Kind of a Blog… 
Reflections from Father Bradley, first published in our weekly newsletter. 

Week of April 5, 2020

Assist us mercifully with your help, O Lord God of our salvation, that we may enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby you have given us life and immortality; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 
This is the collect that begins our Holy Week observance; it is the one prayed at the beginning of the order for worship on Palm Sunday. It is the first year for me, and likely for all of us, that Holy Week and Easter will be celebrated in very different circumstances from what we have been used to. I will miss gathering in a church to enter into joy and contemplation with each of you and with God; to walk with Jesus during the last days of his life; to greet with joy the day of His resurrection. I will miss the larger-than-usual congregation, parishioners and guests alike; the flowers, the music, all the celebration and joy. Who knew, when we said farewell to the “A” word on the Sunday Next before Lent, that this wilderness time would be so great, so deep, so profoundly changing. These last weeks, this season of Lent has become truly life-changing for all of humankind.
 
Nonetheless, there will be an Easter celebration a week from Sunday. I’m thinking about the shape and form of that celebration, how best to capture the hope of Easter using different shapes, different approaches, the assistance of technology and media. Episcopalians are creatures of habit – we like our buildings and books, our sounds and sensations, our art and architecture. Necessity is the mother of invention, and these days it is leading me to think of new ways that worship can connect us. Fortunately I have talented helpers at St. Michael’s who offer their gifts that our worship might endure even these difficult days.
 
So watch for more opportunities to follow as we again give thanks this Easter for God’s gift of life and immortality.
 

Week of March 15, 2020

John’s Gospel is not a Gospel of parallels; there is not a doubling of stories and incidents in the way that Luke, for example, structures his Gospel. The exception in John is this Sunday’s account of Jesus and the Samaritan Woman, which resembles in some ways last week’s encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus. 
 
In John the details always provide background and hint at the theological import of the story. In the Samaritan village of Sychar there happened to be an ancient well, maybe Jacob’s, maybe not, but nonetheless a provider of water for both thirst and cleansing. The story opens at noon of the day; it is hot, everyone is thirsty, the unattended woman is out in broad daylight (provocative activity), the sun is overhead, and the Son of God is directly in front of this woman, although she doesn’t know that at first. Jesus senses something about this woman; he challenges her, belly to the well, very un-savior-like and along the lines of “Gimme sumpthin’ to drink.” His hunch is right: she is tough, smart and has been around the block a few times.  Not to be outdone she fires back, “If you’re so thirsty, get it yourself.” Jesus isn’t thirsty, but he knows that the woman is, and not only for physical hydration. She needs water that will cleanse her soul of the wrongs and mistakes that have crept into her life. She needs grace, a whole artesian well of it, and lucky for her that the source she almost spurned at the well ends up filling her life and many lives with an endless supply of living water. 
 
What started out as a battle of wits between two strong-willed people ends up a display of Jesus’s boundless capacity to draw in the lost and outcast, restore them to abundant life, and turn them loose in the world to fill others who are empty. That’s one way to keep the wells of life filled – strengthen those who have been saved so that they can save others.  It worked that day in Sychar, and it works in our time as well, “We have heard for ourselves, and we now know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
 

Week of March 8, 2020

A lectionary is a table or order for reading a book or book in serial format. The Revised Common Lectionary, itself an adaptation of the Prayer Book Lectionary, is a three-year cycle with the Sunday readings for each year organized around one of the three synoptic Gospels; Matthew (Year A, our present year), Mark or Luke. John’s Gospel is scattered over all three years with a concentration of passages during Lent.  

This Sunday we hear a teaching story from John: the nocturnal encounter between Nicodemus and Jesus. Nicodemus was a prominent Jewish leader, a Pharisee, and a member of the Sanhedrin, the council of 70 men who served Jerusalem as a judicial body for religious matters. Nicodemus was also intellectually and spiritually curious about Jesus and sympathetic to his teachings, as were other Jewish authorities. Jesus had fostered intense controversy. Openly supporting him was not politically correct. Public and visible encounters with “the teacher who has come from God” were out of the question.  To avoid personal scandal Nicodemus visits Jesus at night, coming from spiritual darkness into the presence of light. Jesus enjoys his friend’s company and plays with the nuance of language and with Nicodemus’s eagerness to learn. Jesus tells him that to see the kingdom of God is to be born “from above” and “again” — the Greek word Jesus uses means both. Nicodemus’s question is ours, too: Birth is a once-in-a lifetime event and once was enough. What kind of birth can happen again? Nicodemus gets a Johannine answer that leaves him more puzzled than before, and he slinks out before dawn, not sure exactly what to believe, but intrigued enough to keep on pondering. Later in John’s story he will rise in the council to defend Jesus against the mob, who wanted to seize him and summarily execute him. He appears at the very end of the Gospel, when the mob had succeeded in doing what Nicodemus opposed.  

As the sun sets late on a Friday afternoon he will assist with Jesus’s burial. It was at night that they first met, and as the light of day fades they meet again in the darkness of the tomb, his questions about spiritual rebirth and eternal life still awaiting an answer. As it turns out, he won’t have to wait for long.

Week of February 27, 2020:  Thoughts on March 1 Gospel Passage

On the First Sunday in Lent we always read one of the three Gospel accounts of Jesus’s Temptation in the Wilderness, and this year we hear Matthew’s version. We also hear a better-known temptation tryst from the Book of Genesis involving Eve, Adam, a serpent, and a tree with some tasty and appealing fruit. You don’t have to be a seminary-educated biblical scholar to connect the dots between these stories. Things were going hunky-dory in God’s perfect garden until temptation got the better of those two First People. An appetizer-sized sample of good and evil, which was off-limits by God’s clear directive, was just a taste of the main course – becoming like God. The penalty was expulsion into the cold, cruel world of labor, sickness and death. Temptation didn’t exactly go away after that triumph and eventually it found Jesus, who was at low ebb physically and emotionally after his long, desert fast. Temptation in the shape of the devil makes a full court press to drive a wedge between Jesus and God. Satan propositions Jesus three times, each offer being a negation of loving God with “heart, and soul, and might.” The Art of the Deal unfolds like this: “Jesus, if you are so divine, then change these stones into angel cake and eat; if God is your rescuer, throw yourself down from the steeple, skip the bungee cord, and you’ll be fine; and if you want to be The Man, sign on with me and I’ll really take you places.” Only problem is that those places are ones from which one returns without a soul, and Jesus knows that. So he rallies and rebuffs the principalities and powers, and begins the process of undoing what Adam and Eve did in the first place. Paradise was lost, and now it can be regained. It will take struggle, and suffering, and death and resurrection. At least we know that God has sent the right man to be on our side.