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Holy Week Messages from the Presiding Bishop

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s Easter sermon from the live-streamed service at Washington National Cathedral

[April 12, 2020] The following is the text of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s Easter sermon from Washington National Cathedral. This sermon was pre-recorded for inclusion in the live stream of the Cathedral’s April 12, 2020 worship service.
 
This sermon can be watched at any time by clicking here.
The video appears in the “Holy Week 2020” section at the bottom of the webpage. Look for where the webpage background changes from white to black.
 
 
Easter Day, April 12, 2020
The Washington National Cathedral
The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry
 
It’s Easter Anyway!
 
 
And now in the name of our loving, liberating and life-giving God, father, son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
 
There is an old Easter hymn that says this:
 
 
“The strife is O’er.
The battle done.
The victory of life is won.
The sound of triumph has begun.
Alleluia!”
 
 
The Bible, in John’s Gospel, chapter 20, verse 1, says this:
 
Early on the first day of the week while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb...
 
 
 
 I
 
 
It’s Easter Sunday.
It doesn’t look like it. It doesn’t smell like it. It doesn’t really feel like it.
But it’s Easter anyway.
 
Churches are empty.
There’s no sight or smell of lilies.
No children dressed in new clothes for Easter Day.
When I was a child I remember that all the women would come to church with hats, white and pink, and flowers and fruit adorning them.
None of that today.
 
When it happened, in those days,
It was Easter.
And we knew it.
And we would sing.
 
“Jesus Christ is risen today”
 
We would sing,
“Hail thee festival day. Blest day that art hallowed forever.”
 
We would sing,
“Welcome happy morning ages to age shall say.”
 
We would sing,
“Because he lives I can face tomorrow.”
 
We would sing,
“The strife is O’er.
The battle done.
The victory of life is won.
The sound of triumph has begun.
Alleluia!”
 
Oh, we would sing, and we would shout,
“Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!”
 
It’s Easter.
But it doesn’t look like it.
It doesn’t feel like it.
It doesn’t even smell like it.
But it’s Easter anyway!
 
To be sure, there is no Easter bunny in malls.
To be sure, there are no crosses now adorned with beautiful flowers by children from Sunday School.
There are no crying babies in churches, no wiggling children, no old and young alike packed into and into seats.
 
The pews are empty.
The church is quiet.
Even the sounds of trumpets on great organs, even if they sound, they bounce from wall-to-wall, echoing in empty churches.
For there is sickness and hardship in the land, there is death and destruction, there is sadness and fear, anxiety. As the old slaves used to say there is a weeping and a wailing.
But it’s Easter anyway!
 
 
II
 
 
Think for a moment.
That first Easter. It was Easter, but nobody knew it.
 
The Bible says, early in the morning, Mary Magdalen got up and went to the tomb while it was still dark. It was dark and she wasn't exactly sure how to get there, but she went anyway. She didn't know for sure that the rumors about soldiers, having been posted to guard the tomb to prevent anyone from doing anything, she didn't know if that was true. She knew that there was a stone rolled in front of the entrance of the tomb. She got up and went anyway.
 
Luke's Gospel says that Mary of Magdala and several other women were well-to-do women, who actually helped to finance and pay the bills, if you will, of that Jesus movement. Jesus had touched her and their life and she never forgot. She loved him. They loved him. They were actually living the love that he had taught them because they had heard him. They had heard what he taught.
 
They had heard him say, "Blessed are the poor and the poor in spirit."
They had heard him say, "Blessed are the peacemakers."
They had listened.
They were listening when he said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst, that God's righteous justice might prevail in all the world."
They listened to him when he said, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
They listened when he said, "Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you."
They were listening when he said, "A new commandment I give you, that you love one another."
 
And Mary and those women followers of Jesus were there when he was dying on the cross and they saw him love, even in death.
 
They probably heard him, "Father, forgive them. They don't know what they're doing."
They probably heard him cry out himself, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
And then they heard him make sure his mother was cared for, "Woman, behold your son, behold your mother."
They had heard him to that revolutionary thief on the side of him when he said, "Today you'll be with me in paradise."
They had heard him cry, "I thirst. It is finished. Father into thy hands, I commend my spirit."
 
Oh, they had listened to him.
They learned from him and they saw in him, as that old hymn says, "A love that would not let them go. You shall love the Lord your God, and your neighbor as yourself. This is the way to life."
They had listened. They had taken it in.
 
And so Mary and those women got up in the dark, not knowing for sure what was going on, just doing what love does. Love can't change the fact of death, but love can live through it and thereby defeat death. And so they got up and went to the tomb just to do what love does. They didn't understand what was going on. They just did what love does. They went to make sure, as folk used to say, "Make sure Jesus had a proper burial." They went to anoint his body and to make sure that the linen shroud was still clean and to give him a new one if necessary. They went to the tomb that morning, just to do what love does.
 
They didn't know. They really didn't know that Easter had happened. He had been raised from the dead. He was alive, new, transformed, not walking dead. He was alive, new, the new creation beginning. He was alive, but they didn't know that.
 
It was Easter, but it didn’t look like it.
It didn’t smell like it.
It didn’t feel like it.
But it was Easter anyway.
 
 
III
 
 
Stay with me. The amazing thing was that it really was Easter. Jesus really was alive. God had been somehow behind the scenes all along, working through the chaos. They just didn't know it.
 
All that Mary knew was that Jesus was dead. She knew where he was buried. She knew the stone was there. She knew there might be guards there. She just knew where he was buried and she just got up to do what love does. And when she got there, she found the tomb was empty. The stone had been rolled away. The soldiers weren't there. What Mary didn't know, was that Easter had happened anyway, in spite of what her eyes could see, her ears could hear, her nose could smell, her hands could touch. Easter had happened anyway, and maybe that is the way of God, that somehow behind the scenes, in ways that we may not fully behold at the time, God is there. And not just there, but somehow working in the midst, even of the mess.
 
The Psalmist in the Hebrew scriptures, Isaiah, says, "Surely, God thou art a God who hidest thyself."
 
William Cowper in the 18th century, Christian poet and hymn writer, said it this way:
 
God moves in a mysterious way.
His wonders to perform.
He plants his footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
 
This just seems to be the way of God.
 
One of my favorite poems from the 19th century from James Russell Lowell, who was very much involved in the movement to end chattel slavery and in movements to right grievous wrongs, and who stayed with it even when the odds were against it, wrote a poem in which he said,
 
Truth may forever be on the scaffold
Wrong may forever be on the throne
But that scaffold sways the future
And behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadow
Keeping watch above his own
 
Easter had happened. Mary didn't know it, but she did what love does anyway. She got up, went to the tomb to do what love does. And though she and the other women didn't know it at the time, because they were acting on their love for Jesus, their trust in him, even when they didn't understand, they found their lives aligned with the very life of God. The God who the Bible says is love. And in so doing, discovered faith, hope, and eventually, Mary would actually see Jesus alive, raised from the dead.
 
The late Howard Thurman was arguably one of the great spiritual masters, if you will, of the 20th century. He was a close advisor behind the scenes to Dr. Martin Luther King. And it was greatly Howard Thurman and the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who behind the scenes, were quiet, spiritual counselors to King in some of his darkest moments. Thurman wrote a book entitled, “Jesus and the Disinherited”. Dr. King carried a copy of that book with him wherever he went. In that book, he tells of a time when he was a little boy growing up in segregated Florida, growing up poor in a rural community.
 
When Halley's Comet had come, people didn't understand what this comet was and what it meant, and people were frightened, anxious, not knowing what to do. The store down the street from where Thurman grew up was selling comet pills that were supposed to immunize you from the comet. But most people were just frightened. Late one night, Thurman was in bed and his mother came and got him out of bed and asked him if he wanted to see the comet in the sky. So he got out of bed and went outside with his mother, looked up to the dark sky, saw this comet blazing in the heavens. He said, "Mama, are we going to die?" And she just said, "God will take care of us."
 
Later he wrote:
 
“O simple-hearted mother of mine, in one glorious moment you put your heart on the ultimate affirmation of the human spirit! Many things have I seen since that night. Times without number I have learned that life is hard, as hard as crucible steel; but as the years have unfolded, the majestic power of my mother’s glowing words has come back again and again, beating out its rhythmic chant in my own spirit. Here are the faith and the awareness that overcome fear and transform the fear into the power to strive, to achieve, and not to yield.”*
 
It may not look like Easter.
It may not smell like Easter.
It may not even feel like Easter,
But it’s Easter anyway.
 
And trusting that, we can make it.
A little song says it this way.
 
(singing)
 
He’s got the whole world in his hands,
He’s got the whole world in his hands,
He’s got the whole world in his hands,
He’s got the whole world in his hands
 
God love you. God bless you. May God hold us all in those almighty hands of love. It's Easter. Amen.





Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s Good Friday sermon from the live-streamed service at Church of the Heavenly Rest, New York

The following is the text of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s Good Friday sermon from Church of the Heavenly Rest, New York, New York. This sermon was pre-recorded for inclusion in the live stream of the Church’s April 10, 2020 worship service.
 
This sermon can be watched at any time by clicking here.
 
 

Church of the Heavenly Rest
Good Friday
April 10, 2020

 
Michael B. Curry
 
Hello to all of my friends at The Church of the Heavenly Rest, to Matt and all of the clergy, and dear people of God. In this time of COVID-19, in hard times for us here in our country and for people around the world, it is meet and right that we should gather online on this Good Friday.
 
From the Gospel according to St. John:
 
Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, "Woman, here is your son." And he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother." And from that hour, the disciple took her into his own home.
 
Good Friday is the entire gospel of God, summed up in an act of sacrificial love. John 3:16 earlier in John's Gospel says, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. Jesus gave his life not to appease an angry deity. He gave his life not out of some selfish motive. He gave his life to show us what love looks like. The lengths that love will go, that loves seeks the good, the welfare and the wellbeing of others. He gave his life to show us that love is the way to life. I am more and more convinced the older I get that the Gospel is very simple. Doing it is complex and difficult, but the essence of it is very simple.
 
God came among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth to show us the way to live. Jesus came to show us the way to live as God has intended since God created anything at all. He came to show us the way to a right and reconciled relationship with the God and the creator of us all. He came to show us the way to be in a right, reconciled relationship with each other as children of this one God and creator of us all, that God came into the world in the person of Jesus to show us how to become more than individual collections of self-interest, how to rise above and beyond self, how to rise above and beyond me, to rise and become we. The human family of God. He showed us the way to be one with God and one with each other and in so doing, find life as God has intended from the very beginning. Jesus came to show us how did they become more than merely the human race, a biological category.
 
He came to show us how to become the human family of God, the family of God, and in that is our hope and our salvation. And now more than ever in this moment of hardship and suffering, sickness and death, when as the old slaves would say there's trouble in the land, now more than ever, we need to be reminded that God has a plan of purpose and intention for us to become God's human family and in that as our hope and our salvation.
 
The truth is, if you look at Jesus on the cross you can actually see it. You can see this way of love happening on the cross. In John's Gospel, Jesus is dying, and you can almost imagine him through bloodstained face and with sweat in that Palestinian heat, crown of thorns, having pierced his brow and blood dripping down. You can almost imagine him there opening his eyes with the stinging of the sweat, stinging his eyes and able to make out, oh faithful Mary Magdalene, Mary the wife of Clopas, and his mama, and the disciple whom he loved.
 
And in the midst of that, love speaks. He says to his mother, "Woman," and then he looks at the disciple, "Woman, behold there is your son." And to the disciple, "She is your mother. There is your mother." And John's gospel says that that disciple took Mary into his home. As his own mother. Jesus gave his life and he showed us what love looks like. That disciple cared for Mary as his mother and she for him as her son. There was no social security in the first century. There was no Medicare or Medicaid in the first century. Women did not have rights of inheritance. Even if there was one in the first century, a widow possibly without the support of her oldest child, her oldest son, could be left destitute. This was Jesus making provision for his mother. It was entrusting her into the home and the care of somebody who was not her blood kin.
 
He created a new family by love. Families are created by love or sometimes by blood. But by love, that's what makes a family. It is not an accident that almost as soon as Jesus says that to his mother and that disciple and creates a new family, if you look carefully at John chapter 19, it is after that, almost immediately after that that Jesus just says, "I thirst." He's given something to drink and he then says, "It is finished." That is not, it's over. The Greek word means it is accomplished. I have done what I came to do. I have shown you what love looks like. I have shown you God's way of life. It is accomplished. Love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another. As the father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. That's the first and great commandment.
 
But the second one is just like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself on these. Love God, love your neighbor, love yourself. On this love depends all the law, everything God has been trying to say in the Bible, in tradition. Love is the way to become more than individual collections of self-interest, is the way to become the human family of God and define life together. It is the way to endure hard times. Love is the way to fulfill God's dream for us. Even in the midst of a nightmare.
 
Some years ago. I was listening to public radio on a Sunday afternoon, and it was in the summer months in August, I think I was on vacation, and the broadcast was about a recently published photographic essay by a man named Norman Gershman, a noted photographer. This particular essay was photographs of the Muslims of Albania today, but also many years ago, and it tells the story of this Muslim community. During the second World War, when much of the world descended into darkness, a dark age, fascism and bigotry and hatred too cold and seemed to be ruling the world. Europe was covered by clouds of darkness. His armies of a third reich marched in prodigious march of conquest and barbarism in nations and people fell one by one. The Sudetenland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Belgium, Holland, France. And England stood alone.
 
At the same time, those armies of fascism and conquest began to march toward the little country of Albania. Word was sent out to the Albanian foreign ministry that said that it was the government's responsibility to identify the residences of all Jews living in Albania. The foreign minister was a member of the small Muslim community that was in Albania. And like Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad, he sent out quietly, orally, orders to the Muslim community and this is what those orders said. "You will take your Jewish neighbors into your home. You will give them shelter. You will protect them as best you can. You must hide them. They must sit at your table. They must sleep in your beds. They must dwell in your homes. You must treat them as your own family." When the war ended, that small Muslim community saved some 2,000 Jews from the Nazi Holocaust.
 
My friends, Jesus was and is right. Love is the way to become more than we would be on just our own self-interest. Jesus was right. Dr. King said it this way, “History is replete with the bleached bones of civilizations that have refused to listen to him.”
 
Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you. Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself.
 
On this Good Friday, may this message of God, be a message for us that together as one family, one human family of God, we may walk through this storm and find light and hope.
 
God love you. God bless you. May God hold us all in those almighty hands of love.

 
 



Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s Maundy Thursday sermon from the live-streamed service at The Church of St. Mary the Virgin, New York


The following is the text of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s Maundy Thursday sermon from The Church of St. Mary the Virgin, New York, New York. This sermon was pre-recorded for inclusion in the live stream of the Church’s April 9, 2020 worship service.
 
This sermon can be watched at any time by clicking here.
 
 
The Church of St. Mary the Virgin
Maundy Thursday
April 9, 2020
 
Michael B. Curry
 
 
And now in the name of our loving, liberating, and life-giving God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
 
I greet you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and bring you greetings on this Maundy Thursday from your brothers, sisters, and siblings who are The Episcopal Church, wherever they may be. How I wish that I could be with you physically, but we are together in the spirit, and it is good to be together in God's name in any way.
 
Allow me to offer a text, a text that comes from John's Gospel, John's insight into what was going on at that last supper, that supper where Jesus celebrated, commemorated the first Eucharist: "This is my body. This is my blood."
 
That evening when he washed the feet of his disciples and said, "As I have done to you, so you should do to each other;" that evening, when he gave them his last thoughts before he sacrificed his life on the cross, in John Chapter 15 this is what he said: "Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." Then he goes on to say, "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now abide in my love. I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit so as the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now abide in my love."
 
In John's Gospel, chapters 13 through 17, several chapters are devoted to John reflecting and hearing deeply what Jesus was saying, meant, and did at that Last Supper. Raymond Brown in his magisterial commentary on the Gospel of John says that John has fashioned this Last Supper in the manner of the ancient world's last will and testament of a great teacher, of a noble one, of a great spirit. He has taken that model and used it to amplify Jesus, giving His disciples those teachings that can steady them in days that are hard and difficult, those teachings that will lead them and guide them and will help them along the way. It is in these chapters, chapters 13 through 17, oh, just hours before he would be in that lonely garden to be betrayed, only hours before he would be handed over to those who would take him prisoner, only hours before trials, only hours before execution, only hours before his death. If you look carefully at what Jesus teaches them, two things stand out.
 
One, the key to this life, in this way that he teaches, is a deep and organic, a living relationship with him, with Jesus. I am the vine; you are the branches. As I live, so you must live. As I love, so you must love. Let my life live in you. Let my way of life be your way of life. As St. Teresa taught us, let you be my hands, my feet, my heart, my life in the world. When folks see you, let them see me. I am the vine; you're the branches. Eat my body, take it in. Drink my blood, take it in. Let my life infuse your life. Abide in me as I am you.
 
But then He goes on and says something else. He emphasizes this relationship with him as the way into the heart of God, for those who would follow his ways, but then he says something at this supper in John's Gospel. He says, "A new commandment I give you," not a new possibility, not some new suggestions, not a new philosophical idea. "A new commandment I give you: that you love one another as I have loved you. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now, abide in my love." Greater love is no one than this, but that they give up their life for their friends, and I have called you my friends. A new commandment that you love one another. As he washes the feet of his disciples, love. As Judas slithers out of the room to betray him, love. What thou must do, do quickly. Love.
 
As Peter declares that he will defend him and stand by him, Jesus knowing Peter well enough to know he may not make good on that promise, love. When he leaves that upper room and goes into the garden and sweats and prays, "Let this cup pass from me, but not my will but thine be done," love. When Judas comes up and kisses him, the kiss of betrayal, love. When soldiers take him by the arms and carry him off under arrest, love. When he is thrown into a jail cell, love. When they take him before various tribunals from a Sanhedrin to Herod and back and forth, in trials and hearings, convicting him of nothing he had done, love. When Pilate sits in the praetorium, "Are you a King? What is truth?" "My kingdom is not of this world," he says, love. And when soldiers take him away under orders of the empire to be executed, love.
 
The old song says, "Oh, he never said a mumbling word, just love." When nails are hammered through the wrist and hands that only helped and healed, love. When he's lifted up on a cross, love. He bleeds to death, love.
 
Father, forgive them.
 
Woman, behold your son.
 
Oh my God, my God, why?
 
Today you'll be with me in paradise.
 
I thirst.
 
It is finished.
 
Father, into thy hands, I commend my spirit.
 
Love.
 
For John's Gospel says, "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. That all who believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Love. Unselfish, sacrificial, this is the way, the way of the cross, the way of God, the way of life.
 
A number of years ago when I was bishop with the Diocese of North Carolina, I joined with Bishop Rob O'Neill, the Bishop of Colorado, the then Bishop of Colorado, to represent The Episcopal Church at the enthronement of the new Archbishop of Burundi in East Africa. This was a number of years ago now. Burundi, tucked in with Rwanda and Tanzania and Congo, had known the same violence and civil war between Tutsi and Hutu that was known in Rwanda. We went soon after there had been a peace settlement, a tenuous peace settlement, but a peace settlement. We flew there in friendship between our church and the church of Burundi.
 
As we left Nairobi flying to Bujumbura, the capital, we made the approach to the city of Bujumbura, the capital city, a city and a country that had been in civil war for 10 years. As we made our approach, we circled the city, and when we made our approach, you could see the city below. It was a heap of rubble. It was like the lamentations in the Old Testament, how lonely since the city that was once full of people. When we finally landed, we were met there by representatives of the diocese and the church, and we were taken to a hotel where we stayed. The next day there was the grand celebration of Anglican Christians and other religious leaders and government officials who came for this celebration of the installation of the new Anglican Archbishop of Burundi. The bishops of Burundi had represented in their House of Bishops, those who had once been at civil war Tutsi and Hutu, were part of the one House of Bishops together. In Christ, there is no east nor west. In Him, no south, no north, but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.
 
Well, the ceremony went on and the new Bishop was enthroned. After the ceremony and the wonderful meal by the Mother's Union, the Archbishop took Bishop O'Neill and took me, and we went out and he gave us a tour of the capital city. We went up on a hill much like sitting up on the hill above Jerusalem, only now we were looking at Bujumbura. "How lonely sits the city that was once full of people." The Archbishop said something I've never forgotten, pointed to the city, greatly a heap of rubble, and he said, "This is man's way. Jesus has taught us another way. We must love each other, and that is how we will rebuild our country."
 
Jesus was right. He is right: "A new commandment I give you, that you love one another. As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. For God so loved the world that He gave His only son," and this way of love, it is the way of life.
 
God love you. God bless you. May God hold us all in those almighty hands of love.
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