April 5, 2020

Dear Ones of Grace,

Blessed Palm Sunday! Today marks the beginning of our holiest of weeks. While we are separated physically from one another, we are united in prayer, worship, and love.

For the coming days, you will receive worship from Grace Church, and we begin Holy Week this morning with Palm Sunday. Again, I am deeply indebted to Paula and Eric Roper whose skill and generosity is making it possible for us to gather together for our sacred rituals.

All of the services and elements of worship for the coming days have been previously recorded, including this morning’s worship. This was a decision I made to ensure the safety and well-being of all the participants of worship, minimizing risk as much as possible. None of these services are perfect, and we don’t pretend they are. But they are holy, and are a glorious reflection of the brokenness of the Body of Christ. In Holy Week the Church enters into the deep mystery of the Crucified and Risen One, and it is fitting this year that our worship reflects our current state, when our lives are fractured and disrupted. Wounded and anxious, certainly. And yet still rejoicing and holding fast to our shared hope. Our worship in the coming days is dazzling and reverent and imperfect, just like the Body of Christ! 

Wherever you are this morning, we will shout Hosanna together, and welcome again the Lord Jesus who comes to us in great humility and love.

The company of angels
is praising Thee on high
and we with all creation
in chorus make reply

Love, Susan+

March 29, 2020

Dear People of Grace,

How I wish we could all be together in the flesh this morning! But since we are determined to keep one another safe, we will worship this morning as we did last week, with physical distance between us, but knowing ourselves to be gathered together in Jesus, praying and singing and worshipping together in our own homes.

Fr. Asa and I are always so happy when we hear from you, and know how you are doing and how we can pray for each other. Please keep sending updates and prayer requests! You can email them to us, reach out to us on Facebook, call us on the phone, or even send notes in the actual mail! On Monday through Friday we can be found in the Grace Zoom Room at 12:15 where we pray with whomever comes to be with us, and catch up with how folks are doing.

I am deeply indebted to Paula and Eric Roper who have assisted us with our worship. Their work with video production and technical support has been such a blessing to us in these challenging days when we cannot gather in our beloved worship space. We are strictly obeying direction from both the governor and our Bishop, and Paula and Eric are enabling us to be close together in prayer and worship, while steadfastly obeying physical distancing for safety. God is so good to us in sending us so many loving and talented people!

So, knowing that Grace has never really been a building, but has always been the gathering of God’s Holy Ones, let’s have Church this morning!

Love, Susan+

Guidance for our worship & our common prayer

Morning and Evening Prayer services

worship at home

A reflection for the day
from Mother Susan

based on today’s Gospel

A few days ago, I stood in the long line at Shoprite, waiting to pay for my chocolate hummus. Don’t judge! I love that stuff, and facing the possibility of several days in a row with my husband and our two kids (whom I truly adore, of course) all cooped up in the same house, I thought I would need the extra support of the chocolate hummus. 

Around me were lots of people with carts filled with things they needed. Perhaps you, too, have spent recent days scavenging for what you need.

Of course, I didn’t really “need” the plastic tub of chocolate deliciousness. I needed something harder to find. I needed comfort. I needed to know what would happen next for us. I needed to know that everyone I love, and everyone in our community would be safe.

But none of those things were for sale at the grocery store. Instead, I bought plastic tubs of hummus for the coming days. (Oh, and also some popcorn. Because, well, popcorn.)

If I were with you this morning, I would want to talk about the Gospel reading, which is the longest recorded conversation of Jesus in the Bible. And it is with a woman. A Samaritan woman. 

Bear in mind the fact that Samaritans and Israelites were not natural allies, and women and men in the ancient world typically didn’t converse with one another unless they were family. 

For years this story has been taught as a story of Jesus’ capacity for forgiveness. I have even preached that myself, that this story is an example of how wonderful Jesus was to have a conversation with a woman whose personal life was such a mess, and how graciously he forgave her. The reading comes up in Lent, when the Church focuses on repentance, which adds to the temptation to view this as a story of forgiveness.

And in many ways, it is a story about forgiveness, because who among us does not stand in need of God’s forgiveness? But all week long I have thought about this woman, and she demanded that I pay more attention to her.

Life had been a series of hardships and disappointments for her. She had the misfortune of being born a woman during a time when it was neither safe nor particularly fun to be a woman. She was destined to be someone’s property, an object of either desire or scorn, often the victim of violence. She was only useful as long as she was an entertaining diversion, or at least fertile.  And she was possibly neither. 

Why else would you go collect your water in the middle of the day, when the sun is at its most unforgiving? Most women went to the well to get water first thing in the morning, before the sun could turn the clay roads into an oven. They could go in the morning, and be with other women, and catch up on village gossip, exchange ideas, compare notes about husbands and children. You only go to a well in the middle of the day if you want to avoid people. And you only need to avoid people if people have been unkind to you, have made you feel like the village trash.  

When Jesus describes the woman’s domestic situation, we are so quick to make the leap that this woman had a sketchy personal life. When, in fact, she was possibly infertile, and had been left many times, abandoned whenever she couldn’t produce an heir, and the current man in her life had simply refused to marry her.

That is a true wilderness, that kind of life. It’s just as lonely as wandering standing in a long line of anxious people, waiting to pay for the things you think you need in the midst of a global health crisis, when what you really need you can’t put in your grocery cart.  

I didn’t need chocolate hummus, necessarily. And this woman did not need forgiveness, necessarily. 

This woman needed relationship. She needed friendship. She needed understanding. She needed to be seen, and known, and loved.

To this woman who was stranded in a village where she was judged solely for having a hard life, isolated in a desert of shame and loneliness, Jesus have himself. 

Jesus looked at her, perhaps for the first time in her whole life, not as an object, but as a person, a whole and holy person, a person worthy of his undivided attention.  Jesus bathed her with honor.  He told her who she really was. More importantly he told her—not one of his disciples, not even his own mother—he told this woman whose life had been a series of being passed from one man to another—who he really was.

 

The woman said to Jesus, “I know the Messiah is coming.”  But she had little sense that this was a current reality.  Someday, perhaps. In the distant future, possibly.  To some part of the world that was more glorious than her own address, maybe.

And that was when Jesus gave her the gift of himself.


“I am the Messiah,” he told her. 

It was, as far as we know, the first time Jesus ever admitted that aloud to another person.

 

So not only is this longest conversation recorded of the Lord Jesus, but it is arguably his most honest and vulnerable. He told her—and only her—exactly who he was.

When she went back to her village, this woman told others about the conversation she had. Which is remarkable for a woman who was hiding out at the well when she had the least likely chance of running into someone. Even more remarkable, people believed her. She became one of the first evangelists in Samaria. And the first woman evangelist. Period.

After this time with Jesus, she was no longer alone and isolated, and she found ways to give that gift to other people.

We meet her every three years in Lent, this woman who sits by the side of the well in the middle of the day, and we meet her this morning, this woman who knows what it is like to feel lonely and to long for relationship and connection. 

I suspect she is praying for us and with us in these unusual days, where we are trying to figure out what we need, and how to stay connected, and how to be close to one another. She reminds us that Jesus sat with her on the day when she needed to have someone see her and accept her and have a relationship with her. And after that, she found others, and gave them the same gift.  

So maybe we can do that, too.  Even today in this strange wilderness where we find ourselves.  

United with you in love, 

March 15, 2020

telephone

(973) 377-0106

address

4 Madison Avenue

Madison, NJ 07940

 

© 2020 by Grace Episcopal Church. 

  • SoundCloud
  • YouTube
  • Instagram
  • Facebook