Sermon, Renewal of Vows
April 7 and 8, 2020
The Rt. Rev. Gregory H. Rickel
There are always, every year, some great things to pick up on in these passages as we come together in Holy Week to renew our ordination vows. And yet, this year, is hardly a normal year. In fact, this will mark the first time in my episcopate that we could not hold a face to face Chrism Mass, where we bless the oil for the year. That is difficult. That is different.
Now, My suspicion is that you have plenty of oil, and if you don’t, let me know and we will be able to get you some, but just the same, we will bless oil, at some point, as soon as we can get back to some normality.
No, this year a lot of things that we have believed are important, are not nearly so, maybe even distant considerations we don’t even remember. This year I am drawn especially to those words in the Gospel of John,
"Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—`Father, save me from this hour'?
Now, I have to admit I have wanted to be saved some in these last few weeks. Yes, please, save me from one more Zoom meeting. Save me from feeling imprisoned. Save me from this Groundhog Day feeling I get every morning. Save me from isolation. Save me from leftovers. Save me from fear.
But, then, I also remember, God has saved me from so much more, and empowers me for this hour, and any hour we encounter.
If you haven’t figured it out by now I am not really into the micromanaging God theology. I don’t really subscribe to the “its God’s will” answers or “everything happens for a reason” answers, or even the “if it is meant to be it will be” version of this either.
I have told you on several occasions that I believe more in the premise that the bumper sticker, Shit Happens, is a profound theological statement. And I stand by that today. I don’t believe God had anything specifically to do with this virus, coming now. Infecting you or me, or not. No countries are going to be in God’s favor more than others. No race is better off. It just is.
Equally, I do not believe, as some of our reckless and self absorbed Christian siblings who are so cavalier as to keep meeting in large groups over these days, that God will show US some special favors. I don’t. This blatant exceptionalism, and arrogance, on their part is, in the end, not at all appealing to those who try so desperately to find a way to God, through us, the Church. Frankly, right now especially, it just looks reckless, and arrogant, and stupid.
To say, God will protect those of us who gather to worship, is saying equally, God is somehow damning all of those who are dying on a ventilator, that God is just not as much with them right now. I don’t think the virus cares much either way. It will take the opportunity it has when people gather, be they faithful, or not.
I don’t think courage is deciding not to follow the health authorities, who have pretty much made a good case, that to truly care for one another, we need to stay apart. Courage is a 75 year old priest in Italy, who gave up his ventilator so that someone younger could have it. Why did God not save him?
Because that is not the way it works.
Courage is going in every day, knowing you are walking right into the virus, surrounded by it, and then going home to your family, frightened that you might just carry it back to them. Courage is continuing to serve your fellow travelers here in ways only you can, and at great risk. It is not courage to risk all of that, to put those very people at greater risk, just so you can put on your show. Courage is what all of you are doing, letting it go, this year, modeling staying at home, in order to love and care, and not engage, and not, as in most years during this week, nearly killing ourselves with our Pelagian bent toward perfection.
God does not need our worship, our prayers, or any of the things we are missing right now. God needs us to love, one another, and ourselves enough, to sacrifice what is important to us, what brings us closer to God. God needs us to get some new priorities for this moment.
What I do believe, and always have, and always will, is that God is present in it all, with us, as close as every breath. Certainly, our souls are troubled in many ways right now. Certainly, we have had those moments, during this crisis, with more to come, where we might, in our own way, ask God to save us from this hour.
But those pleas, I don’t believe, are going to change the reality of what we are dealing with. What the prayers will do is help us get through this, to remember who we are, and whose we are, and to remind us of the victory over death that these very days, this Holy Week, is set to remind us of.
We have been challenged in these days to reimagine what Church is, what faith on this planet means, of how we navigate a new way of life. Through that, we have also learned some things about ourselves, what precious symbols, traditions, rituals, spaces, we need, and perhaps we are learning how much we need them, and are even starting to wonder why?
Things won’t be as they normally are this week, and yet, that I believe, can still be a great gift. I believe we have some amazing new truths to discover through all of this, that will make whatever we do, or become, or choose after all of this, much richer.
Because what cannot change, and what cannot be changed, is the powerful presence of God, with us, no matter what befalls us. What cannot change, and will not be changed by this virus, or any other calamity, is our eternal salvation in God.
Easter will come this year, just as it has in all the years before. It will arrive, to whatever alleluias we can give, wherever we give them, with whomever we are with when it comes. It will not be stopped.
It is true, now, at this time, our souls are troubled, and we all are ready to be saved from this hour. But, I hope you will hold that next line closer than perhaps you ever have, in this week, as you navigate it, with all of its joys, but also with all of your insecurities, all of your concerns, all of your feelings of helplessness, and uselessness, during these penultimate days for us Christians, The days when we usually work the hardest and are the most tired, and now, when we are being asked, for the good of all humankind, to let that go. In all of that remember that next line in the Gospel today,
No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.
We are here, you and me. We are here to live this hour, to love in this hour, to celebrate in this hour, to find ways to connect and to share and to be in community, in this hour.
My colleagues, I hope you don’t need a Governor to tell you, you are essential. If you don’t know that, please hear it from me. You are essential, you are essential to our church, to our community, to this planet, and to me.
Let’s, together, even though apart, live through these days, knowing, fully, joyfully, that we do not need saving from this hour. God has already saved us, long ago. We don’t need saving from this hour, we need only to open our eyes, and see God at work in this hour, and to share that, and live that, and be that. This is our liturgy for this Holy Week.
You, each of you, is exactly what God needs and wants for this hour. I thank each and every one of you, for who you are, for all you do, for this vocation you have said yes too, and for which we renew together today. Bless each and everyone one of you, each of you, precious, beloved, of God.
Dear Ones, I have offered these words in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +Greg
The Rt. Rev. Gregory H. Rickel is the VIII Bishop of Olympia, the Episcopal Church in Western Washington State. He has been the bishop here since September, 2007.