Worship Schedule

Sunday 8:15 a.m. Holy Eucharist Rite I
Sunday 10:45 a.m. Holy Eucharist Rite II
nave & online: Facebook/website
Tuesday 8:00 p.m. Compline
online: Zoom
Wednesday 12:00 p.m. Eucharist

Sunday mornings at Grace

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The Grace Church nave is located at the corner of Washington Street and Boulevard in Gainesville, Georgia.

The parish office, open Monday through Thursday from 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM, is located at 422 Brenau Avenue. Come to the red door that faces Brenau Avenue and ring the bell for access.

Mailing Address: 422 Brenau Avenue, Gainesville, GA 30501
Phone: 770-536-0126

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Date Posted: June 30, 2021

Glimpses of Eternity

+Help us, Lord, to become the master of ourselves
that we may be the servants of others.
Take our minds and think through them;
Take our lips and speak through them;
Take our hearts and set them on fire with your love. AMEN.+

The American humorist, Garrison Keillor, whose stories often have religious allusions, once observed that “you can’t anymore become a Christian by staying in church that you can become a car by sleeping in the garage.”

And if there’s one thing that’s true over these past sixteen months it is that nobody can accuse any of us of staying “in church”!

And even with the tireless, creative, effective, and inspired ways our parish leadership and staff have worked to continue to offer worship and spiritual nurture, we’ve been largely “out there” – doing what you do, being who you are – no doubt for the most part exercising compassion, living out the principles of your faith and representing the face of Christ to those around you. I think, for the most part, that’s what we’ve tried to be about during this strange time apart.

But this whole season raises some questions. Among them, what has sustained us this past year? How have we been nourished in our life and faith? What has brought us back – right now? To this church. This pew. This altar. Today.

Another time and place. Christianity was first introduced to Japan in the 1500s and, by the end of the 16th century, it was estimated that there were over 300,000 baptized believers. However there were also rivalries among the various missionary religious orders. That, and the complex interplay of colonial politics between Japan and the Spanish and the Portuguese aroused suspicion about Western intentions of conquest. And things went sour. The Christian enterprise began to suffer cruel persecution and suppression, so much so that in 1597 six Franciscan friars and twenty of their converts were crucified in Nagasaki. They are now remembered annually in our church calendar on February 5th as “The Martyrs of Japan.” By 1630 what was left of Christianity was driven underground and all but vanished.

AND YET – 250 years later there were found many men and women – without priests, without structure, without any discernable community – who had preserved through the generations a vestige of the Christian faith.  What was it….that they held on to? What sustained? What held them?

The section of Mark’s Gospel that the Lectionary has had us reading for the last few weeks deals with the forces beyond human control: of nature, the frightening storm at night on the Sea of Galilee (last week); and, today, the ravages of physical disease – the woman with uncontrolled bleeding/the reality of physical death – Jairus’ daughter/ and of God’s mastery over all of this. And in between last Sunday’s Gospel and today’s lesson, in the Gospel of Mark , there is an account of Jesus driving evil spirits from a man seemingly inextricably possessed by them. And human fear and desperation which accompanied each situation.

And why would there not be fear? And desperation? We know that the forces of nature, and illness, and even physical death are ultimately more powerful than our human attempts to master them.

The poet W.H. Auden, in his important long poem, “For the Time Being – A Christmas Oratorio,” wrote:

             “We who must die demand a miracle.
             How could the Eternal do a temporal act,
            The Infinite become a finite fact?
            Nothing can save us that is possible:
            We who must die demand a miracle.”

And these words speak to and from a very human condition that we all share.

We who are transitory.

We who are subject to the physical laws of the universe.

We – like the disciples huddled in the boat on that perilous night in the storm on the Sea of Galilee – perhaps we’ve heard Jesus ask us, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Or – like the terrified woman whose bleeding issue was of no ultimate consequence in the presence of Jesus – have we heard, “Your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”

I think what has sustained me, nourished me, and even strengthened my faith in this most challenging season when we’ve been forced to be “out of the building” and not physically gathered together is knowing that we are never-the-less connected. Deeply connected in a glorious and mysterious way that transcends the earthly bounds of time and space – life and death – sickness and health – brokenness and separation. And sometimes we get a glimpse of this awesome truth. That’s what has sustained me and it’s what brings me back. To be re-minded.

Stuart and Cynthia and many of you have commented on how strange church has felt during this pandemic. Perhaps the strangest – for me – was last Maundy Thursday at the evening service. Holy Week. The Institution of the Eucharist. Remembering when, the night before his crucifixion, Jesus met in that upper room with his disciples. Took bread, blessed, broke and gave it to his disciples, same with the wine, and said, “Do this in remembrance of me” …..and, in so doing, I will re-member you into my fellowship unto eternity…..

And it felt so familiar – and yet so very strange. A Zoom service. No-one in the pews – basically an empty church. The lessons were read and the Internet and technology were operating. Sensing it might be meaningful for us, Stuart had graciously invited Betsy and me to participate in the service and stand at the altar as priests. If I’ve ever felt more awkward in church, I can’t recall it – out of place – until standing there during the Eucharistic Prayer – The Great Thanksgiving – and, with the eye of my heart, I didn’t see an empty church. I knew I was in a full church. I saw you. I saw my father-in-law sitting in the pew where he and Betsy and I received communion on Palm Sunday in 2014. A profound awareness washed over me. An awareness of those members of Grace who have gone before and who will come – of the larger expansive community, of my parents and grandparents and angels and archangels and all the company of heaven – the great cloud of witnesses in whose company I was standing, in whose communion I was held. Yes, I am at this place, at this moment, in basically an empty church  – but with time and space turned inside out – Kairos breaking in on Chronos. I am also at the heavenly banquet with Jesus being held – together – in community, in the eternal embrace of the God who made us, who knows us, who loves us, and sustains us. Always. Like for the disciples in the boat in the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Like for the man tormented by inner demons or the woman with uncontrolled bleeding. Like for the desperate cry of a father with a dying child. God does have the last word.

The liturgy reminds us of this mysterious and awesome truth.

Think about the language in the Absolution after the Confession in Rite II:

“Almighty God, have mercy on you,
 forgive you all your sins through our Lord Jesus Christ,
strengthen you in all goodness,
and by the power of the Holy Spirit, KEEP you in eternal life.”

Keep you. Because when our broken relationships are restored and our separation is overcome, we are in eternal life. We have one foot in the Kingdom and Kairos breaks in on Chronos.

The older I get the more I am aware of the changes in my perspective toward life. I never used to think much about mortality and the vulnerability of my physical being. But “now that I am old and grey-headed,” as the psalmist would say, I am more acutely aware of mortality and vulnerability and of the inevitable passing of all things transitory. And I could be afraid. Sometimes am.

Yet having been afforded glimpses of eternity and knowing it’s the truest thing ever, I press on in faith. In community. With you. And in communion with Angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven – in this time – in this place- and in all times and places.

So, I guess that’s a long and somewhat clumsy attempt to reflect about what has sustained me during this very strange season away from “church as we have known it.” Perhaps it is not so unlike what sustains you. The Body of Christ.

May we become what we receive. Thanks be to God.

The Reverend David B. Powell
Proper 8 Year B 2021 – Mark 5:21-43
Grace Episcopal Church, Gainesville GA
27 June 2021