Sunday, April 16, 2017

Preacher’s Study – Easter 2A 2017

The Preacher’s Study
First Thoughts on Next Sunday’s Sermon
2nd Sunday of Easter, Year A

John W. B. Hill

Acts 2: 14a, 22-32; 
Psalm 16; 
1 Peter 1: 3-9; 
John 20: 19-31.

The Easter Season is a gift of grace: seven weeks to explore the implications of what God has done in raising up the one we crucified; seven weeks for it to sink in that we are the risen body of Christ, the living sacrament of his saving presence to the world.

The entire apostolic witness, the whole New Testament, is founded upon the resurrection of Jesus from the dead; we would never even have heard of him if that had not happened.  St Paul has provided our earliest written witness to this stupendous reality, but it was left to the four evangelists to fill out the meaning of ‘resurrection’.  Only they make it clear that resurrection means an empty tomb!  Only they make it clear that the company of Jesus’ disciples is now the visible manifestation of his invisible presence! 

But what is the significance of an empty tomb?  It tells us that God’s purposes for the world could not be defeated by destroying the one God sent to redeem it.  God gathered up the torn and disfigured corpse of his dear Son and transfigured it into the first fully redeemed human life (body and soul) — a definitive sign of God’s intention for us all.  Bodies matter to God: flesh and bones, feathers and fur, indeed the entire biosphere that graces the surface of this rocky planet hurtling through space.  All will be redeemed, in God’s good time.  Redeemed, not abandoned for something better.

Here may lie the clue to Thomas’ reluctance to accept what the other disciples were telling him (John 20: 24-25).  “We have seen the Lord,” they said.  But if they were trying to tell him that Jesus was still alive in spite of having died — that his crucifixion was just another random piece of meaningless violence in a world beyond hope — then, as far as Thomas was concerned, Jesus’ appearance to them was not good news at all.  “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  Thomas could not just dismiss the memory of Jesus’ shameful and horrific execution, and he needed to know that God could not dismiss it either.

If God is going to triumph over the evil that defaces this good creation and truly redeem the world, then even the world’s catastrophes must be redeemed; they must ultimately come to be recognized as critical moments in the historic drama of “the light that shines in the darkness and is not overcome by it” (John 1: 1-5).  It was the catastrophe of Jesus’ crucifixion that revealed the darkness of our world, and it was the crucifixion of Jesus that revealed the immensity of God’s mercy — mercy which holds the world in being and is its only hope of healing.  Thus the marks of the nails in Jesus’ hands are the crowning perfection of his risen body.  Likewise, a redeemed world will bear the marks of our folly and destruction, for these wounds too are part of the drama of its salvation.  But the wounds will be healed.

The second reading for this day (1 Peter 1: 3-9) sounds like an address to people who have just emerged from the waters of baptism.  The Easter Season is a time when we remember our baptism into Christ’s death.  The life we inherited from our death-dealing culture was buried with Christ in his tomb, to rise with him into a new culture of eternal life, “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us, who are being protected by the power of God through faith in a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”  It is not a salvation out of this world; it is the salvation of the world, in which we participate through hope.  Because of this hope we are able to experience even our suffering and loss as a participation in Christ’s sufferings, and therefore as part of that great cosmic drama.  “In this we rejoice, even if now for a little while we have to suffer trials, so that the genuineness of our faith . . . may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed . . . Even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”  

Notice that the world’s eventual salvation is something we “are receiving” — something we are experiencing now, already!  The immediate “outcome of our faith” is living a life of eternal significance (“the salvation of our souls”), for as the death and rising of our Lord are replicated in us, we participate in this historic drama of redemption.  This is what it means to belong to the company of the baptized, disciples of the risen Christ.

John W. B. Hill is an Anglican presbyter in Toronto, Canada, author of one of the first Anglican sources for catechumenal practice, council member of APLM, and chair of Liturgy Canada

"Resurrection," by Donna Holdsworth, available at

Monday, April 10, 2017

Good Friday, Year A - 2017

The Preacher’s Study – Good Friday
First thoughts on the sermons for the Paschal Triduum

D. Jay Koyle

Isaiah 52.13 - 53.12
Psalm 22 or Psalm 31.9-16
Philippians 2.5-11
Matthew 26.14 - 27.66

I’d venture that the cross is still one of the most identifiable images in the world today, perhaps rivaled in popular recognition and frequency of appearance only by the golden arches and the Nike swoosh.

Yet, while it may pop up more consistently before the human eye than most other trademarks, increasingly the cross has been stripped of its narrative, becoming little more than a meaningless fashion accessory in the minds of many.  

A few years back someone passed along to me an article they had clipped from a women’s fashion magazine. It outlined the “musts” of crosses as accessories. Accompanied by a collage of photos, the piece offered advice on colors, sizes and styles, all depending on the outfit you were wearing, your hairstyle, your height, your weight.

A few days later, I picked up the newspaper and noticed a page-length picture of a popular supermodel, crosses dangling in front of an open shirt. It was tied to an article that, again, went on to consider the fashion ins and outs of the cross. The headline read “Cross Purposes,” the pullout calling this symbol of ours “one of the coolest accessories around.”

Now, I don’t know how all of this makes you feel. Would it surprise you if I confessed that I’m not all that bothered by it? A general populace that doesn’t grasp the importance of this key Christian symbol does not astonish me. I am quite disturbed, however, when we Christians underestimate its significance.

No doubt, we are well aware that the cross plays a central role in the Christian imagination. We sing of it in our hymns, speak of it in our prayers, hear it referenced in readings and sermons, and gaze at it week by week. Many of us trace it on our foreheads or across our bodies.

However, I wonder if, in some sense, the cross has become too insubstantial for us. To what degree do we allow it to contour the shape our lives and quicken our perception of who we really are?

The cross didn’t always lend itself so readily, of course, to either religious devotion or jewelry design. As you may know, in the first century of the Common Era it was a form of execution, meant to rob those who opposed the Empire not only of their life, but also their humanity.

It was also an effective means of keeping conquered peoples in their place. “Disturb the pax Romana,” it said, “and this will be your story!” It was the ultimate dead end, a grim reminder to despairing people of their powerlessness.

However, not long after they encountered a crucified Jesus freshly burst forth from the tomb, Christians employed this image to tell the story of a totally different reality: that of a God who was transforming not only human life, but also the whole of creation.

The structures of domineering power, the way of “might makes right,” peace by force, division by rank or class, exploitation for gain – all were shown to have no teeth. A new reality was breaking in – call it the Kingdom of God – and the cross became the sign that nothing could prevent God from setting things right.

In next to no time, the cross became the mark of a people who had set about living according to this new order, even if it had yet to fully arrive.

That understanding is a far cry from a church that sees the cross’s story as one only concerned with the assurance of individual salvation rather than the liberation of the whole cosmos, as one only about the promise that Christ will help me cope with my issues in this world rather than shape me to live by the new world already underway.

Perhaps that makes Good Friday – the whole Paschal Triduum really – such a gift. The cross always stands central to what we are about. However, there are times when we need extra prompting and prodding to appreciate just what this symbol, this story means to us as the Body of Christ.

Very dramatic things can happen, it seems to me, when ordinary people allow the gospel to shape their lives. In the church’s continual act of reading the lives of ordinary people into the story of Jesus, character is formed and a new world is offered.

I saw a wonderful documentary a number of years back. It chronicled some extraordinary deeds by some very ordinary folk the little French community of Le Chambon.

During the Nazi occupation of France, more than three thousand Jewish refugees were rescued by these ordinary people, most of whom were Huguenots.

In 1942, buses showed up to cart away Jews. The Vichy police demanded to be shown where the Jews were being hid. The pastor and people of the town refused to comply. In a climate where Jews were marginalized and persecuted, this community welcomed them into their homes and hid them at substantial risk. Its people would sing to call their Jewish neighbors out into the open when the immediate danger had passed.

I find it just as impressive that these people resisted the police with all the cunning at their disposal to prevent the hidden Jews from being discovered, but they never attempted any violence in doing so. Why? Because they were shaped by the story of Jesus. They believed that even the police were their neighbors.

In the church’s continual act of reading the lives of ordinary people into the story of Jesus, character is formed and a new world is offered.

Everything we are, everything we're called to be is wrapped up in Christ crucified. 

The cross stood for scandal in the past, and seems today to be nothing more than a meaningless fashion accessory to many. But for those of us who believe, it is the way of life. It is the revelation of the One who is our meaning and promise. It is the story contouring the shape of our lives.


Jay Koyle is president of The Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission. He serves as the Congregational Development Officer for the Diocese of Algoma and as Chair of Faith, Worship, and Ministry for the Anglican Church of Canada.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Preacher's Study – 2nd Sunday of Lent, Year A

The Preacher’s Study
First thoughts on next Sunday’s sermon,
2nd Sunday of Lent, Year A

John W. B. Hill and Angela Emerson

Genesis 12.1-4
Psalm 121
Romans 4.1-5, 13-17
John 3.1-17

Both stories in this Sunday's readings show us what it means to be called to participate in God's new creation, the redemption of the world.

The call of Abraham marks a new departure in the Genesis narrative.  After eleven chapters beginning with the wonders of creation but devolving into a hopeless cycle of global degradation, corruption, violence and confusion, the Creator begins again, telling Abram to go — to leave everything — and promises that Abram will become a great nation through which all the families of earth will be blessed.  Yet Abram is seventy-five years old and Sarai is barren (Genesis 11: 30)! They went anyway, letting go of every security, and living the rest of their life for the promise.  It was a journey toward a future beyond anything anyone had yet experienced, believing in “the God...who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom. 4:17). This is the journey of participation in God's work of creation, which has been confounded by sin.

Nicodemus, a son of Abraham, is called by Jesus to take up the same journey of faith.  But Nicodemus is also a respected scholar (John 7:50), a “teacher of Israel” (3: 10).  These are accomplishments not lightly set aside!  He is drawn to Jesus as one teacher to another, but he comes “by night,” not wanting to be seen.  He is not yet prepared for a full, open engagement with what God is doing in the world he knows.

Jesus recognizes Nicodemus’ reservations, and challenges his caution: “You must be ‘born anew’ / ’born from above’.”  Both senses are apparently intended, but Nicodemus is confounded by ‘anew.’  He is not yet ready to acknowledge the critical distinction between things of the ‘flesh’ and things of the ‘Spirit.’  What is born of the flesh (matters that can be adequately accomplished by human effort alone) will not engage in God's creative initiative; only what is born of the Spirit (matters that can only be accomplished by cooperating with God) will engage in God's new creation (cf. 5:17). “Without God, we cannot; without us, God will not.”

Hence, it is encouraging to learn that while Nicodemus is not ready to join the journey in chapter three, we see in chapter seven that he is open to it (7:45-52).  And in chapter nineteen we learn that he has indeed joined the company of pilgrims (19:38-42).

Jesus is the true pioneer of this journey (Hebrews 2:10), the one who will be ‘lifted up’ that all who look to him may live. For God sent him into the world “in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17)

God called the world into being.  He called Abram, Sarai and Nicodemus to participate in new being, for the sake of the world.   There is hope for us all, if only we will live by the promise, accepting the blessings of God’s new creation for the sake of the generations to come.  It is to this that we have been called in baptism.

John W. B. Hill is an Anglican presbyter in Toronto, Canada, author of one of the first Anglican sources for catechumenal practice, council member of APLM, and chair of Liturgy Canada.

Angela Emerson was a litigation lawyer in Toronto for 31 years; she left the practice in June, 2013 to have a saner lifestyle and pursue other interests.  Angela obtained her M.Div. from Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto in 2009.

"Abraham and Sarah," by Sax Berlin. Information about the artwork and the artist, and a link for purchase enquiries can be found at