Jesus removes the masks we wear so we can be who we are created to be, says Broderick


“We have been wearing masks. Some people are buying expensive ones. I wonder if they are cleaning them. We wear them so we don’t injure other people and we hope they wear them so they don’t injure us,” said the Rev. Janet Broderick. 

She continued, “Masks are more than physical things. As a woman priest, I wore a lot of serious masks.”

Broderick preached her homily at the 9:15 a.m. EDT Wednesday, July 29, morning devotional service on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. The title of her homily was “Masks,” and the aphorism was “What do you care what other people think?” from Arlene Feynman. The scripture text was Exodus 34: 29-35 (NRSV) —

“Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.”

Broderick’s homily was filmed in a local park. She and a group of people, wearing masks, walked into the park and sat, socially distanced, for a worship service. It was filmed in black and white.

“It was always men who would say, ‘Why did you choose the profession of being a priest?’ Or they would ask, ‘Why should we pay your health care? Can’t your husband take care of it?’” Broderick said. “They would say, ‘You would be a better mother if you were with your children.’”

When her son was 12 years old, he got a job at church for $1 an hour stuffing envelopes. While he was working, he gave a detailed and very critical critique of the rector’s sermon.

Broderick was the curate, the assistant priest, and she was told that her son could not have understood all he said, so he must have heard it from her.

“I showed no pain on my face. I was totally cool,” she said. When people at another church told her, “‘We will take care of the finances, little lady,’ I wore a mask of competence and no feelings. I did not say anything at all.” 

She continued, “When a member of the vestry at a church in New Jersey told me that half the congregation would leave if I became their rector, I believed him. I wore a mask that said ‘it didn’t hurt.’”

Many people wear masks. Gay people pretend to be straight; men identify as gay but may have feelings for women. “People of color are made to wear masks that are horrendous and vicious. They don’t talk to white people about color; they don’t show pain, ever,” Broderick said.

African-American theologian James H. Cone visited Broderick’s church after he wrote The Cross and the Lynching Tree. There was a woman in the church who was very skilled, visited the sick, made sure all was ready for worship, was a Eucharistic Minister who took communion to shut-ins. 

Broderick noticed that she never stood up to speak in public or challenge anything that was said. After Cone spoke, she got up and said, “I wear a mask every day. I am less emotional and more productive than others. I feel that every mistake I make reflects on my race. I am always happy and always prepared and I wear that burden behind a mask.”

Moses put a veil on his face after his face-to-face encounters with God. The apostle Paul wrote that Moses did that so the Israelites would not see the end of the fading splendor. 

Broderick said, “The brightness of being with God will fade; it can’t keep going all the time. We can’t keep a mask on all the time. At some point we finally have to get in our room, close the door and feel what we feel.”

The people of Israel knew that Moses experienced the glory, power and magnificence of God, yet they made fun of him, pretended he had not been with God on the mountain and said that God’s rules did not work. Moses was even shut out of going into the Promised Land.

Paul was a Pharisee, said Broderick. “He knew the rules and tried hard to make them work. Think of the mask he wore at the stoning of Stephen. When Jesus removed Paul’s mask, Paul became a new person, the person that he wanted to be and was meant to be.”

She continued, “The truth of God is this: There is no block, there is no veil between us and Christ. No matter how we look, and no matter how we think about ourselves inside, Jesus takes away our self-hatred and internal depression.”

If people could remove those masks themselves, they would not need Jesus, Broderick said. “Jesus said the well do not need a physician. He came for those who can’t find or can’t take off their mask.”

Paul wrote that in his time with Jesus, he was changed from one degree of glory to another. 

“In our passionate circle of love and friendship we know how sacred it is to behold the glory of God,” Broderick said. “My dream is of a great church where people feel so loved and cared for that they will take their veils down and ask for what they need, where they are totally themselves.”

Broderick was at a conference where people were being filled with the Holy Spirit and many of them fell on the floor as part of the experience. She was “not getting it.” An older priest came over to her and asked what was wrong.

“I told him I wanted to fall down like everyone else,” she said. He said, “You look a little tired.” Broderick admitted she was. He said, “Why don’t you just lie down?”

Broderick said, “I did, and I felt the glory of the Lord and I felt loved. Then I decided to stop because I was really getting into it.”

She ended her sermon with a story she heard from the Presbyterian minister at the Bel Air Presbyterian Church.

The minister was in Nordstrom’s department store just before Christmas. Nordstrom’s was famous for its elaborate Christmas decorations and a piano on every floor for live music. The minister was on the floor with the $2,000 party dresses when the elevators opened and a woman, who obviously lived on the street, got out.

The minister expected that she would be ushered out immediately. A sales clerk approached the woman and said, “May I help you, madam?” The woman said, “Yes, I want to buy a dress.” The clerk asked, “What kind of dress?” The woman replied, “A party dress.”

The clerk took almost half an hour trying to find the right dress for the woman’s complexion, eye color and body type. She found three dresses and ushered the woman into a dressing room, The minister followed to see what would happen.

The woman tried on the dresses and then said, “I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to buy a dress today.” The clerk said, “That is fine. Here is my card. If you come again, it would be my honor to serve you.”

Broderick said, “Who knew Jesus was a sales clerk in Nordstrom’s? Who knew you and I along with that woman, with our veils off, were being welcomed home from one degree of glory to another?”

The Rev. John Morgan, pastor of Williamsburg Presbyterian Church in Williamsburg, Virginia, presided from the Hall of Christ. Joshua Stafford, interim organist for Chautauqua Institution, played the Tallman Tracker Organ. Meredith Smietana, a student in the Chautauqua School of Music Voice Program, served as vocal soloist. The organ prelude, performed by Stafford, was “Prelude in d minor,” by Clara Schumann. Smietana sang the hymn, “Living Spirit, Holy Fire.” The anthem was “Prelude in g minor,” by Clara Schumann. Stafford played “Fugue in d minor,” by Clara Schumann, for the postlude. This program is made possible by the Gladys R. Brasted and Adair Brasted Gould Memorial Chaplaincy.

Tags : James ConeJanet BroderickJesusMasksmorning worshipMosesNordstorm’sPaulThe Church of the Lynching Tree

The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.