Grace Church in New York
Warren Pettine, April 12, 2020
A multitude of bones rising from a field. Lazarus, with the smell of three days a corpse, is called from the tomb. This week’s readings hold such terrifying images, made all the more stark by the pandemic. But it is a passing line in the Psalm that strikes me as the most powerful: “For there is forgiveness with you; therefore you shall be feared.” This line speaks to the fear of being seen as we truly are. Furthermore, forgiveness means leaving behind the sins for which we are forgiven. Being exposed and made to change. That certainly is a position that makes me tremble.
But luckily, we are not alone in the process. In the reading from Ezekiel, the bones given new flesh and new breath represent the community of Israel in exile, hoping for return. Likewise, Lazarus is not called from the tomb to stand by himself. He is returned to his family and friends. To be seen and forgiven is scary, but we do so in the presence of people who care.
For two and a half years, I have found that community at Grace Church. On the monthly Habitat for Humanity builds, I am surrounded by people who actively take the time to make something for others. Additionally, the 20s and 30s group has been a source of positive friendship I can depend on, and that is so hard to find in New York. As we all move into the isolation of quarantine, I look forward to seeing my friends via the 20s and 30s events hosted on video chats. And when we are able to come together again, I look forward to volunteering at Habitat alongside my fellow parishioners. These communities, and the wider community of Grace Church, have made it possible for me to grow as a person and in my relationship with God. Though it is still difficult to be seen and forgiven, I am confident because I am not alone.
Cathy Minuse, April 5, 2020
John 12: 1-8
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them wth her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
Mary’s extravagant devotion is the usual focus of commentary on this passage. But I am struck by Judas’s observation and the writer’s aside about it. Judas makes a valid point. Wouldn’t giving to the poor be a better use for money than buying expensive perfume? Once we’ve covered our necessities, how do we apportion our spending between charity and our own comfort and pleasure? Few of us enjoy depriving ourselves. Another question: do the poor care about our motives? Judas was evidently the disciples’ treasurer. If Judas were a hypocrite but some of the “common purse” went to charity would the recipients mind Judas’s hard heart?
No matter his unworthiness, Judas’s observation can make us think about our own priorities and choices, our own personal responsibility. How much do we want to give and how? If money, what portion of our income should we give? If time, how will we fit in volunteering and for what project? Should we hammer nails with Habitat for Humanity or serve lunch with Hope for our Neighbors in Need? If things, what will help us remember to bring cans to put in the food drive basket?
And what about Jesus’ remark? Certainly true: as we walk the streets of NYC we cannot doubt that the poor are with us. Years ago my brother visited from the other side of the country. We took a cab from the airport to Manhattan and had scarcely stepped out on the sidewalk on Broadway when a ragged man approached palm outspread. I remarked to my brother, here’s the Mayor’s welcoming committee. Mayors have come and gone. Still we have a homeless woman living on our block and there’s an encampment up Broadway from the church.
As Jesus’ death loomed (and he must have understood it was coming) he appreciated Mary’s generous spirit. His statement may sound a bit callous. In a sermon he was invited to preach, Kurt Vonnegut posited that Jesus was making a joke, “a Christian joke, which allows Jesus to remain civil to Judas, but to chide him about his hypocrisy all the same.” Vonnegut paraphrases Jesus’ words as “Judas, don’t worry about it. There will still be plenty of poor people left long after I’m gone.” I can’t imagine Jesus was counseling complacency or urging us to despair and give up. After all, even if a condition can’t be eliminated, it can be fought. Perhaps Jesus was thinking of the words from Deuteronomy 15:11: “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you – open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.” This Lent I wonder how I can better open my hand, while knowing that the poor are always with us.
Ashleigh Madureira, March 29, 2020
The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley;[a] it was full of bones. 2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath[b] to enter you, and you shall live. 6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
I have two brown thumbs, but I still love to garden. Putting a tiny seed into dirt, watching it sprout, grow and flower (hopefully) is amazing to me every time. However, for that process to occur the plants must have space and nourishment. People are really no different. We need to nourish our bodies and souls to live and grow. Neglect can wither us and leave us as ‘dry bones’.
For me, Grace has been a place to reset; a chance to put my problems in perspective and be reminded of what’s important. You can’t help but feel slightly transformed when you walk through those doors. You know you’re in a special place. As an Open Door volunteer, I enjoy welcoming others to Grace to be transported from the busy streets of Manhattan into a true sanctuary. Some come in just to admire its beauty and satisfy curiosity, others come to sit and speak with God. Whatever the reason, I like to think His presence is felt just by being within those walls uplifting and comforting those who seek it. Many leave and thank you for those moments – the opportunity to pray, to ogle, to grieve, to hope, to do what they needed to do.
But how do we provide that space to be and grow with God when we aren’t in church? When it’s not all around us? When we get sucked back into those busy streets and get on with our busy lives? I know I can easily get caught up in the minutiae of the day, the petty grievances, and the careless actions. I get wrapped up in myself and it’s often hard to disengage and focus on the greater picture, to just stop and reset. I think that’s why I appreciate all of the opportunities Grace provides to pull us to center again, especially with outreach. It’s a very deliberate break from ourselves to make some space to serve God. And it requires no prerequisite skill set! I don’t have to be a carpenter to work in community with other volunteers to help build a home with Habitat for Humanity. I don’t have be a social worker to walk the streets with Don’t Walk By volunteers to let people know they are loved and have resources. It’s these moments that help us breathe life into ourselves and each other. It’s what helps us live and grow.
If we are to see the bounty of God’s gifts, the garden needs to be tended. This Lenten season I hope to practice being mindful of the ways I can bring God into my life and serve others even in my day-to-day bustle.
Karen G. Krueger, March 22, 2020
Children of Light
From this Sunday’s Epistle: “Live as children of light — for the fruit of the light is in all that is good and right and true.”
As an Open Door Ministry volunteer, I have the privilege of spending time in Grace Church during the hours when it it open to the public. I greet visitors as they arrive, and answer their questions (if I can!).
Light is very much a part of this experience. The narthex is dimly lit, so when someone pulls open the heavy church doors, the daylight streaming through the doors can dazzle me. The visitor steps in, peers into the nave, and exclaims at the sight of the brightly illuminated Te Deum window and the soft colors shining through the other stained glass windows. I see visitors’ faces light up — there’s that metaphor — at the beauty of our church.
Our visitors are a diverse lot in every way. Some are neighbors, some come from across the world. Some are in need of help, others merely curious. Some spend only minutes, some hours. Some speak to me, some ignore me.
I believe all who visit us find something in Grace Church that their souls were craving: perhaps a moment of peace, or bodily rest, or reconnection with God. When I welcome visitors, I try to practice opening my heart and seeing each one as a child of God. Welcoming visitors as they receive the fruit of the light makes me more mindful of “all that is right and good and true.”