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A free floating commentary on culture, politics, economics, and religion based on a passionate commitment to the truth and a desire graciously to refute that which is contrary to it….
"He must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it."
--Titus 1:9, Revised Standard Version
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Easter celebrations will be taking place in Nigeria under the threat of terrorist attacks by the Islamist group Boko Haram.
“In the past celebrations of the major feasts, Boku Haram has attacked the Christian Churches,” said Father Patrick Tor Alumuku, director of social communications for the Archdiocese of Abuja.
Last Christmas, Boko Haram killed 41 people in a series of shootings and bombings.
“There is a feeling of uncertainty and of worry, generally, about how these celebrations will be concluded” Father Alumuki told Vatican Radio. “However, we have hope, and we pray everything will go well.”
Father Alumuki also pointed out most Muslims in Nigeria do not support Boku Haram, and prominent leaders of the country’s Islamic community have sent messages wishing Christians a happy Easter.
Listen to it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Church of Nigeria * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Easter Liturgy, Music, Worship * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture Violence * International News & Commentary Africa Nigeria * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Roman Catholic
Easter is the feast of the new creation. Jesus is risen and dies no more. He has opened the door to a new life, one that no longer knows illness and death. He has taken mankind up into God himself. “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”, as Saint Paul says in the First Letter to the Corinthians (15:50). On the subject of Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection, the Church writer Tertullian in the third century was bold enough to write: “Rest assured, flesh and blood, through Christ you have gained your place in heaven and in the Kingdom of God” (CCL II, 994). A new dimension has opened up for mankind. Creation has become greater and broader. Easter Day ushers in a new creation, but that is precisely why the Church starts the liturgy on this day with the old creation, so that we can learn to understand the new one aright.
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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Easter Holy Week Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI
In various cultures, it's called Holy Saturday, Low Saturday, Easter Eve, Silent Saturday, Black Saturday, White Saturday and Great Saturday.
While most Protestant churches in the United States don't mark the day when, according to the Christian Bible, Jesus lay in his tomb after crucifixion on Friday and before resurrection on Sunday, most Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches hold an Easter vigil service.
"Believe it or not, it is or was considered the primary liturgy of the church," according to the Rev. John Dukes, interim rector at St. Timothy's Episcopal Church on Signal Mountain, which holds a Great Vigil service at 7 p.m.
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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Easter Holy Week Liturgy, Music, Worship Parish Ministry * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Roman Catholic
All night had shout of men, and cry
Of woeful women filled His way;
Until that noon of sombre sky
On Friday, clamour and display
Smote Him; no solitude had He,
No silence, since Gethsemane.
Public was Death; but Power, but Might,
But Life again, but Victory,
Were hushed within the dead of night,
The shutter’d dark, the secrecy.
And all alone, alone, alone,
He rose again behind the stone.
--Alice Meynell (1847-1922)
In the silence of this night, in the silence which envelopes Holy Saturday, touched by the limitless love of God, we live in the hope of the dawn of the third day, the dawn of the victory of God’s love, the luminous daybreak which allows the eyes of our heart to see afresh our life, its difficulties, its suffering. Our failures, our disappointments, our bitterness, which seem to signal that all is lost, are instead illumined by hope. The act of love upon the Cross is confirmed by the Father and the dazzling light of the resurrection enfolds and transforms everything: friendship can be born from betrayal, pardon from denial, love from hate.
There are 40 in all and a slideshow is available--check it out.
This ultimate solidarity is the final point and the goal of that first 'descent,' so clearly described in the Scriptures, into a 'lower world' which, with Augustine, can already be characterised, by way of contrast with heaven, as infernum. Thomas Aquinas will echo Augustine here. For him, the necessity whereby Christ had to go down to Hades lies not in some insufficiency of the suffering endured on the Cross but in the fact that Christ has assumed all the defectus of sinners...Now the penalty which the sin of man brought on was not only the death of the body. It was also a penalty affected the soul, for sinning was also the soul's work, and the soul paid the price in being deprived of the vision of God. As yet unexpiated, it followed that all human beings who lived before the coming of Christ, even the holy ancestors, descended into the infernum. And so, in order to assume the entire penalty imposed upon sinners, Christ willed not only to die, but to go down, in his soul, ad infernum. As early as the Fathers of the second century, this act of sharing constituted the term and aim of the Incarnation. The 'terrors of death' into which Jesus himself falls are only dispelled when the Father raises him again...He insists on his own grounding principle, namely, that only what has been endured is healed and saved.
That the Redeemer is solidarity with the dead, or, better, with this death which makes of the dead, for the first time, dead human beings in all reality- this is the final consequence of the redemptive mission he has received from the Father. His being with the dead is an existence at the utmost pitch of obedience, and because the One thus obedient is the dead Christ, it constitutes the 'obedience of a corpse' (the phrase is Francis of Assisi's) of a theologically unique kind. By it Christ takes the existential measure of everything that is sheerly contrary to God, of the entire object of the divine eschatological judgment, which here is grasped in that event in which it is 'cast down' (hormemati blethesetai, Apocalypse 18, 21; John 12; Matthew 22, 13). But at the same time, this happening gives the measure of the Father's mission in all its amplitude: the 'exploration' of Hell is an event of the (economic) Trinity...This vision of chaos by the God-man has become for us the condition of our vision of Divinity. His exploration of the ultimate depths has transformed what was a prison into a way.
--Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988), Mysterium Paschale: The Mystery of Easter [emphasis mine]
At night things become ever so smaller, our shoes and teeth, too, and everywhere in buildings screws turn a quarter of a revolution, but even if you press your ear against the wall, the sound is rarely heard.
--Carsten René Nielsen (1966-- )
On Holy Saturday we enter into the mystery. Today we contemplate Jesus, there in the tomb, dead. In that tomb, he is dead, exactly the way each of us will be dead. We don't easily contemplate dying, but we rarely contemplate being dead. I have had the blessed experience of being with a number of people who have died, of arriving at a hospital shortly after someone has died, of attending an autopsy, and of praying with health sciences students over donated bodies in gross anatomy class. These were powerful experiences because they all brought me face-to-face with the mystery of death itself. With death, life ends. Breathing stops, and in an instant, the life of this person has ended. And, in a matter of hours, the body becomes quite cold and life-less - dramatic evidence, to our senses, that this person no longer exists. All that is left is this decaying shell that once held his or her life.
Death is our ultimate fear. Everything else we fear, every struggle we have, is some taste of, some chilling approach to, the experience of losing our life. This fear is responsible for so much of our lust and greed, so much of our denial and arrogance, so much of our silly clinging to power, so much of our hectic and anxiety-driven activity. It is the one, inevitable reality we all will face. There is not enough time, money, joy, fulfillment, success. Our physical beauty and strength, our mental competency and agility, all that we have and use to define ourselves, slip away from us with time. Our lives are limited. Our existence, in every way we can comprehand it, comes to an end. We will all die. In a matter of time, all that will be left of any of us is a decomposing body.
Today is a day to soberly put aside the blinders we have about the mystery of death and our fear of it. Death is very real and its approach holds great power in our lives. The "good news" we are about to celebrate has no real power in our lives unless we have faced the reality of death. To contemplate Jesus' body, there in that tomb, is to look our death in the face, and it is preparation for hearing the Gospel with incredible joy. That we are saved from the ultimate power of sin and of death itself comes to us as a great relief, as a tremendous liberation. If Jesus lives, you and I will live! The mystery of death, which we contemplate today, will be overcome - we will live forever!
“[Hans Urs von] Balthasar’s theology of Holy Saturday is probably one of his most intriguing contributions since he interprets it as moving beyond the active self-surrender of Good Friday into the absolute helplessness of sin and the abandonment and lostness of death.
In the Old Testament one of the greatest threats of God’s wrath was His threat of abandonment, to leave His people desolate, to be utterly rejected of God. It is this that Jesus experienced upon the Cross and in His descent into the lifeless passivity and God-forsakenness of the grave. By His free entrance into the helplessness of sin, Christ was reduced to what Balthasar calls a “cadaver-obedience” revealing and experience the full horror of sin.
As Peter himself preached at Pentecost (Acts 2:23-24; 32-33):
‘[Jesus] being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you, by lawless hands, have crucified and put to death; who God raised up, having abolished the birth pangs of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it…This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit, He pour out this which you now see and hear.’
We ought to pause and note the passivity that is expressed here. Christ experienced what God was doing through Him by His purpose and foreknowledge. Jesus was truly dead and fully encompassed within and held by the pains of death and needed God to abolish them. He was freed from death by God, not simply by God’s whim, but because for God it was impossible that death should hold Christ. Christ Himself receives the Holy Spirit from the Father in order that He might pour out that Spirit. Balthasar writes:
‘Jesus was truly dead, because he really became a man as we are, a son of Adam, and therefore, despite what one can sometimes read in certain theological works, he did not use the so-called “brief” time of his death for all manner of “activities” in the world beyond. In the same way that, upon earth, he was in solidarity with the living, so, in the tomb, he is in solidarity with the dead…Each human being lies in his own tomb. And with this condition Jesus is in complete solidarity.’
According to Balthasar, this death was also the experience, for a time, of utter God-forsakenness—that is hell. Hell, then, is a Christological concept which is defined in terms of Christ’s experience on the Cross. This is also the assurance that we never need fear rejection by the Father if we are in Christ, since Christ has experienced hell in our place.”
–S. Joel Garver on Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988)
Jesus dies. His lifeless body is taken down from the cross. Painters and sculptors have strained their every nerve to portray the sorrow of Mary holding her lifeless son in her arms, as mothers today in Baghdad hold with the same anguish the bodies of their children. On Holy Saturday, or Easter Eve, God is dead, entering into the nothingness of human dying. The source of all being, the One who framed the vastness and the microscopic patterning of the Universe, the delicacy of petals and the scent of thyme, the musician’s melodies and the lover’s heart, is one with us in our mortality. In Jesus, God knows our dying from the inside.
--–The Rt. Rev. Dr. Geoffrey Rowell, Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Church of England (CoE) CoE Bishops * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Holy Week Parish Ministry Death / Burial / Funerals * Theology Christology
HOW life and death in Thee
Thou hadst a virgin womb
A Joseph did betroth
–Richard Crashaw (1613-1649)
This Holy Saturday we watch and wait.
What comes will surely be his surprise-
He’s working on it right now-
And we must wait for it,
There is nothing else to do.
On Holy Saturday we realize, as at no other time,
We simply have to wait.
And then it happens!
The church is dark now. The altar is stripped and bare. Some are getting up and leaving in silence. Others remain kneeling, looking into the darkness. Holy Saturday is ahead, the most quiet day of the year. The silence of that silent night, holy night, the night when God was born was broken by the sounds of a baby, a mother’s words of comfort and angels in concert. Holy Saturday, by contrast, is the sound of prefect silence. Yesterday’s mockery, the good thief’s prayer, the cry of dereliction—all that is past now. Mary has dried her tears, and the whole creation is still, waiting for what will happen next.
Some say that on Holy Saturday Jesus went to hell in triumph, to free the souls long imprisoned there. Others say he descended into a death deeper than death, to embrace in his love even the damned. We do not know. Scripture, tradition and pious writings provide hints and speculations, but about this most silent day it is perhaps best to observe the silence. One day I expect he will tell us all about it. When we are able to understand what we cannot now even understand why we cannot understand.
--Richard John Neuhaus (1936-2009)
Recently an elderly friend of our family passed away after a period of grueling discomfort. At one point she blurted out to my mother, “Why must I endure this? Jesus only suffered for three hours!”
Of course, most Christians know that Jesus suffered longer than three hours, including the Agony in the Garden, the Scourging and the long climb up Golgotha. He was also, it may be argued, carrying all sin, which burdened him with a weight that is unimaginable to us.
Yet did Christ’s suffering end when he announced, “It is finished”? Holy Saturday is the time between Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, and it is one of the most dramatic, if cloudy, episodes in Christian theology….
Read it all.
O God, whose loving kindness is infinite, mercifully hear our prayers; and grant that as in this life we are united in the mystical body of thy Church, and in death are laid in holy ground with the sure hope of resurrection; so at the last day we may rise to the life immortal, and be numbered with thy saints in glory everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The feathers of the birds made the air soft, softer
than the quiet in a cocoon waiting for wings,
stiller than the stare of a hooded falcon.
--Barbara Ras (1949-- ), "A Book Said Dream and I Do"
Yet, there was one large omission that set all other truth dangerously at risk: the omission of holy rest. The refusal to be silent. The obsessive avoidance of emptiness. The denial of any experience and any people in the least bit suggestive of godforsakenness.
It was far more than an annual ignorance on Holy Saturday; it was religiously fueled, weekly arrogance. Not only was the Good Friday crucifixion bridged to the Easter resurrection by this day furious with energy and lucrative with reward, but all the gospel truths were likewise set as either introductions or conclusions to the human action that displayed our prowess and our virtue every week of the year. God was background to our business. Every gospel truth was maintained intact and all the human energy was wholly admirable, but the rhythms were all wrong, the proportions wildly skewed. Desolation—and with it companionship with the desolate, from first-century Semites to twentieth-century Indians—was all but wiped from consciousness.
But there came a point at which I was convinced that it was critically important to pay more attention to what God does than what I do; to find daily, weekly, yearly rhythms that would get that awareness into my bones. Holy Saturday for a start. And then, times to visit people in despair, and learn their names, and wait for resurrection.
Embedded in my memory now is this most poignant irony: those seven or eight Indians, with the Thunderbird empties lying around, drunk in the alley behind the Pastime Baron Saturday afternoon, while we Scandinavian Christians worked diligently late into the night, oblivious to the holiness of the day. The Indians were in despair, religious despair, something very much like the Holy Saturday despair narrated in the Gospels. Their way of life had come to nothing, the only buffalo left to them engraved on nickels, a couple of which one of their squaws had paid out that morning for four bony ham hocks. The early sacredness of their lives was a wasteland; and they, godforsaken as they supposed, drugged their despair with Thunderbird and buried their dead visions and dreams in the alley behind the Pastime, ignorant of the God at work beneath their emptiness.
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Today is the first day of Passover, the most celebrated Jewish holiday, commemorating the Exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.
Families and congregations gather en masse for the observances. But many look past the details, the preparations and the moments that deepen the experience.
“We feel that if you go for Palm Sunday and Easter, you miss the (sorrow) of Holy Week,” said Barbara Manaker, James Island Presbyterian Church music director. “If you experience more of what Jesus went through, Easter Sunday becomes more meaningful. Without that, you go from one celebration to another.”
Read it all from the local paper.
"The single argument in its favor seems to be that it has been around so long," [Wayne] Grudem, a professor at Phoenix Seminary in Arizona, writes in his Systematic Theology, a popular textbook in evangelical colleges. "But an old mistake is still a mistake."
Grudem, like [John] Piper, has said that he skips the phrase about Jesus' descent when reciting the Apostles' Creed.
But the harrowing of hell remains a central tenet of Eastern Orthodox Christians, who place an icon depicting the descent at the front of their churches as Saturday night becomes Easter Sunday. It remains there, venerated and often kissed, for 40 days.
"The icon that represents Easter for us is not the empty cross or tomb," said Peter Bouteneff, a theology professor at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, N.Y. "It's Christ's descent into Hades."
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O Lord God, who didst send thy only begotten Son to redeem the world by his obedience unto death: Grant, we humbly beseech thee, that the continual remembrance of his bitter cross may teach us to crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts thereof; that in the union and merits of his death and passion we may die with him, and rest with him, and rise again with him, and live with him for ever, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be all honour and glory; world without end.
Holy Saturday is a neglected day in parish life. Few people attend the Services. Popular piety usually reduces Holy Week to one day — Holy Friday. This day is quickly replaced by another — Easter Sunday. Christ is dead and then suddenly alive. Great sorrow is suddenly replaced by great joy. In such a scheme Holy Saturday is lost.
In the understanding of the Church, sorrow is not replaced by joy; it is transformed into joy. This distinction indicates that it is precisely within death the Christ continues to effect triumph.
–Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983)
If we really want prayer, we'll have to give it time. We must slow down to a human tempo and we'll begin to have time to listen. And as soon as we listen to what's going on, things will begin to take shape by themselves....The best way to pray is: Stop. Let prayer pray within you, whether you know it or not.
--Thoms Merton (1915--1968)
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Holy Week Spirituality/Prayer * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Roman Catholic * Theology Christology Pastoral Theology
I hope no one who reads this book has been quite as miserable as Susan and Lucy were that night; but if you have been–if you’ve been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you–you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quietness. You feel as if nothing was ever going to happen again.
–C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)
"By the grace of God" Jesus tasted death "for every one". In his plan of salvation, God ordained that his Son should not only "die for our sins" but should also "taste death", experience the condition of death, the separation of his soul from his body, between the time he expired on the cross and the time he was raised from the dead. The state of the dead Christ is the mystery of the tomb and the descent into hell. It is the mystery of Holy Saturday, when Christ, lying in the tomb, reveals God's great sabbath rest after the fulfillment of man's salvation, which brings peace to the whole universe.
--The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, para. 624
…Suddenly all of them standing around the gallows know it: he is gone. Immeasurable emptiness (not solitude) streams forth from the hanging body. Nothing but this fantastic emptiness is any longer at work here. The world with its shape has perished; it tore like a curtain from top to bottom, without making a sound. It fainted away, turned to dust, burst like a bubble. There is nothing more but nothingness itself.
The world is dead.
Love is dead.
God is dead.
Everything that was, was a dream dreamt by no one. The present is all past. The future is nothing. The hand has disappeared from the clock’s face. No more struggle between love and hate, between life and death. Both have been equalized, and love’s emptying out has become the emptiness of hell. One has penetrated the other perfectly. The nadir has reached the zenith: nirvana.
Was that lightning?
Was the form of a Heart visible in the boundless void for a flash as the sky was rent, drifting in the whirlwind through the worldless chaos, driven like a leaf?
Or was it winged, propelled and directed by its own invisible wings, standing as lone survivor between the soulless heavens and the perished earth?
Chaos. Beyond heaven and hell. Shapeless nothingness behind the bounds of creation.
Is that God?
God died on the Cross.
Is that death?
No dead are to be seen.
Is it the end?
Nothing that ends is any longer there.
Is it the beginning?
The beginning of what? In the beginning was the Word. What kind of word? What incomprehensible, formless, meaningless word? But look: What is this light glimmer that wavers and begins to take form in the endless void? It has neither content nor contour.
A nameless thing, more solitary than God, it emerges out of pure emptiness. It is no one. It is anterior to everything. Is it the beginning? It is small and undefined as a drop. Perhaps it is water. But it does not flow. It is not water. It is thicker, more opaque, more viscous than water. It is also not blood, for blood is red, blood is alive, blood has a loud human speech. This is neither water nor blood. It is older than both, a chaotic drop.
Slowly, slowly, unbelievably slowly the drop begins to quicken. We do not know whether this movement is infinite fatigue at death’s extremity or the first beginning - of what?
Quiet, quiet! Hold the breath of your thoughts! It’s still much too early in the day to think of hope. The seed is still much too weak to start whispering about love. But look there: it is indeed moving, a weak, viscous flow. It’s still much too early to speak of a wellspring.
It trickles, lost in the chaos, directionless, without gravity. But more copiously now. A wellspring in the chaos. It leaps out of pure nothingness, it leaps out of itself.
It is not the beginning of God, who eternally and mightily brings himself into existence as Life and Love and triune Bliss.
It is not the beginning of creation, which gently and in slumber slips out of the Creator’s hands.
It is a beginning without parallel, as if Life were arising from Death, as if weariness (already such weariness as no amount of sleep could ever dispel) and the uttermost decay of power were melting at creation’s outer edge, were beginning to flow, because flowing is perhaps a sign and a likeness of weariness which can no longer contain itself, because everything that is strong and solid must in the end dissolve into water. But hadn’t it - in the beginning - also been born from water? And is this wellspring in the chaos, this trickling weariness, not the beginning of a new creation?
The magic of Holy Saturday.
The chaotic fountain remains directionless. Could this be the residue of the Son’s love which, poured out to the last when every vessel cracked and the old world perished, is now making a path for itself to the Father through the glooms of nought?
Or, in spite of it all, is this love trickling on in impotence, unconsciously, laboriously, towards a new creation that does not yet even exist, a creation which is still to be lifted up and given shape? Is it a protoplasm producing itself in the beginning, the first seed of the New Heaven and the New Earth?
The spring leaps up even more plenteously. To be sure, it flows out of a wound and is like the blossom and fruit of a wound; like a tree it sprouts up from this wound. But the wound no longer causes pain. The suffering has been left far behind as the past origin and previous source of today’s wellspring.
What is poured out here is no longer a present suffering, but a suffering that has been concluded–no longer now a sacrificing love, but a love sacrificed.
Only the wound is there: gaping, the great open gate, the chaos, the nothingness out of which the wellspring leaps forth. Never again will this gate be shut. Just as the first creation arose ever anew out of sheer nothingness, so, too, this second world - still unborn, still caught up in its first rising - will have its sole origin in this wound, which is never to close again.
In the future, all shape must arise out of this gaping void, all wholeness must draw its strength from the creating wound.
High-vaulted triumphal Gate of Life! Armored in gold, armies of graces stream out of you with fiery lances. Deep-dug Fountain of Life! Wave upon wave gushes out of you inexhaustible, ever-flowing, billows of water and blood baptizing the heathen hearts, comforting the yearning souls, rushing over the deserts of guilt, enriching over-abundantly, overflowing every heart that receives it, far surpassing every desire.
–Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988)
In this empty hallway, there’s nothing expected of us at this moment. The work is out of our hands, and all we can do is wait, breathe, look around. People sometimes feel like this when they’ve been up all night with someone who’s seriously ill or dying, or when they’ve been through a non-stop series of enormously demanding tasks. A sort of peace, but more a sort of ‘limbo’, an in-between moment. For now, nothing more to do; tired, empty, slightly numbed, we rest for a bit, knowing that what matters is now happening somewhere else.
–Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who as on this day didst rest in the sepulchre, and didst thereby sanctify the grave to be a bed of hope to thy people: Make us so to abound in sorrow for our sins, which were the cause of thy passion, that when our bodies rest in the dust, our souls may live with thee; who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.
So then, there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God; for whoever enters God's rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his.
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