Grace Cathedral is an Episcopal church in the heart of San Francisco.
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To support the health of our community the cathedral is closed,
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Grace Cathedral is Gathering Online

Join us for morning prayer on Zoom

Morning Prayer: Online

Monday, March 30

Join us for morning prayer on Zoom

Experience movement, meditation and one another in our new Yoga on the Labyrinth podcast

Yoga on the Labyrinth: Online

Tuesday, March 31

Experience movement, meditation and one another in our new Yoga on the Labyrinth podcast

Join The Vine for a live service

The Vine: Online

Wednesday, April 1

Join The Vine for a live service

Celebrate the mystery of the Resurrection with us

Easter Choral Eucharist

Sunday, April 12

Celebrate the mystery of the Resurrection with us

Experience one of the most beautiful and prayerful liturgies in the Anglican tradition.

Online Live-stream: Thursday Evensong

Thursday, April 16

Experience one of the most beautiful and prayerful liturgies in the Anglican tradition.

A live broadcast of our Choral Eucharist service

Online Live Stream: Sunday Choral Eucharist

Sunday, April 19

A live broadcast of our Choral Eucharist service

Listen to Featured Sermons

Sunday, March 29
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Ellen Clark-King
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Between the words that are spoken and the words that are heard, may the Spirit of God be present.

 

What is your greatest fear right now? Is it the loss of someone you love who is vulnerable, the loss of your own job and any vestige of financial security, the loss of your own health, or the loss of the world as it used to be just a few short weeks ago? My greatest fear is coronavirus getting into my mother’s senior home in England and her dying without me having any way to say goodbye.

 

It seems like anyone who isn’t afraid at the moment isn’t awake. And, to be clear, fear and distress are allowed, expected, even healthy in situations like these. God’s people have always expressed the full range of their very human emotions to God. From the rage and despair of the psalms – My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  – to Jesus weeping, maybe even ugly crying, at the grave side of his friend. We are a people who know what it is to walk through wilderness, to walk through despair, to walk through death and to be accompanied by God for every single step. We are a people who know what it is to walk through the bleakest shadow and to find new light on the other side.

 

I’ve always thought there is something deeply ironic in today’s readings coming at this point in the church year. We’re still deep in Lent, we haven’t even reached Passiontide yet, let alone the new life of the resurrection. But God’s promise of new life doesn’t wait for us to get to the crucifixion or to the empty tomb, It doesn’t wait for the end of a pandemic. it comes to surprise us with joy before we could ever expect it. It breaks into our quiet time of discipline, preparation and separation with a shout of new possibility, new hope, new life.

 

Our Hebrew scripture reading and our gospel tell us of two different ways that God gives new life, each of which we need to hear and cling to in the midst of this pandemic.

 

Lazarus first. He is called out of the cool quiet safety of the cave in which he sleeps in death into the fierce light of life, into the painful joy of his sisters, into noise and hubbub and renewed responsibilities and relationships and life. Let’s be clear Lazarus was not taking physical isolating to extremes, he was dead. God’s fierce gift of life in Christ reaches across that narrow barrier and calls this man to return. To return and then one day to die again.

 

I do not think we can expect ourselves or our beloved ones to be called back to this life from being dead three days. That sharp divine focus on one life seems now to be a broad divine panorama of all lives. God’s voice doesn’t now call one person back from death – but calls all of us back from the many small deaths that keep us from living free, loving, joy-filled, purposeful lives. The death that is despair – I doubt I’m the only one who has woken in the night to cry into my pillow, the death that is indifference – surely those old folk don’t mind dying so that my prosperous life is secure, the death that is hate – let’s make this virus an excuse for yet another brand of racism. Hear Christ’s voice calling you to come out from those small deaths, follow that voice into the light of hope, of cherishing the other, of deep love for all fragile humanity.

 

And then there is the new life that comes to that valley of the dry bones. That wasteland of a society that had turned away from God’s call to justice and to love and had lost its claim to humanity in the process. A society that no longer has the softness of flesh, the vulnerability of blood, the potential of muscle; one that has been reduced to hardness, to scarcity, to the unyielding breakable insufficiency of bone.

 

Ezekiel may have been speaking of what he saw in his own time and people. A people defeated by their own inner demons as well as by outside forces of oppressive, aggressive empires. We need to speak of what we see in our own time and our own people.

 

We are a profoundly broken society, broken long before Covid-19 came along to highlight our deficiencies. We choose leaders for ourselves who consistently put the economic prosperity of large companies above the basic needs of the poor. We rate our own safety as more important than the well-being of others and use fear as a reason to hold children in cages. We fail to weep whenever we see a fellow human being sleeping in dirt on a street corner. This is us – me as well as ‘them’ as well as you. Our society. Our responsibility. Our loss of humanity to become bare cold bones.

 

But we are not a forsaken society. New breath, new gentleness, new vulnerability, new life can come to this bleak valley, to these stripped bones.  Can these bones live? Yes they can, now as then! It is beyond time to open ourselves to God’s breath in us. To the breath that brought us life in the first place. To the breath that speaks words of love and forgiveness. To the breath that breathes in every human being, every living creature, and that unites us more closely more fiercely than our shared vulnerability to Covid 19.

 

How to do that? How to let the prophetic breath of God into our society’s dry bones? How to let the life-giving voice of Christ into our personal little deaths? It is only through the second that we can do the first. To let Christ call us from our small deaths of selfish choices, our small deaths of fearful living, our small deaths of hopelessness. To decide to live as if each person mattered as much as we do. To decide to live as though we truly believe in a God who can bring forgiveness out of judgment, abundance out of scarcity, hope out of despair, life out of death.

 

And to live like this without denying the storm of emotions that sweep through us on a daily basis. The fear, the despair, the anger, the longing for life to be otherwise. Bring these to God. Speak these to others. Know your humanity, and in knowing your own, know the humanity of every person who shares this world with you.

 

I’ll leave you with the words of Australian poet Michael Leunig

 

When the heart

Is cut or cracked or broken

Do not clutch it

Let the wound lie open

 

Let the wind

From the good old sea blow in

To bathe the wound with salt

And let it sting

 

Let a stray dog lick it

Let a bird lean in the hole and sing

A simple song like a tiny bell

And let it ring

Sunday, March 22
Seeing, Belonging, Becoming in the Days of Coronavirus
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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Malcolm Clemens Young 1 Samuel 16:1-13
Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, CA 2A14 Psalm 23
4 Lent (Year A) 11:00 a.m. Eucharist Mostly Online Ephesians 5:8-14
Sunday 22 March 2020 John 9:1-41

Seeing, Belonging, Becoming in the Days of Coronavirus
“For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of the light…” (Ephesians 5).

How do you see things differently now? As coronavirus fear takes hold, and society shuts down, what is changing in you? I have three chapters on seeing, belonging and becoming.

1. Seeing. Annie Dillard writes that, “Seeing is… a matter of verbalization. Unless I call attention to what passes before my eyes, I simply won’t see it. It is as [John] Ruskin says, “not merely unnoticed, but in the full and clear sense of the word, unseen.””

Dillard describes what happened when surgeons first learned how to perform safe cataract operations to give sight to dozens of people of all ages who had been blind from birth. Many doctors tested their patients’ sense perceptions before and after the surgery. They found that the vast majority of patients had no sense of space at all. They fundamentally did not understand the idea of form, distance, size or depth. The world just looked like flat patches of vivid color to them.

Before the operation the doctor would give the patient a cube or a sphere to hold. After the surgery they were showed the same object, but it seemed unrecognizable unless they could touch it. When the doctor asked a girl how big her mother was she held her index fingers a few inches apart. One newly sighted person played a game with herself of tossing a boot on the floor and then trying to guess how far away it was.

Some patients were terrified by the tremendous size of a world that previously seemed manageable and touchable. They felt overwhelmed by the effort required to comprehend everything new. Others experienced an uncomfortable new self-consciousness. They felt ashamed of what others had been seeing in them all along.

A disturbing number of patients wanted to return to being blind or simply refused to use their new sense. One girl, whose father had longed for the operation, never seemed happier than when she would carefully shut her eyes as she walked around her house. A doctor wrote about, “the rapid and complete loss of that striking and wonderful serenity which is characteristic of those who have never seen.”

At the same time many who gained their sight so profoundly relished their new visual experience that they help us to not take its wonders for granted. Althought our hnds are mostly invisible to us, one patient marveled at it. She described it as, “something bright and then holes.” A little girl visiting a garden paused, speechless standing in front of a tree. As she touched it she called it, “the tree with the lights in it.”

A twenty year old girl was so dazzled by the world’s brightness that she kept her eyes shut for two weeks. At the end of that time she opened her eyes with an expression of such joy and astonishment, as she kept repeating, “Oh God! How beautiful!”

2. Belonging. What we see arises out of how we belong. This is true of what we see physically and what we see spiritually. We might forget that this is part of the philosopher Plato’s (423-347 BC) point in his book Republic. He gives us that memorable image of prisoners confusing shadows on the back of their cave for reality. Plato wants us to understand that the ruling elite construct our shared reality and maintain it for their own purposes. They try to determine how we will all see.

Just prior to our Gospel story, Jesus has come into severe conflict with the authorities over exactly this issue. The argument gets so heated that they try to kill him right there but he escapes into hiding (Jn. 8:59).

Then walking along Jesus meets someone who is invisible to nearly everyone, a blind beggar. Like us, from childhood he has been socialized. He has been taught to believe in a particular picture of the world, that our health is determined by our own sinful actions or those of our parents. His society regards him as unclean and he probably sees himself in that way too.

We might think that we have grown out of this way of thinking. But as events unfold around the coronavirus I am sure we will continue to hear people who want to blame and scapegoat others for our suffering. I refuse to believe that our Chinese brothers and sisters are responsible for this no matter who it is that accuses them.

The religious leaders ask Jesus, “who sinned this man or his parents that he was born blind?” This is not just about politics. It also reminds me of people who cannot believe in God because of the suffering that they see. Jesus replies that it does not help to ask why the man was born blind. Instead we should be looking for a way to do God’s work.

Jesus spits in the dirt, makes it into clay, puts it on the blind man’s eyes and asks him to wash in the Pool of Siloam. Through this baptism this man is completely transformed. He is reborn not just physically but spiritually. For him the world is no longer a place in which God punishes people with blindness, or where we have to accept the judgment of leaders who continually assert their own superiority over others. His identity has changed too. He’s not the blind man any more. He’s not the beggar, but a new person who can see the truth and has the confidence to confront authorities. And this makes him unrecognizable to nearly everyone.

There is too much to say about this. To maintain their false picture of an all-embracing sacred order the religious leaders threaten the parents with expulsion from the synagogue. Ultimately these authorities give up their argument with the blind man. They want to put him back in the box saying that he was born in sin. They excommunicate him. But by this time everything is clear.

Jesus finds him and points out the obvious. Jesus has come, “for judgment so that those who do not see may see and those who see may become blind” (Jn. 9).

3. Becoming. Seeing and belonging ultimately lead us to the truth, the Holy One, the source of all things. As the coronavirus threatens our souls, as fear grips the people around us, as the foundations of the social order appear to be melting, people of faith have an invisible source of consolation. The Christian tradition reminds us what it was like when we went through times like these before.

About once in every generation from the 1340’s to the 1600’s Christians faced the plague. Imagine life for St. Catherine of Siena when between early spring and the end of August in 1493 four-fifths of the population died. Someone wrote, “for this illness seemed to strike through the breath and the sight.” There were not enough survivors to bury the bodies.

Great mystics of these dangerous times have contributed to our spiritual DNA. At the gate of death, in an almost fatal illness, Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) came so close to God that we still remember the words that moment inspired. She wrote about the power of divine love to be everything for us saying, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

The great preacher Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) taught that the, “seed of God is in us,” that we were created for union with God. He believed that the capacity for outer vision is so nurtured by the distractions of life that it is over-developed. While our inward or spiritual vision is correspondingly weak.

Eckhart believes that we identify ourselves with the wrong things – with our status or reputation. Our ego needs seem insatiable. And our soul is so busy with frivolous details. But God’s love draws us toward the Divine. And when we strip away the clutter we find ourselves at the self that understands its being is from God. He writes, “Grace is not a stationary thing; it is always found in becoming.”

Finally, Eckhart says, “when this birth really happens no creature in all the world will stand in your way, and what is more, they will all point you to God… Indeed, what was formerly a hindrance becomes now a help. Everything stands for God and you see only God in all the world.”

A month ago coronavirus seemed like a problem for far distant peoples. Today we are sheltering in place, talking constantly about superspreaders, flattening the curve, social distancing and the supply of ventilators as the global economy melts down.

Stay at home. Prepare yourself and those around you for the worst. But also, remember that we do not experience the world as it is but only through the stories that give us meaning.

Be baptized. Be reborn. Use this sabbath time to see more deeply into reality, into this vast, beautiful and colorful world. Stretch your picture of belonging more widely to recognize what we did not quite notice before, that without exception the whole human family is one. Become more fully alive in God.

We did this before. So let God’s works be revealed in you. Live as children of light. All will be well.

Discover Grace

Happy New Year!

Carnivale 2020

Above the Fog

In the "Year of the Body" at Grace Cathedral, you danced with us as we explored what it means to have a body, move through the world and ensure that everybody counts.

Thank you for a wonderful evening of Mardi Gras revelry!

We are so grateful for our generous sponsors and friends who made this evening possible. With the help of our incredible trustees, gala committee and guests, we came together to support the cathedral’s inspired services, programs and experiences in education, social justice and the arts.

Listen to the first season of our new podcast!

Above the Fog is the podcast series from Grace Cathedral that shares the city’s stories with a new lens. Your guides will be the city’s artists, thinkers and doers together with cathedral voices who will inspire you with what’s meaningful about life.

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