Harrowing Of Hell
November 20, 2022

Christ the King and St. John’s Kirkland’s 100th Anniversary

The Rev. Michael Ryan

My name is Michael Ryan, and I’m the rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church across the lake in Kirkland.  I am worshiping with you this morning, and Fr. Doyt is worshiping with the people of S. John’s because of something that happened a century ago, when your parish acted in a way that brought about a new kind of future, one in which God’s love, became is still becoming more manifest and effective in the world.  I have come to tell you about your past, trusting that, like so much of our faith, it is by remembering well, that we live well and receive thankfully the always present Kingdom of God.  

Let us well remember…

The year is 1922, and a group of Anglicans – some from Britain and others American-born — longed for the benefits and possibilities of forming a church.  They must have made their longings and hopes to become an Episcopal church known because, in January 1922, a service was held at a parishioner’s home, led by the Rector of St. Lukes’s (Ballard). And news of this house church spread and reached Epiphany, and in a matter of weeks, you and your Rector, the Rev. Cameron Morrison, responded. 

Envision this, Fr. And Mrs. Morrison are finishing Sunday lunch in the newly constructed rectory.  Morning services had gone well, but his day won’t be done until later that night.  He gives Mrs. Morrison a peck on the cheek, saying I’ll be back late; don’t wait up.  He closes the door and walks down to the bottom of Madison Street to board the 1:45 pm ferry to Kirkland. 45 minutes later he arrives.  Can you see him reach in his pocket and pull out the directions to the home of the parishioner who is hosting the Sunday service?  The walk could be 5 minutes, it could be an hour.  He makes his way to a house he has never visited, belonging to people he perhaps knows only by sight. It is true that he most often officiated Evening Prayer, but imagine that on this night they will share Holy Communion. Imagine the wooden dining room table, covered in lace, lighted only by candles.  The words of remembrance are spoken, the Holy Spirit graciously descends, the Kingdom of God crosses the lips of all, and the Body of Christ is made present, again. 

Another meal follows, and long after dark has settled on Kirkland, Fr. Cummings makes his way back to that ferry which departs every hour until Midnight. 

Six months later, Fr. Cummings is administered medicine for an unspecified illness that poisons him to death.  For a brief interval, the priest of Christ Church performed the weekly duties. But soon, you called Fr. Harold Hennessey to be your rector, and you and he resumed your ministry at what was now called St. John’s Mission, for this is a ministry of Epiphany.

The Future is Certain; it’s the past that keeps changing. 

This phrase comes from the Stalinist- era when banners hung everywhere proclaiming the certain good future that Communism would produce.  And the uncertainty of the past refers to photos of Comrade Stalin with several other leaders standing at his right and left.  And over time, many of those flanking Stalin would be erased – photoshopped out, changing and erasing the past. 

The past can also change, and the future can become less certain, less stagnated,  when we discover something in our past or in our family’s past that changes our futures.   

As a college sophomore, I interned in Washington for my congressman, Jim Oberstar, from Minnesota. One night, I volunteered to park cars at a fundraiser for Mr. Oberstar hosted at the home of a prominent Washington, DC, lawyer.  It was a cold night, and the last car I fetched belonged to Jim and Jo Oberstar.   I sat quietly backseat. Mrs. Oberstar turned around and asked if I knew the story of how Jim met my father.  I assumed they met because my dad and uncles owned a prominent construction company in northern Minnesota.  

She continued “When Jim was in college at St. Thomas, he was hitchhiking home and got caught in a terrible Thanksgiving Day snowstorm.  Just outside St. Paul, your dad stopped and gave Jim a ride to his parent’s doorstep.”   This was a 4 hour’s drive on a clear day, and it must have taken twice that.  It also means that my dad drove through our hometown 50 miles north and back to make sure Jim got home safely. 

I’d never heard that story.  My father only mentioned it to me years later.  But I believe that something shifted in me in the backseat of that car.  I saw my dad in a new light – and also experienced myself as being a part of my father’s act of risky generosity. 

The Kingship of God

What does all of this have to do with Christ the King and the Gospel we just heard? It has everything to do with what Jesuit priest, Fr. Greg Boyle, who works with former gang members in LA, calls Christ’s Kinship. Namely, the kingship of Jesus is the kinship that he created in his life and ministry, a kinship that was fully realized by his death on the cross. 

It was the kinship of Christ that created a new family, one in which his mother, Mary, and his beloved disciple became mother and son.  It is the kinship of Christ, who from the depth of his suffering love turned to the convicted criminal, saying You are a part of my good future, and before the day is out you will be with me in Paradise. I believe it was the Kinship of Christ that inspired you, the good people of Epiphany, to see in your Kirkland neighbors’ kin, and not strangers from across the lake.

Our shared history was established in the kinship and the generosity of Christ through the hands, hearts, and pocketbooks of your forebearers. And that past has continued to reach into the lives and work of St. John’s parish.

Let me tell you what happened this week…

At St. John’s, we’ve had a woman in her 60s and her 35-year-old son sleeping on a bench outside of our church doors since 2018- or 2019.  They are extremely conscientious, and a little bit worried that if they don’t pack up their things and leave by a certain time in the morning – before our preschool parents, drop off their children – that we will tell them to leave.  They avoid contact with members of the parish for the same reason. They want to fly under our radar screen.

A week ago, a member of the vestry, Mary Lou, who has a passing connection to Carol and Bill (not their names), and I agreed that we would invite them to a dinner we would prepare in the kitchen.  They accepted, and this Thursday, with the help of two staff members who prepared a beautiful table setting, Mary Lou and I did just that.

It took my breath away to see how much it meant to them to be invited for dinner, and how they felt humbled by our invitation.  I shared that I felt embarrassed that they have been our neighbors for nearly 5 years – much of that while I’ve been rector – and we’ve never invited them to share a meal or even a cup of hot coffee. 

As tempting as it was to spend our time talking about how we could help them, how we could find them housing, we resisted that temptation and just enjoyed fellowship with them and received them as kin, the beloved of children of God they are and not ‘problems to be solved.’

Dining with Carol and Bill that night was an absolute delight, and they shared some things that they appreciated about being able to sleep on our doorstep, that was very humbling to hear. We also learned that Bill spends his days pushing his mom in a wheelchair – exhausting – and shared his many unsuccessful efforts to find an electric wheelchair. Just a few hours later, at our regular Vestry meeting, Mary Lou shared the dinner experience with the rest of the group and how moved she was. It won’t surprise to learn that within moments, the Vestry voted unanimously to provide Carol and Bill with a new electric wheelchair. There was no debate.

I expect that your forbearers may have experienced something like this when they decided to help St. John’s become a mission church. And it is my fervent hope, and expectation that by recalling for you,  the history of your forebears, the Spirit of kinship might be stirred up in in all of us in such a way that our lives reflect that what we say we believe to be true, is really true. That we all belong to each other, as family, and that everyone we encounter this day and the next, and the next is our brother, our sister, our sibling: gifts from God to be received and cherished.