Dear Folks,

As I shared with you on Sunday, Sarah and I ran into two neighbors late in the evening last week.  Because of the virus and its impact on lives and health and jobs and the economy, one friend was quite mad and the other was very sad.  Both needed to talk, and we stayed with them for a while.  I was mostly quiet, except for a word here and there to hold the space between us.  It was a challenging half hour for sure, but a gift, as well.  One friend said, “It feels critical to communicate how things really are right now.”  Amen.

Late in the day on the first Easter, when news of the empty tomb was spreading through Jerusalem, two downcast followers of Jesus head out of town to forget about the whole thing.  They had heard the stories of stones rolled away, of neatly folded graveclothes, and a vision of angels, but those glimmers of hope were no match for their feelings.  Did we really ever think a peasant movement was a match for the Roman empire, they wondered.  Sad and confused, they withdraw to Emmaus, which is where we run to “when we have lost hope or don’t know what to do… it’s the place of escape, or forgetting, or giving up.” (Kate Huey) But then a stranger appears (spoiler alert: it’s Jesus!), and he listens to them, and gives the pair what each of us longs for: the dignity of their doubts and their questions, the space for their fears and frustrations, the time to say what hurts.  He doesn’t try to talk them out of their sadness, he honors it, and then places their feelings in a context that is larger than they are able to see for themselves.

“I hear you,” he says.  “I hear that you are scared and suffering.  I hear how unmoored you feel because of the present circumstances.  But there’s more.  Your life is anchored, in your spirit and in this moment, and in the experience of your parents and their grandparents, all the way back to the beginning of time.”  He tells them that the stories of scripture are in fact an organized, stylized version of their own family story.  “You matter,” he tells them.  “Your family, with all of its warts and all of its accumulated wisdom knows something about being lost, something about being exiled, something about being enslaved.  But if you have ears to hear it, you and your people know even more about making meaning out of your toughest stretches, about finding and being found by God.”

It is important to be honest with each other about the challenging period that we are in.  Bishop Sutton is working collaboratively with the bishops of Virginia and Washington, as well as with local and state authorities, both to keep us safe in a time of required social distancing and to plan steps toward the re-opening of churches.  The hard news first: the bishops tell us that complete gathering of the community is not likely until comprehensive testing and a vaccine are available, and that may take two years.  And since the way of Jesus is all about inclusion, we won’t be fully The Church of the Redeemer until our doors are wide open again, and everybody can safely and joyfully come. I am sharing this sobering thought now so that as a community we can work backwards from that endpoint and envision a life-giving way to get from here to there.  More and better on-line worship? Ways to meet on-line for fellowship and study?  What about singing together, praying together, serving together in this time of exile?  How can we create manageable cells of Redeemer that serve each other now, working hard to ensure that no one is left out?

In all likelihood we can begin to gather in small groups face-to-face sometime in the next 1-2 months, when Governor Hogan directs businesses to resume.  We should expect in this period to maintain six feet between individuals and to continue wearing masks.  It is not clear when we will be invited to gather in larger groups, or if outside gatherings might be possible before meeting together indoors.  At this moment the staff is taking stock of our spaces to understand how we can creatively use them in the next phase. I will keep you posted as I learn more.

Yesterday I asked our staff to consider all of this, and Freda Marie posed the pivotal question: Why do we gather… as a faith community, as followers of Jesus, as folks who love the Lord?  Here’s what was shared: “For strength, for inspiration, for community… to be part of something bigger than me, to learn, to be vulnerable in a safe place… to sing together, to pray together, to be welcomed in, to take part in something ancient… for solace, for shelter, for health, for communion… to be changed and to make change, to serve, to laugh, to weep, to grow…” I believe our answers can help us to shape a dialogue I would like to have with each of you.  Why do you gather at Redeemer?

Here’s what I think: we know something about being lost, something about being exiled, and even more about finding and being found by God.


On a recent podcast, I heard one of the speakers mention that we are living in “apocalyptic” times and they went on to tease out what they meant using that term. Because the word “apocalypse,” has a religious basis having been lifted from the Bible, it is commonly misused and misinterpreted by most.

Admit it. What do you think when you hear the word, apocalypse? I’ll bet your mind’s eye moved to hellfire, death, and damnation; destruction of every sort including a picture of flesh-eating zombies or scenes from the movie, The Purge.  But to tell the truth what we culturally believe apocalypse means and its usage in the Scripture and its original meaning are as different as night and day.

From the Greek, apokaluptein, which means to reveal or uncover, comes the word, apocalypse. We commonly use the word, revelation in contemporary English today. In fact, in Greek the last book of the Bible is called, “The Apocalypse (of Jesus the Messiah to John).”   Revelation—Apocalypse—Hmmmm. I suspect that we readers of Scripture got so caught up in the imagery and symbolism  that we focused on what was NOT instead of what WAS being revealed about the nature of all creation; that its beginning and ending is in the Christ (consciousness).

So back to the podcast. The speaker was noting how this COVID-19 event was quite apocalyptic in the purest sense of the word. It is revealing much about ourselves as a people—what is essential and non-essential, the disparities of life in the United States of America, and other unsightly things we’d rather not see and try hard not to see when we can.  Alas, the conversation has turned to all of the blind spots and holes that are a part of our common life revealed by the advent of this new microbe and how unjust and oppressive  the holes and blinds spots are for many of our nation’s peoples.

In fact, so much has been revealed that we can hardly afford to return to “business as usual” when COVID-19 becomes a memory. So, what do you do with revelations like these? I ask questions, of course.

I wonder, am I prepared to make uncomfortable or inconvenient personal changes to accommodate a truly “new normal.”  We know that our material/physical normal has and will be changed, but what about our non-material, spiritual one?  Can I, shall I, will I choose to change to the degree that our society is actually transformed from the inside out?  What will be required of me?  Can I do it?  Will I choose to do it?   Can we, as Church, actually live out in our lives what we profess by our faith? Am I prepared to accommodate new wine in new wine skins? Just wondering. Are you?

With Much Love and Many Prayers,

Freda Marie+

Dear Folks,

Several years ago I got a phone call from a fellow who identified himself as my former neighbor.  He said we knew one another by sight—“I’m very tall, in my twenties, and we lived on the same block for two years in New York City,” he told me. I realized we had registered each other’s presence the way people do, when they live in a crowded urban area, and walk the same streets every day to get from place to place. City neighborhoods weave surprising intimacies. He figured out who I was through his parents, who were members of the church where I was serving in New Jersey, right out of seminary. He said, “I moved back home this weekend, because my mom is dying of brain cancer. Can you come over to see her?”  Mike and I learned each other’s names sitting vigil on either side of his mother, Beverly, each of us holding one of her hands.

About a week before she died, Mike called and asked me to anoint his mother’s body, an ancient custom of the church offered to people who are near death. The whole family gathered around her bed, which had been set up in the living room six weeks earlier so that she could literally be in the middle of things—to hear the laughter in the kitchen, smell what’s cooking, and have a little more space and light. Together we carefully washed her papery skin with warm, soapy water, rubbed in her favorite lotion, and finally made the sign of the cross on each hand and foot, using oil that the bishop had blessed. Bev was awake but silent, as we accomplished the ablutions for her, no longer able to speak. Mike’s sister remarked that their mom was like a baby now, and that they were tending to her the way that she had once washed and cared for them.

Mike said he knew his mom’s hands and feet so well. She had been a dancer as a young woman, and as a boy he loved to put his little feet on hers as they whirled around the yard, and later her hands had cut yarn and construction paper for 25 years as a 2nd grade teacher.  “It’s funny to see her fingers not covered with glitter and glue,” he said.

Jesus hands figure importantly in this Sunday’s gospel. On the first day of the week, the day of the resurrection, Jesus appears to his disciples. “Peace be with you,” he says to them, and then he shows them his pierced side and his injured hands. He continues, “I am still with you! Death is no match for God and his love. These are the hands that touched you and healed you and cajoled you into living fully—hands that hold and hands that forgive and hands that work for justice.”

Look at your hands. What do you see? A parent’s hand…a lover’s hand…a child’s hand…a friend’s hand? A teacher’s hand…a builder’s hand…a nurse’s hand…a doctor’s hand…a banker’s hand…an artist’s hand? If you are like me, whatever you are looking at is pretty chapped right now, as we follow the CDC’s instructions to keep washing, keep washing. Can you see in your mind’s eye the hands that Michelangelo painted, of God reaching out to humanity, or the father’s hands embracing the crumpled shoulder of Rembrandt’s Prodigal, or the graceful hands of choreographer Judith Jamison? I wonder if a hand was ever raised against you in a harmful way? Think of the hands that intervene to make you safe now and lead you from darkness to light. Consider the hands raised in praise or protest, hands that say “This is God’s world, where every worker deserves a living wage, every child a good education, every senior access to comprehensive healthcare.”

I had met Bev in the autumn before she died, before she even knew she was sick.  She came unexpectedly, without calling ahead. I was in my office, talking with someone else on the phone, when outside my window a tall woman in a small Volkswagen roared into the parking lot and into my life. Quickly I learned that Bev had just retired from teaching, that she felt both excited and unsettled by the changes in her life, that she and her husband were planning a long-awaited trip to Italy, and that she planned to join my Bible study when she returned.  No more mixing wheat paste or gathering magazine pictures for her. “I’ve finally graduated from the 2nd grade, and I want to learn with adults!” she said. Vibrant, funny, and serious at once, I could imagine generations of elementary students falling in love with her.

And then Bev got very sick, and the advent of her illness was like her coming into my office that day in the Fall: unexpected and without calling ahead. Bev’s cancer raced through her beautiful, lithe body, from diagnosis to death in a matter of weeks.

Maybe because it all happened so quickly, Bev was not scared of suffering, but she did fear the moment of her death. “Who will be there with me,” she worried. So we told her that we would stand by, and because she asked for it, we gave Bev an image of the other side of the threshold between life and death: God’s strong hands would deliver her through the narrow passage of her dying. “From our hands to God’s hands, you will never be alone,” we told her.

I’ve been thinking about Bev these days, and what we said to her as she was passing. Like the ones that Jesus shows to his disciples, our hands were made for touching and healing and holding, and that gift seems especially hard to hang onto in this pandemic—when we are cautioned not to touch each other, when loved ones are communicating through iPads, and when even nurses are performing their ablutions through gloves and layers of plastic. Our hearts were made for giving encouragement, for offering forgiveness and sharing affection, especially at times of loss, so I imagine yours may be broken right now.

Jesus was broken, too, and out of that darkness shines a healing, life-giving light that never dims: Nothing can separate us from the love of God… not height nor depth, not sickness nor social distancing, not even death. I am lifting you up, hands raised in faith, and I can’t wait to hug you again. Will you reach out to everyone you can now, through whatever means you have available? Tell someone unlikely today that you are with them, and that they are not alone.


How did you spend your day yesterday?

Perhaps you spent some of it on the phone or FaceTiming, checking in with friends and loved ones. Or working on that puzzle you’ve been working on, or knitting or sewing or needlepointing. Perhaps you went for a walk or did some gardening; had a Zoom meeting or cleaned your house (or thought about cleaning, again!). Maybe you were trying to keep the kids busy or “on task” with schoolwork; or in a hospital or clinic caring for patients; or supporting someone who is grieving, struggling. And finding yourself grieving and struggling, as well …

My family and I live in a townhouse community on a cul-de-sac in Mt. Washington. Over the past few days and weeks, I have walked more laps around our cul-de-sac than I can count. I’ve come to appreciate a small and mighty grove of evergreens standing guard at the entrance of our community, as well as a particularly elegant tree now blossoming with pink flowers, at the west end of our circle. The trees and incessant bird-chattering that fill the air around them, of late, give me a sense of perspective that is both grounding and healing.

Yesterday, as I was walking around our cul-de-sac at sunset, a new sound greeted me; it was soft and somewhat unfamiliar, so I had to strain to listen. As I drew closer to the home of one of my neighbors, the sound grew louder, and I suddenly realized what I was hearing: someone was chanting prayers in Hebrew over a Seder meal, in celebration of Passover.

Even though I could not see what was happening through closed curtains just a few yards away, I could picture the scene in my mind’s eye: a family, gathered around a meal, candlelight and prayers. I stopped in my tracks, closed my eyes, and allowed the sound and image to wash over me. For a few moments, I was lost in a feeling of timelessness, tapping into the reality of generations of people of faith, who gather and pray and sing together, whatever is going on in the world around them; and lost in the power of this particular, ancient, sacred ritual: of gathering around a meal to remember how God saved God’s people, leading them out of slavery and suffering to freedom and new life.

Tonight, we too will sit at our tables in our homes, echoing the prayers of our Jewish brothers and sisters, recalling that night long ago when our Lord gathered with his friends and loved ones, to eat, pray, and remember. Despite the physical miles and neighborhoods and cul-de-sacs that separate us, we will be together, in Spirit and in Truth. And amidst our world’s present suffering, as generations before us have experienced and lived, God is with us, in us, among us, surrounding us, enfolding us, between us.

And God isn’t finished with us yet.


Dear Folks,

How are you?  How do your days unfold?  Are you an essential employee still traveling to work—tending to systems, filling prescriptions, moving packages, delivering food, reading x-rays?  Thank you.  Are you working or learning from home—zooming to meetings, sharing the wi-fi, submitting budgets or problem sets or contingency plans?  Thank you.  Are you waving to neighbors through the window, home-schooling your children, tending a sick relative, or organizing an emergency phone tree?  Thank you.  Are you taking care of yourself?  Thank you for that, too.

And how do you feel?  It makes sense if you are scared or lonely or angry or sad.  Everyone of us is dealing with some kind of loss right now—of health or freedom, of income or affection—and grief is an appropriate, even necessary response.  As with any death, if we bury our emotions now, our bodies know we are only postponing the inevitable.  If you want a good cry, watch the moving video of Italians standing on their village balconies and singing in response to the coronavirus. Why not organize your own concert on the street where you live?  Kazoos are fine, or pot lids or trumpets or xylophones.  And if you need to stand in the window and just yell every now and then, that may be exactly what the doctor ordered.  Our little family is making up songs and dancing most nights before dinner.  The dogs love it!

Redeemer is bumping along pretty well.  70 volunteers are each calling/texting/emailing 15 parish families every week, and the connections being created or made stronger are heartening.  Most people report good health and spirits, adjusting to clipped wings and close quarters, adapting to new methods of reaching out.  Some folks are sick.  Some folks are anxious.  Some friends have had to postpone weddings or baptisms or funerals, and those difficult conversations have invited unexpected intimacies to lay alongside the despair.  Some of you tell me about rediscovering resilience you thought you’d lost. And we’ve not been able to connect with everyone in our database, perhaps because your contact information is incorrect or outdated.  If you haven’t heard from a Redeemer parishioner or clergy member in the last two weeks, send me an email or call my cell 443-970-1716.  I’d love to hear from you.

I am so pleased by how many people are watching our daily services, either live or later in the day.  Nearly 1000 people checked in last Sunday, and our daily services range from 250-400!  Thanks to Freda Marie, Cristina, Caroline, and Bert, we have invited a growing community to worship “at Redeemer.”  And you’ll read elsewhere in e-redeemer that community engagement continues in this new normal, as well.  Thank you!

Ahead of us is Palm Sunday and Holy Week.  Tune in this Saturday at 5:00 p.m. and Sunday at 10:00 a.m. for ways to bless the “palms” you already have in your house: the walk that Jesus made into Jerusalem 2000 years ago had people throwing coats and shirts on the ground and waving whatever branches they could find.  Take a look around you and see how you can re-enact that moment.  Tie to your mailbox or balcony or doorframe or light post something green (or a branch with buds or something with sleeves that can blow in the wind) this Sunday morning.  If your neighbors ask you about it, tell them about The Church of the Redeemer, and see how you might help each other through this time, and always.  On Maundy Thursday at 6:30 p.m. on our Facebook page we’ll have a virtual blessing over the bread and wine at your dinner table.  Join us to make palpable the commandment to love one another as God loves us.  Good Friday, we will send you “Stations of the Cross in the time of COVID-19.”  And what about Easter?!

When your trust is all but shattered, when your faith is all but killed, you can give up bitter and battered, or you can slowly start to build, a beautiful city.  Yes, we can, yes, we can! (Beautiful City)