Dear People and Friends of the Diocese of New Jersey,
Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.—Luke 24:45–48
This was a busy week with a lot of meetings. On Tuesday morning, some staff members and I had a Zoom meeting with the Reverends Lisa and Chip Graves, the new Priests-in-Charge of the affiliated congregations of Holy Spirit, Tuckerton and St. Stephen’s, Waretown. On Tuesday afternoon, I chaired the monthly meeting of Diocesan Council. On Tuesday evening, Canon Phyllis Jones and I drove down to Atlantic City to meet with people of St. Augustine’s. On Wednesday evening I participated in a tremendously energetic meeting of our Hispanic Coalition, chaired by Canon Joan Mason who has been an intrepid leader of this effort for the past nine years. The Hispanic Coalition is made up English-dominant congregations across the diocese who have either begun, or expressed an interest in beginning, Hispanic/Latino ministry in their setting. At present, we have twelve such congregations and we continue to grow this ministry. On Thursday, I met by Zoom in separate meetings with the Trustees of the Diocesan Investment Trust, the Deans of our eight Convocations, the Standing Committee and members of St. Mary’s Church in Pleasantville.
In every meeting this week, I asked participants how Holy Week and Easter went in their churches. Across the board, I saw smiles and heard enthusiastic reports saying the same thing. Attendance was excellent and it felt “almost like normal” (meaning “before COVID19”). More than anything, clergy and laity were moved, sometimes to the point of tears, to be back in church buildings with choirs and music and celebrations of the Eucharist that quote “felt like Easter.” That was certainly my experience at Trinity Cathedral where I was present on Good Friday and preached and celebrated at the Easter Vigil and on Easter Day.
It seems to me many felt and experienced the risen presence of Christ in Easter worship this year in deeper and more powerful ways than in years past. Well, that’s human nature, isn’t it? We’ve been deprived of something—our corporate, in-person worship. We had, in many ways, simply taken these for granted. We could depend on them year after year. But then a pandemic struck and we could not assume them. The absence of our corporate worship brought into sharp relief our love and longing to reclaim and re-experience it.
I can’t help thinking that there is a theological reality in this as well that connects us with that first Easter. Following the dark days of Holy Week and especially Good Friday and the crucifixion of Christ, the disciples experienced profound grief. The death of their Lord produced a gaping emptiness in their souls. They lived in that emptiness and in fear for three days. But then, something happened. “Peace be with you!” (John 20:19).
Into the darkness, emptiness and grief of their lives, the resurrected Christ made himself known to them in palpable and powerful ways. Our four Gospels offer various accounts of this. There is texture and nuance in the accounts which tell of surprise, of doubt, of continuing fear. It strikes me though, that a significant aspect of the joy they ultimately experienced was a profound sense that the one they had journeyed with for three years, become so accustomed to, perhaps even taken for granted, was vibrantly alive again in their lives reclaiming and restoring them to wholeness and life, calling them out of the deep grief that had halted and paralyzed them in fear. Is it not the same with us?
We have been living in fear these past years, many behind locked doors. We have been halted, hindered, even paralyzed, unable to carry out the “normal” aspects of daily living. We have buried loves ones, missed important milestones—births, baptisms, birthdays, weddings, funerals, graduations, and on and on. But now, even though we are not free of COVID19, something has changed. Light, resurrection light, has burst upon us and we see with new and deeper appreciation the things that give us life and above all, the Christ who gives us life.
In closing, I want to share a Good News in the Garden State story with you. This past week, in addition to all the meetings I had, I had the honor of recording an “Easter Examen” for Fr. Phill Carr-Jones and the people of Church of the Holy Spirit in Lebanon. Fr. Phil has created fifty days of “Examens” for each of the fifty days of Easter.
An “Examen” comes from the tradition of St. Ignatius and Ignatian spirituality and is a means of daily structured, prayerful meditation and reflection in which one “examines” the day’s events and looks for times and places where God seemed especially present, or not, to discern how God might be calling us. Fr. Phil has done an outstanding job of crafting an examen for each of the fifty days, inviting members of his congregation and a few others like me to record his guided reflection to lead individuals through the short period (15 minutes or so) that it takes to do. I want to acknowledge this great initiative and share it with you. It’s a perfect example of a congregation living into being a “School for Discipleship.” To find Church of the Holy Spirit’s Easter Examen, follow the link here. Thank you, Fr. Phil.
In this and countless ways across the Diocese of New Jersey Christ is risen indeed! Thanks be to God.
Please do be aware that the Election of the Bishop of Utah will take place tomorrow and that The Rev. Canon Rob Droste is one of three nominees being considered. Pray for Rob and his wife Karla, for the other two nominees, The Reverend Phyllis Spiegel, The Reverend Canon Janet Waggoner, and their loved ones and for the Holy Spirit to lead the people of that diocese in their decision. To follow the election, go here.
May the risen Christ continue to bless you and yours this Eastertide.
The Right Reverend William H. Stokes
Bishop of New Jersey