Homily for May 16, 2021
The Seventh Sunday of Easter
This morning I want to talk about the so-called “High Priestly Prayer” that Jesus prays for his disciples on the night he was betrayed, a portion of which we heard in this morning’s Gospel. But I don’t want to begin with Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer”; rather, I want to begin with Moses’ detailed description in Exodus chapter 28 of the priestly garments made for Aaron and his sons, and then also with Stuart Rosenberg’s 1967 prison drama, Cool Hand Luke. (Because they are all of course related.)
In Exodus chapter 28, Moses describes in great detail the priestly garments Aaron and his sons are to wear:
They shall make an ephod of gold (an ephod is a kind of vest), of blue, purple and crimson yarns…skillfully worked. (28:6)
You shall make [his] robe… all of blue. It shall have an opening for the head… with a woven binding around the opening. (28:31–32)
You shall fasten [onto a] turban with a blue cord…a rosette of pure gold, and engrave on it… “Holy to the Lord.” (28:36–37)
You shall make the checkered tunic of fine linen…you shall make a sash embroidered with needlework. (28:39)
And, last but not least…
You shall make a breastpiece of judgment…. You shall make it…of gold, and blue, purple and crimson yarns… It shall be square and… You shall set in it…twelve stones with names corresponding to the names of the sons of Israel; they shall be…each engraved with its name, for the twelve tribes… So shall Aaron bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart when he goes into the holy place, for a continual remembrance before the Lord. (28:15–29)
Part of Aaron’s job as priest is to “bear the names of the sons of Israel… on his heart.” Which is to say that part of Aaron’s job as priest is always to pray for his people; Aaron is always to bear them on his heart, including when he goes to make sacrifice.
On to Cool Hand Luke. In Cool Hand Luke the most famous scene is, of course,
“I can eat 50 eggs,” says Luke (played by Paul Newman).
“Nobody can eat 50 eggs,” counters Dragline (played by George Kennedy).
Dragline: “Did you ever eat 50 eggs?”
Luke: “Nobody ever eat 50 eggs.”
Another prisoner: “Yeah, but in how long?”
Luke: “An hour.”
You may recall how the other prisoners gather their money, to bet either for or against Luke, and then start the timer. At minute 36 on egg 38, Dragline and another prisoner need to support Luke, who is feeling too ill to walk. At minute 51 on egg 41 they begin to massage Luke’s throat. (“Stay loose, buddy.”) By minute 54 on egg 44 Luke is on his back on a table, Dragline’s hands moving Luke’s jaw to help him chew. With 30 seconds to go, Dragline stuffs in egg 50, and with his hands working Luke’s jaw, Luke swallows just as time expires.
If Rosenberg as producer were to have cut the egg scene from Cool Hand Luke, we the viewers would be none the wiser, for the scene, standing outside the plot, is not essential to the narrative structure. But by momentarily allowing Luke to step out from the movement of the narrative, Rosenberg gives Luke time to breathe and to be himself, as it were, unmoved by the needs of the narrative. In so doing Rosenberg enables us the viewers to bond with Luke, for in the egg scene Luke is at his most “Luke-ness”: we see his “devil may care” attitude, his quirky sense of humor, his lack of fear in being himself, the warmth he has for his fellow prisoners, and the affection they have for him. If we already aren’t by this scene in the movie, now we, too, are rooting for Luke. The egg scene may be non-essential to the plot, but by showing us more of Luke, the scene allows us to draw closer to Luke, helps us to root for him so much so that we will even go with him when he is chained by the guards, when he is beaten, and…. Well, I won’t spoil the ending, if you haven’t seen it.
Similarly, Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer” is not essential to the narrative structure of John; Jesus’ prayer stands outside the plot. Were we to cut the “High Priestly Prayer” from John, Jesus still would have washed the disciples’ feet, Jesus still would have promised to send them “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit,” Jesus still would have gotten up from the table, gone to the garden, gone to his trial, gone to his crucifixion. But… by adding the “High Priestly Prayer,” John allows Jesus to step outside of the narrative structure, to breathe and to be himself, as it were. In so doing John enables us to bond with Jesus, for in the “High Priestly Prayer” we see Jesus is at his most “Jesus”: his love for the Father, his unity with the Father, his love for the disciples, his desire to be with them in deeper relationship, and—in what is perhaps his most “Jesus” moment—his prayer for the disciples:
Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one…
Just as Aaron as priest when he went to make sacrifice for the people “[bore] the names of the sons of Israel… on his heart”—Aaron prayed for them—so does Jesus before he goes to sacrifice himself for the people bear his disciples on his heart; Jesus prays for them.
Carrying us on his heart and going like Aaron to make sacrifice for us is Jesus at his most “Jesus.” If we already don’t at this scene in the Gospel, now we, too, at the “High Priestly Prayer”—a passage non-essential to the narrative but that shows Jesus at his most authentic self—are opened to gratitude and love for Jesus. So much so that we go with him when he is arrested by the guards, when he is beaten, and even to his crucifixion. “So that”—to quote Paul—“[Having] been buried with him by baptism into his death… Just as Jesus was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father… we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4).
So, Exodus chapter 28, Cool Hand Luke, and Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer” are all related, helping us to bond with Jesus—to become “one” with him—who, like Aaron, unceasingly “bears us on his heart,” who always prays for us.
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Homily for May 9, 2021
The Sixth Sunday of Easter
While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word.
When Luke says that the Holy Spirit “fell upon all who heard the word,” we might think the Spirit to be something solid and heavy that could fall from above and crush us. And I want to get back to the Holy Spirit and to the Spirit’s “falling upon all who heard the word,” but first, I want to talk about the sea.
In a YouTube short called “The Tonic of the Sea,” Katie, a young mother from Penzance in Cornwall, tells how she had become lost in life; or, as she put it, “I couldn’t find my way back to ‘me.’” Katie tells how the sea, and swimming daily with a community of swimmers, brought her back to “me.” Katie says, Continue reading
Homily for Sunday, May 2, 2021
Fifth Sunday of Easter
If Luke’s is a Gospel marked by movement—recall, for example, the many roads in Luke’s Gospel and in its companion, the Acts: the Emmaus road of Easter, the Damascus road of Saul’s conversion, and, in today’s reading, the “wilderness road” “that goes down… to Gaza”—John’s is a Gospel marked by stability. At the resurrection, for example, John’s disciples are met by Jesus not on a road but in a house (20:19). When called, John’s disciples do not merely follow, but they ask, “Where are you staying?” and “they remained with him that day” (1:38–39). And in John what we might call “pedagogical moments”—such as the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in today’s readings—happen, not on the road but, in the case of the Samaritan woman (John 4), at a well; or, in the case of the Pharisees (John 10:11–18 and 8:12–20), in Solomon’s portico or in the treasury of the Temple; or, in the case of the disciples, “during supper” (13:2) at “the table” (13:12). It’s not that John’s Gospel is absent of movement—John’s Jesus does go back and forth to Jerusalem multiple times—but John generally seems to favor architecture over movement, enclosure over wide horizons, and rootedness over the open road.
And if on Easter Sunday we heard of John’s penchant for stability in the story of Mary Magdalene, who “stood…outside the tomb” (20:11); and if on the Sunday following we glimpsed John’s attention to architecture when “the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked” (20:19); and if last Sunday we heard of John’s love for enclosure in the passage about the Good Shepherd and the sheep of his “fold” (10:11–18); today, we hear Continue reading
Homily for Sunday, April 25, 2021
The Fourth Sunday of Easter
1 John 3:16–24
This morning I am going to do my best to sum up the entirety of the Scriptures in six minutes. Ready? Let’s begin!
Bible scholar Ephraim Radner claims that “The Scripture’s only purpose is to articulate divine love” (Leviticus, 2008, page 21). Radner’s claim easily rings true in passages such as we heard this morning from 1 John: Continue reading