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Sunday, November 21, 2010

In paradisum

Note: Today, on the Feast of Christ the King, St. George's Chapel in Harbeson, DE will also be celebrating its anniversary in something they call "Heritage Sunday." I am delighted to have been asked to preach. The 1684 Book of Common Prayer is used and Elizabethan language spoken throughout the service. Everyone dresses up in period costume - including the clergy. I have a black cassock, white surplice, tippet, academic hood, preaching tabs, and will, of course, be wearing a Cappa Nigra and Canterbury Cap. Oh, yes. And a powdered wig. Of course. I'll update this post of my sermon with pictures when I return from the day's festivities early this evening.

They say they do this every year here. It's entirely more fun than is absolutely necessary. (Can you tell I'm already getting into character?)


"Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
(Luke 23: 33-43) – The Feast of Christ the King
Heritage Sunday – November 21, 2010
St. George’s Chapel – Harbeson, DE
(the Rev’d Dr.) Elizabeth Kaeton

Good morning. First, I should like to thank your Vicar-for-the-day (Ahem, your rector any other day), on this Heritage Sunday at St. George’s. On this day, we use the 1684 Book of Common Prayer and all English is spoken in its Mother Tongue – from Elizabeth I, the Sovereign Mother of the Church of England.

I’ve been listening to Helen Mirren and Dawn French for days - and we saw the latest Harry Potter movie last night - so if I sound like a cross between Queen Elizabeth I the Vicar of Dibley and Lord Voldemort, I shall be ever so grateful for your kindness and mercy.

It’s an odd thing – no doubt a great perplexity for some – that a woman should be in this pulpit, preaching the Word of God – in any tongue – to the assembled faithful. In 1719, when this church was built, such an event would be so preposterous as to be considered heresy worthy of severe punitive measures, lest the church by schism be rent asunder.

Indeed, my thoughts this morning go back to our historic sister in Christ, one Anne Marbury Hutchinson, a Puritan with the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who met a tragic, horrific, violent end and is now numbered among the saints and resting deservedly and eternally in the arms of Jesus. One of her descendants, one Sam Beling, writes of her thusly:
“Anne Marbury, my 10th great grandmother, was the daughter of Reverend Francis Marbury and Bridget Dryden and was born in 1591 in Alford, Lincolnshire, England. She married William Hutchinson, a merchant, 9 Aug 1612 in London. She and her husband came to America in 1634 with Reverend John Lothrop's group on the ship "Griffin" and settled in Boston.

No stranger to religion, Anne grew up during the persecution of the Catholics and Separatists under Elizabeth and James I. Her father, Rev. Francis Marbury, had been imprisoned twice for preaching against the incompetence of English ministers, though he later became the rector of St. Martin's Vintry, London, rector of St. Pancras, Soper Lane, and finally rector of St. Margaret's, New Fish Street. He was holding two of these offices simultaneously when he died in 1611.

Anne began her involvement with religion quite innocently, using her intelligence to interpret the only book available to her - the Bible. She had followed her beloved minister, Reverend John Cotton, whose removal to New England a year earlier, had been, she said, "a great trouble to me...I could not be at rest but I must come hither."

The religious climate in the Massachusetts Bay Colony was oppressive. As the colony took hold, ministers emphasized everyone's pious duty to pray, fast and discipline oneself. Noting that the male members of Boston's church met regularly after sermons to discuss the Bible, she started to hold similar meetings for women in her own home. At first the women discussed the previous Sunday's sermons, but before long Anne began telling them of her own beliefs which differed from those of the Boston ministers. She attracted hundreds of women - aided by her reputation as a skilled midwife - and men, too, soon joined her discussion group.

Brilliant, articulate and learned in the Bible and theology, she denied that conformity with the religious laws were a sign of godliness and insisted that true godliness came from inner experience of the Holy Spirit.”
Ann taught (because she wasn’t allowed to preach), that salvation came by grace, not works. Good Pauline theology, that. However, it was anathema to the Puritans.

Anne further exacerbated the local elders by claiming that only two Boston ministers were "elect" or saved, John Cotton and her brother-in-law, John Wheelwright.

Well, there it is, then! A religious upstart, just like her father before her! So you see, ‘tis a true saying and worthy of all to be received: “The apple doth not falleth far from the tree.”

Or, in the sacred words of Holy Scripture, as found in the Book of Sirach, chapter 26, beginning at the 10th verse: “If thy daughter be shameless, keep her in straitly, lest she abuse herself through overmuch liberty.” (RSV translation: “Keep strict watch over a headstrong daughter or else, when she finds her liberty, she will use it.”).

Anne did just that. And thus began her troubles. As her reputation grew, the gatherings attracted men, too, including the governor, Henry Vane.

In addition to stepping outside the bounds of conventional women's behavior, her denunciation of the colony's ministers and her belief that "he who has God's grace in his heart cannot go astray" set her at odds with the religious establishment. They moved to prosecute the woman.

Massachusetts's new governor, John Winthrop, criticized for having "a very voluble tongue, more bold than a man." Despite her vigorous defense of her beliefs, she was excommunicated and banished in 1638.

Then Reverend Wilson, whom she had once tried to evict from the Boston church, delivered her excommunication. "I doe cast you out and in the name of Christ I doe deliver you up to Satan, that you may learne no more to blaspheme, to seduce, and to lye."

"The Lord judgeth not as man judgeth," she retored. "Better to be cast out of the church than to deny Christ." She moved with her husband, all sixteen of her children and 60 of her followers to Rhode Island, where they purchased land from the Narragansett Tribe and founded the area now known as Portsmouth.

She is considered one of the founders of that colony, the first to establish complete separation of church and state and freedom of religion in what would become the United States.

After her husband's death in 1642, Anne Hutchinson moved to Long Island, in New York in what is now known as Pelham Bay. Tragically, she and all but her five eldest children were killed the next year in an Indian raid. If you’ve been following her story carefully, you will note that her death came only nine years after she first landed in America. She was 52 years old.

Mindful as I am of the history of women in the church, it is, then, that I proceed with great caution to this morning’s gospel which proclaims Jesus as King of King and Lord of Lords – a radical claim for the first century as well as our Mother Country of England – or anywhere else in the world that has a monarchy, for that matter.

The Episcopal Church would not come into being until 1789 – a full seventy years after the establishment of this chapel in the “first state” of Delaware – so proclaiming an earthly monarch would not cause much difficulty by observing this day as the Feast of Christ the King.

Still, it is a fearful thing to my trembling heart to note that Jesus himself spoke from the cross of salvation by grace.

I trust your vicar will not have me expelled from this pulpit and this community for what I am about to preach – although, as this gospel clearly indicates, one can never be too certain of the consequences of preaching the Good News – no matter the century or setting – or, one’s gender.

We meet our Lord this morning at the place called ‘The Skull’, where he had been crucified with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Many in the crowd mocked him, including the religious leaders of his day, as well as the soldiers who stood guard.

Here, you will be pleased for me to quote scripture:
“And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, ‘If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.’ But the other answering rebuked him, saying, ‘Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds : but this man hath done nothing amiss.’ And he said unto Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. ‘And Jesus said unto him, ‘Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.’”
Well, there it is, then, isn’t it? Straight away and full stop, from the lips of our Sovereign Lord. Even criminals shalt be allowed entrance into Paradise. Not by things which they hath wrought – or, not. Yeah, verily I say unto thee, thou cans’t earn one’s way into heaven. It is a gift, this grace of God, given freely and clearly to all – whether deserved or not – judged as we might be by earthly standards. For it is God alone who judges and decides.

As the Outline of the Faith,which would eventually be articulated, centuries later the 1979 Book of Common Prayer states, echoing St. Paul, “Our assurance as Christians is that nothing, not even death, shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I know it may be considered quite impertinent of me, a mere woman, to say, but I would suggest that nothing – not even the institutional church, shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing. No man. No woman. No government. No church tribunal. Nothing shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.

And that’s the greatest heresy, you know, of which I speak with boldness and certainty of faith. That we shall all one day, in that great by and by, be welcomed into heaven by our Lord, Jesus Christ.

I think the greatest cosmic joke that awaits us, one and all, is that when we arrive at the gates of heaven and peer in, we shall all be thoroughly scandalized by who is there. Yes, even drunken great, great Uncle Josiah and that scoundrel great Aunt Amelia. Even some here present this very day whom you dislike and distrust. Yes, it’s true! All of us – each and every one – shall one day be in Paradise with Jesus – who loves us whether or not we like each other.

Indeed, I believe that today, yes, this very day, we are in a paradise with Jesus. The greatest sin is that we don’t believe that and behave accordingly. Just think of it, dear friends.

If we truly believed that this earth, this marvelous gift of God’s creation, were our paradise here on earth, just think of how differently we would treat Mother Earth. Think of the pollution we would not havoc on this planet. The toxins we would not unleash. The good food and water we would have for everyone in abundance.

Think of how we might treat each other differently, if we knew that we would, one day, be spending eternity with one another. Now, there is a thought that would sober even the most severely anesthetized dolt.

Does not our Lord say, “Today, shalt thou be with me in Paradise”? How would life be different if we believed that today was that day?

"Courageous Exponent of Civil Liberty and Religious Toleration" says the inscription at the bottom of a statue raised in her honor in my hometown of Boston.

But the most fitting tribute to Anne Hutchinson's influence – proof that her ideals ultimately prevailed over her opponents' – is the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Yes, yes. I know. There is a certain lady from this great state who recently questioned that First Amendment. Never mind. Even lack of intelligence and education will not separate us from the love of God. Jesus loves her, too. And yes, she too will one day be in Paradise.

I know these are scandalous things to proclaim. Heresy! Some will shout. Making such proclamations may well result in my being pilloried in the churchyard latter this afternoon by your Vicar. I may well be run out of this fair state and sent packing back to New Jersey, from whence I most recently hailed or to my home state of Massachusetts.

Indeed, some may try to burn me at the stake for such heresy. Such as been the lot of women far greater than I.

As Anne would say, “"Better to be cast out of the church than to deny Christ."

Nevertheless, I speak of my faith with "a very voluble tongue, more bold than a man." I am assured, however, that, when I meet Jesus, my Sovereign and my Lord, at the gates of Heaven, I shall hear Jesus say unto even one such as I, as he once saith unto Ann Maubry Huntchinson, and will say likewise to every one of you – even those who persecute me, - "Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”

"S/he who has God's grace in his or her heart cannot go astray."

This is my belief, founded on the scriptures. I have no other.

Here I stand. I can do no other.



Brother David said...

Looking forward to the photos!

Hutch said...

What words thy preach, sister Elizabeth! Verily it makes my blood run hot to hear such tales from the pulpit - to hear Our Lord proclaimed as such a friend to all! And, boogers, would I have loved to be there and got to dress up - what great fun!

it's margaret said...

Anne Marbury Hutchinson --she is my 11-greats ago grandmother. Love what you have written here.

And, so --did the presider stand at the side of the altar so all could see that there was no hocus-pocus?!

Elaine C. said...

Rock on ...

Unknown said...

the Presider sure did stand at the was a great service. A full house to boot!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

We had so much fun, it's probably illegal in all 50 states.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Margaret - GET OUT! Really? I knew there was a reason for your feistiness. Rock on!

Lapinbizarre said...

Great sermon. Did you pray for the Queen and all set in authority under her? Minor nitpick - at this date the surplice was seldom worn by the clergy, except for the administration of the Sacraments (communion, baptism, matrimony). The preaching gown, still in general use in many Protestant denominations, would have been worn, with the scarf (hood, don't know), at morning & evening prayer.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, darlin'. I'm not an historian, and I appreciate the information. Next year! (Note to self: next year, no wig)

Lapinbizarre said...

Mid-18th c Anglican clergyman wearing gown, scarf, bands & clerical wig.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, he certainly cuts a imposing figure, doesn't he? I've said it before and I'll say it again - the church is the only place I can be in a long white or black dress and be in men's clothing.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Looks a lot like our 1662 service on "Reformation Sunday" at Trinity-Kirksville Oct. 31. (Yeah, I know...we Piskies don't make a big deal of Reformation Sunday but we have so many expatriate Lootrans in our parish we sort of celebrate it under the radar screen...usually by singing "A mighty fortress is our God." LOL

Anonymous said...

Does this mean you tell the English that they should separate church and state?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Oh, my dear Anonymous, I would never presume to tell the English anything.