a scary proposition, but if our stories show us anything, it's that we can and do often make a mess of of things when we relentlessly pursue our own selfish goals, when we "follow too much the devices and desires of our own hearts."

"Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word," - perhaps not the easiest choice, but always the best one.

This Week at St. Michael & All Angels

Write here...

Write here...

This Friday is, of course, St. Patrick's Day. Many of you may be fleeing Savannah as i type this just to get away from the madness and mayhem that will descend upon our city tomorrow. I thought it might be helpful to share some of what we actually know about St. Patrick and possibly correct some of what we think we know.

Patrick was born around 386 and died in either 460 or 461. He was not Irish but was born to Roman citizens in what is now England. At age 16, poor Patrick was kidnapped by Irish pirates and taken into slavery in Ireland. He later escaped, made his way back to England and lived for a time in a monastery there. He was later ordained and chose to return to Ireland to carry the Gospel back to those who had held him captive all those years. He did not, as is so often claimed, drive out all the snakes from Ireland; there is no evidence that snakes ever lived there before or after Patrick's time.

Did he use the shamrock - with three leaves, not four - to teach the Irish about the Holy Trinity? We don't know for certain, but there is also no reason not to follow that particular bit of the tradition surround Patrick, so i for one will keep believing that he did. And while Patrick (along with his feast day) is often associated with the color green, the traditional color for him is blue. He is most often depicted wearing blue vestments.

We have a hymn in our hymnal, #37o, usually referred to as St. Patrick's Breastplate, based off the prayer attributed to Patrick; it is one of the most popular prayers in Christianity.

This Week at St. Michael & All Angels

This is going to be personal this week, if you will allow me that indulgence. Thank you from the top, the bottom, the insides and the outsides of my heart. The celebration that this parish threw for my birthday last Sunday was nothing short of amazing. I am deeply grateful, beyond my ability to express appropriately. I cannot believe that many of you (parishioners, staff, the kayak shop, MY WIFE) managed to do all that and keep it all totally a secret. That could not have been quickly or easily done, and i am so touched by the lengths and depths of your effort, time, and energy. While it's hard to say exactly what the best part of it was - there were so many - i have to say my favorite may have been the irony of what i said to you at announcements. In case you weren't there, i'll recap for you.

I told you about a conversation i'd had with a perspective new member who would soon be moving with her husband from Ohio. I relayed to you that i had bragged about you to her, saying, i'd never seen a congregation with the kind of warmth and tenderness i'd found here at St. Michael's. I then pointed out to you that i had set the bar pretty high for you and expected you to clear it. Of course, then i walked in Patton Hall and saw just what you had done. It seems no matter where the bar is set, y'all just pole vault right over it.

Of course, we do have a word that perfectly describes what y'all pulled off last week; that word is love. It's what makes me so extraordinarily thankful to be a part of this community - to see how you love one another. We are not perfect, but i have no desire to be in a perfect church - there wouldn't be any place for me in it. But what we are is loving, in all our glorious and wonderful imperfection, and as the ancient hymn reminds us, "Where true charity and love are found, there God truly dwells."

This Week at St. Michael & All Angels

This Wednesday we begin our Lenten Supper Series with Meeting Jesus on the Margins: Meditations on Matthew 25, a Forward Movement publication that takes us from Ash Wednesday through Easter Day. The meditations, contributed by a number of authors, are very brief. Copies of the book are available for a suggested (voluntary) donation of $5 and will be available this Sunday.

Each evening will stand on its own, so if you can't make all the sessions, you won't be left out or behind. You may also get a book just to use on your own, even if you can't make the Wednesday evening meetings. We'll start with a simple supper -  and we need folks to sign up to bring food - followed by our discussion of the meditations. We'll close with a short evening worship service. I do hope you'll attend at least some of the sessions.

Remember also we offer Stations of the Cross every Friday in Lent at 6:00pm in the church.

Ash Wednesday

                              Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return

                              Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return

"Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return." These are the words said to us every Ash Wednesday when we come to the rail not for the Bread of Heaven but for a handful of ashes smeared on our foreheads. It's a stark reminder of our mortality, as Robin Williams puts it in Dead Poets' Society, that we are "food for worms." It's actually what life whispers to us every day we are alive, although we are so programmed to avoid hearing these words that they generally slip past us. Still, as Madeleine L'Engle so eloquently reminds us, the ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday are nothing less than the first handful of dirt thrown into our graves, and if we dare to come to this service and then to come up to the rail, there's no mistaking the message.

It's good for us to be reminded of the finite time we have in this life, if for no other reason than so we are clear that we are mortal and not, in fact, God. That's a bit cliché, I realize, and I don't think any of us actually has our identity mixed up with the Almighty, but we do like to labor under the misconception that we are in control of our own lives and possibly of the lives of others whom we care about. We spend a good deal of our limited time on earth working to strengthen and maintain that control - it helps us feel safe and secure and maybe a bit less anxious about the future. But does it really?

I've come to realize that thinking I am in control of my own life actually makes me feel less safe, less certain about what may lie around the next corner. That's a lot of responsibility, and experience has shown me i'm not nearly as good at managing that responsibility as i'd like to think (or as i'd like others to think). Ash Wednesday and the whole season of Lent which follows - is a welcome reset for me - I am, after all, just dust, and if i can hear those words and believe them, i can relax into the strong embrace of the God who isn't just dust, who isn't mortal or finite and who, experience has shown me is not only capable of caring for me far better than i ever could but who wants to do so.

So maybe those words aren't a frightening threat - a warning to straighten up and do better because time is short. Perhaps they are a promise - "You are dust, but I am not. Remember that."

Shrove Tuesday Dinner

You are invited to a Fat Tuesday Pancake Supper!

When: Tuesday, 28 February at 5:30pm

Where: 3101 Waters Ave., Savannah, Georgia, 31404 at the corner of Waters and Washington Ave.

*Please enter through the playground on Washington Ave.

  • All Are Welcome!
  • Donations of $5, $3 for 12 and under.
  • Proceeds benefit the St. Michael's Building Fund

See you there!

This Week at St. Michael & All Angels

Hello Angels,

Hope y'all are having a wonderful week. Please remember that this Saturday is our first Mission Café meeting for this year. We'll be talking about the 2016 Christmas Tree Lot as well as our plans for the coming year. Everyone is asked to bring a yummy breakfast dish to share.

Following Mission Café, our Beautification Project continues outside on the grounds. We are gathering seeds and bulbs and, if weather permits, we'll be planting this week as well. We also have a rain barrel to install, so there's lots to do. Please come join us!