The 5th Sunday of Easter in Time of Quarantine
Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.
1 Peter 2:10
The Invitatory and Psalter
Christ our Passover Pascha nostrum
Hymnal 1982 #S49
Alleluia. Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us; *
therefore let us keep the feast,
Not with old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, *
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia.
Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; *
death no longer has dominion over him.
The death that he died, he died to sin, once for all; *
but the life he lives, he lives to God.
So also consider yourselves dead to sin, *
and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia.
Psalm 31: 1-5, 14-18 In te, Domine, speravi
|1||In you, O LORD, have I taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame; *
deliver me in your righteousness.
|2||Incline your ear to me; *
make haste to deliver me.
|3||Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe,
for you are my crag and my stronghold; *
for the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me.
|4||Take me out of the net that they have secretly set for me, *
for you are my tower of strength.
|5||Into your hands I commend my spirit, *
for you have redeemed me, O LORD, O God of truth.
|14||I have trusted in you, O LORD. *
I have said, “You are my God.
|15||My times are in your hand; *
rescue me from the hand of my enemies,
and from those who persecute me.
|16||Make your face to shine upon your servant, *
and in your loving-kindness save me.”
|17||LORD, let me not be ashamed for having called upon you; *
rather, let the wicked be put to shame;
let them be silent in the grave.
|18||Let the lying lips be silenced which speak against the righteous, *
haughtily, disdainfully, and with contempt.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning is now, and will be forever, Amen
The First Lesson: Acts 7:51-60 The Stoning of Stephen
51 You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. 52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. 53You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”
54When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. 55But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56Look, he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
60Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Hymn: Father, we praise thee Latin, tr. Dearmer
Hymnal 1982 #1
1.Father, we praise thee, now the night is over,
active and watchful, stand we all before thee;
singing we offer prayer and meditation:
thus we adore thee.
2.Monarch of all things, fit us for thy mansions;
banish our weakness, health and wholeness sending;
bring us to heaven, where thy saints united
joy without ending.
3.All-holy Father, Son, and equal Spirit,
Trinity blesséd, send us thy salvation;
thine is the glory, gleaming and resounding
through all creation.
The Second Lesson: 1 Peter 2:1-10 Now You Are God’s People
1Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. 2Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation — 3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
4Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.6For it stands in scripture:
“See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
7To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,” 8and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Hymn: Thou art the way George W. Doane
Hymnal 1982 #457 (tune: St. Flavian)
1.Thou art the Way, to thee alone from sin and death we flee;
and all who would the Father seek, must seek him, Lord, by thee.
2.Thou art the Truth, thy word alone true wisdom can impart;
thou only canst inform the mind and purify the heart.
3.Thou art the Life, the rending tomb proclaims thy conquering arm;
and those who put their trust in thee nor death nor hell shall harm.
4.Thou art the Way, the Truth, the Life: grant us that way to know,
that truth to keep, that life to win, whose joys eternal flow.
The Gospel Lesson: John 14:1-14 Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled
1Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.
4And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
8Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; they come from the Father who dwells in me and through me does his work.
11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in me. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Sermon: Why Not?
That, on this Sunday, is the question. “Show us the Father,” Philip asked. Jesus said, in essence, “No” and “I already have.” As we just heard, “Don’t you know me? Haven’t you already seen?” He might as well have added, “If not, why not?” As I said, that, today, is the question.
It’s important to note this question is not quite the same “Why not?” as in one of my favorite New Yorker cartoons, entitled “The Lottery” by Jack Ziegler, though it’s important to explain why not (um…pun intended).
The cartoon (left) shows a man walking along a street, looking back and up at a cloud, and asking, “Why me, Lord?” A finger points at him from the cloud, and a voice from it responds, “Why not you, Sid?”
Indeed. Why should Sid be spared if others are not? By why should Sid be chosen, whether to suffer or to bear an unjust burden, when others were not? Well, why not? Meaning, why should anyone? As Jesus says at one point, do y’all think those whom Pilate slew, mingling their blood with that of their sacrifices, were any worse or better than you? It’s just that Pilate decided that day to do murder, but it could’ve been yesterday, and it may still be tomorrow.
As with Pilate, and as for Sid, so it is with this virus and so many other afflictions: why do some people suffer, yet others do not? Why do some people get sicker than others? Why are some spared, and some saved? Why do many recover, but too many others lose their lives? Why us? Why not us? It’s a question as old as it is hard.
Sometimes, there are good reasons – and sometimes there are simply reasons. One of the horrors of the disease we now call Covid-19, as with SARS, MERS, AIDS, etc., is not quite that there is no rhyme or reason to them – if there were, neither social distancing, quarantine, nor protective equipment would help – but that their rhyme is vicious and their reason inhuman. Viruses are not quite alive, but they’re a long way from being dead. They exist to co-opt, use, and often destroy other living things, as though they meant to, or just don’t care. They seek to replicate themselves, just as we and all that live do – seeking to abide, to be ourselves, and to change our world so that what we bring into being can live, as itself, abundantly.
But the virus doesn’t know that it causes pain and death, any more than does a bullet when it is fired, or a sword when it is swung. Why not? Because they can’t, and it wouldn’t matter if they could. This can drive us crazy.
Suffering always leaves us looking for someone to blame, and we can’t blame some thing itself. Perhaps those who blame authority for enforcing the quarantines and social distancing that the virus itself makes necessary have caught something of this spirit. They blame those who are trying to help and who act in good faith and by duty, rather than blame a mindless little thing that can’t hear us or repent. What good would yelling at it do? So sometimes we take the easy path: cast blame on scapegoats or on innocents who try their best and who speak inconvenient truth. But it were better to cast it on those who are truly guilty, those who left us vulnerable to this pandemic and who continue to exacerbate the misery it causes. It was they, after all, and their predecessors who built an economy that leaves so many of us on the edge, one or two paychecks or canceled gigs away from disaster. It was they who built an economy whose benefits flow mostly to those at the top, an economy in which those most essential to it are the ones most vulnerable to dislocation by it and disease from it, risking their lives for too little pay and in unsafe conditions that leave them exposed and vulnerable to a sickness with no known cure. To the questions, “Why do they suffer?” or “Why them?” the replies “Why not them?” or “Better them than us” stink to high heaven as did the very blood of Abel. Yet, from certain quarters, and egged on by the usual fraudulent hucksters, this is exactly what we have begun to hear.
In today’s readings, however, we know exactly whom to blame for wrongs – and whom to credit for helping us overcome them.
The Fifth Sunday of Easter is one of the days on which we celebrate the church’s first deacon and martyr, Stephen – and one in which we hear the gospel lesson that reminds us that the world cannot receive the Spirit of truth, though God sent that Spirit to us for our help. These two lessons are closely linked. Reading them on the same day reminds us how much.
They share an understanding that, as it says in that very Gospel of John, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Leave aside for the moment the questions, “the way to what?” “the truth about what?” and “what life is there other than this one?” We’ll get to that. Suffice it here to note that, by Jesus’s own admission, none has seen the Father except as they see the Father in Jesus, but for those who see Jesus no longer, the Father has sent the Spirit to be our advocate and help. However, not everyone understands this, or is prepared to listen.
For confessing all this in public after being told not to, Stephen was killed. Stephen was, by all accounts, a good person. He knew the truth – knew the history of the people of Israel and how God had saved them in the past, despite the efforts the people or their leaders made to thwart that salvation. He knows they’ve kept the covenant intermittently, loved God with all their hearts and their neighbors as themselves from time to time but not always, and have stoned prophets, rejected healers, resisted God’s power, and become selfish, peevish, self-defeating, obstinate, and incorrigibly ignorant. They’ve behaved, that is, like human beings – sometimes well, sometimes poorly, often selfishly, and rarely with wisdom.
Jesus, Stephen knows, came to challenge and change all that – to show people how to live in the midst of a life that does not die, and to live it abundantly, centered on generosity, community, kindness, and love, challenging all in human life that would make that impossible. You rejected him, Stephen tells the leaders of his people, but he triumphed nonetheless, and we as his followers will bear witness to it, and by it set all people free.
As I said: for saying all this, for speaking truth to power, witnessing to freedom and calling out people’s bad behavior, Stephen was killed – murdered, with the frenzy of a mob backed by the exploitations of a tyranny.
Saul of Tarsus, who part and parcel of both, watched his murder approvingly. It must’ve done something to him, though because in the not too distant future Saul was converted in a blinding flash on the Damascus Road, and did what it’s difficult to do: changed his life and his mind when he was shown that he had been wrong. He sees in the heavens the same Jesus that Stephen saw, into whose arms Stephen expected to ascend when he died. Paul reports hearing Jesus ask, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” just before he was struck down and struck blind. He awoke to sight as Paul the apostle, who would bear the burden of that murder of an innocent as a thorn in his flesh for the rest of his life.
Often, we think of the thorn in Paul’s flesh as a chronic condition such as epilepsy, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, or Crohn’s disease, though he’d not have known those diseases by those names. Whatever it was, like that famous tornado in Texas, he couldn’t outrun it, couldn’t hide from it, couldn’t make it stop. Many have argued that it involved his sexuality, that vital and life-giving part of life for which he had little use and much disdain. However that may be, to my mind the thorn in Paul’s flesh is an accuser, a prick of conscience (as it were), a reminder that, for all God’s grace in saving him (Paul) from “this body of death,” God did nothing to save Stephen’s life, or that of His own son – and nor did Paul. Even if removing the sin of Adam was justification enough for Christ’s death, as Paul argues it was, there was no justification for Stephen’s murder, even if it did precipitate the salvation of millions. It is a moral duty to preserve life, as Paul even as the Rabbi Saul would’ve known. Saul did the opposite – and for all his being forgiven by the victim and saved by his Lord, Paul could never undo it.
Thus, Paul’s entire understanding of Christ, sin, and salvation is shaped by his aiding and abetting Stephen’s murder, and then hating himself for it. It is at the heart of what the gospel means to him, as well as the church and ministry in general. It made him both zealous and impatient, convincing him of both our need for salvation and how God’s grace through faith alone is the only reason we have it. He could never un-stone Stephen; nor can we. He could not make the dead un-die; nor can we. We cannot erase the power of the memory, the sin and guilt, the incapacity and shame that can come to us when we do wrong, or do not do right, unless God does it for us. We know this. Paul saw in himself and in Stephen’s murderers just how low human beings could fall – and saw in Stephen how high they could rise. Stephen rose by faith in Christ alone, even at the cost of his life. He bore witness to the truth he knew, to what life is for, to the salvation and to the life he found in Christ – the way of eternal life.
1st Peter 2 helps us understand that life, that truth, that way that Stephen found – and, we trust, Paul found. It’s about becoming God’s chosen people in a new, if not entirely different, way: “1Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. 2Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation,” and thereby know mercy. We are called to build on the cornerstone the builders rejected – to build ourselves a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, a dwelling that shall stand on the bedrock of faith, not on the shifting sands of whimsy, enthusiasm, idolatry, selfishness, or inhumanity.
If it is not for this, it’s difficult to imagine what a Christian community would be for, or ever was. Sometimes it feels like what we’re called to are endless repetitions of, and variations on, the phrase, “Just believe,” and that if only we had faith enough, threw all things up in the air and into Jesus’s metaphorical hands, somehow everything would work out. As Julian of Norwich famously, but I think wrongly, said “All shall be well.” Why not? You ask? Has this virus, and the nationally inadequate response to it, taught us nothing but that, all by itself, all won’t be?
As the Spartans famously said, “If.” If only. If only what? Well, imagine if human civilization were built, or rebuilt, on the principles articulated in 1st Peter 2: without malice, guile, insincerity, envy, and slander. What better testament to Mother’s Day – you thought I’d forgotten, but I hadn’t; Happy Mother’s Day to all – as I said, what better testimony could there be than getting rid of those things and prioritizing, legitimizing, and rewarding their opposites – kindness, forthrightness, sincerity, generosity, and compassion? Are those not the traits we associate with the best of motherhood? Aye – and with the best of fatherhood, too We long as newborn infants for pure spiritual milk, indeed. So nourished, we are set to do the work – work that has not changed because the world has not changed, or not much, in order that we shall make all things well, not wait for God to do so, much less the powers that be. He sent us the Advocate, the helper, the Spirit, in order to inspire us to do this.
If we did, we would make a world utterly opposite to the one that crucified Jesus, stoned Stephen, and let Saul of Tarsus grow up to approve of it until the horror of it smacked him in the face and made him change his mind, his life, and the world.
Why not? Why don’t we do this, as a species? Because it’s hard. It requires building communities of vulnerability, openness, and trust. It requires we use what we have to the betterment of all. It requires, for instance, that we use this time of pandemic and quarantine to reorient our economy, our polity, our society, indeed our world so that it takes the way that leads by means of truth to all that gives life, and gives it abundantly, for all who dwell beneath the moon and stars. Getting us to take that journey, follow that way, is what Jesus came to let us do, to inspire us to do, and to help us do once he was among us only as a memory, a Spirit, and the truth.
Why not? Indeed. Why not – and why not us? As we say at St. Mark’s at the end of each service, “Let it begin with us today.”
A Statement of Faith, A Song of God’s Love (1 John 4:7-11)
Beloved, let us love one another, *
for love is of God.
Whoever does not love does not know God, *
for God is Love.
In this the love of God was revealed among us, *
that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.
In this is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us *
and sent his Son that sins might be forgiven.
Beloved, since God loved us so much, *
we ought also to love one another.
For if we love one another, God abides in us, *
and God’s love will be perfected in us.
A Collect for the 5th Sunday of Easter
Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
A Collect for Mothers and Mothering
Almighty and most merciful God, who was born the child of a loving mother and loves us as a mother loves her child; we give you thanks this day for all mothers, and all who bring forth and nourish life. Give them the courage to love, the grace to forgive, the strength to forebear, and the wisdom to guide their children to be the people you mean them to be; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
A Collect for Those Who Grieve
Compassionate God, you hold us in the constancy of your love. Comfort us as we remember this day, and grieve, those whom we have lost, particularly children. Grant us compassion to help one other heal the pain and remember the joy. Grant to the departed the joys of heaven; and to each of us, bring healing and grace. Renew our hopes for tomorrow and our faith in your goodness, for you are gracious, O lover of souls and bearer of sorrows, bearing us from death to new life. Amen.
A Prayer after St. Alphonsus
O Jesus, you are present to us in the blessed sacrament. We love you above all things, and desire to receive you into our souls. Since we cannot at this time share your sacrament, let your spirit dwell within our hearts. Let us welcome you as one already with us, making us one body and one spirit, never to be parted from you. Amen.
Hymn: Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life George Herbert
Hymnal 1982 #487
1.Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life: such a way as gives us breath;
such a truth as ends all strife; such a life as killeth death.
2.Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength: such a light as shows a feast;
such a feast as mends in length; such a strength as makes his guest.
3.Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart: such a joy as none can move;
such a love as none can part; such a heart as joys in love.
May the blessing of God Almighty, Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier, the font of wisdom and source of all truth, be with you this day and forevermore. Amen.
Hymn: Spirit of the Living God Daniel Iverson, alt.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
About Episcopal Worship and this Easter Service
The Fifth Sunday of Easter is one of the days on which we celebrate the church’s first deacon and martyr, Stephen – and one in which we hear the gospel lesson that reminds us that the world cannot receive the Spirit of truth, though God has sent that Spirit to us for our help.
These two lessons are closely linked. Reading them on the same day reminds us how closely.
Both readings share an understanding that, as it says in the Gospel of John, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. None has seen the Father except as they see him in Jesus, but for those who see Jesus no longer, the Father has sent the Spirit to be our advocate and help. However, not everyone understands this, or is prepared to listen.
For confessing all this in public, and after being told not to, Stephen was killed. Saul of Tarsus, who watched his death approvingly, eventually becomes converted in a flash on the road to Damascus. He then becomes Paul the apostle, who would bear the burden of that murder of an innocent as a thorn in his own flesh for the rest of his life.
For Paul, that is, aiding and abetting Stephen’s murder, and eventually hating himself for it, shaped his understanding of Christ, the gospel, the role of churches, and ministry in general. It made him both zealous and impatient, and convinced him of both our need for salvation and of how God’s grace, through faith alone, is the only reason we have it. We cannot bring back the dead, cannot restore life to flesh that has lost it, and cannot erase the power and memory sin and guilt without God does it for us. Paul had seen in himself and in Stephen’s murderers just how low human beings could fall – and seen in Stephen how high they could rise by faith alone, even though it cost them their lives.
It is an older tradition on this Sunday to leave the candles unlit, in memory of how Stephen’s light was put out.
It is also by the chance of the lectionary and that we have these readings assigned on the Sunday we celebrate in the US as Mothers’ Day. May all mothers be blessed today, and all children know and celebrate their blessings. May those who mourn their mothers, and mothers who mourn their children, know God’s peace in a special and lasting way.
All Easter worship is designed to have the congregation gather for prayer, lessons, the Eucharist, and song. In times of contagion and quarantine, the community may not gather or share the Eucharist. We have adapted this service to the conditions of the time, celebrating Morning Prayer in the Presence of the Reserved Sacrament, honoring God with our daily office prayers, thanksgivings, lessons, canticles, and hymns.
This booklet is designed for you to use on your own, in addition to being a guide to worship online. The readings, prayers, and liturgies are taken or adapted from those in The Book of Common Prayer, The Book of Occasional Services, Enriching Our Worship 1, and the hymnals. You will find links to these resources below.
Resources (available for free online)
Book of Common Prayer, www.bcponline.org
Enriching Our Worship 1, https://www.churchpublishing.org/siteassets/pdf/enriching-our-worship-1/enrichingourworship1.pdf
Enriching Our Worship 2,
These resources contain the prayers and worship services used in The Episcopal Church and by Episcopalians in their daily devotions.
The Revised Common Lectionary and Daily Office, https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/
This source shows the readings assigned for use in Sunday worship and for daily office use for each day of the year, with links to online biblical texts.
Hymnal 1982: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/EH1982
Hymnal 1940: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/HPEC1940
The Episcopal Church: www.episcopalchurch.org
Episcopal News Service: www.episcopalnewsservice.org
The Episcopal Diocese of Washington: www.edow.org
St. Mark’s, Fairland: www.stmarks-silverspring.org
A Prayer in Times of Sickness and Contagion
Heavenly Father, giver of life and health, source of all wisdom and peace: Comfort and relieve your servants who suffer from sickness or fear, give your power of healing to those who minister to their needs, and let your grace be with all those who work to protect us from contagion and disease. May we be strengthened against any weakness, sickness, fear, and doubt, and place our confidence in your loving care through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
 1 Corinthians 5:7-8; Romans 6:9-11
 Sermon copyright © Christopher Wilkins. All rights reserved. Distribution is permitted so long as authorship is acknowledged.
 Cartoon © Jack Ziegler / Condé Nast Publications. All rights reserved.