About djgrieser

I have been Rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Madison, WI since 2009. I'm passionate about Jesus Christ and about connecting our faith and tradition with 21st century culture. I'm also very active in advocating for our homeless neighbors.

Wednesday in Holy Week

If betrayal is so deep a part of human sin, and so profoundly entangled also with the story of love and salvation, then it cannot actually be betrayal per se that must be repressed or obliterated in the Passion. Rather, what is held up to us is the amazing possibility that even betraying, as well as being betrayed, can become part of the terrible stuff of being “handed over” to the full and deepest meaning of Christian love. God can make love, excessive love, even out of human betrayal. On this view Judas’s tragedy was that – unlike Peter – he despaired of that possibility; he could not conceive of that excessive sort of forgiveness.

–Sarah Coakley (more here)

Tuesday in Holy Week

We now stand in this lush fragrance of the ointment that reminds us again of the original vineyard of love: we step forward hesitantly, wondering what it will mean. We bring all our own excessive, broken, damaged and lost loves and we see anew, and with wonder, that Jesus accepts them; and not only accepts them but makes of them the necessary stuff of the opening of his Passion. Only Good Friday will show that, rightly understood, such excessive gift is not marginalized as “feminine,” nor is it an invitation to abuse or be abused, nor even a misplaced form of idolatry, but rather a “deeper magic” beyond all human calculation, a divine rationality beyond all human reason. But for now we leave our own hopeless and excessive gifts of love, like wasted nard, at Jesus’s feet, and wait for the unfolding of his new meaning. Amen.

–Sarah Coakley (more here)

Monday in Holy Week

Think of this entry into Holy Week, then, as an invitation: perhaps not to a mere drama after all, but to a Passion to end all dramas; not to a story of justice and deserts, but to a story of divine love so exquisite as to exceed and upturn all justice as we know it; not to a theological conundrum to be solved, but to a dangerous and life-threatening journey: a journey of pain, death, discovery and new Life. This is a journey that can only be undergone, and our undergoing it can only start with a profound lament for our ongoing resistance and aversion to its strange meaning.

From a meditation by Sarah Coakley. Read it all here.

Anti-Judaism and Holy Week

Last year, I posted some thoughts on the topic:

One of the central issues facing Christians during Holy Week (in fact it’s central to Christianity itself) is the pervasive anti-Judaism in the Christian tradition and in parts of the New Testament. It’s particularly prevalent in the Gospel of John and reaches its highest intensity in the passion narrative (John 18 and 19). It’s traditional that John’s Passion Narrative is read on Good Friday. The raw power of the story of Jesus’ betrayal, trials, and crucifixion that culminate with the silence of the tomb, combines with the larger liturgical context to confront worshipers with the enormity of the crucifixion and with human culpability in it.

Killings in Overland Park, KS

The news of the shooting deaths of Jews in Overland Park, KS is deeply distressing, especially on this day as Christians begin Holy Week and Jews prepare for the celebration of Passover. I mentioned in my sermon today the anti-Judaism in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ death. The deaths today are a reminder of the violence and hate that plague our culture; a reminder, too, of our duty to proclaim and work for a gospel of peace and love.

We should also pray:

Loving God, Welcome into your arms the victims of violence and terrorism. Comfort their families and all who grieve for them. Help us in our fear and uncertainty, And bless us with the knowledge that we are secure in your love. Strengthen all those who work for peace, And may the peace the world cannot give reign in our hearts. Amen.

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart and especially the hearts of the people of this land, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Love, Cynicism, and the Cross: A Sermon for Palm Sunday, 2014

Palm Sunday is an experience of liturgical whiplash. We begin with joy, celebration, with loud hosannas and singing, “All Glory, Laud, and Honor.” But the mood shifts as we enter the nave and sing Ride On! Ride on in majesty.” It’s a hymn that begins with the Triumphal Entry but ends with a foreshadowing of the cross:

In lowly pomp, ride on to die

Bow thy meek head to mortal pain

In the same way our own emotions and participation shift, too, from praise and joy to condemnation as we shout with the crowd in Jerusalem, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Continue reading

The Cross, Violence, and God: Some reflections on the eve of Holy Week

I’ve been thinking about the violence of the cross the past few days. As I mentioned in my post yesterday, walking the familiar streets around Capitol Square while carrying a cross and reflecting on Christ’s suffering and death offered a new perspective on the suffering that occurs in our city. Earlier in the week, I participated in an ecumenical conversation around the atonement, violence, and non-violence. I was particularly intrigued by the comment of an Armenian Orthodox colleague who said that they sing a hymn during Holy Week, “He lifted himself up on the cross.” In other words, instead of the cross being something God did to Jesus, Jesus’ crucifixion is something Jesus himself did (as God, of course).

That conversation was in my mind as I tried to choose hymnody for our our Holy Week services and began working on my sermons. Our hymns tend to focus on Christ’s suffering on our behalf and the necessity of the shedding of Jesus’ blood. There are other images but for the most part, our devotional focus during Holy Week is on our guilt and Jesus’ suffering.

As part of my sermon preparation, I listened to the Working Preacher podcast, in which one of the speakers asked the question, “What does the cross say about God?” The answer is obvious if one accepts substitutionary atonemenent: that God is violent.

But is that the only possible answer? J. Denny Weaver argues in A Nonviolent Atonement and The Nonviolent God for a different perspective. If Jesus Christ is the full revelation of God in the world, Jesus’ nonviolence offers a key to understanding the character of God. He makes the case that the dominant understanding of atonement in the Early Church, “Christus Victor” puts the focus on the resurrection of Christ, not the crucifixion and thus God is seen as renewing life and creation through Christ’s death and resurrection (rather than seeking satisfaction for human sin).

How then to understand the cross? If Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t necessary to appease a vengeful God, what does the cross mean? Here, the Working Preacher question takes on significance.

What does the cross say about God? The cross shows God’s love for the world, God giving Godself for humanity; God dying because of human evil and sinfulness, yet in the end triumphing over that evil. The cross helps us encounter God in the suffering of the world. The cross helps us experience God’s love in the midst of our pain and struggles. The cross, to use St. Paul’s language, is “power made perfect in weakness.”

What might devotional practice and devotional imagery that emphasized those themes look like? Perhaps a downtown, public stations of the cross that connects Jesus’ suffering with the suffering on our streets is one answer.


Walking the Way of the Cross in Madison, updated

It was a moving, jarring experience to participate in the Public Stations of the Cross in downtown Madison today. About twenty of us gathered at the Federal Courthouse and traced a path past many of the civic institutions and social service agencies that dot the landscape downtown. We dodged traffic lights, construction zones, groups of school kids on field trips. We received some strange looks from passers-by and occasionally were joined for a few minutes by someone who wanted to listen.

We walked sidewalks that I walk almost daily, passed the food trucks where I might get a bite for lunch, were greeted by homeless people who hang out on Capitol Square. We had to contend with the raucous voices and instruments of Solidarity Sing Along that meets every day outside the Capitol.

As we walked, I wondered about that day 2000 years ago when a procession went out from Pilate’s headquarters to the hill on the edge of the city where Jesus’ crucifixion took place. How many people noticed that procession? How many people wondered what was going on? Would it have been common knowledge, an extraordinary event? Or would it have been business as usual, another in a long series of public executions which had become so common that residents of the city didn’t even pay attention?

Our prayers and meditations connected Jesus’ suffering to the sufferings in our city–to homelessness, poverty, unemployment, and racism. As we walked and stopped to pray and meditate, I kept thinking of all those people in this city who suffer, all those who walk the street day and night, not just for an hour on a mostly sunny April afternoon. I thought of the man who died on our steps last January and all the men who seek shelter inside our walls. As we gathered in Grace’s courtyard garden for the last station, I thought of the folks who gather in the same area, waiting for our Food Pantry to open its doors.

As we walked, I thought of our worship, taking place safely behind the thick walls of our church, mostly protected from the noise and reality of life on Capitol Square. As we walked, I thought of the cross; I thought of Jesus, his loving embrace of the world and of all of the worlds cast-offs. I thought of his arms, stretched out on the hard wood of the cross, reaching out in love to everyone and to every city, reaching out to the sidewalks and the gutters, reaching out to us.

10001474_10202687585284187_3021223156820890468_nphoto by the Rev’d Miranda Hassett

Holy God,
Holy and Mighty,
Holy Immortal One,
Have mercy upon us.

Walking the Way of the Cross in Madison

On Friday, April 11, at noon, Madison Episcopalians will be walking the way of the cross downtown. We invite others to join us in this devotional practice as we prepare for Holy Week. We will begin outside the Federal Courthouse (120 N. Henry St.).

The Stations of the Cross is a traditional Roman Catholic devotional practice in which participants walk fourteen stations that depict scenes from the last hours of Jesus’ life, his death and burial. Visual images are prompts for devotion and at each station prayers and meditations are offered. The roots of this practice go back to the earliest centuries of Christianity. We know that Christian pilgrims came to Jerusalem in the 4th and 5th century and sought out those places mentioned in the gospels in connection with Jesus’ passion.

In keeping with St. Francis of Assisi’s devotion to the imitation of Christ, the Franciscans were the popularizers of the Stations of the Cross in the Middle Ages. Eventually the number of stations was fixed at fourteen. While many of the traditional stations are linked to the gospel accounts, others derive from popular stories and devotions. The medieval hymn Stabat Mater often is sung or recited and at each station the traditional hymn Adoremus te is sung or said:

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you:
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Our stations will differ from traditional practice in that we will link them to life in Madison. We will begin at the Federal Courthouse on Henry Street and walk a little over a mile around Capitol Square. Our stations will include the Dane County Jail, the City-County Building, the YWCA, the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum, as well as the steps of Grace Church where a homeless man died on one of the coldest days of the year. We will end in the courtyard garden at Grace.

Typically, the Stations of the Cross are an intensely personal and individual devotion focused on one’s own entering into Christ’s suffering. We want to reflect on Christ’s suffering more broadly. The community of Madison is struggling in so many ways, with  deepening racial, economic and ethnic divides, poverty and homelessness. It is our hope that by walking the way of the cross in Madison, we will be a witness of Christ’s redemptive and transforming love in this community and in our hearts.

Here’s the Episcopal Way of the Cross (from the Book of Occasional Services) by way of St. Mark’s Pro-Cathedral, Hastings, NE

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: April 9, 1945

“To be conformed to the image of Christ is not an ideal to be striven after. It is not as though we had to imitate him as ell as we could. We cannot transform ourselves into his image; it is rather the form of Christ which seeks to be formed in us (Gal 4:19), and to be manifested in us. Christ’s work in us is not finished until he has perfected his own form in us. We must be assimilated to the form of Christ in its entirety, the form of Christ incarnate, crucified and glorified. Christ took upon himself this human form of ours. He became Man even as we are men. In his humanity and his lowliness we recognize our own form. He has become like a man, so that men should be like him. And in the Incarnation the whole human race recovers the dignity of the image of God.” Cost of Discipleship