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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Children of The Light

“Children of the Light” (Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41)
Metropolitan Community Church, Rehoboth Beach, DE
Lent IV – Refreshment Sunday – March 30, 2014
(the Rev’d Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton

Well, that’s quite a Gospel we just heard, wasn’t it? I mean, no one can catch a break from the Pharisees – not the man born blind, not his parents, not even Jesus.

Jesus healed a man who was born blind – with some mud and some spit and some prayers – but he did it on the Sabbath, which is a Big No-No for the Teapublicans – Oh, I mean, Pharisees, of course.

The man who regained his sight is brought not once, but twice before the Pharisees to tell his story. They even drag his parents into the mess to testify – but they wisely defer the question to their son, who is obviously as annoyed at the blind ignorance of the Pharisees as I get with a certain senator from Texas and the former governor of Alaska.

Some scholars theorize that this act of healing the blind man on the Sabbath was the final straw; that it was after this event that the Pharisees began to plot to have Jesus crucified.

The man in the Gospel story may have been born blind but it didn’t take the restoration of his sight for him to know that there are none so blind as those who refuse to see.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes, “Once you were darkness but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of the light!”

You know, some of us are like that man born blind. Ever since we were children, some of us have been told we are not good enough, not smart enough, not pretty or handsome enough, not thin enough, not tall enough – not enough. Some have even been told that we were born in sin. That, who we are is somehow our parent’s fault. And, even now, some of us hear that we are not normal enough – whatever that means – and all of those negative messages can lead us into the darkness of the valley of despair.  

But, St. Paul reminds us that we are children of the Light. In the midst of Lent, it’s easy to forget that. Fortunately, this is the fourth Sunday in Lent. We’re halfway to Holy Week and Easter. Indeed, in the Anglican/Episcopal tradition, which is the source of my spiritual roots, today is known as “Refreshment Sunday”. It’s a wee bit of a break from all the doom and gloom and an opportunity to let in some light and dance and sing .

It’ is also known as “Latare Sunday” and sometimes known as “Rose” or “Mothering" Sunday - probably because in the 16th century, people went to the nearest Cathedral or their "home" church (which was most likely the Cathedral) for worship. In some churches, this theme of lightness is symbolized in vestments that are rose or pink in color.

In England and, indeed, in much of Europe, it was also a time when women employed as domestics were given time off and one of the few times during the year that the entire family could be reunited to share a meal together. And, to celebrate, a special, rich cake was made – known as Simnel Cake. In fact, I’ve made some for you today for Fellowship Hour after church. So, don’t go rushing out the door before you have a piece of my cake.

My Portuguese grandmother made Simnel Cakes faithfully. Every year. Except she called them "Bolos do riso" or "Laughter Cakes".  I’ll tell you why in a minute.

Apparently, in the original British version, on the top of the cake and around the edge one is supposed to put eleven marzipan balls to represent the true disciples of Jesus. Judas is omitted, of course. In some variations Christ is also represented by a ball placed at the center. "Laughter Cakes" were most appropriate on "Refreshment Sunday" because, in the Pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic Church, Lent was taken as seriously as a heart attack.

We fasted every Wednesday AND Friday - I mean, no solid food, just lots of juice and water, and lots of milk and sugar in our tea - and didn't break the fast until AFTER we had gone to church and said the Stations of the Cross. At four o'clock. Promptly.

I think I still might be able to say that liturgy in the original Portuguese from memory.

We moved around the darkened church, Father with his prayer book, reading to us of the various stations in Portuguese. As we processed from station to station, we sang the various verses of Stabat Mater Dolorosa. In Latin. Of course.

I thought it an unbearably sad hymn. It always made me weep - well, once I stopped giggling at all the old Portuguese ladies - "The Widows" - dressed all in black from head to toe, including the black scarf which they wore snugly around their head, tied in a large knot under their more than ample chins.

"The Widows" were also known as "The Wailers" to us kids - which they would start doing as soon as the procession began. Wailing, that is.

As kids, we joked that they were paid to wail. We figured they were as excited for the annual arrival of Lent as we were for Summer Vacation. We surmised that they made extra money every Wednesday and Friday in Lent in addition to being paid to wail at every funeral the church held.

They weren't of course. Paid, that is. We were bad. I know. Actually, we were just being kids trying to make the best of a Very Adult situation. We were being Children of Light.

'Round about the third or fourth week of Lent, we kids stopped rebelling against having to be in church THREE WHOLE TIMES a week during Lent. We were, by then, resigned to our fate and took hope in the knowledge that Lent was Almost Over.

So, by the time it was mid-week of Lent III, rolling right into the fourth Sunday in Lent - having not had ANY meat, not even so much as a hot dog or even my mother's infamous "Hot Dog Stew" (but we were allowed chicken on Sunday). . . AND having given up candy for Lent. . . AND having done Stations of the Cross twice a week in addition to church every Sunday - I was ready for a little Bolos do riso. Any kind of 'riso'. You know what I mean?

We made the cakes on the Saturday before Lent IV. My grandmother and I would put the raisins to soak in the brandy - homemade by my grandfather - before going to bed Friday night. I was the oldest granddaughter, and we lived right upstairs, so I was allowed and nobody else was. Ha!

We would gather in her kitchen sometime on Saturday afternoon, after all the other Saturday chores had been done, including polishing our shoes and laundering our white gloves and starching our white mantilla – a circular piece of lace that every female wore. And, if you forgot your mantilla, you bobby-pinned a tissue to your head. Seriously! Any woman of a certain age in this congregation who grew up RC will attest to this.

On Saturday morning, we would line up all the ingredients on the kitchen table - the older kids measuring the liquid ingredients, the younger ones allowed to measure the dry ingredients. One of us was assigned to greasing the pans, another to chopping the walnuts (which we first had to crack - usually with a hammer - and get the meaty walnut out before chopping).

And I, only I, as the oldest grandchild present, was allowed to sift the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves into the batter. Ha!

And my grandmother, only my grandmother, was allowed to pour in the hot applesauce. We all stood back when she did that, in a respectful silence which was tinged with a bit of awe saved only for sorcerers and magicians.

And, indeed, she did cook up laughter there in her kitchen. In the midst of the doldrums of Lent, she was making Bolos do riso - "Laughter Cakes".

Oh, but here's the special ingredient - the secret of "Laughter Cakes".

After every ingredient had been added and stirred, and before she poured the batter into the cake pans, she would gather us round the Very Large Mixing Bowl. And then, she would tell us not to worry. That Lent was a very sad time, but that soon, it would be Easter. Jesus would play a wonderful trick on Satan, and death would not kill him.

And, because death could no longer kill Jesus, death could no longer kill us. Because of Jesus, we would know eternal life in heaven where we would all someday be, once again.

She would tell us this and then say, "So, laugh, children. Laugh into the bowl. Laugh into the cake. Laugh at the Devil. He can't win. He can't ever win! Only Jesus can win. Only Jesus! Laugh! Laugh! Laugh!"

And, we would. Laugh. Loud. Right into the bowl. I swear people ten blocks away could hear us laugh.

It was the best part of making - and eating - that cake.

And yes, she would put the brandy my grandfather made in the cake AND the frosting.

Hmm . . . maybe that's also why she called them "Bolos do riso".

Nah, the alcohol in the brandy is baked off.  Laughter was the special ingredient that "made" that cake - special for Refreshment Sunday.

Here’s what I’ve learned about darkness and light, about good and evil. It’s this: Laughter, in the face of Evil, is the greatest statement of faith. Only a fool would laugh in front of Evil if they didn’t believe in God. In order to laugh in the face of Evil, you have to know – deep down in your soul – that ultimately, God is. And, God wins.

In the words of a preacher I once heard, God may not show up when you want God, and God may not even show up when you need God, but when God shows up, God is always right on time. 

So, yes, there are a few more weeks of Lent left on the calendar. And yes, this has been a Very long, Very cold, Very snowy, Very miserable winter. And yes, we’ve still got to make it through Holy Week.

But, take heart! Good Friday is coming, yes, but so is Easter. Remember, we are Children of the Light.  The star that shone over Bethlehem still calls to the wise to find and follow the One who is the Light of the World.  And, because of our adoption in the baptism of Jesus, we are Children of Light.

So, as my grandmother would say, “Laugh, children! Laugh! . Laugh at the Devil. He can't win. He can't ever win! Only Jesus can win. Only Jesus! Laugh! Laugh! Laugh!"


Here's the recipe:
Bolos do riso (Simnel Cake)

1 1/2  c. raisins
4 tbsp. (or so) Brandy (optional)
1 c. shortening
2 c. granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 c. very fine flour (all purpose will do if you sift it)
2 tsp. Baking soda
2 1/2 tsp. Cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground Cloves
2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. Salt
1 1/2 c. chopped walnuts
zest of one lemon (optional)
2 c. hot applesauce

Soak raisins in brandy overnight. (optional)

Mix together in a large bowl - shortening, sugar and eggs. Into that sift flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Add chopped walnuts and raisins with the brandy. Add 2 cups of applesauce while it is VERY HOT. Blend thoroughly. Add optional lemon zest. 

Laugh into the batter. Laugh, children, LAUGH!

Pour batter into 8 1/2 x 12" pan (greased and floured.) 
Bake at 350 F for about 30 minutes (or until done).

When done, cool cake in pan 5 minutes - then remove to finish cooling on a cake rack. Frost generously with Butter frosting.

Butter Frosting

1/4 lb. (one stick) Butter
1 lb Confectioners Sugar (10-X)
about 3 tbsp heavy cream (or milk)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Blend together the butter and sugar. Add in the cream (or milk) and vanilla until smooth. Makes enough frosting for the cake above.


Unknown said...

Difficult time posting. Anyway.... More Lenten reading. I can't remember a time since my 1998 baptism when Lent has become actually difficult, painful. I have become conscious of my shortcomings, of those of others...but much of the journey has been to turn away from what I see in others and focus instead on what I know lives in me. This far and away enough. Maybe consciousness of my wrongs can lead me to pray for myself, but always mindfully of how I have affected my family--yes it is about them and me. Family is always the most difficult. There is no escape and no backing away from what amounts to a lifetime of pain accumulated on all sides. And there is too little I can "fix." I can only pray that I can work on fixing myself. There is no such thing as an amend expressed as "I'm sorry." There is only action discerned. Will it be? I have no idea. I can only, again, that amendment of life is seen and provides a way to effect some degree of harmony. And I need to accept that nothing may work.

Unknown said...

Kindly, is it necessary to make such comments as Teapublicans / Pharisees, even when the focus of your thoughtful sermon isn't remotely connected to partisan politics. I'm a conservative who occasionally comes to your site for a view from "the other side." I often don't agree, but do get disappointed with terms like this and "bottom feeders" etc.. that show up from time to time. I believe such language doesn't honor anyone's image of God. Keep writing well!

--Joseph Messner

8thday said...

I have long walked away from religion's traditions and trappings, but I do so enjoy your story telling about them. It brings me back to a very innocent time of my life.

I just might try this recipe . . . and laugh.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Ken - You wrote: And there is too little I can "fix." I can only pray that I can work on fixing myself.

If that's what gets accomplished, it will have been sufficient.

God bless.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Joseph -

"Teapublicans", if you haven't figured it out, is a way of talking about those members of the Republican Party who are members of the Tea Party. That's descriptive, not pejorative. Unlike what I could read about people like me on most conservative websites.

Tell me how those Teapublicans of today are not like the Pharisees of antiquity. The similarities are pretty remarkable. Again, Pharisee is descriptive, not pejorative - except, of course, in John's Gospel who even uses the term "the Jews" when he means religious authorities (i.e. Pharisees)

OBTW and PS - It's been years since I've used the term "bottom feeders". Ever since those who are actually bottom feeders gave up and, as some Episcopalians in VA are heard to say, "went over to Africa".

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks 8th Day. The recipe is really good. Someone on Sunday said, "It's like a spice cake on steroids". Good description.

Unknown said...

I don't like church because the people in church hate each other; if you truly believed in a loving God, you would be nicer to each other.
So I don't bother.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hi, Fred - I hear you and I hate to admit it, but you're not wrong. Problem is, you're not right either. By that I mean that there are churches were people are kind and caring to each other. But, I do understand,if you've been hurt in the past, that it's not worth the bother to try again. I understand. And, I'm sorry and wish I could promise that it will never happen again. I can't do that, and that makes me very sad. I trust your relationship with God is good and that you do your very best to keep that relationship. May God bless you with solace and peace.