Friday, March 21, 2008

For Easter weekend, here's someone worth getting to know --
May his flock grieve his loss, remember his life, and keep his faith!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Notes From My Knapsack 3-23-08
Jeff Gill

A Bit of Life, Everlasting

Snow on Easter morning is by no means unusual in central Ohio.

It can make you feel like spring will never arrive, but the brevity and transience of it usually just makes a new season seem all the more certain.

Spring by the celestial calendar just took a bow, day and night being equal. The sun rises at the same spot it did last September and will, God willing, next September, these being autumn and vernal equinoxes.

Now the days start to stretch out, and the sun’s angle warms the earth deeper and longer, triggering all kinds of root action and sprouting, both your perennials and the perennial weeds. Bulbs shoot up first, their store of energy gathered up last year, just waiting for the subsoil temperatures to set off the green fuse.

Trees are starting to circulate their sweetest sap, drawn from moisture below the earth and cycling sugars born high above the forest floor in last year’s leaves. You can see taps and hooded buckets, the implements of syrup production, hanging from the trunks of maples all over Licking County, not the least of which are The Dawes Arboretum’s high tech pouch and tube collection system.

And the grass is thinking very seriously about growing.

For the celebration of Easter, so early on this year’s calendar, the tradition in Western Christendom is to follow the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox, which is to say, this weekend.

Judaism uses a truly lunar calendar, so Passover, one of the roots of the Passion narrative at the heart of Christian observances, is some weeks off. Eastern Orthodoxy chose centuries ago to stay with the echo of the Hebrew calendar, so your Orthodox friends just finished the second week of Lent (and a rigorous, no meat or dairy Lenten fast it is), and their Easter celebration is yet a ways off.

This season is still closely bound for everyone in reflections on new life, new hope, new birth. Lambing and planting and first fruits and mower maintenance are all wound around resurrection and renewal from mud and grit and decayed plants, turning swiftly into tender blossomings and wild revivals of life, often where you neither expect or want it.

But there it is.

Catholic Christians and other liturgical traditions have a history around ending Holy Saturday with an Easter Vigil, a series of readings that echo the lessons and carols of Christmas Eve, and erupting at midnight with a blaze of flame and light in the heart of darkness. Processions around the church with the new light are part of that vigil both East and West, Orthodox and Catholic, and even a riotous ringing of bells depending on your neighbors.

Protestant Christians, having only begun to reappropriate special services for Easter week in the last few decades (Lutherans and Anglicans having never left them), took the Easter Vigil and did a typically Protestant thing with it – they weren’t going to stay up late, but they would get up early.

So the sunrise service was born.

In our area, there are many more sunrise or “Son-rise Services” than Easter Vigils, though the students at Denison are renewing the tradition in their own way late on Saturday at Swasey Chapel, high above Raccoon Creek’s valley. Unsurprisingly, college students aren’t too fased by the idea of staying up late.

Many folks who don’t attend much or any worship of any sort are willing to stagger out into the Sunday pre-dawn dark and find their way to the Midland Theater for the Newark community sunrise service, as long as a good breakfast follows (donations for the Jail Ministry program).

If you are part of a sunrise service at Dawes or a vigil bonfire behind your church or just wait for the main service where you can show off a new outfit on your toddler, may your Easter usher in a season of new life and new hope . . . and may the old saw be broken that there’s three snows after the forsythia blooms!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about new life in your neck of the woods at

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Faith Works 3-22-08
Jeff Gill

A Pastor’s Heart, A Shepherd’s Love

“Death Comes For the Archbishop” is a novel published in 1927 by Willa Cather. The cleric so named was Latour in the book, but he was based on the very real Jean Baptiste Lamy, founding pastor of St. Francis de Sales in Newark.

In pre-Civil War era Licking County, this Frenchman came as the result of a missionary call from his homeland, to serve a bishop based in Cincinnati who had put out a call for priests. So Father Lamy crossed the ocean, half a continent, and came to a still wild land, planting parishes in Danville, Mount Vernon, and right here in Newark.

He was effective enough in this challenging work that he was, to Lamy’s own surprise, named the first bishop of New Mexico in 1850, even before he had ever been there. Cather’s novel begins, sadly for us, with his journey starting in Cincinnati heading west, and ends, after building churches and chapels and a cathedral, with his death, and burial beneath the floor of the nave, where Archbishop Lamy rests today.

You might visit Santa Fe someday, founded 200 years before Licking County was founded (that’s right, as we have a bicentennial, they will observe a quadricentennial, the oldest capital city in the US, established as such in 1610, about two years after the settlement was founded). Near the central plaza is the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, finished in 1868. In front of the Romanesque church, with French details, is a statue of Archbishop Lamy.

Or you can drive out Granville Street from downtown Newark, and look up at the second floor window of the Lamy Center of St. Francis’ parish, and see a statue of him there.

“Death Comes For the Archbishop” was the headline in many papers a few weeks back, with the discovery of the body of the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul, Iraq.

Paulos Faraj Rahho lived in Mosul, near the site of Biblical “Ninevah” of Jonah’s story, for most of his 65 years. A priest, and part of the long-standing but now dwindling Christian community of Iraq, his eastern tradition of Catholicism is recognized by the Vatican, and his last trip out of Iraq was to attend Pope John Paul II’s funeral.

Archbishop, or “Mar” Paulos did not leave his people much or for long, though he was offered shelter and protection in the west as his life was threatened over and over again by radical Islamist groups. Moslem clerics in Mosul offered Mar Rahho their own bodyguards to aid him, such was the respect he held throughout the community as leader of his small but faithful Chaldean Christians (about 20,000 out of 2 million).

That respect was no doubt part of why he was targeted, and finally kidnapped last month, in a flurry of gunfire that killed his bodyguards, ending with the archbishop being thrown into a car trunk and taken away.

But this pastor was not done caring for his flock, even in imminent danger of death. He still had a cell phone in a pocket of his robe, and he called his office from the trunk, telling them urgently not to negotiate with terrorists and especially to refuse to pay any ransom for his safe return.

According to Asia News, his grieving staff said after Mar Paulos’ body was found in a shallow grave outside of the city, “He believed this money would not be paid for good works and would be used for killing and more evil actions.”

Just three months earlier, Mar Paulos said this: “We, Christians of Mesopotamia, are used to religious persecution and pressures by those in power. After Constantine, persecution ended only for Western Christians, whereas in the East threats continued. Even today we continue to be a Church of martyrs.”

On this Holy Saturday, as many of us anticipate the joy of Easter morning here in “the West,” remember in your prayers of celebration all those around the world who still must cautiously proclaim “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.”

And be thankful that we can say it out loud, with a smile and a song, inside the church building, and walking down the street.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; sing your song of joy for him at