Good Friday 2022

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of 

St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts

Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 15, 2022 (Good Friday)

One of the most moving Good Friday images I have ever witnessed was longtime parishioner Mary Ellen Hatfield coming up to venerate the cross on her last Good Friday on this earth. Her son Steve helped her slowly navigate the chancel steps on the long journey towards the altar. He stayed by her side as she knelt down and kissed the rough wooden cross that is placed just inside the communion rail. And then he helped her slowly and steadily return to her pew.

Partly it was her determination, that literally nothing in the world would stop her from encountering the cross on Good Friday; partly it was Steve’s love for his mother playing out in such a tangible way; partly it was Mary Ellen’s deep faith as she literally went to the foot of the cross knowing that she would soon be with her Lord in paradise; and partly it was Mary Ellen’s deep and infectious faith. It transcended hardship and physical pain and entered the world of the joyful and mystical.

It’s this spirit of walking with our Lord that feels like a holy thing to reflect upon on Good Friday. For Mary Ellen, that walk through the church to venerate the cross was both literal and theological. It was both an arduous pilgrimage and a mission of conviction. And the point is, that short walk was a journey. A journey with and to her Lord.

And for us, Good Friday is also a journey. A journey with and to our Lord. The crucifixion of Jesus reminds us that this is not always an easy journey. The life of faith is littered with disappointments. We die to all sorts of things in our lives. To sin, hopefully. But how often do our hopes and desires perish before our very eyes? Dreams go unrealized and wither on the vine. Aspirations fail to come to fruition. Relationships fade away and fall apart. Our mortal bodies betray us, and sometimes so do our minds. Death is as much a part of life as breathing. 

Jesus is intimately aware of our suffering, of our broken dreams and broken hearts and broken bodies and broken lives. His own body wasn’t broken in order to make us feel better, but to walk with us in our brokenness. To join us in our struggles. To love us as we wobble our way through our lives — hesitantly, haltingly, helplessly.

On this day we aren’t merely passive observers of Jesus’ death, we are active participants in the journey. Because Good Friday is an integral part of our own journey. The pain is our pain; the death is our death; the grief is our grief. And so, we grow weary right along with Jesus as he makes his way up to Calvary. We stumble right along with Jesus as he falls under the great weight of the cross. We are mocked and reviled right along with Jesus as he faithfully follows the will of his Father. We are in his struggles and he is in ours. Walking with us, comforting us, loving us. Like Mary Ellen, we journey with and to our Lord.

The good news of this day, the “good” in Good Friday, is that we will get to our destination. Our journey leads us directly to the foot of the cross. It leads us to Jesus. And it is in Jesus that we can lay our burdens down. It is in Jesus that we realize we don’t have to bear this heavy load alone. It is in Jesus that we can find rest for our weary souls. 

Jesus says to us, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” It is at the foot of the cross that we find rest and refreshment, even amid the struggles of the journey.

We have made it to the foot of the cross. Our journey has led us to Jesus.


Palm Sunday 2022

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of 

St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts

Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 10, 2022 (Palm Sunday)

In the aftermath of the famous 1963 March on Washington, 60% of Americans disapproved of the march and only 23% approved of it. Think about that. We all look back on it now and can almost see ourselves in that massive crowd on the mall, cheering on Dr. King and his dream. Nobody thinks they would have been on the wrong side of history. And yet so many were. Either because of their outright opposition to racial equality or simply their apathy. The desire to keep the national boat from getting rocked was often a stronger pull than looking in a mirror of complicity and silence. 

Everyone stood in a crowd during the Civil Rights era. Some were in the crowd on the mall that day, and spent their lives working for racial justice. Some were in the crowds that berated and mocked and beat and spit upon the Freedom Riders. And many were in the crowd on the sidelines, not wanting to get involved, not wanting anything to change, really.

This is also a day about being in crowds. Because on this day, we are part of the crowd. We are part of that mass of humanity who simply went along. Sure, we cried “hosanna” when Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. That was exciting. This rockstar of a teacher was rolling into town and people were jazzed to greet him. They had projected all sorts of their own hopes and dreams and desires upon him. He would save us from oppression, he would fight the powers that be, he would lift us up and out of the mire in which we found ourselves. These were heady times, full of anticipation and hope. And it was exhilarating to toss down those palm branches along his path. We were part of something bigger than ourselves.

But then we were also part of the crowd that cried, “crucify him.” When we realized there was a personal cost to our association with this Jesus, we turned. Rapidly and without hesitation, we changed our tune from “hosanna” to “crucify.” This is a day about being in crowds. 

But this transcends mere mob mentality. We cry “crucify” and we become complicit in our Lord’s death. Which is hard to reconcile. Because we are good people. We’re trying our best. And yet our sinfulness makes us complicit, and Palm Sunday is a day to give voice to this in a tangible way. 

Let’s be honest, it’s hard to cry “crucify.” It sticks in our throats like a bitter pill. We say it, but we tell ourselves we don’t really mean it. And yet, we say it anyway. We are compelled to say it, even as it nearly chokes us. As painful as it is. “Crucify.”

Now, we can’t read the Passion narrative and pretend Easter isn’t coming. The Resurrection is the only thing that allows us to stomach that hard-to-say word. “Father,” Jesus prays, “forgive them. For they know not what they do.” That’s us. We know not what we do and we are forgiven. And so even amid our conflicted natures, even amid our sinfulness, even amid our helplessness, Jesus holds out both hope and forgiveness.

It’s true that we rotate in and out of crowds throughout our lives. Some are admirable, others are deplorable; some are meaningful, others are meaningless. In this crowd that has gathered before Pontius Pilate, we stand together with every Christian who has ever lived. By virtue of our human nature, we find ourselves on the wrong side of history. Father, forgive us. For we know not what we do.

Good Friday 2021

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of  St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts Preached by the Rev. Timothy Schenck on April 2, 2021 (Good Friday)

I’ve always loved the term “rubbernecking.” It’s a wonderfully illustrative, even cartoonish description of turning to watch something that really isn’t our business. I don’t love what people normally see when they rubberneck. I mean, it’s easy enough to feel a sense of schadenfreude when the guy who just raced passed you on the highway gets pulled over for speeding a mile or two down the road. But slowing down to stare at a grisly accident is hard to see, even as it is nearly impossible to look away.

I get the sense there was a lot of rubbernecking during that first Holy Week. With all the drama surrounding Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion, there were ample peak rubbernecking opportunities. The forces of empire and the seeds of rebellion, the mix of religious conviction and charges of heresy, the passions aroused on all sides — all of this came together to create a highly-charged environment with an intoxicating swirl of emotion. It must have been hard for even the most causal observer to turn away.

And, regardless of where they stood on the question of this particular religious movement — whether they viewed Jesus as a misguided zealot, a dangerous heretic, or the Messiah — people couldn’t help but be drawn into the drama of what was unfolding before their very eyes. They simply could not avert their gazes.

But for people of faith, the crucifixion of our Lord, isn’t merely interesting or captivating from a detached, observational point of view. Just as it was for Jesus’ closest friends, Good Friday is an integral part of our story. The pain is our pain; the death is our death; the grief is our grief.

In some ways we’ve gotten desensitized to the full violence of the cross. You can buy sweet little silver crosses at Kay Jewelers, you can spot crosses on bumper stickers, they’re seen on the steeples of picturesque white clapboard New England churches. They’ve become so ubiquitous  as emblems of personal and communal faith, that the shock value has worn off. But it’s not just the violence, it’s the symbolism and meaning behind crucifixion itself that demands our attention.

We forget that crucifixion was not the normal means of capital punishment in the ancient Roman world. It was typically reserved for a certain class of criminal.  The crucified class included those deemed especially worthless by the powers that be, which is why Roman citizens themselves were exempt from such a fate. 

Crucifixion was used exclusively for outsiders — for slaves; for enemy combatants; for insurrectionists. Victims were stripped naked and put on public display. Besides excruciating pain, crucifixion carried with it the stigma of dishonor and humiliation. And so to be crucified, was to be dehumanized, shamed, and literally lifted up as an example of all that was wrong with the world. 

So in a very real sense, for Jesus, crucifixion was his final earthly act of allegiance with the poor, the marginalized, the hopeless, the devalued, and the scorned. After casting in his lot with tax collectors and sinners, bringing good news to the poor and downtrodden, pushing back against the hypocrisy, privilege, and abuse of authority, it’s not surprising, really, that he ends up dying among those he so lovingly and compassionately served. Jesus lived among the outcasts, and Jesus died among the outcasts.

I’m reminded of the story of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the young white Union officer who commanded the all-black 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, made famous in the 1989 film Glory. In 1863, Shaw was killed leading a fierce but ultimately unsuccessful charge on Fort Wagner near Charleston, South Carolina. The Confederates dumped his body in a mass grave with the rest of his unit’s dead soldiers, figuring that would be the utmost insult, burying a white man with a bunch of black bodies. 

As word of the regiment’s bravery started to spread, a movement to return Shaw’s body for a proper burial in Boston with full honors was initiated. But Shaw’s parents, avowed abolitionists, would not have it. Shaw’s father wrote to Union officials, “We would not have his body removed from where it lies surrounded by his brave and devoted soldiers.” 

This isn’t a perfect parallel to Jesus being crucified among those he sought to lift up. There’s danger in viewing Colonel Shaw as a white savior, as many even well-intentioned people initially did. But that’s not how Shaw viewed his role, nor is it how his parents saw it. They objected to the design of the famous bronze relief that stands on Beacon Street showing Shaw on horseback, elevated above his soldiers. The true memorial, however, is Shaw’s unmarked final resting place, lying among those he loved and respected.

Through the shame and scandal of the cross, Jesus placed his broken body between God’s vision of a beloved community where all are equally valued and loved, and the sinful reality of the human condition where some are loved and elevated, and others are derided and rejected and treated as less than.Which is why you can’t fully face and embrace the power of the cross without confronting and condemning racism and sexism and every other human construct that stands between God’s vision and our reality.

In the end, the cross stands as the ultimate act of love. The attempt to strip Jesus of everything — his dignity, his power, his beliefs, his life — only reveals that God’s love is everything. In one way or another, we are all outcasts and sinners. And God loves us anyway. God casts his lot in with us, despite all that we do or fail to do. And God loves us anyway. Through belief in Jesus Christ, God forgives us and lifts us up and loves us anyway.

All of which is why, when it comes to the crucifixion, we can’t just rubberneck. As people of faith, we are not merely interested bystanders. The cross isn’t something to casually gaze upon, but to venerate with all of our being. That’s what Good Friday is all about. A reminder that hope and joy and love sprout forth even from the hard wood of the cross.

Don’t avert your eyes from the pain of this day. Stare intently and intentionally into it. And know that this act of love is not just for all of humanity, but also very specifically for you.

Palm Sunday 2021

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of 

St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts

Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on March 28, 2021 (Palm Sunday)

If I’m honest, Palm Sunday is one of those days when I particularly miss being with all of you. At St. John’s, we seem to channel a bit of the excitement that must have marked that original, long ago day. There’s always a buzz in the air as we gather outside before the service. Often there’s a chill in the air as well. But we’re hardy New Englanders, so we bundle up and congregate in front of the church to bless the palms, listen to the choir, and then process in with branches held high, as we belt out “All Glory, Laud, and Honor.”

Once inside, the liturgy pivots and we rapidly move from shouts of “Hosanna” to cries of “Crucify;” we go from triumph to tragedy; from palms to Passion. This year, however, we’re going to pause, and sit a little bit longer with Jesus’ entrance into the great city of Jerusalem. We often move so quickly past it, that the palm portion of the service ends up feeling like little more than a preamble to the Passion, an overture before the crucifixion. 

Now, we’ll get to the Passion reading; in fact we’ll end with it, offering it up as a stark entrance into Holy Week. And I’m pleased that this year we’re partnering with St. Mary’s in Dorchester to share Mark’s Passion gospel over Zoom. So there’s at least one benefit of doing Palm Sunday online.

But first, we’re going to wade into the crowd that gathered to welcome Jesus. We’ll grab some virtual palm branches, crane our necks to catch a glimpse of this man we’ve heard so much about, and surround ourselves with the pent-up joy that comes bursting forth with shouts of Hosanna and palm branches spread along his path.

The deep sense of longing is so palpable among our friends and neighbors here in the so-called City of David. This Jesus is, after all, a descendent of King David himself. And as such, his royal lineage makes him an heir to the throne. Which is why we’re all shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord — the King of Israel!” The long-awaited Messiah is coming, finally, to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the heavy yoke, to let the oppressed go free, to shake off the shackles of Roman imperial occupation. 

And those chains have been so heavy for so long. The Roman occupation was fraught with cruelty — economic, cultural, religious, and psychological oppression. It’s no wonder such profound hope was placed in the person of their perceived savior. The word “Hosanna” literally means “save us!” These shouts were hopeful, desperate cries for salvation. To be saved from the painful circumstances of the present time, to overthrow the cruel oppression under which they lived each moment of their lives.

And as Jesus approached, as the cries reached a fevered pitch, the only remaining question, was how? How would this long-anticipated salvation take place? Would this Jesus come with a mighty army, brandishing a sword? Would he come from on high with clouds descending in a supernatural show of force? I mean, those are the only two options here, right?

So it must have been at least a bit disconcerting to see their long-awaited hero riding in on a donkey rather than something a bit more…regal. Maybe not six white horses exactly, but at least a beast with some bearing. And instead of a well-equipped militia, he’s followed by a rag-tag group of peaceniks. While the hopes and expectations surrounding the Messiah’s entrance into Jerusalem may have felt triumphant, Jesus’ entrance itself left a little something to be desired. 

After the initial euphoria, you can almost hear the crowd muttering in disappointment as they dispersed. Some must have been utterly devastated by the dawning realization that nothing would ever actually change in their lives. Others must have left angry, feeling duped and disappointed. And you begin to see how, just a few days later, Hosanna, “save us,” could have easily morphed into Crucify, “kill him.”

But rather than anti-climactic, as it must have felt to many in that crowd, this triumphal entry is actually quite revealing. Jesus’ ministry isn’t about pomp and circumstance. Excitement, sure. A new way of being, yes. Hopeful anticipation, absolutely. But, much to our own chagrin at times, it’s never been about the expectations of others. Or our own expectations. 

And that’s hard for us. So often we tend to project our own images of what we seek in a Savior onto Jesus. We seek to form the Messiah in our own image — theologically, politically, racially — which is little more than an attempt to control and domesticate God. And that never ends well.

Which is why, when it comes to the nature of God, time and time again, our own desires and expectations are overturned. It begins with the Son of God being born in a barn and ends with him strung up on a tree. That’s not how we would have written it up. That’s not the script we would have come up with if we were imagining the story of God living among us. Let’s face it, we wouldn’t have stuck him on a donkey.

And yet, as he’s riding on that slow and humble animal with the crowds cheering, Jesus’ focus remains on what is to come. It’s not to revel in the moment or to enjoy the adulation, but to steel himself for what will soon be at hand. He travels this road with his eyes wide open to what awaits him in the coming days. For he knows where his unconditional love for humanity will take him. He knows that crossing the powers of tradition, hierarchy, and privilege will leave him hanging on a cross. He knows that breaking the barriers that divide people one from another will lead to the breaking of his own body. 

He also knows that, despite all worldly evidence to the contrary, human weakness is no match for divine love. Oh, it will triumph in the short term. The powers that be will execute an innocent man. We know how that turns out. But it’s not the end of the story.

And so the entrance into Jerusalem, with all the shouts and all the exaltation, serves only to highlight this disparity between our desires and God’s reality; between our hopes for a Savior and God’s saving grace. That’s what the week to come is really all about. And I encourage you to embrace it heartily, to walk it fully, and to enter into it with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your soul.

Maundy Thursday 2020

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of 
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 9, 2020 (Maundy Thursday)

Well, this is one way to get out of having your feet washed on Maundy Thursday. Or at least avoiding that inner struggle about whether or not you should embrace the discomfort of taking your shoes and socks off in church, because you know that’s kind of the point, or whether you should just stay in your pew because, well, you’re pretty sure you forgot to clip your toenails. 

So that’s one “advantage” of attending this service virtually, I guess. And, of course, you’re welcome to go soak your feet after you log off.

You may know that the word “maundy,” in Maundy Thursday, comes from the Latin 92812152_10157525124568600_9039642192154460160_nmandatum, meaning commandment. It’s where we get the English word “mandate.” And we call this day Maundy Thursday because after washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

That’s quite a charge, and it’s significant that Jesus calls this a “commandment.” This was a word dripping with meaning for the disciples — the Ten Commandments, after all, stood at the very heart of the Law of Moses. So the fact that Jesus points to the call to love one another as a commandment highlights its importance. For Jesus, love is not optional. Maundy Thursday isn’t Suggestion Thursday; it’s New Commandment Thursday, and that commandment is abundantly clear: “love one another as I have loved you.”

Over the next several days, love will be embodied in Jesus Christ. Love will be betrayed; love will be mocked; love will be crucified; love will be buried; love will conquer death. That’s the power of love. That’s the power of this faith which was entrusted to the disciples at the Last Supper, the same faith that has been entrusted to you and me.

This evening we join with Jesus and the disciples in that Upper Room. We come bearing and sharing all of the burdens of uncertainty and fear, of hesitation and trepidation. And we listen for the voice of the one who calmed the storm, the one who healed the sick, the one who raised the dead. Above the din of our anxiety and all that rages around us, we listen for this voice. The voice of Jesus. And this voice speaks of hope. This voice speaks of life. This voice speaks of love.

Like many of you, I have been taking walks around town the last few weeks. Most days, Bryna and I try to get outside after yet another Zoom call and more attempts to find toilet paper and dog food online. And one of the things I love is running into fellow parishioners and waving or having a brief chat from a safe distance or watching their kids ride by on bikes. And what truly gladdens my heart in these brief conversations is hearing about how people in this community are taking care of one another. Of making phone calls and checking in on those who live alone and running errands and writing notes. Over the past weeks, I have seen and heard so many examples, both big and small, of people loving one another as Jesus loves us. 

By demonstrating our love for one another in seemingly ordinary ways during these extraordinary times, we have an opportunity to let the world know — and to remind ourselves — that we are disciples of Jesus Christ.

The thing is, we need this new commandment, this mandatum, now more than ever. When the impulse is to hoard, Jesus says give it away; when the impulse is to tribalism, Jesus says build beloved community; when the impulse is to fear, Jesus says love.

We are living in a moment when the world is crying out for a new commandment, a new way of being, a new way of loving. And all we have to do to look for a path forward is to gaze upon the actions in an Upper Room in Jerusalem on the last night of our Lord’s earthly life. That’s where we see love enacted and embodied. The question for all of us on this night is how will we practice mandatum in the weeks and months ahead? How will we take the spirit of the Upper Room out into the world? Because that’s our charge, that’s our commandment.

Although we are worshipping virtually right now, there is nothing “virtual” about our faith. This world needs the love of Jesus more than ever in this moment. It needs us all to demonstrate the love of Jesus. It needs you to share the love of Jesus with your neighbor. Not with hugs or washing feet or even, and this pains me more than you know, by sharing the Eucharist. But by praying for one another, by protecting the most vulnerable among us, by sharing our resources with those in need, by reaching out to those who are isolated and alone, by supporting those who are on the front lines of this pandemic by caring for the sick or packing groceries or seeking a vaccine. 

The world needs the love of Jesus right now and you, my friends, you have been entrusted with the new commandment, issued on this very night, to love one another as Jesus loves us. And make no mistake, it is the love of Jesus, as made known on the night before he died for us, that will see us through. 

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2020

Good Friday 2019

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of 
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 19, 2019 (Good Friday)

A few years ago a modern sculpture suddenly appeared at World’s End. To see it, you had to enter the park, go over a footbridge, walk through a tree-lined path, come down a big hill, past what I consider one of the greatest views of the Boston skyline, and onto what’s known as “the bar,” that thin strip of trail with water on either side that connects the inner part of the nature preserve to the outermost section, the area that truly does feel like the end of the world.

I remember setting out for a walk with Bryna on a beautiful, crisp fall day to revel in the beauty of World’s End, one of the great gifts of living on the South Shore. And I admit it was a bit jarring to encounter modern art amid the natural beauty of God’s creation. The shiny, reflective, mirrored steel panels were arranged in a spiral, large enough to walk through and in and around. 

The art installation, by a Danish artist named Jeppe Hein, was provocative and c946feda7a17423acontroversial — I’m pretty sure letters to the editor of the Hingham Journal were involved. And I think that was precisely the point. It certainly got me talking as we descended the hill and the sculpture first came into view. I think my initial words to Bryna were something along the lines of, “What is that monstrosity?” 

But after visiting World’s End several more times that fall and intentionally spending some time with the sculpture, it started to grow on me. Or if not grow on me, I came to at least appreciate what the artist was trying to do.

The sculpture reflected back the natural beauty, allowing you to take in the trees and water and changing light in new ways. Depending on the time of day and the tides and the weather, the sculpture offered a shifting, ever-changing perspective. Engaging with the art and walking through it as a labyrinth, allowed me to experience World’s End as if for the first time. And that was a gift. 

It also didn’t hurt to learn that it was not a permanent installation, and would only be on display for one year.

As we gather to gaze upon the hard wood of the cross on Good Friday, I invite you to envision the cross as a mirror. Allow it to reflect back the pain of the world; the brokenness of the human condition, the fear and violence of war, the tragedies of natural disaster, and the abuse we inflict upon one another. Allow it to reflect back your own pain; the hurts and suffering of your life, the setbacks of health and age, the crippling anxiety that threatens to tear you down, the isolation and loneliness that keeps you from experiencing joy and the fullness of life.

Like the mirrored sculpture at World’s End, we experience the cross in a kaleidoscope of shifting perspectives over the course of our lifetimes. Depending on what’s happening in our lives, the cross is a symbol of suffering or hope or grief or joy. The once-and-for-all act of salvation accomplished upon the cross is experienced by us in different ways, even as it remains constant as the source of God’s love and grace.

And in the mirrored cross of Christ, we see ourselves. For better, for worse. In all our pain, in all our joy. There are times when we want to avert our eyes, but those are the times we must gaze upon it even more intently and with greater focus. 

Because when we do, what is reflected back is the very hope of the world. The love that God has not just for all of creation, but for you. In all your brokenness. In all your unworthiness. In all your sinfulness. Jesus stretches out his arms of love on the hard wood of the cross to usher you into his loving embrace. That is what is revealed in the mirrored cross of Christ: God’s undying love for humanity; God’s undying love for you.

Hein’s mirrored sculpture was titled “A New End.” And in many ways, that’s what Good Friday is: a “new end.” Jesus’ last words before he bows his head and gives up his spirit are “It is finished.” And at one level, it is finished. Jesus has been strung up on a tree to die, murdered by the Roman authorities, another minor rebellion crushed, and that’s that. 

But it is finished only in one sense. Because Good Friday is also a “new end.” And so what is finished in Jesus’ dying breath is merely his earthly ministry. The new end of the Christian faith brings this movement of the Messiah to a higher plane. One that will only be fully revealed to the scattered disciples on the day of resurrection.

On Good Friday, the light of hope stands in stark relief to the darkness of despair. Our suffering is reflected back in Christ’s suffering. But our glory is reflected back in Christ’s glory. That’s the “new end” of the Christian faith. That’s the joy of our salvation. That’s the good news of the mirrored cross.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2019

Maundy Thursday 2017

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 13, 2017 (Maundy Thursday)

If I had to title my sermons, and I’m always so thankful this is not a practice in the Episcopal Church, this one would be called, “God loves us, warts and all. No, literally.” Because when it comes to Maundy Thursday, the focus is so often on our feet. And that’s not necessarily something we’re comfortable with. Yet God does indeed love us warts, callouses, blisters, corns, hang nails, and all.

That’s what Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper reminds us of in a verywashing-feet-web tangible way. Now, it would be easy enough to just leave the act of foot washing in the realm of the theoretical or the spiritual. After all, this story is really about love, not clean feet. But tonight we are actually going to wash one another’s feet. Why? Because Jesus is pretty clear when he says, “just as I have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”

I realize this isn’t a natural act. Taking off your shoes in a public place other than the beach or a pool can make us supremely uncomfortable. It breaks all our cultural norms and notions of social decorum. And there’s a vulnerability inherent in submitting to such an intimate act with someone you may hardly even know.

But we’re not alone in this discomfort. The foot washing that took place on the night before Jesus’ crucifixion also violated societal norms and pushed against the disciples’ very notion of propriety. Though for slightly different reasons. It was customary for feet to be washed when entering someone’s home. Wearing sandals and living in a hot, sweaty, sandy climate made this a practical gesture of hospitality. So it wasn’t that the disciples were shy about the act of having their feet washed. Rather, their discomfort stemmed from who was washing their feet. This was something done by a servant, not a master. And in their teacher-student relationship with Jesus, one who had been further identified as their “lord,” they should have been the ones washing Jesus’ feet, not the other way around. And so the gesture was seen as wildly unconventional and even offensive.

There’s a reason Peter so strongly resists when Jesus bends to wash his feet. He’s shocked and perhaps even embarrassed for the one he’s identified as the “anointed one of God.” It’s beneath the dignity of so lofty a figure. Peter cries out, ‘You will never wash my feet!” But Jesus encourages him saying, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” And Peter consents.

This very much reminds me of the encounter with John the Baptist when Jesus shows up at the Jordan River and asks John to baptize him. John basically says, “What are you nuts? You’ve come here to be baptized by me, but you’re the one who should be baptizing me!” But Jesus encourages him saying that it is proper in order to “fulfill all righteousness.” And John consents.

And so from the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry we see him overturning conventional wisdom and flipping cultural norms. And in both cases he uses water — the most basic element on the planet, a symbol of purity and new life — to make his broader point.

Jesus often does things that push against our natural inclinations. Love tends to bring us into such places. And for us, that’s what the foot washing represents. Following Jesus is not always comfortable. And this evening we encounter that face-to-face.

In a few moments we will invite you to come forward and have your feet washed and then stay and wash the feet of the next person in line. Some of you will choose to stay safely in your pews, with your laces doubled-knotted. And I understand that. No one is compelled to participate. It personally took me years of attending Maundy Thursday services before I mustered the courage to take off my shoes and join in. I still remember walking down the cold, stone floor at my home parish in Baltimore feeling quite awkward and out of place. But finally doing so unlocked such trust and evoked a letting go of control that served me well throughout a moving Holy Week experience. And I do wish for you the same this evening and throughout the next few days. Even if, or especially if, it takes you way out of your comfort zone.

So, will you do as Jesus commanded and allow your feet to be washed? Will you embody Jesus’ call to love one another as he loved us and wash another’s feet? That’s the invitation of this night.

And while foot washing may be optional, remember that in the Christian faith, love is not optional. Jesus gives us a new commandment to love one another as he himself loved us. A commandment to love, not a suggestion to love. And there’s a difference. The very word “commandment” is so identified with the Law of Moses, the 10 Commandments. How audacious, then, for Jesus to present a new commandment.

But the foot washing, the institution of the eucharist, the entire Last Supper is all about lovingly doing this “in remembrance of me.” It is rooted in love. May this night be an entrance into the ever-unfolding drama of God’s love for you — warts and all.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck

Palm Sunday 2017

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 9, 2017 (Palm Sunday)

Well, that all turned rather abruptly. From Hosanna to Crucify in the blink of an eye. This crowd that had greeted Jesus with such enthusiasm, now calls for his very life.

And while we often skip over the parade of palms that marks Jesus’ triumphal entry into1999_10208680678005109_7187044833214358620_n Jerusalem, it’s worth pausing for just a moment to reflect upon the euphoria of that day. The sheer joy and jubilation of those welcoming Jesus. There were high hopes for this man, hailed as a savior, welcomed as a king. People had heard the stories, they had witnessed his acts, his words of wisdom were well-known.

And the palms spread along his path were symbols of admiration and adulation. There’s something we love about this image because we think, “Finally, they get it. Finally, Jesus is getting his due. Finally, they recognize Jesus for who he is.” We equate large enthusiastic crowds with validation for his message. And that pleases us.

But here’s the problem with this model: Jesus didn’t come into the world to attract admirers. He didn’t seek to build up his base by drawing large crowds. He wasn’t concerned with the optics of success.

No, Jesus didn’t seek admirers but followers. He sought people who would follow him not just when things were going well, but when things didn’t go according to plan; not just when things were joyful and euphoric but when things turned dark and tragic. And they do.

This coming week we must ask ourselves whether we will be admirers of Jesus or followers of Jesus. Holy Week brings us face-to-face with the question of whether we are content to call ourselves people of faith when it’s on our terms or whether we are disciples of Jesus willing to follow him when it’s inconvenient or difficult or painful. Are we fair-weather Christians who love to wave palms around and proclaim “Hosanna” or are we disciples of Jesus who recognize our complicity by crying, “Crucify?”

It’s easy enough to follow Jesus when things are going well. When life is smooth. When the parade is heading down the street and we’re surrounded and buoyed by the support of others. It’s harder when life takes a turn. And there’s a health crisis or a relationship fades or we’re confronted with conflict at work or home. Jesus knew full well about life taking a turn. That’s what this day is all about as we move from Hosanna to Crucify.

Yes, we can and should admire Jesus. But if we stop there, we’re missing the invitation to truly transform our lives. Soren Kierkegaard, the 19th century Danish philosopher, writes about the difference between being an admirer and a follower of Jesus: “A follower strives to be what he admires. An admirer, however, keeps himself personally detached. He fails to see that what is admired involves a claim upon him, and thus he fails to be or strive to be what he admires.”

The Christian life is not an intellectual pursuit. It is about the entirety of our souls. We can’t follow Jesus at a safe, emotionally-detached distance. We can surely admire him that way and that’s a good first step. But Jesus wants all of us, not just part of us. To follow Jesus takes heart and soul and mind and full immersion.

So, the invitation has been extended. How will you respond? That’s the question we live with every single moment of our lives. Will you keep your distance or fully engage with Jesus? Will you be willing to make sacrifices or will you play it safe? The possibility of radical transformation awaits as we prepare to walk the way of the cross. As we prepare to follow Jesus.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2017

Good Friday 2016

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on March 25, 2016 (Good Friday)

“Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches, and weapons.”

There is a lot of violence in our lives. Murder, mayhem, misdeeds. Fortunately, at least for the vast majority of us, most of it doesn’t affect us personally. Violence happens to other people. Or on television. It happens in bad neighborhoods. Or in the Middle East. Or in Belgium. You can see it on the news. You can watch murder on demand. Corpses abound on our screens and in our consciousness. There is a lot of violence in our lives.

“Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, and struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear.”

The problem, of course, is that we can too easily become desensitized to violence — both fictionalized and real — while living in the comfort and safety of our South Shore living rooms. No, we don’t live in a war-torn part of the world. And while gun violence is a daily issue mere miles from here, it is not something that consumes our everyday thoughts. Occasionally violence does break into our lives, but contrary to the images we regularly see, it’s the exception rather than the rule.

“Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?’”

But this de-sensitivity to violence has a direct impact on our own spiritual lives, one that is magnified on Good Friday. Because the violence of the cross can become just another murder that takes place “out there” beyond our emotional connection. One that took place 2,000 years ago in what can feel like a galaxy far, far away.

“So the soldiers, their officers, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him.”

On this dark day in the Christian year, I encourage you to take Jesus’ death personally. To allow it to spark outrage. To acknowledge the pain at the core of your soul. To grieve for a beautiful life cut short. To internalize the grief. To rage against the injustice. To make it personal.

“When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’”

Because when you take the crucifixion of Jesus personally, it allows you to take the resurrection of Jesus personally. When we make Christ’s suffering personal, the journey to the empty tomb becomes personal. Insurrection leads to resurrection. Like two sides of a divine coin, we can’t have one without the other.

Yet for as much as we are consumers of violence in our daily lives, when violence becomes personal, we look away to avoid the pain. That’s human nature, of course. We want to get Good Friday over with so we can get on with the celebration that is to come. Many people avoid coming to church on Good Friday precisely because they don’t want to deal with the hard reality of the cross. They don’t want to deal with Jesus’ death. They want to keep the cross at a safe distance. They don’t want to take it personally.

“Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.”

The truth about the Christian faith in general and this week in particular, is that we want to avert our eyes, and yet we cannot. We want to skip over the betrayal, and yet we cannot. We want to avoid the denial, and yet we cannot. We want to pass over the violence, and yet we cannot. We cannot look away because the betrayal is our betrayal, the denial our denial, the violence is our violence.

We must fix our gaze firmly upon the cross. Not because we’re gluttons for punishment but because it is only through the cross that new life beckons.

“When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’”

We gather at the foot of the cross, not to curl up into the fetal position but to gather strength for the journey ahead. Jesus died to destroy the power of death — that’s the power of the resurrection, yes. But, still, we cannot ignore the violence that takes place on this day we proclaim “good.”

“Then Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.”

I bid you to take this day so personally that it changes you; that it transforms how you live your life. That through it, you are able to live a life free from the paralyzing fear of death. That you’re able to look not past or beyond but through the violence to see what the cross truly is: the ultimate act of divine love.

“There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.”

We gaze at the hard wood of the cross not in isolation or alone but within the context of the resurrection and with one another. As painful as it may be, this is a day of love, not violence. Because unlike the original disciples, we know the end of the story. We don’t have to pretend as if the agony of the cross is the end; as if Jesus’ words “It is finished” are the final chapter. We know that it is NOT finished. The question is what we do about it and where we go from here.

“Then he bowed his head, and gave up his spirit.”

© The Rev. Tim Schenck

Maundy Thursday 2015

A Sermon from the Episcopal Parish of
St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Massachusetts
Preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck on April 5, 2012 (Maundy Thursday)

Tonight we begin a journey. Over the next three days, the Three Great Days, as they are often called, we’ll move from Lent to Easter, from darkness to light, from death to resurrection. We’ll walk with Jesus and his disciples through the last days of his life. We’ll travel to the Upper Room for the Last Supper and foot washing; we’ll enter the Garden of Gethsemane to watch and pray; we’ll meet the one who will betray Jesus; we’ll witness the indignity of Jesus’ trial; we’ll come face-to-face with the agony of the crucifixion as we move to the Foot of the Cross; we’ll gather with the women at the empty tomb to encounter the risen Christ.

And as we begin this journey, it’s important to recognize that we don’t just gather to remember long ago events. This isn’t a dramatic but ultimately benign bedtime story. We’re not passive onlookers standing by to watch the drama unfold before our eyes.

Nor are these three days a re-enactment of past events. We’re not play-acting or role-playing or merely pretending that we’re part of the action. The altar is not a stage; the congregation is not the audience. This isn’t stage left or stage right. We don’t dim the lights to call us back from intermission after the Peace.

Rather it is a journey into the very heart of the salvation story. A story that forms our identity as Christians. A story that is our story. So we’re not just hearing about dramatic events that took place a couple thousand years ago or observing them from a safe distance. As believers, we are deeply embedded in the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are part of the story. Which is precisely why we are all here this evening and it’s why we will gather over the next several evenings.

It’s helpful to think about the services of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil of Easter as one liturgy in three movements. To miss any of them is like missing one act of a three-act play. But when you go “all in” and commit to the fullness of the story, you come out the other side both spiritually renewed and spiritually transformed. That, at least, I can guarantee.

Meister_des_Hausbuches_003You may know that the word “maundy,” from which derives the name “Maundy Thursday,” comes from the Latin mandatum, meaning commandment. It’s where we get the English word “mandate.” And we call this day Maundy Thursday because Jesus gives us a new commandment: That we love one another as Jesus loves us. Or as he put it after washing the disciples feet, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

That’s quite a charge and it’s significant that Jesus calls this a “commandment.” This was a word dripping with meaning for the disciples — the Ten Commandments, the heart of the Law of Moses. So the fact that Jesus points to the call to love one another as an imperative command highlights its importance. Maundy Thursday could just as easily be called “New Commandment Thursday.” Because, for Jesus, love is not optional. This isn’t Suggestion Thursday; it’s New Commandment Thursday and that commandment is abundantly clear: “love one another as I have loved you.”

Love is the central theme that we will carry along on our journey over the next three days. And I encourage you to hold on to this commandment in your heart. Refer to it often as you reflect on the events that unfold. Think about how Jesus loves us unconditionally despite what he endures; view the crucifixion itself as the ultimate act of love that it is. Look at the ways in which the participants in this story live up to the command to love, and the ways in which they fall short. And examine your own life under the same light.

The thing about the foot washing that is so powerful is that Jesus doesn’t just talk abstractly about love. He doesn’t write a position paper on the concept or merely pay it lip service. When Jesus stands up in the middle of the meal, strips off his outer robe, wraps a towel around his waist, takes that pitcher of water in his hand, and bends over to wash the feet of his disciples, his actions become the ultimate example of someone practicing what he preaches. He doesn’t just talk about loving one another, he embodies it — through the foot washing tonight and, soon enough, on the cross.

But there is resistance to this outpouring of love. Peter reacts strongly against what Jesus is doing for several reasons. First, such a ritual washing as a sign of hospitality would have taken place before the meal. Jesus standing up in the middle of the meal to wash the disciples’ feet was out of order. So right from the start there was something not quite right about this; something that stood out as not being “by the book.”

Of greater significance and what made this even more uncomfortable and distasteful for the disciples, was the fact that masters or teachers never washed the feet of those below them in the social order. They were the ones who had their feet washed by servants or students — not the other way around. So there was a complete role reversal going on that bucked all social norms and conventions. By radically overturning the way things were always done, Jesus’ actions highlight that this was indeed a very new and slightly uncomfortable commandment.

In a few moments we, too, will wash one another’s feet in a tangible sign of the mandatum to love one another. And whether you choose to participate or simply observe, the message is the same: we serve one another as Christ himself serves us; we love one another as Christ himself loves us. The foot washing is Jesus’ gift to his disciples, just as the giving of his life will be a gift to the entire world.

So while the foot washing at this service is optional, the commandment to love one another is not. “Love one another as I have loved you.” May this new commandment, remain with you this night and throughout our journey to the cross and beyond.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck