I am so delighted to serve as your supply priest for the next few months. If you’re curious, you can read a short bio about me on the website for Newbigin House, the institute where I serve. But to spare you the time, all you need to know is I teach theology and work in the area of congregational development. I was ordained in another denomination nearly 30 years ago, but (here’s the fine print) I’m a newly minted Episcopal priest, ordained by Bishop Marc this past December. Let’s just say I’m glad we’ll be on zoom so my rookie mistakes will be less obvious!
When your Senior Warden, Sarah Lawton, and I first spoke, we talked about me walking alongside your congregation through Lent. I’d like to tweak that a little bit: I want to walk alongside St. John’s on the journey to Easter.
I know you are processing disappointment that the priest you thought was coming isn’t coming. And there’s the pandemic and these execrable variants (!) and a QAnon member of Congress who thinks our California forest fires are being started by satellite lasers. I mean, really, Easter is feeling very far off.
I’m tired of waiting for Easter and for all of this to end. I’m tired of waiting for things to change. Isaiah’s words in this Sunday’s lectionary could not be timelier:
“those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” —Isa 40:31 NRSV
I don’t know about eagle’s wings—I haven’t flown for over a year—and I’m not much of a runner. But during the pandemic, my wife and I have seriously upped our walking game. Most days we walk a route here in the Sunnyside neighborhood where we live that includes circling the reservoir parking lot at City College. That vast space where I taught my four sons to drive is now the city’s first high volume COVID-19 vaccination site. As we walk around it taking in the sight of people lined up for the jab, I notice we both get just a little more of a kick in our step. Even though I won’t be a candidate for a while, I see the lines of cars and my stroll becomes a stride. It’s just a little taste of hope that enables me to “walk and not faint.”
Overseeing the massive vaccination site is one of my favorite public works of art: Benny Bufano’s “St. Francis of the Guns.” Bufano was a WPA sculptor who created scores of works for San Francisco. In 1968, after the assassinations of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy, Mayor Alioto initiated a volunteer gun turn-in program out of which a symbolic 1,968 weapons were melted down to create an image of St Francis. I see it almost daily–the arms forming a tau cross, the robe covered with a mosaic of assassinated leaders—Lincoln, MLK, JFK and RFK. For me it evokes one of the truest meanings of the cross: God’s call to solidarity with those who suffer. It also conveys the powerful vision of the way of nonviolence, which Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas likens to “the hopeful force of resurrection.” Francis’s arms are open in welcome into the way of Jesus, the way that brings peace through justice. They are raised in welcome and in blessing.
Bufano was missing part of his right index finger. He claimed to have mailed “his trigger finger” to President Woodrow Wilson as a pacifist protest against the Great War. He literally gave war “the finger,” which is, oddly, how I also see the Francis statue. When I walk past it, I look out at the vast vaccination site the saint oversees, and in my heart, I give the pandemic the finger. And with it, all the other myriad powers with which we contend. And Francis reminds me that the hope I’m waiting for is found in the crucified and risen one who comes to heal us, cast out our demons and give us strength to love.
I’m so glad that for the next few months, as we journey to Easter, I get to walk and wait with you.
Grace and peace,