Advent in the Wilderness

I have been to the wilderness. It was the spring of 2009, in the weeks just after Easter. I was on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, a journey that took me from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to Galilee and then back again to Jerusalem. One day early in my journey, my group was taken out into the wilderness. We were loaded up onto buses and driven out, far out, I know not where. Eventually we pulled onto a dusty gravel road and, after our guide gave us the requisite Holy Land warning about keeping ourselves hydrated, we stepped off the buses into a landscape unlike anything I had ever seen before. My first thought when I looked across that expanse of naked earth was, My God. It’s all exactly the same color. As far as I could stretch my eyes, it was all beige, like a page from a coloring book where the child used only one tan crayon. The earth beneath our feet was sandy and tan; there was a valley below us that was sandy and tan. There were hills in the distance, and they, too, were sandy and tan. There was so much tan that it became difficult for me to see any depth in what I was looking at. My sense of perspective was completely fooled, and the tan upon tan upon tan made the view seem oddly and somewhat frighteningly two-dimensional. The hills were far off – my brain could somehow comprehend that – but I felt off-kilter and even dizzy, as if the hills were pressing in on me, leaning in and looming large.

I stood for a moment on the edge of a cliff, alone, far from the group, and tried to absorb what lay before me. I could see one road, a track, really, that I could easily imagine as that dangerous stretch from Jerusalem down to Jericho where traveling worshipers might be set upon by brutal robbers. But beyond that, there was nothing that even whispered of civilization. Vacant hills jagged up from the ground, pressing in on each other in rows like shark’s teeth. They seemed an impossible maze to me, a tangle no path could ever penetrate. The view was bleak and hopeless, a world of stumbling over rocks and skidding down dusty hills, a world of disorientation, where you risked losing not only your water or your way, but also yourself.

So I have been to the wilderness. And I have also been to the wilderness. I have known what it is to stand before the landscape of my own life and to see only one drab, lifeless color. I have known what it is to look out, far out into the future and to see only threats and disasters, each looming on top of the other. I have known what it to find myself in a hostile universe I could have never imagined, where my grief and anger and confusion and fear became so intensely tangled that I could see no way forward, no path to pierce the thicket of my soul. I have known what it to see only obstacles to stumble over, only crooked tracks to get lost on and dead ends to crash into. I have known what it is to feel the utter desolation of a wild, unfamiliar world stretching out before me, from the bare pathway under my feet to the stark, vacant horizon. 

I imagine that you, like me, have been to the wilderness. Because I imagine that you, like me, have known pain. Perhaps you, like me, have known what it is to watch someone you love be devoured by illness and then, finally, die. Perhaps you, like me, have known what it is to wait, panicked, for a doctor’s call, for a diagnosis, for a decision. Perhaps you, like me, have known what it is to feel a relationship sliding away from you, to feel your faith falter and fail, to feel unfamiliar with the person looking back at you in the mirror. Perhaps you have known what it is to be so unsure of your next step that you can’t step at all. Perhaps you have known what it is to have a loved one ripped away so suddenly that you lose your breath. Perhaps you have known what it is to watch someone you love tumbling into addiction and to know that you cannot catch them. Perhaps you have known what it is to be hated simply because of who God made you to be. Perhaps you have known what it is to feel your last safety net fall away, or to feel yourself so alone that the simple touch of a stranger’s handshake almost makes you weep, or to feel that unwanted familiar companion of depression lurking around the corner. Perhaps you have known what it is to find yourself so far down the wrong path that it seems easier to just keep walking, even if it’s off a cliff, than to try to wend your way back. Perhaps you have known what it is to wake up to one more news cycle that pushes you over into despair, wondering how truth will ever spring up from this earth, how righteousness and peace will live long enough to kiss each other, how Jerusalem will ever again hear words spoken tenderly to her. Perhaps you have known what it is to find yourself looking out, far out, seeing only the color of desolation, pain upon pain upon pain.

We have been to the wilderness. And God has been there too. God has spent a great deal of time there, in fact, with Abraham and Sarah, with Jacob and Leah and Rachel, with Moses and Miriam. God has journeyed through the wilderness with the people of Israel, listening to them complain and watching them wander away and loving them all the while. God has sat down in the wilderness with Elijah and flown through it with David when they were on the run. God knows the wilderness. But when God looks out upon that world, God does not see a land of uniform hopelessness; God sees a blank canvas, ready for something new. God sees a template with no limits, no bounds, where anything might happen. When God looks out upon the wilderness, God sees a place that is ripe for miracles.

When God looks out upon the wilderness, God sees a place where water can spring from rocks, where food can appear like dew upon the ground. God sees a place where angels can have free reign, where they can show us a ladder into grace or feed us with wild honey cakes or, if necessary, wrestle us into revelation. When God looks out upon the wilderness, God sees a place where a people can find their way to a holy home, and then find their way back again. God sees a place for new birth, for baptisms and holy doves and words that fall from heaven. God sees that the wilderness is a good place for miracles, the best place, perhaps, for there is nothing there – no security, no accomplishments, no pride, no self-confidence – that can distract us from his presence. When we stand before God in that blank canvas of despair or worry or loneliness or grief, our sins and our false selves and even our virtues can fall away* until all that remains is what is most true about us – that we are still wet with the waters of baptism, that we are still beloved, that we are still God’s.

The wilderness is a place of miracles. Why else would God tell Isaiah that he would come on a highway in the wilderness? Why else would God send John the Baptizer out into the wilderness to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom? Why else would God promise to make the valleys of the wilderness lifted up and the mountains low and the uneven ground level and the rough places a plain? Because the wilderness is a holy place, a place God chooses again and again as the setting of his righteous, merciful, miraculous acts.

For some of us, Advent invites us into the wilderness, invites us to repent and to let go of those things that tether us to that which withers and fades. But for some of us, Advent finds us already there, wandering through our grief or frustration or fear. Either way, Advent reminds us, assures us, that the wilderness has gifts to offer, and if we can only be still and listen, we can find comfort there, and tenderness; forgiveness and relief, joy and reward, and the glory of the Lord. For there is one who is coming for whom the wilderness holds no fear. There is one who is coming for whom the wilderness marks the very heart of good news. There is one who is coming.      

There is another part of my story of the wilderness in the Holy Land. And that is that when we got off the bus, and my eyes tried to adjust to the eternal sea of tan, our guide gasped and said, Oh! Look at all the color! The spring rains had just ended, you see, and the desert that I was looking at was actually in bloom. And as I looked, I began to notice the little fuzz of rusty umber that crowned the tops of the hills. I saw the rich veins of dark green that ran through the tucks and creases in the valley. And as I stepped over those sandy rocks that lay at my feet, I saw, growing out of nowhere, tiny yellow flowers stretching their little faces to the heavens. And the more I looked, the more of them I saw. Little hopeful blossoms, woven together in a carpet of yellow that covered the wilderness with color for as far as I could see. Little miraculous blooms, lifting up their faces as if to proclaim to the world, as if to proclaim to us, Here, right here in the wilderness, with you, Here is your God.

*with thanks to Flannery O'Connor for the idea of this line, though not the exact text

Preached by Mother Erika Takacs

Advent II, 10 December 2017

Saint Mark's Church, Philadelphia

Posted on December 12, 2017 .

The Great Migration

So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.  (Mark 13:29)

Late in July of 2016, I had traveled with a friend to the grasslands of the Serengeti in northern Tanzania, where I hoped to witness something of a spectacle: the great annual migration of wildebeest.  This last full-scale migration of land animals on earth is the stuff that National Geographic films are made of: vast herds of wildebeest following the rains across hundreds of miles of the African bush in search of greener grass to feed on.  With the wildebeest go the zebras and gazelles, among others.  The migration begins after the wildebeest calving season has concluded, and the herd travels with tens of thousands of young calves, drawing the attention of the lions, hyenas, crocodiles, cheetahs, leopard and other predators.  The National Geographic moments come most famously on the many occasions that the wildebeest cross the Mara River, putting the animals at risk of falling prey to dramatic crocodile attacks.

In Swahili the word Serengeti means something like, “the place where the land runs on for ever,” and to say that the broad, flat expanses of tall grass are beautiful is an understatement.  The wildlife all across the ecosystem are plentiful, and by the end of the first day of safari in a Land Rover we had seen four out of the “big five.”  Not all wildebeest join the migration, so we had seen a fair number of these, too.  But the word was that the migrating herd was far to the north of us.

I asked our guide, Jonas, if we could travel north in search of the herd, and he was discouraging.  “I hear the migration is not so good this year,” he said.  

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“It means there is not a large concentration of animals in any one place in the Serengeti,” he replied.

“But is there a chance we might see some of the migration?” I asked.

“Yes, there’s always a chance we could get lucky,” he said, but he was not enthusiastic about this possibility.

But I persisted, and convinced my friend and our guide that on the penultimate day of our time in the Serengeti we should drive as far north as we could in search of the great migration.  So we did.

In a Land Rover with one broken shock absorber, we drove for hours and hours over rough dirt roads, through miles of African bush, past villages, and in sight of countless herds of cattle being tended by Masai boys.  At last we came to the dry dusty bank of the Mara River, close to the Kenyan border.  Jonas expertly took us along the riverbank in search of some part of the wildebeest herd that might be crossing the river.

More than 1.5 million wildebeest make the migration each year, and if you think about film or television clips you’ve seen of this incredible phenomenon, you’d think it would not be so hard to find a herd of 1.5 million wildebeest in flat, open land.  But the wildebeest break up into smaller groups; they don’t travel as a monolithic herd, and we could hardly find any of them as we meandered in our Land Rover along the riverbank.

The little group of wildebeest that would not cross the river.

The little group of wildebeest that would not cross the river.

Our long drive was beginning to feel like something of a folly, when at last Jonas spotted a small group of about forty wildebeest on the far bank of the river, standing there looking bored.  We drove to a good vantage point to watch what was an admittedly underwhelming retinue of the great migration.  And as we watched, over the course of a good half hour or so, the wildebeest did nothing but stand there at the edge of the water and stare at it suspiciously.

Patiently we waited.  In due course, on a little rise above our company of wildebeest, along comes another entourage of the homely animals, this one numbering closer to 100, and headed toward our little, water-averse band of wildebeest below.  Great! - we thought - this larger group of wildebeest will come down to the water and their momentum will encourage the others forward and across the river, right below us!  And as the larger company of wildebeest made their way to the place where they could turn and join their colleagues at the water’s edge, they halted, before proceeding, and adopted an air of devoted indifference to the thought of crossing the river.

Patiently we waited, sending all our mental energy across the river, and hoping to telepathically encourage the herd mentality to go, but to no avail.  After another half hour of waiting for something to happen, at last something did happen: the small group of wildebeest at the water’s edge looked up at the recent arrivals, turned away from the river, marched lazily to join the others, and they all trotted wearily away from us in the opposite direction, without the vaguest sense that anyone was disappointed or unhappy that a river-crossing had not been ventured.

Year by year you and I, and countless other Christians arrive here at the same place at more or less the same time of year in late November, early December, on Advent Sunday.  It’s common to say that today is the beginning of the church year, because it is, but there is something inadequate about that measure of what it is that today signifies - as though all that’s happening today is a flip of the calendar page.  What a minuscule way of seeing things!  In fact, we are beginning our great migration, and this migration is more than a passage over distance or time.  We have not come to follow the rains, but we are in search of nourishment for our souls.  And thank God we have children to come along with us!

The church bids us set out each year on this great migration that prepares us for the coming of a Savior, that delights in his birth, that follows him into the wilderness, that attends to his teaching, prepares for his death, witnesses his suffering, weeps at his crucifixion, discovers his empty tomb, rejoices at his rising, ponders his new life, receives the gift of his Spirit, and then marches through the green grass during the long rainy season in order to return to this same place at around the same time next year.

A nice enough metaphor for an Advent Sunday.  But it remains only a metaphor if we position ourselves as mere observers of Advent and not participants in it.  It remains to be seen whether you and I are actually participating in this great migration.  That is, it remains to be seen whether we are watching from the far bank, or whether we are standing together at the water’s edge wondering if it is safe to proceed.

So many Christians today will be satisfied to watch from that far bank.  But I am here to tell you that if you will allow it, you will discover that God is calling you to come to water’s edge where you may listen for God to tell you to go, maybe even to cross the river.  It is true that all kinds of danger lurks ahead of us.  Whether it’s the stars falling from heaven, or the threat of a nuclear war, or the challenge of navigating another year in this sprawling American herd, or your own spiritual hunger, or a sickness that may yet kill you before next spring, or the conversation you have been putting off for ever because you are afraid that it will change everything, or the phone call that you dread.  Or, it could be that if you begin this migration you will find that, having heeded God’s call at the outset, you are drawn to be more and more attentive to his voice in your life.  And you may begin to hear the urging of the Spirit to live your life in a pattern of holiness that means you are more and more attentive to what God wants, before you consider what you want.  And you will be amazed at how this perspective changes things.

So, year by year we arrive here, and you have a choice either to watch the migration go by, or to cross the river and get on with it.  No one is compelled anymore merely by hunger or instinct to go on this migration.  The great annual Christian migration is about an intentionality of the heart, a commitment of the self, and a willingness to go more often than to stay put.

As a metaphor, my description of my underwhelming experience of the great migration in the Serengeti can be misleading if it suggests that the wildebeest at the water’s edge somehow failed because they didn’t cross the river over toward me.  In fact, those wildebeest did exactly what they were supposed to do: they got on with the migration.  The fact that they didn’t cross the river in sight of our Land Rover is of no consequence to them or anyone else but me and my friend.  It was me and my friend and our guide who were left wanting, because we could not join in the migration, we could not follow, we could not go.  We had a schedule to keep, places to return to, we were not free to go off with the wildebeest in search of greener grass or a safer place to cross the river.  We could not see, and will never know what happened next.  Because, although I had travelled half way around the world to catch a glimpse of the great migration, I actually didn’t have more than an hour or so to watch and wait.

Maybe you feel the same way about church.  Maybe you feel the same way about your spiritual life, or your relationship with God, or your attentiveness to your prayers.  Maybe you are interested, but you haven’t got time, if these damn wildebeest are just going to stand around and not do very much!

But here you are at the outset of a new church year, on the first steps of a new migration.  Every year at the same time God makes the same promises: that his kingdom is coming, that the reign of his Son will bring the justice, and the mercy, and the healing we so desperately long for.  But, of course, the signs that he warns of do not come to pass.  The sun is not darkened, and the stars do not fall from heaven, and the Son of Man has not come with great power and glory, and his angels have not gathered his elect from the four winds.  The kingdom has not come, the reign of God is not established, and what of the justice, the mercy, and the healing?  It would seem that God’s seasons last longer than ours; his time is not synched with our time.  Is this a disappointment to us?  Are we ready for the end of time?  Do we desire the reaping of the angels?  Do we suppose we are prepared for judgment?

In the Gospel passage we heard this morning, Jesus describes the signs of the coming of the kingdom, and tells his disciples to be attentive to those signs, even as they are attentive to the signs of the seasons.  “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.”  More than once, our Lord suggests that although the time is not yet fulfilled, we should know that God is near, and his purposes are close at and hand.  I suppose it’s not much different in the Serengeti: the lion does not need to strike in order for the herd to move, being near is close enough.

If the portents Jesus told of do not appear, nevertheless, we are not without many other signs of the season that a new migration is beginning: the Advent wreath with its candles, the violet vestments, and the grey December sky, and the great hymns reminding us that lo, he comes, so long expected.  But as long as we remain casual observers of the great migration, we will never know what happens next.

At the entrance to the Serengeti National Park

At the entrance to the Serengeti National Park

I have a photo from my few days in the Serengeti of my friend and me standing at the gate of the Serengeti National Park.  You would think there’d be a long fence line stretching out in either direction to enclose this vast land, but there is not.  And that there would be iron gates that swing shut to lock the lions inside and keep the poachers out, but there are not.  There is a just a sort of pitched roof erected over the dirt road to mark the entrance of this amazing land.  There is almost nothing to prevent you from entering in.

It makes me think how glad I am of all these signs and signals in our own midst: the wreath, and the candles, and the violet, and the hymns, and the grey December sky, and so many others.  And it reminds me that the herd begins its migration simply because it must if the wildebeest are to stay healthy and strong for another year, and so they go when the signs appear.

A lion in the Serengeti

A lion in the Serengeti

And I remember the ancient symbol of the lion, as a sign of God’s presence in the midst of a dangerous world.  And I believe that these Advent signs assure us that the Lion of Judah will appear one way or another.  And this Lion will come not to ravage us, but to our aid and defense; he will save us.  No gates can prevent him from coming to us, and no fence impedes his progress.  So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates!

And I pray the Lion will come to us, and roar!  And I think we can linger no longer at the river’s edge: it is time to go!


Preached by Fr. Sean Mullen

3 December 2017

Saint Mark’s Church, Philadelphia

Posted on December 4, 2017 .

Inherit the Kingdom

“This Jesus, far from saving the world, might struggle to save himself a seat on a crosstown bus.”  (Jason Farago in the New York Times, 15 Nov. 2017, on the auction of Leonardo daVinci’s Salvator Mundi, at auction for $450 million.)

Two men board a crosstown bus at the same place and sit down in seats across from each other.  Each man is carrying something important to him.  One man has a wooden crate, carefully screwed shut, with a sort of canvas handle that has been fashioned and attached to the crate so he can carry it like a suitcase.  The other man has a canvas tote bag that cradles a plastic bucket with a lid covering it tightly.  The bucket could hold, maybe 2-3 gallons of liquid, it’s not as large as a five gallon bucket.  It’s contents are sloshing around a little.  

As the bus makes its journey, more people board, and it fills up, but not uncomfortably so.  Eventually a third man takes up a place standing in between the other two men who are seated on either side of the aisle.  Not much distinguishes this third man, who draws no attention to himself, but he is the only person on the bus who is standing.

As the bus travels, without warning there is an enormous flash of light - like an explosion with neither sound nor impact.  It is like the most brilliant flash of lighting you have ever seen, but the sound of thunder never follows.  The passengers are momentarily blinded by the light, and shocked for a moment.  They cannot tell if the bus has stopped moving or is still going.  They can no longer see anything out the windows but a pale blue/whitish glow.  They think they have the sensation of motion, but they cannot tell: is the bus hurtling forward, propelled by some blast?  Or are they dropping into an endless abyss that has swallowed them up?  Or are they standing still.

No one is sick to his stomach.  No one has been flung from her seat.  There is no cry of anguish or alarm - there was no time, no warning, and strangely it seems as though there is nothing to worry about.  You would say that the noise was deafening, except that there was no noise, and although there is no sound, everyone is quite certain that they can hear everything there is to hear around them.  Everyone is still, without being frozen in place.  It is this impossibly odd combination of the simultaneous sensation of tremendous velocity and complete stillness.  And there is the light.

And it’s impossible to say whether time seems to have slowed down, or sped up, or stood still.  Clearly time is not passing at the same rate as it had when each person stepped onto the bus.  Something has happened.  No one can hear his own heartbeat, or her own breathing.  None of them seems to be breathing, none has a pulse.  Maybe they are trapped here in the time between two breaths, between two heartbeats?  But there is the light and the motion and the stillness.

Then there is a sound like a tremendous rush of wind that becomes more like the beating of powerful wings, or helicopter blades.  And now the passengers on the bus have the sensation that they are floating gently down, and they feel as though the bus is being set down someplace.  And once they stop, the sound of the wings or the helicopter blades fades up and away.  The light outside seems to intensify for a moment, and then with a flash it begins to subside to a bearable glare, and a gentle blue sky fills in to soften the glare.  And as they look out the windows, they can see that they have been set down in a broad green meadow which stretches as far as the horizon in every direction.

The man with the wooden crate notices that his crate is still there by his feet, just where he set it.  Like everyone on the bus, he is deeply confused; he has no idea what has just happened or where he is.  The man with the plastic bucket also does not know where he is or what has just happened.  He checks his bucket carefully to see that the contents of it have not spilled. He often seals the lid shut with duct tape when he takes the crosstown bus to prevent leakage of any kind, which would not be good.  But on this occasion he had been running late and had not taken the time to do so.  But no worries, the contents of the bucket are still safely inside.

Everyone is still sitting calmly, almost motionlessly in his or her seat.  Some are listening for a heartbeat or a breath.  They are wondering now, am I dead or alive?  They find themselves wondering whether they should be afraid, and some begin to suspect that indeed they should be.

Only one person moves with confidence, or as though he is not suspended in some in-between state of animation: the man who was standing between the seats.  He has remained standing the entire time.  Before the flash of light, he seemed entirely unremarkable, but now he seems uniquely to have some control of himself, some command of his surroundings, some knowledge of what is going on.  He begins to move.

As he moves, the entire environment around them all begins to shift, like a changing scene in a movie or on a stage, except that the people all stay in place.  The walls of the bus disappear, and the passengers find that they are all seated in comfortable velvet chairs, arranged on two sides of an aisle, like on a bus, or in a church.  They are all seated in the meadow, which extends as far as the eye can see.  There is no sun in the sky, but all is light above the pale blue sky and beyond.

The standing man is now at the head of the aisle, and the passengers, still not sure what is happening, see now that they sit in two groups: one on the right and one on the left.  The driver of the bus appears, and he brings for the standing man a golden throne, which the driver places at the head of the aisle, raised on a little platform.  The throne is glorious, and the man who was standing now takes his seat on it, as the driver seems to float away into the sky with the sound of quietly beating wings or helicopter blades.  And the face of the mysterious man seated on the throne becomes visible to the passengers.  He is rather wan, and his hair is long, falling over his shoulders in long, curled, golden tresses.  He begins to speak:

“My children, your time has come.  Your bodies and your souls have finished their earthly journeys.  The details of what happened to you are unimportant right now; all will be revealed in time.

“I am the Son of the Living God.  I was sent to be your Savior, to be the Savior of the world, and there is no one who is or ever was beyond my grasp, if only you would come when I called you.  Many’s the person who could not hear me call, or who would not.  Many’s the person who refused to do what was so obviously right.  Many’s the person who indulged his own deepest desires, and thought precious little of those in need.  Still, I was sent to all, to everyone.  In the life you lived, the choosing was to be done by you, not by me.

“But here we are on the journey toward the life that awaits beyond the grave.  You have heard that I would come to separate the sheep from the goats, and that the righteous would be rewarded with eternal life, but the unrighteous with eternal punishment.”

At this short speech, the group of those who sit at the left hand of the throne (that is, on the right, as you face the throne), being not entirely unfamiliar with Scriptures, began to shift nervously in their seats.  All except the man with the wooden crate, over whom an apparently inexplicable calm had fallen.

Seeing the quiet assurance of the man with the wooden crate, the Son of Man asks him to rise.  Then he says from the throne,  “My child, you have a look of assurance on your face, while all your neighbors at my left hand, knowing, as they do, something of the Scriptures, have begun to suspect, as they examine their lives perhaps for the first time, that my judgment of them may be hard.  What is the source of your quiet assurance?  Could it be the treasure you carry in that crate?”

“Indeed,” says the man, “it is.”


“Please, then, open it.”

With a quiet smile, the man pulls a screwdriver from his pocket.  He gently lays the crate on its back, and carefully unscrews the face, lifting it from the crate.  Inside, a second layer of protective material has to be removed, and when it is, the man reaches inside and from the crate and lifts out a painting.  Everyone knows as soon as they see it that it is a very famous painting, by the hand of Leonardo da Vinci, and that it had sold at auction for the staggering sum of nearly a half a billion dollars.  And when he lifts the painting up, everyone is even more stunned to see that the face depicted in the painting was the very face of the Man who sits on the throne, with his strange expression, and his golden curls.  And they can see that the Man even holds in his hand a crystal orb, like the one in the painting, although at the moment his other hand (his right) is not raised in blessing.  And he even wears a blue robe of the same lapis lazuli of the robe in the painting, with golden embroidery on it.

Everyone is stunned.  And the man who had just  unpacked this treasure takes a deep bow as he stands before the throne, and says, “My Lord, I paid the sum of $450 million to possess this image of your own face, never knowing what a likeness it truly was.  From my store of great wealth, I used a goodly portion to take possession of this extraordinary painting.  Surely my reward will be great for this act of homage to you, the Savior of the World.”

Calmly, the Son of Man responds, “We shall see.”  

Then he turns to his right, and looks at the man with the bucket that he was carrying inside a canvas tote bag. “My child,” he says, “you seem nervous and uncertain.  You have barely been able or willing to lift your eyes to look at this painting, let alone to look me in the face, as though you are frightened of what might befall you in my Presence.  What is the source of your anxiety?  Could it be whatever you carry in that bucket, that you are so afraid might spill?”

The man with the bucket could barely lift his face to look upon the Son of Man, let alone provide an answer to the question.  He only mumbles and averts his eyes.  So, from the throne the Son of Man speaks again, “Please, open it.”

Nervously, the man kneels down and takes the bucket out of the tote bag.  His fingers fumble as he loosened the lid all around its perimeter.  Gently he pries the lid off the bucket, and as he does, the familiar scent of chicken soup fills the air around them all.  And there is a little giggle of nervous laughter from some who sit watching, when they realize what is in this man’s bucket.  But they do not know what the Son of Man knows.

He speaks, “This man was carrying soup, as he does every week, to feed to those who are hungry.  Sometimes he takes it to a prison.  Sometimes he ladles it out to strangers.  Sometimes he visits the sick with his bucket of soup and his ladle.  Sometimes he brings clothes to those who have not enough to keep them warm.  And always he is careful not to spill a drop.  This bucket of soup cost him less than $20 to make.”  And turning to the man, he looks down and says, “My child, do not be afraid to look upon my face.  Lift up thine eyes, and behold.”

Suddenly the sound of loudly flapping wings or of helicopter blades fills the air, and the sky above them all is filled with sparkling color as varied as the spectrum: with wings, and eyes, and wheels.  And above the sound of the flapping and the rotors, a hymn can be heard being sung by heavenly voices.

And the Son of Man turns to the man with his bucket of soup, and to all those gathered with him at his right hand and said to them, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  (Matt. 25:34)

And the angels of mercy swoop in on those to the right and carry them away to the nearer Presence of the Lord.  And the angels of death swoop in on those to the left and carry them away to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

“And for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” (Ephesians 1:15-18)


Preached by Fr. Sean Mullen

26 November 2017

Saint Mark’s Church, Philadelphia

Posted on November 26, 2017 .