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Memorial Day Reflection

Earlier this year I was able to attend a wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider led by the Presiding Bishop of the Lutheran Church, Elizabeth Eaton. Present were also a number of military chaplains who have served for many years, an important reminder of the many chaplains of many faiths who minister during some of the most difficult times in the life of the military – comforting bereaved families, praying with fellow soldiers, and proclaiming hope in the midst of sorrow.

On this Memorial Day, as we remember and give thanks for those who have served and died over the generations, we also remember and give thanks for those who have the unique privilege of ministering to those in uniform and their families. And for those of you remembering loved ones who served in uniform, a special blessing for you this weekend. May we be a people who strive and hope for peace.
God’s Peace,
Chris

Extra! Extra! It’s Bible Sunday!

Where do you get your news?  Washington Post, Fox News, theSkimm, WSJ, NPR, Twitter?  The choices are endless and we all have our favorite sources for the events of the day.  In D.C. we tend to be news junkies.  Theologian Karl Barth famously said that Ministers of the Word of God should preach with the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other.   This Sunday, we will hand out Bibles to our 1st5th9th, and 12th graders.  These are age appropriate Bibles to help them learn the stories of God.

At GPC, we hope to send our members, young and old, into the world with the Word of God in their hands and in their hearts.  The world will inundate you with news; the church wants to equip you with God’s holy texts and truths.  Barth again, “Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both.  But interpret newspapers from your Bible.”  This is a call for all of us, as we try to understand the hot button issues of the day, to root ourselves in God’s word.  So maybe the question should be: What version of the Bible do you read?  King James Version, New Revised Standard Version, The Message Bible, Story Bible?

In case you are looking for a recommendation – here’s the bible our 12th graders will get on Sunday. 

Peace,
CCM

A Personal Reflection from Mark

Two weeks ago, my father Thomas Joseph Willey died after a long decline at 80 years of age. In November of 2014 I got a call from my step-mother Barbara that my father had been hospitalized with critically low cardiac output and if I wished to see him alive I should get there as soon as possible. When I arrived the heart presser medications they had given him to keep his heart going had killed his kidneys with the resulting blood toxins rendering him mostly unconscious.

I slept on the floor by his bed for the next couple of days. Sometime in the middle of the second night, as dialysis began to clear out the toxins, I heard him say my name. Quickly I got off the ground and leaned over his bed. “Mark” he said, “get my ipad.” He then gave detailed instructions for me to put his headphones on his ears and play four hymns, sung by choirs that he had in a favorite playlist. I don’t remember what all of them were but I know one of them was “Amazing Grace” and that all of them were sturdy sacred hymns of faith. He listened to them all the way through, then fell peacefully to sleep.

The next day the story began to unfold. During the time when it seemed he was unresponsive and unconscious, he was actually in a kind of lucid dream. Elements from the world around him found their way into his dream; snippets of the conversations we were having by his bedside, even the TV that the neighbor in his room had playing. In his dream, he was taken down to hell where Jerry Springer, as the devil, was judging him and his family and friends. Scenes from his life were playing out, in excruciating, slow detail, all to be mocked and condemned by Jerry Springer, the devil. At times he would plead for mercy for one of his sons, or argue to defend one of his grandchildren, but to no avail. He was caught in this dream, and on the occasions when we had seen him wake, a wild, panicked look in his eyes, he was pleading with us to deliver him from the dream but he couldn’t form the words.

On the night when he asked for his iPad, he was beginning to break free from the torture, to rise from the hell of condemnation and Jerry Springer. He needed something to help him complete his journey and that’s when he asked for me to play him the four hymns on his headphones. He told me later they pulled him out of his torture and he slept, dreamless for the first time in several days.

My father died an agnostic, a skeptic about faith and God. But even though my father had long since let go of his faith in God, he turned to hymns to lift him from his hell into the light. There is great power in music. My father knew this, even when he didn’t believe the meaning of the words he was hearing. Those of us who do believe have all the more reason to sing, to celebrate the healing power of our sacred tunes and texts. I will miss my father, but he lives on in me through the personality traits I inherited from him and the many wise life lessons he taught me, including how to appreciate the simple, beautiful power of a great hymn of faith.

Peace,

Mark 

Finding Joy

In Wendell Berry’s poem, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” Berry gives us this counsel: “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”

I highly suggest you sit down for a few minutes with this seminal poem of his, and consider how strangely counter-cultural his suggestion is. I find most weeks a plethora of distressing news that’s apt to make many, like myself, feel anxious and discouraged. This is nothing new, although it perhaps can feel more acute with 24-hour news cycles right here in the nation’s capital. Nonetheless, Berry believes that it is our obligation to be joyful, nonetheless.

He ends his poem with two simple words: “Practice resurrection.” In the reality of the resurrection, we do indeed have a hope and a joy that tells us a contrary narrative to the one we often hear. The world isn’t just falling apart, but the world is being mended and made new by God and by God’s people who choose to live joyfully and hopefully.

So friends, indeed, be joyful this week, even though you’ve considered all the facts.

Peace,
Chris

Witnessing a Baptism

It is so wonderful to be celebrating another baptism on Sunday. Each time is an opportunity to talk about the meaning behind the sacrament. Who can get baptized? What are the requirements? What exactly “happens” when the water hits your head?

Ideally everything that happens in a worship service can serve to testify to God’s love and to help us learn more about our God and ourselves. On Sunday, I invite you to come in with fresh ears, eyes, and spirits, open to the things that God is showing us when we gather together.

See you Sunday,
Pastor Rachel

Looking for Hope on Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday is a day of hope, on the eve of the drama of Holy Week. Jesus comes into Jerusalem, and the people line the streets with the hope that this man, Jesus, would bring justice and restoration to his people. This Palm Sunday, we’ll have an opportunity to participate in a tangible act of bringing a moment of restoration to people looking for hope. The Free Minds Book Club connects people who are incarcerated with people “on the outside” through writing literature and poetry. For the (mostly) young men in prison, writing poetry and receiving correspondence with people like you and me is an affirmation of our common humanity, and a reminder of a community that awaits them after their release. Free Minds continues to support these “returning citizens” after their release through a continuing supportive community, right here in DC.

On Sunday, please come to the Washington Room for Adult Education at 9:45 a.m. to learn more, and then stay after worship to participate in a hands-on activity to bring hope and healing from the “outside” to the “inside,” reminding ourselves that God’s love knows no bounds.

Peace,

Chris

Born. United. Sent. Series Finale: “The First Lord’s Supper”

Throughout the Middle ages, Renaissance and Baroque periods, churches were the primary means of support for composers. The support structure diversified somewhat through the Classical period, as an emerging audience for secular concert and opera music began to emerge. But churches remained an important component in the flowering of art and culture. One of the primary ways they served this role is through the commissioning of new works of sacred music.

Georgetown Presbyterian Church has been a part of this flowering of the arts by commissioning many pieces of music through the years. On Sunday, we will experience the latest of these commissions in a fresh new piece of choral music commissioned by this congregation and completed about one month ago. Back in the Fall, when planning the music that would accompany the “Born. United. Sent.” series, I contacted a young composer named Zachary Wadsworth. I’d become aware of his works while editing a choral recording a couple of years ago. I liked the style of his music, incorporating elements of the old and the new. He was wonderful to work with and accepted the challenge of writing a piece on the scripture of the day for April 7.

The resulting piece is titled “The First Lord’s Supper” and it sets a text from Matthew 26:26-30, when Jesus first points to the passover meal as symbols of his body and blood, soon to be shed for the salvation of humankind. Zachary’s music is contemporary but accessible, and incorporates a melody and text called “Adoro te devote” from Gregorian plainchant by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). It will be a privilege to experience this music for the first time on Sunday as the distribution anthem for the last service in our “Born. United. Sent.” series.

Peace,

Mark

Special Music this Sunday

Last month, on a Valentine’s visit to see Joy in Paris, we set out on foot from Joy’s apartment in the Marais. Traveling South, we crossed the Seine on the Pont Notre-Dame and climbed a hill towards the Panthèon, where located next door is the church of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont. It was here that composer, organist, and teacher Maurice Duruflé served as organist from 1929 until his death in 1986. Across the street from the church we rang a bell and entered an apartment building, climbing to the seventh floor. A charming man named Frédéric Blanc welcomed us and we stepped into the apartment where Duruflé and his wife, the brilliant organist Marie-Madeleine lived for 60 years. Since the apartment is on a hill, the large terrace has what must be one of the best views of the entire city.

If I had to be stranded on a desert island with just composer’s organ works, it would be Duruflé’s. His compositions are easily among the most beautiful and emotionally moving in the repertoire. Yet as beautiful as they are, he was extremely self-critical, publishing only a handful of works. Among his choral works, the Requiem, Opus 9 is the best known, but there is an underperformed gem, called the Messe “Cum Jubilo” scored for unison men’s chorus that Duruflé composed in 1966. In it, he combines his unique and colorful impressionistic compositional style with the ancient Gregorian plainchant melodies he was so familiar with as an organist accompanying the liturgy. The melodies, already beautiful, become soaring and aspirational, lifting the listener towards the ethereal.

I think I’ve observed this before in these paragraphs, but one of the things I love about being a church musician is the opportunity to interact intimately with great works of art. A painting in a museum is beautiful, but you can’t touch it (without going to jail) and you have to leave it where it is. In every worship service at GPC, we’re interacting with musical art, whether a great hymn tune that has come down to us through centuries of singing, a stirring choral anthem, or this composition by Maurice Duruflé that will be threaded throughout our service this week. I look forward to experiencing it together.

Peace,

Mark

A Lenten Journey

When you start to climb a mountain, you fill your pack with as much water and food as you can carry, you add a few essentials and set off on your adventure. As the hike progresses you go through different phases—excitement, curiosity, determination, regret, despair, hopefulness, exhaustion, resolve, and finally exuberance. When you complete your hike your pack is almost empty and notably lighter than at the beginning of the day.  Lent is like this kind of journey, winding and long and the road ahead is not always clear. But when you go through it and stick with it—all your confessions, prayers, sacrifices, and acts of service mean that you will arrive at Easter morning with a much lighter pack than when you started.  Less guilt ridden, less burdened by worries, less doubtful about your faith, and ready for surprise, ready for joy, ready for God. This is the goal for the Christian progressing from Ash Wednesday to Easter morning. 

Blessings to you on your Lenten journey.

CCM

A Lenten Prayer

A Lenten Prayer

Excuse our poor prayers Lord, for our throats are dry.
Our lives are a mix of sin and righteousness.
We follow you, but our hearts are broken–distracted by the cares of the world.
We hear your good news, and rejoice for a moment, but your promises seem so far away.
And yet, despite the seeming distance, we wait. We wait on the coming of our Lord.
May it be so.

Peace,
RLV