Christ Church, Nazareth
The Rt. Rev. Gregory H. Rickel
January 12, 2017
So, we are all here! Finally. It wasn’t easy, but it was a piece of cake compared to those who have known and experienced this journey for thousands of years. Getting here can be difficult, but in the end, it is worth it. I always feel that, and I hope you will too. One of the first times I came with Barry, who has been here far more often than me, and just about every time since, he often begins our time together by reminding the group of one of the earliest Christian pilgrim inscriptions found on the walls, it simply says:
We came. We came.
From then till now, that is important – to come here, to be here. I have a lot of people back home, many clergy, who question that. They ask me from time to time, “Why? Why do you think that pilgrimage is so important?” I can only answer for myself. My hope is when these days to come are over, you will be able to answer that for yourself, and your answer will probably be as unique as mine. Mine was a conversion experience, and I know we Anglicans don’t generally like that word, but that it what it was. I came here the first time as a bishop, I was 44 years old, and had been a priest over 10 years and I just remember walking in the very footsteps you will and thinking, “I am about 10 years too late.” What it brought to me in the way of preaching and understanding of this land and its people was monumental. And even more, I left wanting to come back.
That seems odd to some, and I don’t believe you have to do this to be a Christian and a darn good one at that, but I do believe it can help ground you as never before, to get as close to the roots of the beginning. Christianity, after all, in its best sense is a very materialistic faith. Places are important, humans living faith are important. Incarnation is center and crucial for us. So, this is part of that, a mystery in many ways, but very real.
So I want to urge you to try to let what and who you left behind, be held gently in God’s embrace and left to whomever is tending to it. Believe me, I know this is not easy, but just try. Take this in, be blessed by this great gift.
The first time I ever came to Christ Church, and I have been here quite a few now, Barry and I were standing down on the street level, near the portico you enter to come up, when a very distinguished older woman came walking up the street toward us, looking dressed for church, and as she got closer, seeing our purples shirts, she said, “Bishops today.” I held out my hand and said, “Hi, I am Greg from Seattle,” and she held out hers and said, “Hi, I am Mary from Nazareth.” And she went on, “And I lived in Seattle for 32 years, retired from the University of Washington, lived in Kent.” My blog that day back to the people in Seattle was entitled, “I met Mary in Nazareth today.”
Leonardo Boff in his book, The Maternal Face of God: The Feminine and its Religious Expressions said something far more eloquent than I am about to, but basically he said, a church without Mary, will be a diminished church at least, and non existent and inconsequential at worst. I have to agree. The Roman Church realized this when, in the Second Vatican Council, they made a conscious decision to place Marian teaching within its teaching on the church, rather than in a separate document. That has been followed ever since.
Mary of Nazareth, just like God, Godsself, and Jesus, is given a thousand different faces by us. That is a human reality, we make those we revere and follow into what we need them to be, rarely what they are. That is not always bad, but the proclivity we have to do it should never be ignored. Mary was used as Our Lady of Fatima in the Cold War opposition to the Soviet Union. Mary, the Madonna of 125th Street and the struggle of newly arrived Italian immigrants for survival in New York City. And we all know of the alliance of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Cesar Chavez’s struggle for justice for migrant workers in the California vineyards. That list goes on and on – a thousand faces.
But Mary, was a real person, she lived, here. Here, in this town, more of Jesus’ life was lived here than any other, and most of the unwritten part happened here too. Mary was part of all of that. Today is a day to get in touch with that, to get in touch with her. Now, I find it odd to stand before you as a white North American Male, talking about Mary, especially in front of my mother and my wife, the two most important women in the world to me, and two esteemed bishop colleagues who happen to be women, but such is my call today.
And, it is going to seem a bit disingenuous, but I hope you will take this as trustworthy and true, and if you know me, you’ve heard me say it before, I do believe women have always, and are now, holding this world together.
Mary in this Gospel is one of the strongest women I have ever witnessed. That is exactly the strength all of those movements above who adopt Mary and all the thousands of faces we give her live from. Strength. “Here am I.” All of us in this room know the audacity of those words, and that reality. And her prophesy in those words is a human testament, not one based in gender.
Now, along the way in these coming days, you are likely to be thinking, if not saying out loud, “Did this really happen here?” I have come to a place to say, “Does it really matter?”
What matters is, do you believe it happened at all, and even more what you believe the call on your life and the life of the church is because it happened. That is what matters. That is why we came.
But for what it’s worth: The streets you will walk today, she walked. The hills you climb, she climbed. The mountains and hills you gaze upon, she did as well, and knew it as home. Joseph was here. Jesus was here. And now we are here.
My sisters and brothers, I hope and pray you meet Mary in Nazareth today.