Sermon for Nov 26 – in which we explore American Thanksgiving, the Order of the Holy Cross, Advent, and the challenge of saying goodbye to dear friends (all in one sermon)

Today we have an intriguing confluence of things to talk about. It is American Thanksgiving. As an American, I can’t let that go unremarked… Yesterday was the feast of the Founder of the Order of the Holy Cross. And as a member of the Order, I can’t let that go unremarked either… This coming Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent, New Year’s Day for the Church. A big deal… But of all these things there is something that is an even bigger deal here at Volmoed.  

Today we acknowledge the powerful presence of Bernard and Jane Turkstra and face the reality that they are moving on – and so Volmoed, too, will move on…  

It’s a lot to cover… so I’m thinking we should have coffee now… 

Let’s start with Thanksgiving – which might seem distant but is closer than you think. Thanksgiving is a remnant of America’s Puritan past. The Puritans, Christians of a rather Strict Observance, were tough to live with. So, the British, in their great wisdom, drove them out. They made their way to the New World, a name that neglects a whole lot of people who lived there… The Puritans arrived in time for Winter – which is brutal where they landed. They barely survived. But somehow, with the help of folks that they would soon drive out of their homes, survive they did.  

One version of the first Thanksgiving

Now Puritans, as you might guess, were not given to raucous celebrations… Even keeping Christmas was too much. Based on scripture there were two types of celebrations of which they approved – days of fasting and days of feasting. American Thanksgiving is the remnant of their day of feasting in thanks for survival. Needless to say, we don’t preserve any days of fasting… 

Like so many American ideas, the most unfortunate aspect of Thanksgiving seems to have made its way around the world… So called Black Friday, tomorrow, is the Day After Thanksgiving. I have noted Black Friday being observed in the UK, in Germany, and even in Hermanus.  

Enough Thanksgiving for now… 

James Otis Sargent Huntington

In the late 1800s, James Otis Sargent Huntington entered a fledgling Monastic Community forming in the Episcopal Church USA. He was the third member, but the first to be professed. He would not, thankfully, be the last. We look to him as the Founder of the Order of the Holy Cross and each year we honor him on the anniversary of his death.  

Father Huntington was a man of word and action, son of a Bishop, which helped as there was mistrust of monastic notions. His vision was of a monastic community that would live in a Monastery while at the same time preaching and ministering around the world. These are not entirely compatible ideas but part of the charm of visionary founders is that they are not always troubled by practicality.  

We can draw a direct line from Father Huntington’s vision to Volmoed today – and not just because of the presence of Monks… But I’ll come back to that. 

On to Advent…  

On December 31st there is a thing called New Years that the world seems to think is important. If you ever have the chance to be in Times Square in New York City for the Dropping of the Ball on New Year’s Eve – DON’T DO IT… 

But the calendar of the Church, the one that drives our worship, keeps new years on this coming Sunday. The yearly cycle of things begins again with our looking toward the coming of Jesus in the flesh into this world.  

To say it’s a day of new beginnings is a bit of an understatement. The entire relationship between God and humans is changed by the coming of Jesus. We know God in the Flesh, God with Us, Emanuel. And we must remember that new beginnings also include endings. Things which we have loved and treasured become part of our past. It is tempting to let the joy overtake our hearts, but there is grief and loss as well. Jesus is a complex Messiah who comes to change our lives. And change means letting go of things we love. 

We have this major convergence of important things – Thanksgiving, Founders Day, and the start of Advent all sort of heaped up around the reality that Bernard and Jane will be moving away from Volmoed. Perhaps the bulk of planet earth won’t take note, but here on Volmoed its massive. 

Old Farm House at Volmoed

Bernard and Jane have been part of Volmoed since before its modern incarnation. Looking around today, it’s hard to grasp how daunting it must have been when they first set foot on Volmoed, some 35 years ago. Perhaps it wasn’t as treacherous as Massachusetts was for the Puritans, but it really called for leaving a known world and entering a strange and primitive world – no water system, no electrical service… The Old Farm House as the only habitable building… For Bernard and Jane, it must have been quite challenging. They were not entirely alone – Molly and Barry and others were around, but Bernard and Jane and their young family were living here. What an act of faith! 

In the introduction to The Volmoed Journey  30th Anniversary Edition, we are told that the names Bernard and Jane Turkstra do not appear often in the book – because if they appeared as they should, they would be on every page. They have touched everyone and everything that has passed through Volmoed since the start. 

James Otis Sargent Huntington has left his impression on everything about the Order of the Holy Cross – and he is still leaving his mark. I think it’s safe to say that Bernard and Jane have left and will continue to leave their mark on Volmoed.  

Guest Houses at Volmoed

You can’t look around Volmoed without seeing their work. The Old Farm House now shares Volmeod with a series of guest houses, residences, meeting spaces, office spaces, and this marvelous Chapel complex. Just up the hill a Priory is taking shape… All shaped under Bernard and Jane’s watchful gaze. 

There are vast plantings of flowers and shrubs, marvelous bits of landscaping here and there, all of which create an inspiring and inviting encounter with God… all of which show the love and care of Bernard and Jane. 

Their fingerprints are not just on the surface… underneath our feat as we walk around Volmoed are pipes and conduits and various bits of infrastructure that allow us to have lights, running water and all the modern conveniences. This infrastructure may be a good metaphor for Bernard and Jane. It’s there, we rely on it, we may even take it for granted. And we would surely miss it if it were gone… As we shall surely miss having Bernard and Jane in our midst. 

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Thanksgiving, OHC Founders Day, the start of Advent, and this recognition of Bernard and Jane seem to have gathered themselves together.  

A few centuries ago, when the Puritans took time to celebrate a feast of Thanksgiving it was vastly different than the modern observance. In modern days it is, more or less, a bacchanal. For the Puritans extreme joy and gratitude would have been mingled with sorrow. As we face the reality of Bernard and Jane moving on there must be sorrow – and that sorrow mingles with joy as we remember a long and rich season of life at Volmoed and look forward to the future – even though that future is unknown. The emotions are complex. Thanksgiving seems the right response.  

It takes a certain type of person to start something. James Otis Sargent Huntington was one of those people who look at what is front of them and manage to have a vision of what could be without being too distracted by what is. It is a gift they give to the world. Scripture tells us that without a vision, we parish. It’s not a small gift. It is a gift that brings life. But powerful gifts are mixed in their blessing. You can’t, after all, make an omelet without breaking some eggs… Father Huntington cracked his share of eggs. And I’m certain in the building up of Volmoed, eggs were cracked… but more than anything, guests were welcomed, injuries were healed, and people grew in faith and love. 

Advent, the turning of the year, could be thought of as the turning of a page, or the start of a new chapter. But I think it might be better to think of it as the end of one book and start of another. Jesus comes to fulfil the law, the old book. And a new book, the good news of God’s grace is opened. 

Bernard and Jane moving on from Volmoed could be thought of a turning a page, or starting a new chapter, but I think it is more like the closing of one book and opening of another. Volmoed, volume two… 

Right now, the whole world feels adrift – like it might just come apart at the seams. I wasn’t here in the eighties when Volmoed was coming together, but I gather that in many ways it also felt like the country might just come apart. Volmoed was a not a vision of escaping that, but of bringing God’s love to it. I don’t know what the next book of Volmoed might say, but I pray that it will describe how we live into the current challenge by sharing God’s love, just as Bernard and Jane did all those years ago. 

One thing we all know, the work of Volmoed, the work that Bernard and Jane have given much of their lives to, the work of healing and reconciliation is not finished, nor will it ever be. But a torch is being passed. So, we mingle our sorrow with thanksgiving and unending gratitude. And we bless Bernard and Jane on their journey. And we say, well done, good and faithful servants.  

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