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Happy Canada Day!

I love Canada and have many fond memories of Canada Day.  One year when the children were very young and the Confederation Bridge was but a dream, we found ourselves waiting for the ferry to PEI.  As we waited a band played 'O Canada' at the terminal and the children waded into a sea of lupins growing wild on the roadside.  We have spent Canada Day on the road driving across this vast land and heard and seen afternoon picnics and recreational sporting tournaments in province after province with the same flag waving over all and with children's faces all painted with the same maple leaf.  Once while returning from a family celebration north of the city, we drove through one small Ontario town after another at dusk.  And the children were convinced each town was awaiting our arrival before setting off the first of the fireworks.  Our land is vast and great and Canada Day is a magical celebration of the wonder of it all.  

While we have travelled vastly in this country, I quickly came to realize whatever the day, Newfoundland is like no place.  Small towns and hamlets on the eastern shore get their air conditioning on hot summer days from icebergs that float into their bay or inlet, and the warmest element of all is the hospitality of the people.  Where else could one ask an innkeeper the whereabouts of the nearest laundry mat only to have them persuade you to leave it with them so you could make the most of your time on the rock? 

You have to love Newfoundland, but don't expect to wake up to celebrations in St. John's on Canada Day.  Ninety-nine years ago on July 1 before they had become part of this nation, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment having survived Gallipoli in Turkey emerged from the trenches at Beaumont-Hamel in the Battle of the Somme on the Western Front at 8:45 a.m. That day ninety percent of Newfoundland's fighting force was lost.  Gone in a few hours was a generation of young men.   Few other places made such a sacrifice during the war to end all wars and they paid the price in one day - July 1, 1916.   

And so it is the citizens of the rock rightly spend the morning of July 1 marking the sacrifice of their forebears, with poppies and forget-me-nots at military memorials, but when the afternoon arrives and it is still morning in the rest of the country the mourning for the fallen is followed by celebrations of Canada Day.  They are a big hearted people.  How blessed we are to have Newfoundland in the family we call Canada.  I say we all mark a moment of silence with them on the morning of Canada Day and remember the greatness of this land was only achieved by great sacrifice.  

One year we were in Scotland on July 1 and spotted a Canadian flag flying from a window on the Royal Mile and one of the children in a loud voice wished everyone on the open upper level of the bus a Happy Canada day and started to sing 'O Canada.'  It is a great land a great day and wherever you are, whether you are Canadian or not, I wish you the peace and goodwill of Canada.  

Grace & Peace,

Peter 

A month ago we visited the German Benedictine chapel at Tabgha on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee where Christian pilgrims have been coming for at least 1600 years, as it is believed to be the place where Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes.  The mosaic of loaves and fishes built into the chapel floor dates back to the fifth century and has become one of the most recognizable Christian symbols in the Holy Land.  The pattern of the Tabgha mosaic can be found in gift shops on everything from ceramics to t-shirts.  The site is one of the busiest screed spaces along the Galilean seashore attracting upwards of 5,000 pilgrims each day.  

We held a brief service in the Narthex of the chapel where we read the familiar story, prayed and sang a hymn before entering the chapel where pilgrims sit and pray in silence around the magnificent mosaic.  The chapel is located steps from the Sea of Galilee and within a few hundred yards of a Benedictine monastery to the west and the Franciscan Church of the Primacy of Peter to the east. 

I don't know if anyone was in the chapel early yesterday morning when a gang of young thugs launched an arson attack intent on destroying the church and the mosaic, but it is clear from the graffiti they left behind that the purpose of their attack was to cleanse the land of idolatry and "cut down the idol worshippers."  

There were two people injured by smoke inhalation and the damage to the church is in the millions of dollars, but no one was killed.  From the photographs I have seen online it would appear the area where we gathered to worship has been badly damaged.    

The graffiti would seem to point the finger at fanatical young settlers from one of the radical Jewish settlements in the West Bank.  The attack has been denounced by Israeli leaders as a hate crime.  I learned about it in an email from a former Toronto Rabbi now living in Jerusalem.   He is horrified by the developments as are most Israelis.  Thankfully no one was killed and the attack took place under the cover of darkness when the site was still quiet.  

A day or two prior to our visit to Tabgha we had stood on the safe side of the Israeli Syrian border and looked across to a town that had been conquered earlier in the year by ISIS forces.  It is so easy to assume that evil is there and we are here on the safe side, but evil is all around us.  

A young white man attended Bible Study on Wednesday evening at a historic African American Church in Charleston, North Carolina.  He was welcomed and no doubt came face to face with the love of Christ, but chose fear and hatred instead and opened fire on nine Christians whose only intent that night had been to study the Bible and pray.  We don't yet know, but he may have even thought himself a Christian.  Evil was apparently trying to spark a race war that night.  The perpetrators of the attack in Tabgha were probably not looking to pick a fight, but were probably hoping to scare away potential visitors to the Holy Land.  The fact the act has been so quickly condemned should serve to reassure tourists.  

Rather than be provoked to warfare or to give in to fear, we must insist on justice.  The temptation towards vengeance must be resisted.  Within a stone's throw of Tabgha is the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus instructed his followers to turn the other cheek and not repay evil with evil, but to do unto others as we would have done unto us.  He called us to love and pray for our enemies and when push came to shove he did exactly that.  

Evil still seems at a safe distance on this side of the Canadian border, but we mustn't fool ourselves.  It was only a matter of weeks ago that the phrase, 'cultural genocide' 'was applied to our nation's treatment of aboriginal peoples.   Evil is never far away and knocks on the door of the heart whenever fear and greed and selfishness are given a welcome.  

I am moved by the Pope's encyclical about the environment which was also released yesterday.  He spoke courageously about the threat of climate change and the filth we have made of this planet.  Often times the threats to the global environment are rooted in the same fear and greed and pride that causes people to want to start wars.  We must start to clean up the planet and on all sides of every border we need to start with the heart.  

The chapel in Tabgha has apparently been closed for the next three days.  Perhaps over the course of these days we as Christians should tune our hearts afresh to the One who still stills the storms, feeds the hungry and prays, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."  And it is time to renew our resolve to work and pray that Christ's longing for God's will to be done would be fulfilled on earth as it is in heaven.  

The first time the church was shut down for three days everything turned around.    So whether we are burdened for peace in the middle-east, an end to the racial divide in America, a healing between our nation and the first nations, or the health of the planet, we must launch out in faith, clinging to love, and expecting nothing less of our God than resurrection and new life.  

Grace and  Peace,  

Peter    



Summer So Close

 

Summer is upon us and how wonderful it is. It doesn't officially start until 12:38 p.m. on June 21, but it is already starting to blossom in the heart.   For me this season brings back the fondest memories of childhood adventures.  Sometimes it is through a soothing swim on a hot day, or the smoky air of a cottage campfire that like a time machine transports our souls momentarily at least to a simpler time, while delivering us from the burden of too many busy days.  Even the creak of a rocking chair on the porch can seem to echo the comforting voice of  loved ones long since gone.  And when we dig in the warm moist earth with seeds and roots now bursting and blooming all around we can all but hear nature's great symphony through which God invites us to be young again.  Summer is not quite here, but how blessed is the thought.  I can hardly wait for the first taste of sweet corn and tomatoes fresh from the vine.  Let us cup our ears and let the music begin. 

Grace and peace,

Peter

The Jordan to Jerusalem

Sunday started with morning worship on the banks of the Jordan River.   We thought of where we would normally be on a Sunday morning and offered prayers for the church and family back home.  

Our first impression of the Jordan was that it is neither deep nor wide as the song of Michael rowing his boat has always suggested.  When we read the story of the children of Israel crossing the Jordan to enter the promised land we were nonetheless grateful that they had passed through on dry ground because, honestly, who would want to touch the water?  The water was green and uninviting and so as we read the story of the leper Naaman being instructed by the prophet Elisha to dip himself in the river seven times we understood his reluctance.

Then of course we read a text  concerning John the Baptist immersing great numbers of people in the Jordan River as witness to their repentance and faith.  They too must have faced the dirty water Naaman resisted, but they swallowed pride and surrendered their guilt and fear and everything else that stood in the way of a new life in God's promises.  And as a sign of our identity with our own baptisms we sang the baptismal hymn, 'Just as I am.'  

A few hours later we arrived in Jerusalem and looked over the city from the Mount to Olives from which Jesus wept over Jerusalem. Our  arrival in the city coincided with Jerusalem Day when some ultra-nationalistic Israeli Jews remember the conquest of east Jerusalem in 1967.  It is not a day of celebration for all and so there was great tension in the city when we arrived.  Roads were closed, helicopters were buzzing overhead, and soldiers were on the lookout everywhere even in our hotel. 

Our day ended in evensong at the Anglican Cathedral adjacent to our hotel. Even there Jerusalem Day with all its tension was the subject of the homily, but it ended with a warning not to jump to conclusions.  The presiding priest cautioned us saying that those who come to Jerusalem for a week are ready to write a book on how to solve the problems, while those who stay a month write an article and those who stay a year have no idea what to say because they have come to realize how deeply complicated the issues in Jerusalem are. 

Even in church we could hear the helicopters buzzing overhead and my mind went back to the quiet spot where we began the day on the Jordan River.  Perhaps the secret to at least beginning to solve my own problems lies buried in the Jordan River - a place of humility, penance, and grace.  I wonder if others might see the wisdom of beginning a day in such a place.  

Grace and peace,

Peter

p.s. At all times all day Sunday we felt very safe and Monday was a day of real peace in the city.  All is well.  

Tabor - 'Tis good Lord to be here

The Church of the Transfiguration sits atop Mount Tabor, the location which the church father, Origen, identified as the site of the transfiguration in the fourth century and has been a destination of Christian pilgrims ever since.  Other traditions have suggested Mount Hermon, but through the ages churches have been built atop Mount Tabor.  Today there is both a Greek Orthodox church and the Franciscan Church of the Transfiguration. 

Antonio Baruluzzi designed the Franciscan church which was built in 1924 atop the ruins of two earlier churches dating back to the 4th and 12th centuries.  The porches of the church offer such spectacular vistas of the surrounding territory that one could almost forget to enter the church, yet the Sanctuary is no less impressive.   

The vistas and viewpoint however came at a cost.  In reading the text I have always wondered how the nine disciples who were not invited to come up the mountain with Jesus felt at being left behind to do his work on the plain.  Remembering how the disciples argued about who would be the greatest, it  seemed to me the nine left behind might have been resentful, but after our  vehicle climbed the endless hair pin turns on the ascent one could only wonder how long it must have taken to make the climb and how tiring it must have been.  It would have been nothing less than exhausting and the three chosen for the ascent must have had their moments on the way up when they envied those left below.  And perhaps those left behind considered themselves blessed.  

But for the disciples it wasn't the vistas they discovered at the top of the mountain that would sustain them, but the vision of Jesus with Moses and Elijah - the law and the prophets - and above all the voice of God identifying Jesus as the beloved Son and instructing them to listen to him.  It was only right to build churches atop the mountain through the ages for pilgrims to enter in search of the Word that rises above even the wonder of creation, and to encounter the light of God's redeeming love in Christ.  

Long after the mountaintop experience at Tabor I still found myself singing the old Transfiguration hymn, Tis good Lord to be here.  

1 'Tis good, Lord, to be here!

Thy glory fills the night;

Thy face and garments, like the sun,

Shine with unborrowed light.

2 'Tis good, Lord, to be here,

Thy beauty to behold

Where Moses and Elijah stand,

Thy messengers of old.

3 Fulfiller of the past

And hope of things to be,

We hail Thy body glorified

And our redemption see.

4 Before we taste of death,

We see Thy kingdom come;

We long to hold the vision bright,

And make this hill our home.

5 'Tis good, Lord, to be here!

Yet we may not remain;

But since you bidst us leave the mount,

Come with us to the plain.And our redemption see.


Grace and Peace,
Peter

The Hidden Waterfall

About half way between the Mount of Beatitudes and Capernaum sits the tiny church of St. Peter's Primacy in the same spot it is believed a stranger once called from the shore to a dejected band of fisherman who had been out all night with nothing to show for it.  The group truly were disheartened having returned to the very things they had once left in order to follow Jesus.  As wonderful as the resurrection was, Jesus was no longer with them 24/7, nor they with him, and so what else were they to do than what they had always done?  

In fact the chief fisherman may have been wondering if he had truly been with Jesus at all having professed to be the one would never let him down, only to have denied him three times.  But of course the stranger was the Risen Christ and he had come to restore Peter and to renew his call.  

Here we were reading again the account of John 21 in the very spot where it is believed they came ashore with their nets filled to overflowing.  Our guide told us one of the primary reasons this is believed to have been the site is because of the seven springs that surround it.  One of them is known as the hidden waterfall - called such because the spring bubbles up several feet making it the natural place for fisherman to come ashore and wash their nets.  Perhaps it was near this exact spot that Peter felt his own soul cleansed by Jesus' call to feed his sheep.  

The thought that Peter had found his way home to the Risen Christ in the vicinity of the hidden waterfall couldn't help but bring to mind the words of the poet, T. S. Elliot from his poem Four Quartets.  

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea...

Here was Peter and here were we arriving where we started and knowing it for the first time.  Our pilgrims one by one, instinctively and without instruction started taking off their shoes to step into the Sea of Galilee.  Deep down we all knew it was holy ground.   

Grace and Peace,

Peter 

The Beatitudes In The Wind

Within a short distance of Capernaum we visited three sacred sites associated with Jesus' life and ministry and in each place there was a church or chapel in which to pray.  At the Mount of Beatitudes is a beautiful Franciscan church on the hilltop looking down on a natural amphitheatre and beyond it to the Sea of Galilee at the bottom of the hill.  

The lush garden lined with date-palms and cypress trees was alive with colourful bougainvillea and the fragrant crown of thorns.  Our pilgrims stood on the porch of the church where we read the Beatitudes, sang a hymn and prayed before entering the church to meditate and pray.  

As we stood on the porch we were aware of a tremendous wind from the Sea of Galilee.  It was only natural that someone asked how thousands of people could possibly have heard Jesus without a loud speaker?  And learning the wind was not so unusual in these parts the question also arose about the effect of such a wind on the acoustics.  It made it hard enough for us to hear each other on the porch.  Of course it is entirely possible that before he addressed the thousands in the amphitheatre Jesus had a little conversation with the wind saying, "Peace, be still." It wouldn't have been the first time.  

It is hard to hear the Sermon on the Mount on the calmest of days.  The Beattitudes all but turn the world upside down - our world - my world.  It is counter-intuitive to suggest the poor are the blessed ones and along with them those who mourn and even the meek.  Perhaps we can't hear it without the wind, at least not without the Holy Spirit..  And when we truly listen and let Jesus' words speak to our hearts we too will know the peace of Christ whom even the wind and the waves obey.  

Grace and Peace,
Peter 

Capernaum - Lost & Found

We were among the first to set foot in Capernaum this morning.  The town on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee that Jesus called home had been lost for many centuries until the last when archaeologists unearthed an ancient church beneath which was evidence of yet an earlier church and then finally the floor of a home.  Whose home might have made a good foundation for a first century church?  

In Mark chapter one we read of Jesus visiting in the home of Simon and Andrew, two local fisherman.  Simon's mother-in-law was very sick and Jesus healed her.  By the time supper was over they ventured out only to discover a world of sick and infirmed at the doorstep longing to be healed.  Surely this was the house where the first house church met and upon which the later churches were built.   We know not her name, but it is referred to as the home of Simon's mother in-law. 

Out the door and up the street lie the ruins of an ancient synagogue, undoubtedly the very place where Jesus cast out a demon in Mark chapter one.   And somewhere nearby is the house where the paralytic was lowered through the roof to be declared forgiven and cleansed by Jesus before being instructed to arise, take up his mat and walk.  Somewhere along the same shore Levi the tax collector was invited by Jesus to come and follow and he was given a new name for the venture - Matthew. 

In this very place, Christ made his home in the world.  There is nothing flashy about it and there probably never was.  The people were weary and broken each in their own way, which is why he came.  For in chapter two when the religious leaders questioned why a so called 'prophet' would be eating and drinking with sinners he replied that the physician comes to heal the sick not those who are well.  And so it was Jesus came to heal the sick and forgive the sinners.  

I sometimes wonder if I don't lose sight of this great truth just as the ruins of Capernaum had been lost sight of for many centuries.  Jesus came to mend and forgive a broken and sinful world and he is still among us longing to do the same through our witness and service in love.    

As we left I found myself quietly singing, "My Lord, you wore no royal crown..."  It was the third verse that truly spoke to me,

You did not live a world away

in hermit's cell or desert cave,

but felt our pain and shared each day

with those you came to seek and save.

I love going to  Capernaum and I am glad it was found, but perhaps it was meant to be lost for a time so that Christ might be found in our cities and in our hearts bearing witness to the forgiveness, mercy and grace of the Kingdom of God through our lives.  

Grace and Peace,

Peter

Calm on Galilee

The boat stopped in the middle of the Sea of Galilee and we sat in perfect silence.   The Galilee can kick up quite a storm when the winds descend upon its surface causing the waves to rise up several metres, but not on this day.  Here there was a wonderful peace.  

In the silence of the calm we read the account of Jesus sleeping through the disciples panic in the midst of a storm only to be accused of not caring and how they marvelled when Jesus rose up and spoke peace to the storm and the wind and the waves obeyed him.  They were still obeying him on the calm of this day as we sang, Jesus Saviour Pilot me.  

One remembered it as the hymn her late father played on the piano and where once the storm of grief had blown there was now a perfect peace.  Another remembered it as the hymn sung to her by her home congregation as she left her homeland and immigrated to Canada many years before and how the great pilot of the sea had stayed with her through many a storm since.  And then there was silence.  

Soon the boat's motor was started up and the journey to the other side begun but it was the calm and the peace on the Sea of Galilee - the very peace of Christ's presence that does remain with us forever.  

Grace and Peace,

Peter 

A Prophet for our Times

Ten years ago on May 30, 2015, Yorkminster Park received a visit from a most remarkable man, Abuna Elias Chacour.  He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times on account of his work to promote peace in the Middle-East through education.  He was a village priest perplexed by the inability of communities to find peace.  

On his visit in 2005 Abuna Chacour spoke on a Wednesday evening with incredible passion about the Mar Elias school he started where Christian, Muslim Druze, and Jewish children are educated together.  It is a Christian school unapologetically, yet it is a school where old hostilities and fears are laid aside and students of all faiths are invited and empowered to love God and love their neighbour.  

Ten years ago Abuna Chacour was sixty-five and full of fire and faith.  When he finished speaking he made it very clear that he wanted me to visit him one day in Ibillin, Israel.   Since that time he has served as Archbishop of the Greek Catholic Church, Israel's largest Christian group. 

I am embarrassed to say it took me ten years to get there, but on Wednesday afternoon I finally arrived and not alone.  I was with a group of thirty-eight pilgrims weary and exhausted having disembarked only sixteen hours earlier.  I was delighted to discover that the fire in the Archbishop had not gone out.  The passion for peace in the Middle-East continues to burn in the man and his faith in the Risen Christ has given him an undying hope that speaks of God's Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  

His idea of loving his neighbour comes not without a longing for justice for his Palestinian family, but it is both open and frank in its desire to listen and learn and in its insistence that love have the last word.  He related many remarkable stories to us about the school and its students as well as tragic tales of young lives lost.  

According to Wikipedia the Mar Elias High School is ranked as the fourth best high school in all of Israel.  It is ironic that while the archbishop has given his life to building peace through education, he said he had to unlearn everything he learned in seminary wight the exception of two great truths.  The first truth he clings to is that God does not kill and the second, that God is love.  He has spent his life not only unlocking the wisdom or those truths, but putting them into action.  If even half the students in his school can get it half right there is indeed great cause for hope and celebration.  

Shalom,

Peter

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Rev. Dr. Peter Holmes

Peter Holmes, BA, MDiv, DMin is the Minister of the Congregation at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church

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