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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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What do you mean by the title of the book?
Jonathan Dodson: Well, The Unbelievable Gospel is a kind of double entendre.Click to buy your copy of The Unbelievable Gospel in the Bible Gateway Store In one sense, the gospel is unbelievably good because it’s honest to affirm the human predicament—sinfully broken—but hopeful enough to offer a divine solution—personal and cosmic saving renewal. The gospel is the good and true story that Jesus has defeated sin, death, and evil through his own death and resurrection and is making all things new; even us. It’s as big as the cosmos and as small as you and me.
The problem is that many people don’t find the gospel to be true. This gets at the other sense of its un-believability. J.I. Packer says, “Evangelism is man’s work but the giving of faith is God’s.” God is the granter of faith; we’re responsible for witness; and it’s here, in our evangelism, that the gospel often becomes unbelievable to many.
People find the gospel unbelievable because of what we say and how we say it. Often evangelistic efforts come off as preachy, impersonal, intolerant, and uninformed. The gospel is the opposite of each of these. Instead of self-righteous preachy, we preach Christ’s righteousness; instead of coldly intolerant, we preach the warmth of union with Christ and dignify others. You get the idea.
If we’re honest, evangelicals are often more intent in getting Jesus off their chests than getting the gospel into people’s hearts. We operate on checklist instead of investigating why people don’t believe the gospel, respecting their alternate beliefs, and sympathizing with their human struggles, where the gospel actually intersects human need; that is, hope of new creation for the addiction, perfect acceptance for the rejected or overworking professional.
Read it all.
What Christ thinks of the church--Read it all.
This is a must-not-miss as far too many do not know of this story of Saint John in his elder years--KSH.
Listen to a tale, which is not a mere tale, but a narrative concerning John the apostle, which has been handed down and treasured up in memory. For when, after the tyrant's death, he returned from the isle of Patmos to Ephesus, he went away upon their invitation to the neighboring territories of the Gentiles, to appoint bishops in some places, in other places to set in order whole churches, elsewhere to choose to the ministry some one of those that were pointed out by the Spirit.
7. When he had come to one of the cities not far away (the name of which is given by some ), and had consoled the brethren in other matters, he finally turned to the bishop that had been appointed, and seeing a youth of powerful physique, of pleasing appearance, and of ardent temperament, he said, 'This one I commit to you in all earnestness in the presence of the Church and with Christ as witness.' And when the bishop had accepted the charge and had promised all, he repeated the same injunction with an appeal to the same witnesses, and then departed for Ephesus.
8. But the presbyter taking home the youth committed to him, reared, kept, cherished, and finally baptized him. After this he relaxed his stricter care and watchfulness, with the idea that in putting upon him the seal of the Lord he had given him a perfect protection.
9. But some youths of his own age, idle and dissolute, and accustomed to evil practices, corrupted him when he was thus prematurely freed from restraint. At first they enticed him by costly entertainments; then, when they went forth at night for robbery, they took him with them, and finally they demanded that he should unite with them in some greater crime.
10. He gradually became accustomed to such practices, and on account of the positiveness of his character, leaving the right path, and taking the bit in his teeth like a hard-mouthed and powerful horse, he rushed the more violently down into the depths.
11. And finally despairing of salvation in God, he no longer meditated what was insignificant, but having committed some great crime, since he was now lost once for all, he expected to suffer a like fate with the rest. Taking them, therefore, and forming a band of robbers, he became a bold bandit-chief, the most violent, most bloody, most cruel of them all.
12. Time passed, and some necessity having arisen, they sent for John. But he, when he had set in order the other matters on account of which he had come, said, 'Come, O bishop, restore us the deposit which both I and Christ committed to you, the church, over which you preside, being witness.'
13. But the bishop was at first confounded, thinking that he was falsely charged in regard to money which he had not received, and he could neither believe the accusation respecting what he had not, nor could he disbelieve John. But when he said, 'I demand the young man and the soul of the brother,' the old man, groaning deeply and at the same time bursting into tears, said, 'He is dead.' 'How and what kind of death?' 'He is dead to God,' he said; 'for he turned wicked and abandoned, and at last a robber. And now, instead of the church, he haunts the mountain with a band like himself.'
14. But the Apostle rent his clothes, and beating his head with great lamentation, he said, 'A fine guard I left for a brother's soul! But let a horse be brought me, and let some one show me the way.' He rode away from the church just as he was, and coming to the place, he was taken prisoner by the robbers' outpost.
15. He, however, neither fled nor made entreaty, but cried out, 'For this did I come; lead me to your captain.'
16. The latter, meanwhile, was waiting, armed as he was. But when he recognized John approaching, he turned in shame to flee.
17. But John, forgetting his age, pursued him with all his might, crying out, 'Why, my son, do you flee from me, your own father, unarmed, aged? Pity me, my son; fear not; you have still hope of life. I will give account to Christ for you. If need be, I will willingly endure your death as the Lord suffered death for us. For you will I give up my life. Stand, believe; Christ has sent me.'
18. And he, when he heard, first stopped and looked down; then he threw away his arms, and then trembled and wept bitterly. And when the old man approached, he embraced him, making confession with lamentations as he was able, baptizing himself a second time with tears, and concealing only his right hand.
19. But John, pledging himself, and assuring him on oath that he would find forgiveness with the Saviour, besought him, fell upon his knees, kissed his right hand itself as if now purified by repentance, and led him back to the church. And making intercession for him with copious prayers, and struggling together with him in continual fastings, and subduing his mind by various utterances, he did not depart, as they say, until he had restored him to the church, furnishing a great example of true repentance and a great proof of regeneration, a trophy of a visible resurrection.
(From Eusebius which may be found there [III.23]).
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church History Parish Ministry Evangelism and Church Growth Ministry of the Ordained Pastoral Care * Theology Christology Soteriology Theology: Scripture
The Bishop of London commented:
“The Studd brothers were great servants of two of this country’s most historic institutions: the Church; and the game of cricket. May their memory inspire England as they take on Australia this week at Lord’s.The Studd Brothers were from a large cricketing and evangelical family. All three captained Cambridge University, played for Middlesex and one, CT, played for England in the test match giving rise to the Ashes. CT was in the losing Engish side in the 1882 Oval match which prompted the Sporting Times mock obituary, ‘The body will be cremated and the Ashes taken to Australia’. CT and GB were both members of the touring side which recovered the Ashes in the winter of 1882-1883 during which the England captain was presented with the famous urn.
“The proud tradition of the Church and cricket together continues to this day. Once again, I’m delighted that the Diocese of London’s team continues to fly the flag and has reached the final of the Church Times Cricket Cup.”
CT went out to China on missionary work and remained there between 1885 and 1895. Invalided home, he did missionary work in England and America. He then went as a missionary to the Belgian Congo. Wisden records that ‘despite numerous illnesses and many hardships, devoted the remainder of his life to missionary work there.’ In the Congo, he built a church whose aisle measured 22 yards from end to end.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Church of England (CoE) CoE Bishops * Christian Life / Church Life Church History Missions * Culture-Watch Men Sports * International News & Commentary England / UK * Theology Christology Soteriology
When big questions, like the future of Europe, hang in the balance, it can be tempting to toy with grand theories about the ways in which religion affects culture and economics. A famous one was put forward by Max Weber (pictured), who posited a link between capitalism and Protestant ideas of guilt and salvation. Such theories usually contain a grain of truth, but religious determinism shouldn't be pushed too far because there are always exceptions.
Still, as religious-determinist theories go, an interesting one was put forward by Giles Fraser, a well-known left-wing priest of the Church of England, in a recent radio broadcast. He suggested that behind the financial standoff between Greece and Germany, there was a theological difference (between western and eastern Christians) in the understanding of how humans are reconciled with God.
As Mr Fraser recalled, traditional Protestant and Catholic teaching has presented the self-sacrifice of Christ as the payment of a debt to God the Father. In this view, human sinfulness created a debt which simply had to be settled, but could not be repaid by humanity because of its fallen state; so the Son of God stepped in and took care of that vast obligation. For Orthodox theologians, this wrongly portrays God the Father as a sort of heavenly debt-collector who is himself constrained by some iron necessity; they prefer to see the passion story as an act of mercy by a God who is free. Over-simplifying only a little, Mr Fraser observed: "the idea that the cross is some sort of cosmic pay-back for human sin [reflects] a no-pain-no-gain obsession with suffering," from an eastern Christian viewpoint.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture * Economics, Politics Economy Consumer/consumer spending Corporations/Corporate Life Credit Markets Currency Markets Euro European Central Bank G20 The Banking System/Sector Foreign Relations Politics in General * International News & Commentary Europe Germany Greece * Theology Christology Soteriology
Christians claim to believe the Bible is God's Word. We claim it's God's divinely inspired, inerrant message to us. Yet despite this, we aren't reading it. A recent LifeWay Research study found only 45 percent of those who regularly attend church read the Bible more than once a week. Over 40 percent of the people attending read their Bible occasionally, maybe once or twice a month. Almost 1 in 5 churchgoers say they never read the Bible—essentially the same number who read it every day.
Because we don't read God's Word, it follows that we don't know it. To understand the effects, we can look to statistics of another Western country: the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom Bible Society surveyed British children and found many could not identify common Bible stories. When given a list of stories, almost 1 in 3 didn't choose the Nativity as part of the Bible and over half (59 percent) didn't know that Jonah being swallowed by the great fish is in the Bible.
British parents didn't do much better. Around 30 percent of parents don't know Adam and Eve, David and Goliath, or the Good Samaritan are in the Bible. To make matters worse, 27 percent think Superman is or might be a biblical story. More than 1 in 3 believes the same about Harry Potter. And more than half (54 percent) believe The Hunger Games is or might be a story from the Bible.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Adult Education Ministry of the Laity Ministry of the Ordained * Culture-Watch Books Children Marriage & Family Religion & Culture * Theology Christology Theology: Scripture
..[The] understanding that ordained ministry is a vocation, a calling from God, challenges the contemporary understanding of authority in at least three senses. First, if vocation is a calling from God it is not based on our own self-importance or charismatic capabilities. As Jesus told his apostles, we do not choose this office; Jesus chooses us. Second, because ordained ministry is a divine calling, ordained clergy are answerable to God for their charges. Jesus says in Matthew 18:6, “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” In the pastoral letters, the apostle Paul gives instructions to his own delegates Timothy and Titus about just how important their responsibilities are to their congregations. Finally, because ordination is a vocation from God, ordained clergy always need to be aware that they are responsible not to deliver their own opinions to their congregation, but God’s own word. Quoting again the passage from Jeremiah, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jer. 1:10).
Jared and Rebecca each affirm this morning: “I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and therefore I hold myself bound to conform my life and ministry thereto, and do solemnly engage to conform to the Doctrine, Discipline and Worship of Christ as this Church has received them.” It is because vocation means that clergy have to deliver a divine word and not their own subjective opinions that the church requires this confession.
Rebecca and Jared understand well the importance of vocation to ministry. I am going to relate an event that most of you probably do not know about. Before Naomi was born, Jared and Rebecca invited some special friends to their home to help them assess whether they indeed had a joint vocation to ordained ministry. I was invited along with my wife Jennie. Our friend and faculty member Martha Giltinan was there. Rebecca’s parents and her youngest sister were there along with two fellow students, Noel and Greg Pfeiffer-Collins. We talked, we prayed, and Martha in particular laid hands on Rebecca and prayed for her unborn child, whose name we did not yet know would be Naomi. I am sure that night meant a lot to Rebecca and Jared, but it also meant a lot to me that they placed such trust in us. I truly wish that our dear friend Martha could be here to see the fruition of that evening, but her namesake is here, in Jared and Rebecca’s youngest daughter, named after Martha.
Read it all.
The free tickets were for the festival this Saturday in Central Park featuring Luis Palau, one of the world’s leading evangelical Christian figures, whose event is expected to draw 60,000 people to the Great Lawn. For months it has been promoted not only in churches, but also on billboards, on the radio and in the subways, and it promises to be the largest evangelical Christian gathering in New York since the Rev. Billy Graham led a crusade in Queens 10 years ago.
The size of the festival belies the city’s secular reputation and speaks to the vibrant evangelical movement in New York. The phenomenon is driven largely by immigrant-led churches that have proliferated in the boroughs outside Manhattan.
Nearly 900 of the 1,700 churches participating in the festival are Hispanic, organizers said. Latino leaders were the ones two years ago to invite Mr. Palau, an endearing, white-haired bilingual immigrant from Argentina who has built a reputation as the Hispanic Billy Graham, but African-American and Korean-American church leaders quickly got involved in the planning.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Evangelism and Church Growth * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture Urban/City Life and Issues * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Evangelicals * Theology Christology Soteriology
Read it all (page 12).
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Church of England (CoE) * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Evangelism and Church Growth * South Carolina * Theology Christology Soteriology
Around 9:30 a.m. Monday morning, as state Senators filed briskly into chambers and protestors waved their red rebel banners outside, about 100 people congregated amidst the chaos in the South Carolina Statehouse rotunda and sang “Amazing Grace.”
But first, Hal Stevenson closed his eyes and led them in prayer.
“We pray for our state. We pray for our nation. We pray for our world that the grace that’s been displayed in our state will catch on, that your holy spirit will direct each of us to love our neighbors as ourselves and do your will.”
They’re not activists, Stevenson said. They don’t represent any formal organization, either. But they are Christians — from multiple denominations, races and political ideologies — moved by the showing of grace from the families of the nine people murdered at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston last month.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Liturgy, Music, Worship * Culture-Watch History Music Race/Race Relations Religion & Culture Urban/City Life and Issues Violence * Economics, Politics Politics in General State Government * South Carolina * Theology Christology
Many years ago, I received a shocking revelation about reading the Bible. No bright lights or angelic visitations were involved. Never since, though, have I been able to look at the text in quite the same way.
I was at a friendly discussion between Christians and Jews gathered in a synagogue library, when the rabbi suggested consulting a particular Biblical reference. I volunteered to find it, and picked up the convenient Bible volume, or rather, the Jewish Bible, the Tanakh. Now, I know my way around the Bible pretty well, in the sense of being able to place roughly in the text where I am going to find a particular book. To my horror, I was lost in this particular volume, which arranged the books in a sequence totally different from the Christian tradition. Please don’t smile at my ignorance.
The main lesson I derived from that experience was how thoroughly we take for granted the structure of the Bible as we know it, and the potent but unrecognized significance of the ordering we use.
Read it all.
The critiques of forgiveness in recent days are strikingly similar to the critiques against nonviolence during the civil rights movement. In both cases, some advocates for social justice misunderstood the allegiances of the black Christians they criticized. Dr. King and the Charleston families believed forgiveness and nonviolence are on the right side of history. They believed they would be served well on this earth by those tenets, but also that their reward is in heaven. And, clearly, they saw no conflict between forgiveness and full-throated, sacrificial advocacy for change. People so often underestimate the Christian conviction that the ends do not justify the means. The ultimate goal is not to achieve justice on this world, though we pursue that with all of our souls, but to be faithful to God. We believe, ultimately, that faithfulness is justice.
I do not think I could forgive Roof. Forgiveness is not a burden I would place on anyone in the situation of those families. We should reject all calls from those who wish to sweep under the rug the culture and systems of racism that infect people like Roof. We should reject all calls to make excuses for the evil Roof actively embraced and acted upon. He was no passive actor. He was more than simply a result of cultural, economic, or social circumstances. He had agency. And his actions were evil.
But we should also reject all calls to strip the agency and dignity from the mourning families as well. I am not mature enough in the faith to so quickly pass the burden of judgment to God. But I am inspired by those family members to grow in that direction. I am a Christian because of the black church and black faith. When I was far from God, it was the unashamedly Christian black culture, movies, and music of people like Lauryn Hill and Fred Hammond that introduced me to Jesus. It is the black church that so consistently embodies the confounding, radical love of Jesus. What other American community today displays less shame, less reservation, less self-awareness about proclaiming the Christian faith? I will not turn the Bride of the living Christ into a cultural artifact.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch History Psychology Race/Race Relations Religion & Culture Urban/City Life and Issues Violence * South Carolina * Theology Anthropology Christology Ethics / Moral Theology Pastoral Theology Theology: Scripture
I do not forgive Dylann Roof, a racist terrorist whose name I hate saying or knowing. I have no immediate connection to what happened in Charleston, S.C., last week beyond my humanity and my blackness, but I do not foresee ever forgiving his crimes, and I am wholly at ease with that choice.
My unwillingness to forgive this man does not give him any kind of power. I am not filled with hate for this man because he is beneath my contempt. I do not believe in the death penalty so I don’t wish to see him dead. My lack of forgiveness serves as a reminder that there are some acts that are so terrible that we should recognize them as such. We should recognize them as beyond forgiving.
I struggle with faith but I was raised Catholic....
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch History Psychology Race/Race Relations Religion & Culture Urban/City Life and Issues Violence * South Carolina * Theology Anthropology Christology Ethics / Moral Theology Pastoral Theology Theology: Scripture
So many social, political, and sociological assertions have been projected onto the story of the Charleston martyrs that their own story as not untypical followers and seekers of Christ has been obscured. Maybe their martyrdom is only the small part of a vast historical narrative about race and oppression across centuries.
But it’s also about small acts of faithfulness that led to global and eternal significance for God’s Kingdom. A demented young man, escaping his dysfunctional family, pursued darkness, unable to find kindred twisted spirits, instead finds sinister validation on the internet. Committed to murder, he unexpectedly meets friendly saints whose kindness gives him pause before he kills, hoping to spread his poison through publicity.
His crime is instead overshadowed by the faith and hope of his victims and their church. We should join the families of those victims in praying that the killer, before he leaves this world, hopefully in the administration of swift justice, accepts the God whom he defied, and can meet in Heaven the martyrs he sought to destroy, instead falling before them in holy sorrow and recompense, honoring them as the instruments of his own redemption.
The ultimate story about the Charleston martyrs is not about the sins of a particular culture or nation but about the far wider and exponentially more powerful demonstration that God’s love is undefeatable, even in a hail of bullets.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Liturgy, Music, Worship Parish Ministry Spirituality/Prayer * Culture-Watch Race/Race Relations Religion & Culture Urban/City Life and Issues Violence * South Carolina * Theology Christology Eschatology
Last week marked the passing of a woman whose missionary work and writings inspired hundreds of thousands of Christians to live lives of faith and obedience to God, and led thousands to bring the gospel to people in countries around the world. Elisabeth Elliot died June 15 at age 88, but her legacy will continue through the lives transformed by her example. I knew her simply as “Aunt Betty,” as she was my father’s sister.
Elliot first entered the news in January 1956, when her husband, Jim Elliot, and four other missionaries were killed by a group of Auca Indians, today known as Waorani, in the deepest jungles of Ecuador. The five missionaries—three of them, like Elisabeth, were former students at Wheaton College in Illinois—felt called by God to bring the gospel to this fiercest of tribes, one that had no connections to the outside world.
After months of groundwork, the missionaries made friendly contact with three tribal members near the main Waorani village. But two days later, several warriors burst out of the jungle and speared and hacked the men to death. The missionaries were armed, but when the attack came they only fired their weapons into the air, as they had agreed they would in such an event. Why? Because they believed that they were ready to meet their maker, while the Waorani were not. The incident made headlines around the world, including articles in Life, Time and Reader’s Digest magazines.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church History Missions Parish Ministry Death / Burial / Funerals Evangelism and Church Growth * Culture-Watch History Religion & Culture * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Evangelicals * Theology Christology Eschatology Soteriology
Watch and listen to it all.
The Confederate battle flag may mean many things, but with those things it represents a defiance against abolition and against civil rights. The symbol was used to enslave the little brothers and sisters of Jesus, to bomb little girls in church buildings, to terrorize preachers of the gospel and their families with burning crosses on front lawns by night.
That sort of symbolism is out of step with the justice of Jesus Christ. The cross and the Confederate flag cannot co-exist without one setting the other on fire. White Christians, let’s listen to our African American brothers and sisters.
Let’s care not just about our own history, but also about our shared history with them. In Christ, we were slaves in Egypt — and as part of the Body of Christ we were all slaves too in Mississippi. Let’s watch our hearts, pray for wisdom, work for justice, love our neighbors.
Let’s take down that flag.
Read it all (emphasis mine).
Filed under: * Culture-Watch History Race/Race Relations Religion & Culture Urban/City Life and Issues Violence * Economics, Politics Defense, National Security, Military Politics in General State Government * South Carolina * Theology Christology Ethics / Moral Theology
Let us whites especially admit that many of us have inadvertently imbibed theological and ethical assumptions that, in the face of a tragedy like this, show themselves to be naïve. We sometimes write and act as if the Christian ethic is mainly niceness on steroids, all in the name of grace. Anyone who knows my writing knows I’ve wandered into this territory from time to time. In short, we do not take into sufficient account the depth of evil roaming this world, and in this particular case, the radical evil that lies at the heart of racism.
Of course, we mustn’t swing the pendulum in the other direction. We mustn’t now abandon the doctrine of imago dei, nor the need for mutual respect, nor the fruitfulness of dialogue, and so forth. To assume we can solve racism with by merely mocking white supremacists and treating perpetrators of hate crimes with brutality and hatred—well, that is just as naïve. As if evil can be checked with distrust, suspicion, and hate.
And we can never forget that radical “niceness”—what is better called agape love—has extraordinary power to bring miracles to bear on seemingly intractable evil in isolated cases. Agape love on the ground is a large part of the reason Martin Luther King, Jr. made as much progress as he did in his day.
Still, the moment of lament is the moment to rethink what we believe, and to adopt the radically realistic ethic of Jesus, who has no illusions about the power of evil....
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Liturgy, Music, Worship Parish Ministry Spirituality/Prayer * Culture-Watch Law & Legal Issues Police/Fire Race/Race Relations Religion & Culture Urban/City Life and Issues Violence * South Carolina * Theology Christology Soteriology Theodicy
I have never seen anything like what I saw on television this afternoon. Did you hear the statements made at the bond hearing of the alleged Charleston, S.C., shooter?
Nine beautiful people slaughtered Wednesday night during Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and their relatives were invited to make a statement today in court. Did you hear what they said?
They spoke of mercy. They offered forgiveness. They invited the suspect, who was linked in by video from jail, to please look for God.
There was no rage, no accusation—just broken hearts undefended and presented for the world to see. They sobbed as they spoke.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Liturgy, Music, Worship Parish Ministry Spirituality/Prayer * Culture-Watch Urban/City Life and Issues Violence * South Carolina * Theology Christology Ethics / Moral Theology
Rev. Anthony Thompson, Vicar of Holy Trinity REC (ACNA) Church in Charleston, husband of Myra Thompson:
“I would just like him to know that . . . I’m saying the same thing that was just said. You know I forgive you and my family forgive you. But we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ. So He can change you, can change your ways no matter what happened to you, and you’ll be okay. Do that and you’ll be better off than what you are right now.”
- with thanks to Stand Firm where there are more transcripts
Be warned: This is very hard, yet very important to view--it is a deeply moving heroic Christian witness in unimaginably awful circumstances.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Liturgy, Music, Worship Parish Ministry Spirituality/Prayer * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture Urban/City Life and Issues Violence * South Carolina * Theology Christology Ethics / Moral Theology Pastoral Theology
For those who think the idea of the Crusade is one that spoils the idea of the Cross, we can only say that for them the idea of the Cross is spoiled; the idea of the cross is spoiled quite literally in the cradle. It is not here to the purpose to argue with them on the abstract ethics of fighting; the purpose in this place is merely to sum up the combination of ideas that make up the Christian and Catholic idea, and to note that all of them are already crystallised in the first Christmas story. They are three distinct and commonly contrasted things which are nevertheless one thing; but this is the only thing which can make them one.
The first is the human instinct for a heaven that shall be as literal and almost as local as a home. It is the idea pursued by all poets and pagans making myths; that a particular place must be the shrine of the god or the abode of the blest; that fairyland is a land; or that the return of the ghost must be the resurrection of the body. I do not here reason about the refusal of rationalism to satisfy this need. I only say that if the rationalists refuse to satisfy it, the pagans will not be satisfied. This is present in the story of Bethlehem and Jerusalem as it is present in the story of Delos and Delphi; and as it is not present in the whole universe of Lucretius or the whole universe of Herbert Spencer.
The second element is a philosophy larger than other philosophies; larger than that of Lucretius and infinitely larger than that of Herbert Spencer. It looks at the world through a hundred windows where the ancient stoic or the modern agnostic only looks through one. It sees life with thousands of eyes belonging to thousands of different sorts of people, where the other is only the individual standpoint of a stoic or an agnostic. It has something for all moods of man, it finds work for all kinds of men, it understands secrets of psychology, it is aware of depths of evil, it is able to distinguish between ideal and unreal marvels and miraculous exceptions, it trains itself in tact about hard cases, all with a multiplicity and subtlety and imagination about the varieties of life which is far beyond the bald or breezy platitudes of most ancient or modern moral philosophy. In a word, there is more in it; it finds more in existence to think about; it gets more out of life. Masses of this material about our many-sided life have been added since the time of St. Thomas Aquinas. But St. Thomas Aquinas alone would have found himself limited in the world of Confucius or of Comte.
And the third point is this; that while it is local enough for poetry and larger than any other philosophy, it is also a challenge and a fight. While it is deliberately broadened to embrace every aspect of truth, it is still stiffly embattled against every mode of error. It gets every kind of man to fight for it, it gets every kind of weapon to fight with, it widens its knowledge of the things that are fought for and against with every art of curiosity or sympathy; but it never forgets that it is fighting. It proclaims peace on earth and never forgets why there was war in heaven.
This is the trinity of truths symbolised here by the three types in the old Christmas story; the shepherds and the kings and that other king who warred upon the children. It is simply not true to say that other religions and philosophies are in this respect its rivals. It is not true to say that any one of them combines these characters; it is not true to say that any one of them pretends to combine them. Buddhism may profess to be equally mystical; it does not even profess to be equally military. Islam may profess to be equally military; it does not even profess to be equally metaphysical and subtle. Confucianism may profess to satisfy the need of the philosophers for order and reason; it does not even profess to satisfy the need of the mystics for miracle and sacrament and the consecration of concrete things.
There are many evidences of this presence of a spirit at once universal and unique. One will serve here which is the symbol of the subject of this chapter; that no other story, no pagan legend or philosophical anecdote or historical event, does in fact affect any of us with that peculiar and even poignant impression produced on us by the word Bethlehem. No other birth of a god or childhood of a sage seems to us to be Christmas or anything like Christmas. It is either too cold or too frivolous, or too formal and classical, or too simple and savage, or too occult and complicated. Not one of us, whatever his opinions, would ever go to such a scene with the sense that he was going home. He might admire it because it was poetical, or because it was philosophical, or any number of other things in separation; but not because it was itself. The truth is that there is a quite peculiar and individual character about the hold of this story on human nature; it is not in its psychological substance at all like a mere legend or the life of a great man. It does not exactly in the ordinary sense turn our minds to greatness; to those extensions and exaggerations of humanity which are turned into gods and heroes, even by the healthiest sort of hero-worship. It does not exactly work outwards, adventurously, to the wonders to be found at the ends of the earth. It is rather something that surprises us from behind, from the hidden and personal part of our being; like that which can some times take us off our guard in the pathos of small objects or the blind pieties of the poor. It is rather as if a man had found an inner room in the very heart of his own house, which he had never suspected; and seen a light from within. It is as if he found something at the back of his own heart that betrayed him into good. It is not made of what the world would call strong materials; or rather it is made of materials whose strength is in that winged levity with which they brush us and pass. It is all that is in us but a brief tenderness that is there made eternal; all that means no more than a momentary softening that is in some strange fashion become a strengthening and a repose; it is the broken speech and the lost word that are made positive and suspended unbroken; as the strange kings fade into a far country and the mountains resound no more with the feet of the shepherds; and only the night and the cavern lie in fold upon fold over something more human than humanity.
--–The Everlasting Man (Radford, Virginia: Wilder Publications, 2008 paperback ed. of the 1925 original), pp. 114-116
Please go and check them all out there. David Ould gives a particular plug for the Ashley Null presentations, as does yours truly.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Anglican Church of Australia * Christian Life / Church Life Church History Liturgy, Music, Worship --Book of Common Prayer * Theology Anthropology Christology Pastoral Theology Soteriology
Saddleback Church has launched what leaders are calling its largest and most ambitious plan ever to expand the mega-church’s ministry.
Pastor Rick Warren describes The Daring Faith Campaign as the church’s most faith-stretching, world-impacting and God-honoring plan in 35 years.
“I’m going to stretch your faith, I’m going to challenge it,” Warren told his flock at the campaign’s launch 10 weeks ago. “We don’t grow in comfort. Growth is often uncomfortable. The result is blessing, maturity and answered prayers.”
A week ago, Warren’s congregation responded during his Victory Sermon at the church’s main campus in Lake Forest, pledging to raise $71 million over the next three years to take Saddleback’s reach beyond its already global impact. About $7 million has already come in as cash donations. The Children’s ministry – students from Kindergarten to 6th grade – raised $20,156 by donating more than 600,000 coins. The campaign is Saddleback’s eighth and largest.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Evangelism and Church Growth Stewardship * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture * Economics, Politics Economy Housing/Real Estate Market * Theology Christology Eschatology Soteriology
(The Dear Deans letter to which this responds may be found here--KSH).
Now, Liverpool Cathedral is not perfect. Your piece is a challenge to me. What might we do better, where are we falling short and failing to make the most of the opportunities which the Lord is presenting to us? But nor is Liverpool Cathedral unique! Here’s the thing: in its inherited tradition, ours probably is the most Evangelical of all the Cathedrals in England. I guess it is, anyway – though we now manage that in an intentionally non-partisan, non-tribal way, delighting in the contributions of the Anglo-Catholic and liberal bits of the CofE. But given that Evangelical inheritance, maybe I’ve found a greater appetite for evangelism here than I might have found if I had been appointed Dean anywhere else. But I can assure you that when I am talking to my fellow Deans about what’s going on here, I absolutely don’t encounter sniffy contempt. Not one bit. They rejoice with me, and sometimes I think they’re a bit wistful on account the scope which both our architecture and our long tradition gives us. Because, for all your frustration, the fact is that the Deans do understand and embrace the missionary challenge we face. Of course, the mission is understood differently in different places – you’d expect that in the Church of England. You’re surely not asking for every Cathedral to be an outpost of HTB.
Here, by the way, is an excerpt from the report which Vivienne Faull, the Dean of York, has just given (as its Chair) at the annual meeting of the Association of English Cathedrals. (I don’t have her permission to quote from it, but I think she’d be delighted if it reaches a wider audience!) She cites some recent research to be published imminently by Grace Davey which ‘will show how cathedrals are an important means by which the passive majority becomes acquainted with the forms of religion performed by the active minority… The location of cathedrals on the border between the religious and the secular enhances this capacity. She goes on, ‘many English Anglican cathedrals are working with this liminality with creativity and effectiveness. And towards the end she notes, ‘Many of those who now affiliate to cathedrals have relatively little knowledge of Christian faith, or of the Church of England. Most cathedrals are now offering routes by which newcomers to faith may discover more. Intentional discipleship in cathedrals marks a significant shift away from the assumption that those who worship with us seek anonymity’.
This, I think, is the particular ministry of Cathedrals, and I’m confident all my colleagues know it, value it and want to make the most of it. How we are doing so will differ according to several variables: theological standpoint is only one; architecture and location are significant too. But take heart: there is much effective evangelism taking place. Maybe we could all be making more of precisely the interface you cite, when Choral Evensong meets Tourism Central; but don’t assume that’s the whole deal. And also, give us a break: the Church of England is on a journey, and Cathedrals are on board. You can be sure that the language of mission is more and more mainstream even in Cathedrals and that when the Deans meet to talk, we even talk, at least some of the time, about making Jesus known. We remember that that is what we were ordained to do, I promise.
Read it all.
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So back to the question: What specifically is the Diocese of South Carolina called by God to do? I believe
• We are to proclaim the gospel in Word and Sacraments (Article XIX) and make disciples for Jesus Christ and God the Father in the power of the Spirit who become responsible members of local parishes or missions and witness to the transforming power of Jesus Christ in their personal lives and within our communities and world.
The heavy lifting involved in this is clearly carried out by the parishes and missions of the diocese. How the bishop, diocesan staff and structures, are called to carry this out is
• By assisting our existing congregations to grow in numerical and spiritual vitality and to plant new congregations within the diocese in places where the church is inadequately present.
Read it all.
There is scarcely any one who is ashamed to acknowledge that every thing good which he possesses comes from God; but, after making this acknowledgment, they imagine that universal grace has been given to them, as if it had been implanted in them by nature. But Christ dwells principally on this, that the vital sap — that is, all life and strength — proceeds from himself alone. Hence it follows, that the nature of man is unfruitful and destitute of everything good; because no man has the nature of a vine, till he be implanted in him. But this is given to the elect alone by special grace. So then, the Father is the first Author of all blessings, who plants us with his hand; but the commencement of life is in Christ, since we begin to take root in him. When he calls himself the true vine the meaning is, I am truly the vine, and therefore men toil to no purpose in seeking strength anywhere else, for from none will useful fruit proceed but from the branches which shall be produced by me.
--Commentary on John, Volume II
The United Methodist Church has only 15 years to reverse its decline in the United States if it is to have a sustainable future, an economist warned church leaders.
At the same gathering, the church leaders discussed possible missional goals to address that decline and enhance the global denomination’s ministries around the world.
“By 2030, the denomination in the United States will either have found a way to turn around, meaning it is growing, or its turnaround in the United States is not possible,” Donald R. House Sr. told the May 19 combined meeting of the Connectional Table and the General Council on Finance and Administration board. “By 2050, the connection will have collapsed.”
In other words, he predicted that unless things change soon, the denomination in coming decades will not have enough U.S. churches to pay for its connectional structures. Such structures include conferences, bishops, agencies, missions and international disaster response.
Read it all.
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Our attitude to our fallen nature should be one of ruthless repudiation. For ‘those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires’ (Gal. 5:24). That is, we have taken this evil, slimy, slippery thing called ‘the flesh’ and nailed it to the cross. This was our initial repentance. Crucifixion is dramatic imagery for our uncompromising rejection of all known evil. Crucifixion does not lead to a quick or easy death; it is an execution of lingering pain. Yet it is decisive; there is no possibility of escaping from it.
Our attitude to the Holy Spirit, on the other hand, is to be one of unconditional surrender. Paul uses several expressions for this. We are to ‘live by the Spirit’ (Gal. 5:16, 18. 25). That is, we are to allow him his rightful sovereignty over us, and follow his righteous promptings.
Thus both our repudiation of the flesh and our surrender to the Spirit need to be repeated daily, however decisive our original repudiation and surrender may have been. In Jesus’ words, we are to ‘take up (our) cross daily’ and follow him (Lk 9:23). We are also to go on being filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), as we open our personality to him daily. Both our repudiation and our surrender are also to be worked out in disciplined habits of life. It is those who ‘sow to the Spirit’ (Gal. 6:8) who reap the fruit of the Spirit. And to ‘sow to the Spirit’ means to cultivate the things of the Spirit, for example, by our wise use of the Lord’s Day, the discipline of our daily prayer and Bible reading, our regular worship and attendance at the Lord’s Supper, our Christian friendships and our involvement in Christian service. An inflexible principle of all God’s dealings, both in the material and in the moral realm, is that we reap what we sow. The rule is invariable. It cannot be changed, for ‘God cannot be mocked’ (Gal. 6:7). We must not therefore be surprised if we do not reap the fruit of the Spirit when all the time we are sowing to the flesh. Did we think we could cheat or fool God?
--Authentic Christianity (Nottingham, IVP, 1995)
Believing that Jesus was raised from the dead is fundamental to Christian faith. Writing to the Corinthians, Paul stated his conviction starkly: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile.” There are plenty of people today who would agree with him, but give his logic a reverse twist. They dismiss the idea of resurrection as wishful thinking. Jesus has not been raised. Those who believe it are deluded and their faith is indeed futile. Yet many believe it still. These seven weeks between Easter and Pentecost are given over to celebrating it. What is being celebrated?
First of all, it may help to realise that Jesus’s resurrection is not simply the next thing that happened to him. It is not as though he died on the Friday, lay in the tomb on the Saturday, and rose on the Sunday. James Alison has expressed the point effectively by supposing that Holy Saturday was Jesus’s birthday. And so he imagines that Jesus was 33 when he was killed on Good Friday. But, he goes on, “he was not 34 when he rose on Easter Sunday. He was not any age at all. He was his whole human life and death given back to God.” In his resurrection, the whole of who Jesus is taken up and brought to its fulfilment. His resurrection takes hold even of his death and transforms it. The one who was raised has not been cured of being slaughtered. When, according to the Fourth Gospel, Thomas placed his hand into the wound in Jesus’s side in the upper room eight days after Jesus had been raised, he did not find a scab forming. The risen Lord is the crucified Jesus.
A second outstanding feature in all the Gospel accounts is the lack of any immediate appearance of the risen Jesus....
Read it all.
....Neuhaus had an extraordinary talent for bringing people together—to discuss, debate, and strategize. He regularly convened intellectually and theologically diverse groups to spend a couple of days discussing topics of interest. (In my own case the topics included, civil religion, multinational corporations, ecumenism, faith and politics, and “culture wars,” among others.)
But the most important of these projects was the 1990 founding of First Things. While Neuhaus had previously edited two similar journals, Worldview and This World, they had each been sponsored by larger foundations, the Carnegie and Rockford Institutes respectively. This time around the journal was Neuhaus’s own, to shape as he wished. And shaped it he did, with great talent and flair, bringing together like-minded writers representing Catholicism, evangelicalism, Orthodoxy and Lutheranism, along with fellow travelers from Judaism and Islam.
First Things was the flagship publication of Neuhaus’s Institute on Religion and Public Life, and the concept of “public life” was foundational to his efforts. Neuhaus always insisted that politics is only one aspect of a larger “public square”—one that makes room, as best it can, for a variety of religious, moral, and communal traditions. Boyagoda reminds us that Neuhaus and Berger actually coined the term “mediating structures,” now commonly used in social science, in their 1977 book To Empower People. That short book (just over 50 pages) showed how a wide range of smaller institutions—families, churches, professional associations, teams, guilds, neighborhood organizations, book clubs, schools—can offer a protective, nurturing space between individual and the power-hungry state.
Read it all.
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Pew has released another major poll focused in much greater depth on the United States, and it's being widely interpreted as providing evidence that religion (or at least Christianity) is indeed on the decline in the United States.
So was Dennett right, at least about America? Is the future of Christianity in the United States bleak after all?
Short answer: Not necessarily.
A nearly 8-percentage point drop in those calling themselves Christian (from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent) in just seven years is a big deal. If those numbers are accurate, Christianity is certainly shrinking in America at a rate that, if it continues over the coming years and decades, will produce profound cultural changes.
But we're not there yet.
Read it all.
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Listen to it all from the Positively Anglican conference. I have posted a brief excerpt from this on the blog earlier.
Let’s be honest, most sermons today are terrible. They are boring. They ramble. They sound like bad imitations of high school book reports. Listening to a sermon today is often like listening to the teacher from the old Charlie Brown cartoons. And I believe the reason why preaching has gotten so bad, particularly in liturgical churches, is rather obvious. We do not have good preachers because we do not understand what preaching is for.
Like being a great cello player or a great center fielder, a great preacher is born with a certain degree of raw talent that then must be honed and trained in order for the preacher to reach his or her full potential. But in liturgical churches in the contemporary West, we see preaching as less important than other aspects of ministry. We assume that anyone can be a great preacher and that the honing of preaching skills ought to be relatively low on the clergy’s priority list, something to tend to once all the other fires are put out. We reap what we sow. We treat preaching like it is nothing, and thus it becomes nothing.
What I offer here are a few maxims on what makes great preaching. They are culled from my own experience both as a preacher and as someone who listens to sermons. I am no expert, and this list is nowhere near exhaustive, but it is a start. I hope that others will build on this. “Faith comes through hearing,” Paul says (Romans 10:17). It is no secret that the Church in the West is in decline, and I see no scenario for its revival that does not include a renewal of great preaching.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * Theology Anthropology Christology Ethics / Moral Theology Pastoral Theology Soteriology Theology: Scripture
The power that comes is to be given away not hung onto; Jesus was no Mugabe clinging to power. There would be no public glory or acclaim, merely hard work and sacrifice, like most of those who serve the church round the world today. I spoke to someone yesterday working for reconciliation in a civil war, whose name will never be known outside the circles of his own friends – yet he carries a cross of suffering for Christ.
Put like that it makes the worst of any recent party manifesto looks like words of gold, to which people would flock by contrast. Few would be elected on the manifesto of Jesus, surely?
Yet the church grew at such a rate, despite opposition and suffering, that 300 years later the Empire that had casually swiped away the life of Jesus with the sort of attention we might give to a mosquito, found itself honouring and converting to the faith. The same disciples who beforehand seem foolish and act only in their own interests, were willing to lay down their lives, confident in the promises of God, the Kingdom of God and the triumph of Christ.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Archbishop of Canterbury --Justin Welby * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Ascension Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * Theology Christology
If the Ascension means the departure of the Lord Jesus, why celebrate it? Who rejoices over the loss of a loved one? Clearly this is not a day to remember what was lost. We celebrate what was gained.
For the first time, our humanity, the nature assumed by Christ, has been taken into the Godhead. This is a coming of age for the human race, something akin to the removal of training wheels.
Here, the sainted scholars of the Church diverge a bit. It’s not clear whether we were created to enjoy the very life of God, or if this is the gladsome result of the Incarnation. Put another way, we don’t know whether the Incarnation, and the resultant glorification of our humanity, happened because of sin, or despite it. Either way, as it did happen, Christ took on our humanity so that we might share his divinity. Today, in him, our humanity is first raised to that height.
Read it all.
The readers may learn out of our Institutions what profit we reap by the ascension of Christ. Notwithstanding, because it is one of the chiefest points of our faith, therefore doth Luke endeavor more diligently to prove the same; yea, rather, the Lord himself meant to put the same out of all doubt, when as he hath ascended so manifestly, and hath confirmed the certainty of the same by other circumstances. For, if so be it he had vanished away secretly, then might the disciples have doubted what was become of him; but now, sith that they, being in so plain a place, saw him taken up with whom they had been conversant, whom also they heard speak even now, whom they beheld with their eyes, whom also they see taken out of their sight by a cloud, there is no cause why they should doubt whither he was gone. Furthermore, the angels are there also to bear witness of the same. And it was needful that the history should have been set down so diligently for our cause, that we may know assuredly, that although the Son of God appear nowhere upon earth, yet doth he live in the heavens. And this seemeth to be the reason why the cloud did overshadow him, before such time as he did enter into his celestial glory; that his disciples being content with their measure might cease to inquire any further. And we are taught by them that our mind is not able to ascend so high as to take a full view of the glory of Christ; therefore, let this cloud be a mean to restrain our boldness, as was the smoke which was continually before the door of the tabernacle in the time of the law.
Jesus hasn’t just gone away. He has gone deeper into the heart of reality – our reality and God’s. He has become far more than a visible friend and companion; he has shown himself to be the very centre of our life, the source of our loving energy in the world and the source of our prayerful, trustful waiting on God. He has made us able to be a new kind of human being, silently and patiently trusting God as a loving parent, actively and hopefully at work to make a difference in the world, to make the kind of difference love makes.
So if the world looks and feels like a world without God, the Christian doesn’t try to say, ‘It’s not as bad as all that’, or seek to point to clear signs of God’s presence that make everything all right. The Christian will acknowledge that the situation is harsh, even apparently unhopeful – but will dare to say that they are willing to bring hope by what they offer in terms of compassion and service. And their own willingness and capacity for this is nourished by the prayer that the Spirit of Jesus has made possible for them.
The friends of Jesus are called, in other words, to offer themselves as signs of God in the world – to live in such a way that the underlying all-pervading energy of God begins to come through them and make a difference.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Archbishop of Canterbury --Rowan Williams * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Ascension Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained * Theology Christology
Additionally, early Christians were not, as is commonly assumed, bound to a three-tier vision of the universe, i.e., heaven, hell, and earth.
[W]hen the Bible speaks of heaven and earth it is not talking about two localities related to each other within the same space-time continuum or about a nonphysical world contrasted with a physical one but about two different kinds of what we call space, two different kinds of what we call matter, and also quite possibly (though this does not necessarily follow from the other two) two different kinds of what we call time.So heaven and earth, understood in this way, are two dimensions of the same reality. They “interlock and intersect in a whole variety of ways even while they retain, for the moment at least, their separate identities and roles.” Combine this with the doctrine of the ascension and we do not have a Jesus who floats up into a heaven “up there” but disappears into a reality we cannot yet see. Because heaven and earth are not yet joined Jesus is physically absent from us. At the same time he is present with us through the Holy Spirit and the sacraments, linkages where the two realities meet in the present age.
Read it all.
Listen to it all (It begins with the reading of the gospel by the Rev. Fred Berkaw) [It is an MP3 file]. It occurred on the occasion of the Bishop's confirmation visit to Saint Paul's in Summerville, South Carolina in times past.
He speaks of a memory from 1960 and later there comes this quote to whet your appetite:
"What is astonishing to me I suppose is that we in the church make so little of the Ascension of our Lord."
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Ascension Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * South Carolina * Theology Christology
Ascension theology turns at this point to the Eucharist, for in celebrating the eucharist the church professes to know how the divine presents itself in our time, and how the question of faithfulness is posed. Eucharistically, the church acknowledges that Jesus has heard and has answered the upward call; that, like Moses, he has ascended into that impenetrable cloud overhanging the mountain. Down below, rumours of glory emanate from the elders, but the master himself is nowhere to be seen. He is no longer with his people in the same way he used to be. Yet he is with them, in the Spirit.--Douglas Farrow, Ascension Theology (New York: T and T Clark, 2011), p. 64
For this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God comes to our realm, howbeit he was not far from us Acts 17:27 before. For no part of Creation is left void of Him: He has filled all things everywhere, remaining present with His own Father. But He comes in condescension to show loving-kindness upon us, and to visit us. And seeing the race of rational creatures in the way to perish, and death reigning over them by corruption; seeing, too, that the threat against transgression gave a firm hold to the corruption which was upon us, and that it was monstrous that before the law was fulfilled it should fall through: seeing, once more, the unseemliness of what was come to pass: that the things whereof He Himself was Artificer were passing away: seeing, further, the exceeding wickedness of men, and how by little and little they had increased it to an intolerable pitch against themselves: and seeing, lastly, how all men were under penalty of death: He took pity on our race, and had mercy on our infirmity, and condescended to our corruption, and, unable to bear that death should have the mastery—lest the creature should perish, and His Father's handiwork in men be spent for nought—He takes unto Himself a body, and that of no different sort from ours. For He did not simply will to become embodied, or will merely to appear. For if He willed merely to appear, He was able to effect His divine appearance by some other and higher means as well. But He takes a body of our kind, and not merely so, but from a spotless and stainless virgin, knowing not a man, a body clean and in very truth pure from intercourse of men. For being Himself mighty, and Artificer of everything, He prepares the body in the Virgin as a temple unto Himself, and makes it His very own as an instrument, in it manifested, and in it dwelling. And thus taking from our bodies one of like nature, because all were under penalty of the corruption of death He gave it over to death in the stead of all, and offered it to the Father—doing this, moreover, of His loving-kindness, to the end that, firstly, all being held to have died in Him, the law involving the ruin of men might be undone (inasmuch as its power was fully spent in the Lord's body, and had no longer holding-ground against men, his peers), and that, secondly, whereas men had turned toward corruption, He might turn them again toward incorruption, and quicken them from death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of the Resurrection, banishing death from them like straw from the fire.--Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word
Uphold thy Church, O God of truth, as thou didst uphold thy servant Athanasius, to maintain and proclaim boldly the catholic faith against all opposition, trusting solely in the grace of thine eternal Word, who took upon himself our humanity that we might share his divinity; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
It’s already happened. In late June in Kingsburg, Calif., all 371 members of Kingsburg United Methodist Church transferred their membership to the Kingsburg Community Church they had just founded. These brave Pacific pioneers, guided by a brighter light than the shine of silver or gold, were forced to leave the building they constructed and remodeled and other assets in the Conference’s hands.
Methodism is dying for renewal, and the light needed to fan the flame in its logo and its life must begin as tiny candles in the hearts and lives of individual members, in particular their prayer lives.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Ministry of the Laity * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Methodist * Theology Christology Ethics / Moral Theology Soteriology
An anonymous donor is paying off the $360,000 mortgage for a man who lost his wife and house in a deadly mudslide.
Homeowner Tim Ward received the unexpected news last week.
"There are still good Samaritans out there," Ward told NBC News. "This is life-changing."
The massive mudslide destroyed Ward's farmhouse near Oso, Washington, where he and his wife, Brandy, raised turkeys and chickens. They were both home on March 22, 2014, when the wall of earth and debris came cascading down the hill.
Read it all.
Many church leaders are recognizing a heartbreaking reality. We have received the good news of the Gospel but we’re not actually communicating that good news. Paul writes to the church in Corinth that we are compelled by love in particular because we know if Jesus died for all, then those who live should no longer live for themselves but for the One who died for them and was raised.
Research shows that Protestant churchgoers in the United States and Canada as a whole are not telling this good news message. According to Paul, part of our new life is that we have been commissioned by God to reconcile the world to Himself through Christ. So we’ve been reconciled to become agents of reconciliation. Unfortunately, most Christians have become cul-de-sacs on the Great Commission highway.
In the Transformational Discipleship study, we asked 3,000 protestant churchgoers how many times they had personally shared with another person how to become a Christian. Sixty-one percent said that they had never shared their faith. Zero times. Forty-eight percent said they hadn’t invited anyone to church during that period of time.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Evangelism and Church Growth * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Evangelicals * Theology Anthropology Christology Soteriology
Listen to it all (MP3).
it is magnificent in availability. Because of the complete sufficiency of what God has done in Christ, the work is complete in Him. We don’t have to add anything to His work. It is his free gift to us, reliant on His saving work rather than relying on human endeavor. The wonderful news is that salvation and transformation are available to us, freely given. The message is so amazing, it can almost sound unbelievable. Surely there is something I must do in order to win my salvation, cries my flesh, but the Spirit replies, “No it is Christ and His work.” We just receive it by faith.
Once we have been kissed by this heavenly grace, and embraced its transformation, our lives are revolutionized. Rightly received, the Gospel will change our behavior and shapes our voice. As I’ve traveled, I’ve heard wonderful examples of this. Let me share some examples:
The night that he told his parents that he had come to faith in Christ, he told me he was awakened by a scream from his mother. When he opened his eyes, he saw his father’s arm swinging toward him with a knife seeking to kill him for his conversion. He rolled out the window to escape, and fled with only his night shirt. What was amazing was what he said to me, “My faith in Jesus has cost me a lot. I have lost my family, but I have gained more. I have received Christ. I would do it again.”
I stood with a Kurdish lady in front of her home. “There,” she said, “Over there. That’s where I held my son while he died. Saddam’s army fired mortars on us. One of the shells landed here while my son played in the yard. The explosion took both his legs. There was nothing we could do. I held him while he died – bled to death.” It was very dangerous to speak publicly about Christ, but she said, “Only He can give peace in something like that.”
Read it all.
Archbishop Jensen said it was not the conservatives who were leaving the Anglican mainstream: "This goes back to the behaviour of The Episcopal Church in America. If there is a schism, it is because the American church decided to break with centuries-old tradition and with the biblical position on human sexuality."
He was referring to the consecration of the openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson in 2004. Bishop Robinson recently announced he was divorcing his partner of 11 years.
Archbishop Jensen said many people in The Episcopal Church were unhappy with the direction it took on sexuality. Gafcon was born to hold these people together in unity. "Gafcon is a unity movement, but its horizons are broader than that," he told Christian Today.
"Having realised that the Archbishop of Canterbury was more or less powerless to do anything about The Episcopal Church, the Gafcon primates saw the Anglican Communion itself needed to be renewed and restored and brought into unity around biblical standards. That is our vision: to restore unity and renew biblical standards and reach the world for Christ."
Read it all.
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So why did the early Christians use the word resurrection to describe what they believed had happened to Jesus? The large package of heaven-sent renewal expected by many Jews, including the general resurrection, had not occurred. Pilate, Caiphas, and Herod were still ruling. Injustice, misery, oppression, and death were still features of life for Jews and everyone else. Nor were Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and the prophets alive again. From that point of view, “the resurrection” expected by Jesus’ contemporaries had obviously not occurred.
And yet they said that it had—and proceeded to built a new worldview, a significant variation from within contemporary Judaism, on this belief. “The resurrection,” as something that has already happened that must now determine life, faith, prayer, and thought, dominates a good deal of the New Testament: the early Christians really did believe that they were living in the “age to come” for which Israel had longed, the time of forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Spirit, when the Gentiles would be brought in to worship the one God of Israel. The “present age” was still continuing, but the “age to come” had been inaugurated.
We see the same pattern if we ask the vital question: why did the early church believe and declare that Jesus was the messiah? Other would-be messiahs executed by the authorities were thereby forever discredited: a messiah was supposed to lead Israel to liberation from the pagans and to rebuild the temple, not die in pagan hands, leaving the temple still in the grip of Israel’s oppressive pseudoaristocrats. Other groups whose messiah was killed faced a choice: either find a new messiah, or give up the revolution. We have evidence of both patterns. Declaring that God had raised one’s messiah from the dead was not an option. First-century Jews do not seem to have had time or mental energy to indulge in that peculiar twentieth-century phenomenon, cognitive dissonance, believing that something is still true when events have in fact disproved it. Life was too short and hard for fantasy.
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Gafcon’s General Secretary, the Most Rev Peter Jensen, the former Archbishop of Sydney, said the new churches would help “renew” Anglicanism in England from outside the established church.
“I think we will have churches in place which will be regarded by most of the Anglican Communion as Anglican but not be Church of England Churches,” he explained.
“At the present moment we are looking at a handful, depending on how it goes – that might be it but who can tell?
“Things have happened in the last decade which have been truly astonishing, we are looking at a totally new age from the point of view of the cultural milieu around us.
“Christians are having to work things out which worked out for millennia.
"This might be the beginning of something as big as Wesley.”
Read it all.
So when Jesus says ‘No-one comes to the Father except through me’ he doesn’t mean ‘No-one can be saved except by being a card-carrying Christian’, but rather ‘No-one comes to God except by the Logos that is in them’ – that is, by following the reason and conscience that belong to everyone.
We should recognise that God can work through other faiths and philosophies too. St Paul recognised that we are all the children of God, ‘in whom we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17.28).
That is not to say that all religions are the same. The unique claim of Christianity is that in Jesus God was actually born and died as one of us.
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Saint Mary Magdalene had a reason for undying gratitude. So had Saint Peter. So had the other disciples. The life with Him before the Crucifixion had given them new selves and a new world. Then came the dismay and the darkness. Then came the joy and the light. He was the joy and the light. He had come back. They were glad when they saw Him. This is the whole story of the first Easter.
After Easter they literally walked in newness of life. They were manifestly new persons. They left their former lives on one side of the Cross. They took up new lives on the other side of the Cross. The former things had passed away. All things had become new. The former sins dropped away. Our Lord never mentioned them. Their former weaknesses were not remembered. They were transformed by the power of the Resurrection. Our Lord trusted them with responsibilities and duties in His Kingdom. They never doubted nor hesitated. They believed in their forgiveness. They accepted their transformation. They were frankly happy. They were wonderfully peaceful. They belonged to Our Lord and they knew it. The power of His resurrection made spiritual giants of them all. So they went from strength to strength through the Great Forty Days of Eastertide. So they were prepared for Ascensiontide. When the day of Pentecost came, they were ready for it.
Our Lord expects us to do what they did. We can do it. We are His disciples. We have our share in the power of His resurrection. We need have no fear of being presumptious in this matter, because we are trusting Him, not ourselves. We trust in the power of His resurrection to make us new creatures. “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Read it all and before you do see if you can guess the author.
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Love is a very powerful motivator. Their love had made them brave, but now it seemed there was nothing left to love. Even Jesus’ body was gone and the manifestation of love they’d intended was redundant. Love had brought these remarkable women back to the tomb that first Easter morning, but now, in the midst of their confusion, they ran and said nothing.
Except, of course, at some point they must have stopped running and told their story because it is their story we’ve heard this morning, their story that is recorded and honoured in Scripture, their story that gives account of the greatest demonstration of love ever known. ‘This is what love really is’, we heard in the letter of John, ‘not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his son … to atone for our sin’. And the story of that first Easter morning from Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, shows us the dumbfounding extent of God’s love.
‘He has been raised’ the women are told. And eventually it is that good news that filters through to them, and renews their courage. Jesus was not where they expected because he is alive, victor over death and sin, and he’s gone ahead to where he promised, to be with us always. God’s love, made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, experienced the fear we all know and overcame it.
These women, the first to witness the empty tomb are not listed among the disciples nor named as apostles, but, in their faithful following of Jesus to the bitter end and in the fulfilment of their commission to go and tell, they are both.
Read it all.
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Resurrection is the 2nd chance event that separates Christianity from all other religions. No one in Islam believes Jesus died on a cross. Such a fate would be unthinkable for a deity. Hindu’s and Buddhists think the death and resurrection of Jesus is unbecoming to an enlightened sage. But Jesus dies to give us a second chance in this life and the next life.
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The western church typically criticises the eastern view for having a “free lunch” view of salvation. No pain, no gain, insists Anselm. The eastern church says that the west fetishises suffering and is more committed to some iron logic of cosmic necessity than to God for whom all things are possible.
Atheists such as Alexis Tsipras, the Greek leader, may think both of these are fantasies. But for present purposes that’s beside the point. It’s worth recognising that these two completely different stories support two contrasting moral worldviews and different attitudes towards economics in general and capitalism in particular. Tsipras – like me – is very much more in the Greek Orthodox camp when it comes to salvation. And the Lutheran minister’s daughter Angela Merkel is very much in the western one. He wants to leap free from death-dealing debt. She believes it must be paid back, no matter how much blood and pain is involved.
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So many in our churches are busily continuing something they never decisively began. It is a futile process--Experiment of Faith (New York: Harper&Row, 1957), pp.30-31
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Ecologists tell us that the interdependence of all living things makes the world more than a mechanism, more than the sum of its parts, perhaps even in some sense organically alive in its own right. But this is little more than a rediscovery in scientific terms of what had already been understood “poetically” in all previous civilizations. They may not have had (or needed) the term “ecology,” but the ancient writers were deeply aware of the inter-relatedness of the natural world, and of man as the focus or nexus of that world, which they expressed in the doctrine of correspondences. It was, of course, not scientific in its formulation, but it expressed a profound insight that remains valid, and the present ecological crisis could only have developed in a world that has forgotten it, or forgotten to live by it.
Read it all.
Preaching and worshipping on Easter Sunday is more fun and exciting than preaching and worshipping on the so-called “Low-Sunday” just a week later. We, some of us, like Thomas, have trouble believing that which we can’t see. We hear that Jesus brought abundant life through the cross, and on Easter Sunday that is so apparent, but what we see all too quickly is the wilting reality of a fallen world in the midst of groaning. Jesus is the firstfruits of the Resurrection, but we who are waiting in anticipation of the redemption of our bodies, must believe even when we can’t see.
This week, when I read about and saw the video of the tragic shooting of Walter Scott in North Charleston, I felt myself, almost literally, groaning. This reminder of that which is still bent and unredeemed in this world takes a toll. And what is most troubling is that it reminds me that it’s not just a problem out there, but there are so many aspects of my own heart, mind, and body that are, as yet, still bent and unredeemed. I believe in the resurrection, but I still see that something is wrong, and need help with my occasional unbelief. We still struggle in fear. We still live with distrust. We still seek our own gain above the needs of others. We still see death.
We grieve. We groan. We wait, BUT we also hope. Jesus is in fact the firstfruits of the Resurrection. Our adoption as sons and daughters will be made complete, and we will see the redemption of our bodies. It is a now, but not yet, reality on which we can and must stand even when we can’t see clearly, and as believers in the resurrection, our calling is to act in ways that defy what’s visible, but that give glimpses of the Kingdom the risen Lord has established. I saw this very unreasonable kind of behavior on my TV screen the other night as I watched, in awe and wonder, the powerful Christian witness of Mr. Scott’s family as they declared their forgiveness and sang songs of hope and praise to the Lord in their living room even as the grief was still etched in their eyes. They grieved as those who have hope. I pray that we all will join them in grieving, groaning, waiting, and also hoping.
Risen Lord Jesus, bring peace, justice, and full redemption to our community, and let it begin with us. Amen.
Read it all.
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Without a doubt, at the center of the New Testament there stands the Cross, which receives its interpretation from the Resurrection.
The Passion narratives are the first pieces of the Gospels that were composed as a unity. In his preaching at Corinth, Paul initially wants to know nothing but the Cross, which "destroys the wisdom of the wise and wrecks the understanding of those who understand", which "is a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the gentiles". But "the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (I Cor 1:19, 23, 25).
Whoever removes the Cross and its interpretation by the New Testament from the center, in order to replace it, for example, with the social commitment of Jesus to the oppressed as a new center, no longer stands in continuity with the apostolic faith.
–Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988), A Short Primer For Unsettled Laymen
I cannot find words adequate to admire the gift offered to Thomas there in the upper room, nor to emphasise how important it is to claim it. Faith cannot bypass the world's realities. We are creatures of the world, constituted by our worldly senses and understanding. True faith can only be a faith in the world's destiny, a faith that encounters the world's horrors, its hatred, despair and cruelty, and sees beyond them to a risen life. God has entered this world, has owned it, has suffered it, and has reconciled it to himself.
And if it is always important that faith should repose on its evidences, it is all the more so for us in our day. Our lines are cast in a social world unique in human history for ruling out the transcendent, a world that conceives itself as unlocked in laboratories and described in statistics. This is the world that has taught us how to think, and if we think at all, we shall ask candidly of our Christian faith, "Can we square it with reality as we experience it?"
If we try to run away from the question, it will chase us. The only way of dealing with it is to confront it. But if we ask ourselves carefully and persistently what is given to experience - in history, tradition, culture, science, affection, responsibility, duty - we shall find that all that confirms it.
Read it all.
You can listen directly here or download the MP3 there.
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Jesus sends Mary Magdalen to find the disciples because together they can create the interaction that is needed for making the music of Christian faith. Worship, singing the Easter alleluia, praising God, demands the formation of a community. Ultimately of its very nature, demands the inclusion of others. As a faith statement in sound it expresses what we do in holy communion, sharing in the one bread and the common cup, tasting the food of heaven in a context that is never private, though always personal, for it unites us with all other participants on earth.
As long ago as the 4th century St Gregory Nazianzus observed that “God has made humanity the singer of his radiance” – that’s an amazing claim about the capacity to convey the glory of God through music – ‘singers of his radiance’. And although worship will always be the context in which this capacity becomes most fully evidence, as it gives praise to God – the very meaning of Alleluia – let’s not limit the outpouring of humanity’s potential. The Orthodox writer Paul Evdokimov outlines the greater scope of bringing all our gifts, knowledge and imagination into the activity of worship:
“In the eternal liturgy of the future age, human beings will sing the glory of the Lord through all the cultural elements that have passed through the fire of the final purifications. But already here and now, people in community, scientists, artists, etc,...celebrate their own liturgy where Christ’s presence is manifested…Like talented iconographers they sketch a completely new reality by using the material of this world…and in this new reality the mysterious face of the Kingdom [of God] slowly begins to shine through.”Read it all.
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A Trinitarian Theology of Religions Gerald R McDermott and Harold Netland OUP, pb...
Vatican II: Catholic Doctrines on Jews and Muslims Gavin D’Costa OUP
Alan Race once suggested that Christian approaches to other religions fall into three categories that he labelled as pluralism, exclusivism and inclusivism. Race’s typology was widely adopted but has come under strain as theological debate has progressed. It is difficult to fit either of these books into Race’s categories. Both works, one evangelical, the other Roman Catholic, are conservative but while not inclusivist they cannot be labelled exclusivist in any straightforward way. McDermott and Netland advance what they term an ‘evangelical proposal’ but their informed and clearly argued book deserves to be read by a wide audience. One of their starting points is that evangelicals have neglected the doctrine of the Trinity but, following Veli-Matti Karkkainen (who together with Lamin Sanneh, Vinoth Ramachandra and Christine Shirrmacher comments on the book’s proposals), they are sceptical of those theologians who have attempted to isolate the work of the persons of the Trinity and see the Spirit active in other religions. “Other religions,” they write of the Trinity, “may have some connection with God but it is always with that tri-personal God and no other.” D’Costa is quoted arguing that the presence of the Spirit outside the church is always to be seen as Trinitarian and ecclesial, drawing people towards Christ and towards incorporation in his body, the church.
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For at least two or three generations of Americans, we have been taught in our government schools and through the institutions of influence in our society that all moral categories are nothing more than personal (or societal) preferences where every moral value claim is simply one’s opinion, all of which are equal (well, except for Christian traditionalists). Further, as we see in Mr. Obama’s perception of the Christian faith, religion is no longer a proper basis for morality. As has been observed by many, the Holy Bible, even more than Enlightenment thinking, directed the values of the Founders and the views of generations of Americans. However, for the past several generations, Americans are taught to rely upon their “feelings” to determine how to behave. It is a truism that all of us have a theology; the only question is whether it’s true or false. Ultimately and fundamentally, if we get it wrong about the Lord Jesus, it doesn’t matter what else we get right. As Randy Alcorn once powerfully observed, “Americans embrace democratic ideals. This gives us the illusion that we should have a voice when it comes to truth. But the universe isn’t a democracy. Truth isn’t a ballot measure.” Yes, it would be quite arrogant if Christians were the ones who came up with the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ on one’s life. But we didn’t; we are simply repeating what the Lord Jesus said. If it were merely our thinking, wouldn’t we come up with something far more popular?
Read it all and the transcript of the full 2004 interview referenced is there.
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I believe the story. With my head, looking at the evidence and thinking logically as a person who was a research physicist for twenty-five years, I believe it. And after listening to the testimony of people – from beggars to kings -- through all the ages who had concluded that the story is true, I believe it. And at the innermost levels of my heart, where the deepest truths reside but are not easily put into words, I believe it is true.
And that is why I know that I will see my mother again someday. It’s not just wishful thinking, some little tale I’ve fooled myself with because I can’t face the cold hard facts of life. Yes, I will see Della Mae, and I am convinced that it will be a day of great victory and joy. St. Paul says that it will be like putting on a crown, and St. John says that it will be a time when every tear will be wiped away from my eyes. That’s what will happen someday to me. But what Jesus did affects me right here today also -- I know that this Jesus who overcame death and the grave has promised not to leave me here twisting in the wind. He is with me every day, through his Spirit, to guide me, comfort me, embolden me, and use me for his glory and to serve his people, right here, right now.
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Christ himself pointed out the benefit of his sufferings and resurrection when he said to the women in Mt 28, 10 - "Fear not: go tell my brethren that they depart into Galilee, and there shall they see me." These are the very first words they heard from Christ after his resurrection from the dead, by which he confirmed all the former utterances and loving deeds he showed them, namely, that his resurrection avails in our behalf who believe, so that he therefore anticipates and calls Christians his brethren, who believe it, and yet they do not, like the apostles, witness his resurrection.
The risen Christ waits not until we ask or call on him to become his brethren. Do we here speak of merit, by which we deserve anything? What did the apostles merit? Peter denied his Lord three times; the other disciples all fled from him; they tarried with him like a rabbit does with its young. He should have called them deserters, yea, betrayers, reprobates, anything but brethren. Therefore this word is sent to them through the women out of pure grace and mercy, as the apostles at the time keenly experienced, and we experience also, when we are mired fast in our sins, temptations and condemnation.
These are words full of all comfort that Christ receives desperate villains as you and I are and calls us his brethren. Is Christ really our brother, then I would like to know what we can be in need of? Just as it is among natural brothers, so is it also here. Brothers according to the flesh enjoy the same possessions, have the same father, the one inheritance, otherwise they would not be brothers: so we enjoy with Christ the same possessions, and have in common with him one Father and one inheritance, which never decreases by being distributed, as other inheritances do; but it ever grows larger and larger; for it is a spiritual inheritance. But an earthly inheritance decreases when distributed among many persons. He who has a part of this spiritual inheritance, has it all.
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“He became what we are so that we can be what he is.”
St Athanasius (296-373 AD)
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
2 Corinthians 5. 21
Two images dominate western art. You can see them in every art gallery in Europe and in the stained glass windows of every church. One depicts a child in his mother’s arms. The other shows a young man dying on a cross.
The Christian faith says this child and this man are the same person. They say that he is God come down to earth.
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Watch and listen to it all.
Listen to it all (starts about 1 minute in).
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Grace and gratitude play a central role in The Rev’d Dr. Ashley Null’s life and work. Ashley is an authority on the English Reformation – particularly the theology of Thomas Cranmer, who was the author of the first Book of Common Prayer and the Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of King Henry VIII and Edward VI. Ashley also serves as a senior research fellow for the Ridley Institute and a theological consultant to the Diocese of the Carolinas, most recently giving a series of thought-provoking lectures to the clergy of the diocese. In those lectures, Ashley talked about how Cranmer’s understanding of God’s grace and mercy shaped the Communion service he composed for the first English Prayer Books (or the 1552 Book of Common Prayer).
A similar understanding – of how God’s grace, freely offered in love, sets the stage for us to acknowledge our sinfulness and repent – has shaped Ashley’s life. Although born in Birmingham, Alabama, (‘Ashley’ is a family name) he was reared in Salina, Kansas, and since his father was an Episcopalian, the Null family attended Christ Episcopal Cathedral, where the bishop of the Diocese of Western Kansas was in residence. His mother had been raised in the Baptist church (her great-great-grandfather was the first Secretary of the Southern Baptist Foreign Missions Board) but with Pentecostal influences– and all of these Christian traditions – Anglican, Evangelical and Pentecostal – played an important role in Ashley’s formation as a Christian. The Book of Common Prayer, with its liturgies and prayers rooted in Scripture, held a special appeal for him.
While in high school, Ashley was part of a large group of students involved with the Solid Rock Fellowship House, a Jesus-Movement-style outreach sponsored by the local Foursquare Church. The Solid Rock taught him the Bible and deepened his faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. After college, he discerned a call to the ordained ministry and set off for the Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut.
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Most of the Psalms were born in difficulty. Most of the Epistles were written in prisons. Most of the greatest thoughts of the greatest thinkers of all time had to pass through the fire. Bunyan wrote Pilgrim's Progress from jail. Florence Nightingale, too ill to move from her bed, reorganized the hospitals of England. Semiparalyzed and under the constant menace of apoplexy, Pasteur was tireless in his attack on disease. During the greater part of his life, American historian Francis Parkman suffered so acutely that he could not work for more than five minutes as a time. His eyesight was so wretched that he could scrawl only a few gigantic words on a manuscript, yet he contrived to write twenty magnificent volumes of history.--Tim Hansel, You Gotta Keep Dancin' (Colorado Springs: David Cook, 1998 ed. of 1985 original) p. 87, and quoted by yours truly in a recent sermon
Sometimes it seems that when God is about to make preeminent use of a man, he puts him through the fire.
Love is a very powerful motivator. Their love had made them brave, but now it seemed there was nothing left to love. Even Jesus’s body was gone and the manifestation of love they’d intended was redundant. Love had brought these remarkable women back to the tomb that first Easter morning, but now, in the midst of their confusion, they ran and said nothing.
Except, of course, at some point they must have stopped running and told their story. “He has been raised,” the women were told. And eventually it is that good news that filters through to them, and renews their courage. Jesus was not where they expected because he is alive, victor over death and sin, and he’s gone ahead to where he promised, to be with us always. The women did tell their story, and so we know that the risen Jesus is the completion of God’s love and that “perfect love casts out fear”.
Today the courage of these women is replicated around the world by those continuing to face persecution and violence in the peaceful practice of their faith. This Easter, in honour of these women and those who follow their example, let us be loving and courageous in telling our stories of God’s love at work in our lives, especially perhaps when we too have known grief or pain, anxiety or guilt, anger, disappointment or fear; and then let us, after the example of these women, embody that love in action.
Read it all.
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In this tomb, also, you may see, A pledge to us...Yes, verily, it is a pledge,
Of Christ's power to raise us to a spiritual life — The resurrection of Christ is set forth in the Scriptures as a pattern of that which is to be accomplished in all his followers; and by the very same power too, that effected that. In the Epistle to the Ephesians, St. Paul draws the parallel with a minuteness and accuracy that are truly astonishing. He prays for them, that they may know what is the exceeding greatness of God's power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places." And then he says, concerning them, "God, who is rich in mercy, of his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, and hath raised us usi together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus^" Here, I say, you see Christ dead, quickened, raised, and seated in glory; and his believing people quickened from their death in sins, and raised with him, and seated too with him in the highest heavens. The same thing is stated also, and the same parallel is drawn in the Epistle to the Romans ; where it is said, "We are buried with Christ by baptism into death; that, like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." But can this be effected in us ? I answer, Behold the tomb ! Who raised the Lord Jesus? He himself said, " I have power to lay down my life, and power to take it up again...."
--"Horae homileticae, Sermon 1414
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Above all the gospel accounts of Easter compel our attention. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” One version of this wonderful day begins with a voice of negation, a crucial question which many people never answer. Are we looking for love in all the wrong places? Are we clinging to earthly things and forgetting those things which do not pass away?
Then we hear “come and see.” To see with the full eyes of one’s heart is a rare thing indeed. So many times in life we look but do not see, do not perceive as God perceives. The power of the post-resurrection narratives is that each person is met on his or her terms. What wondrous love is that, as the Holy Spirit by his power opens our eyes.
The dynamic does not stop with the question and the call to see, however. If we really see who God is and his power to change lives and transform them into the likeness of his glory, we cannot keep it to ourselves.
Where I served my curacy in South Carolina, we had many Clemson football fans; they root for the Tigers whose color is orange. One day I visited a family devoted to Clemson and, I kid you not, even their toilet seat cover was orange. Bless them, they loved to tell the story of a particular University. One wonders whether an Easter people have a similar passion to share Jesus’ love for the world.
He is risen. Why? Come. See. Go. Tell. Alleluia.
–The Rev. Canon Dr. Kendall S. Harmon is the host of this blog
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Today that question, that debate—Did Jesus really rise from the dead historically, bodily?—is not as prominent or as intense because, at one level, people feel that it doesn’t matter to them, because different people believe in different things, and maybe it happened, maybe it didn’t; and if it did, or didn’t, and that helps you get along in life, fine; but it doesn’t make much difference to me. I may or may not call myself a Christian, and if the resurrection seems helpful to me, I may believe it; and if it doesn’t, then I won’t, and I don’t think any body should tell me that I have to.
Behind those two different kinds of unbelief—the kind from 40 years ago and the kind from the present day—is a different set of assumptions. For example, in my college days the assumption pretty much still held sway, though it was starting to give way with the rise of existentialism, that there are fixed, closed natural laws, that make the world understandable and scientifically manageable, and these laws do not allow the truth of the claim that someone has risen from the dead to live forever. That was a commonly held assumption: The modern world with its scientific understanding of natural laws does not allow for resurrections. So unbelief was often rooted in that kind of assumption.
But today, that’s not the most common working assumption. Today the assumption is not that there are natural laws outside of me forbidding the resurrection of Jesus, but there is a personal law inside of me that says: I don’t have to adapt my life to anything I don’t find helpful. Or you could state it another way: Truth for me is what I find acceptable and helpful.
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It is easy for us to forget that that is where the first disciples were on Easter morning—in the cul de sac. They had no place to go. Peter and Andrew, James and John, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary, the mother of James and the other women. The enterprise was based on Jesus of Nazareth. This movement which they had given themselves to—this God thing—it was all dependent upon him. The healing of the sick, delivering people from dark drives and obsessions, loosening the grip of loss, the teaching about how God works in peoples’ lives, (not just religious practices), but having the ability to bring people into God’s presence, into an experience with the living God by his words and presence. When Jesus was around, God came to them; forgiveness flowed; broken lives were mended. All this seemed to happen around him. You can see the problem I suppose—Jesus was the franchise. There was no way to posture or pretend about these things. Without him it would be futile to carry on. The disciples could dress in robes; learn certain chants, liturgies, rites and ceremonies; they might even build an impressive temple but if the franchise is all about people encountering the living God through Jesus of Nazareth and he’s dead then what have you got?
To further illustrate my point, remember the disciples didn’t have any of these. The Pharisees and the scribes had the Hebrew scriptures; the priests in the temple had the altar of sacrifice, the altar of incense, the candelabra, the shew bread, the robes, the Holy of Holies—all that the disciples had was Jesus. Frankly, if he had not been raised we would never have heard of him. And just to have heard of him is hardly enough anyway. Without Jesus they were clearly in the cul de sac of death, which Karl Barth once called “the hopeless cul de sac.” That’s what those who stumble over Jesus’ seemingly exclusive statement that he is “the way, the truth and the life” too often forget. The Easter message is quite clear here—there’s one way out of the cul de sac and Jesus pioneered it.
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The Easter message, which is the core of the Christian story, must be applicable to humanity in its deepest distress. I was told of a recently bereaved widower who looked out on his garden ablaze with hundreds of daffodils, his eyes full of tears. “How she loved this view each Spring”, he said. Grief at the death of his wife had eclipsed the beauty of the moment. What for others would have been a glorious scene was a painful reminder to him of his loss.
Christians are not excused suffering. Indeed, in many parts of the world right now, Christians are actually at greater risk because of their followership of Jesus Christ. It is in the midst of all this that the virtue of Christian hope, grounded in the Resurrection of Jesus, comes from the contagious conviction that death, grim as it may be, is actually the prelude to something else. A comma, not a full stop, a pause, not the end.
If you take a glance at the New Testament, in the Bible, you will see that it all stems from encountering Jesus of Nazareth alive again from the dead. His followers would have all abandoned his mission of God’s love if he was not Risen from the dead. They would not have endangered their lives to preserve the memory of a dead man who had been condemned for treason! He had invited everyone to trust him from here to eternity. A number did.
Read it all.
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Without hope, it is all but impossible face life and endure suffering. But hope must be grounded in something real and lasting. True hope enables us to navigate both sorrow and joy. In Jesus Christ, we have a living hope grounded and sustained in an ever-living savior.
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...particularly when we look at the disciples, the watered-down resurrection doesn’t seem credible at all. Remember that the Gospel of John (whose author had little to gain by making the disciples, future leaders of the early church, look bad) notes that the disciples were so frightened that they barricaded themselves behind locked doors after Jesus’s death. They had good reason to be. “If the authorities dealt that way with Jesus, who had so many people supporting him,” they must have thought, “what will they do to us?” Even before the crucifixion Peter shrank in fear from being identified as a follower of Jesus. Imagine how their fear would have intensified after witnessing the Romans’ brutal execution of their master.
With one exception, all of Jesus’s male followers were so terrified that they shrank from standing at the foot of the cross, unable to accompany Jesus during his final hours. Their reluctance may have stemmed from an inability to watch the agonizing death of their friend, but much was out of fear of being identified as a follower of an enemy of Rome. (The women, showed no such fear, though the situation may have posed less danger for them.)
The disciples were terrified. So does it seem credible that something as simple as sitting around and remembering Jesus would snap them out of their abject fear? Not to me. Something incontrovertible, something undeniable, something visible, something tangible, was necessary to transform them from fearful to fearless.
This is one of the most compelling “proofs” of the Resurrection.
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As a parish priest I remember telling parishioners, on more than one occasion, "When death comes into your home he brings a lot of unwanted relatives with him." I do not mean relatives or in-laws who may come from out of town for the funeral. The relatives of death to which I refer are grief, fear, loneliness, guilt, shame, anger, depression, even anxiety. Once these come under the roof of your house it is difficult to show them the door. They tend to take up residence, over staying their welcome. Just this morning I read the story of Clint Hill, the secret service agent assigned to Jackie Kennedy during the days some refer to as Camelot. With poignant grief he recalled her words that day almost fifty years ago as the President's wounded head lay in her lap like a modern Pieta, "They shot his head off. Oh Jack, what have they done?"
I've been listening to Dr. Billy Graham's recent book Nearing Home: Life, Faith, and Finishing Well. He is no stranger to moments of national grief, like the one Clint Hill witnessed so painfully. At age 93 he has seen firsthand more than a little of our country's sorrow. Yet grief when it is personal strikes even deeper. In recounting the death of his beloved wife and best friend for almost sixty-four years, Ruth Bell Graham, he writes, "Although I rejoice that her struggles with weakness and pain have all come to an end, I still feel as if a part of me has been ripped out, and I miss her far more than I ever could have imagined." "Death", he goes on to say, quite accurately, "is always an intruder even when it is expected." Frankly, if there is no answer to death there is no answer to our most abiding enemy and all those blood relatives he brings with him. This, as you might imagine, brings me to Easter. I am happy to recall it. The apostle affirms, "Our Saviour Jesus Christ has broken the power of death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel." (2 Timothy 1:10 NEB)
Easter unflinchingly confronts our enemies, death and sin that would lock us in a self-justifying bondage, and plague our lives from start to finish. Christ's death, however, is God's No to sin. In the cross God reveals his hatred of sin as Christ dies to destroy it; and shows his love for sinners as he dies to free us of it. In Christ's resurrection God speaks his Yes to life and human freedom, breaking the power of death. Donald Coggan, a former Archbishop of Canterbury put it well: "You may not like it. You may ignore it. You may deny it. But this is it. Take away the Cross and Resurrection from Christianity and you have a poor lifeless and maimed thing left..." And we must also say a dead religion dreadfully inadequate for our needs. Archbishop Coggan was right. We need to keep the Cross and Resurrection central. They tell us of God's No, to death, and the fear that is death's power; No, to sin and its tyranny of our lives; No, to fear that cripples us from living the dance of life freely; No, to the shame we don't deserve and grace for the shame we do; No, to the loneliness that dogs our steps for the Risen One is with us always. Let me say again. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the Great Yes of God. It has left us an empty tomb and an open door. It will in God's good time and grace sweep our lives clean of death and the unwanted relatives it brings into our homes. Even this Sunday as we say the words, "Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia." the joy of Easter may escort some these out the door. We can then live our lives in Christ, with Christ and for Christ freely, and for his sake for a hurting and broken world.
May the Peace of the Risen Christ be always with you,
--(The Rt Rev.) Mark Lawrence is Bishop of South Carolina
The resurrected Christ is the crucified Christ. Only such a Christ, moreover, can save us. For Jesus is the Christ, being for us this particular man making possible a particular way of life that is an alternative to the world's fear of one like Jesus.
Christians have no fantasy that we may get out of life alive. Instead we have a saviour who was in every way like us, yet also fully God. Jesus is not 50% God and 50% man. He is 100% God and 100% man - he is the incarnation making possible a way to live that constitutes an alternative to all politics that are little less than conspiracies to deny death.
Such a saviour does not promise that by being his follower we will be made safe. Rather, this saviour offers to free us from our self-inflicted fears and anxieties. Jesus does so not by making our lives "more meaningful" - though we may discover our lives have renewed purpose - but by making us members of his body and blood so that we can share in the goods of a community that is an alternative to the world.
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In every town and village in this country, in almost every country round the world churches stand as mute confession of the resurrection. They stand, but like the stone at the tomb they cannot speak. Only witnesses can speak, and in God's values no witness more or less important than any other. Mary Magdalene became a witness of what she had experienced: "I have seen the Lord".
Cathedrals and churches make great statements, but without words. Witnesses are those people who know Christ; lay or ordained, old or young, gender, politics, sexuality or whatever irrelevant - all are equally witnesses. The resurrection happened, and it changes our view of the universe. Once we have seen the reality of the risen Jesus nothing else should be seen in the same way as before.
To witness is to be a martyr. I am told by the Coptic Bishop in England that the Coptic Christians murdered in Libya last month died proclaiming that Jesus Christ is Lord. They are martyrs, a word that means both one that dies for their faith and one that witnesses to faith. There have been so many martyrs in the last year. On Maundy Thursday, three days ago around 150 Kenyans were killed because of being Christian. They are witnesses, unwilling, unjustly, wickedly, and they are martyrs in both senses of the word.
Christians must resist without violence the persecution they suffer and support persecuted communities, with love and goodness and generosity.
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Question 45: What does the "resurrection" of Christ profit us?
Answer: First, by his resurrection he has overcome death, that he might make us partakers of that righteousness which he had purchased for us by his death; secondly, we are also by his power raised up to a new life; and lastly, the resurrection of Christ is a sure pledge of our blessed resurrection.
Footnotes: [For "first"] 1 Cor.15:16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: Rom.4:25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. 1 Pet.1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, [for "secondly'] Rom.6:4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. Col.3:1 If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Col.3:3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. Eph.2:5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) Eph.2:6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: [for "lastly"] 1 Cor.15:12 Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? 1 Cor.15:20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. 1 Cor.15:21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. Rom.8:11 But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.
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If I had a Son in Court, or married a daughter into a plentifull Fortune, I were satisfied for that son or that daughter. Shall I not be so, when the King of Heaven hath taken that sone to himselfe, and married himselfe to that daughter, for ever? I spend none of my Faith, I exercise none of my Hope, in this, that I shall have my dead raised to life againe. This is the faith that sustains me, when I lose by the death of others, and we, are now all in one Church, and at the resurrection, shall be all in one Quire.
–John Donne (1572-1631) [my emphasis]
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Tomb, thou shalt not hold Him longer;
Death is strong, but Life is stronger;
Stronger than the dark, the light;
Stronger than the wrong, the right.
Faith and Hope triumphant say,
Christ will rise on Easter-Day.
While the patient earth lies waking,
Till the morning shall be breaking,
Shuddering 'neath the burden dread
Of her Master, cold and dead,
Hark! she hears the angels say,
Christ will rise on Easter-Day.
And when sunrise smites the mountains,
Pouring light from heavenly fountains,
Then the earth blooms out to greet
Once again the blessed feet;
And her countless voices say,
Christ has risen on Easter-Day.
Up and down our lives obedient
Walk, dear Christ, with footsteps radiant,
Till those garden lives shall be
Fair with duties done for Thee;
And our thankful spirits say,
Christ arose on Easter-Day.
--Phillips Brooks (1835-1893)
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“Entering the tomb”. It is good for us, on this Vigil night, to reflect on the experience of the women, which also speaks to us. For that is why we are here: to enter, to enter into the Mystery which God has accomplished with his vigil of love.
We cannot live Easter without entering into the mystery. It is not something intellectual, something we only know or read about… It is more, much more!
“To enter into the mystery” means the ability to wonder, to contemplate; the ability to listen to the silence and to hear the tiny whisper amid great silence by which God speaks to us (cf 1 Kings 19:12).
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The resurrection was as inconceivable for the first disciples, as impossible for them to believe, as it is for many of us today. Granted, their reasons would have been different from ours. The Greeks did not believe in resurrection; in the Greek worldview, the afterlife was liberation of the soul from the body. For them, resurrection would never be part of life after death. As for the Jews, some of them believed in a future general resurrection when the entire world would be renewed, but they had no concept of an individual rising from the dead. The people of Jesus’ day were not predisposed to believe in resurrection any more than we are.
Celsus, a Greek philosopher who lived in the second century A.D., was highly antagonistic to Christianity and wrote a number of works listing arguments against it. One of the arguments he believed most telling went like this: Christianity can’t be true, because the written accounts of the resurrection are based on the testimony of women—and we all know women are hysterical. And many of Celsus’ readers agreed: For them, that was a major problem. In ancient societies, as you know, women were marginalized, and the testimony of women was never given much credence.
Do you see what that means? If Mark and the Christians were making up these stories to get their movement off the ground, they would never have written women into the story as the first eyewitnesses to Jesus’ empty tomb. The only possible reason for the presence of women in these accounts is that they really were present and reported what they saw. The stone has been rolled away, the tomb is empty and an angel declares that Jesus is risen.
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Jesus of Nazareth was certainly dead by the Friday evening; Roman soldiers were professional killers and wouldn't have allowed a not-quite-dead rebel leader to stay that way for long. When the first Christians told the story of what happened next, they were not saying: “I think he's still with us in a spiritual sense” or “I think he's gone to heaven”. All these have been suggested by people who have lost their historical and theological nerve.
The historian must explain why Christianity got going in the first place, why it hailed Jesus as Messiah despite His execution (He hadn't defeated the pagans, or rebuilt the Temple, or brought justice and peace to the world, all of which a Messiah should have done), and why the early Christian movement took the shape that it did. The only explanation that will fit the evidence is the one the early Christians insisted upon - He really had been raised from the dead. His body was not just reanimated. It was transformed, so that it was no longer subject to sickness and death.
Let's be clear: the stories are not about someone coming back into the present mode of life. They are about someone going on into a new sort of existence, still emphatically bodily, if anything, more so. When St Paul speaks of a “spiritual” resurrection body, he doesn't mean “non-material”, like a ghost. “Spiritual” is the sort of Greek word that tells you,not what something is made of, but what is animating it. The risen Jesus had a physical body animated by God's life-giving Spirit. Yes, says St Paul, that same Spirit is at work in us, and will have the same effect - and in the whole world.
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Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.
And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
--John Updike (1932-2009)
Sam believes that Gandalph has fallen a catastrophic distance and has died. But in the end of the story, with Sam having been asleep for a long while and then beginning to regain consciousness, Gandalf stands before Sam, robed in white, his face glistening in the sunlight, and says:
"Well, Master Samwise, how do you feel?"-- J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973), The Return of the King
But Sam lay back, and stared with open mouth, and for a moment, between bewilderment and great joy, he could not answer. At last he gasped: "Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What's happened to the world?"
"A great shadow has departed," said Gandalf, and then he laughed, and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days without count. It fell upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known. But he himself burst into tears. Then as a sweet rain will pass down a wind of spring and the sun will shine out the clearer, his tears ceased, and his laughter welled up, and laughing he sprang from bed... "How do I feel?" he cried." Well, I don't know how to say it. I feel, I feel" --he waved his arms in the air-- "I feel like spring after winter, and sun on the leaves; and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have ever heard!"
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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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….
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....nobody defends Saturday. Nobody writes apologetics defending the belief that Jesus actually lay dead for one long, endless day two thousand years ago. What’s the defense for that? If you’ve got the power to rise from the grave, why would you wait one whole long day to do it? Why not just rise from the grave, like, just a little later Friday night?
Even if it seems puzzling, something profound happened in the lives of Jesus’ followers on Saturday.
Martin Luther said himself that Saturday was the day that God himself lay cold in the grave. Friday was death, Sunday was hope, but Saturday was that seemingly ignored middle day between them when God occupied a dirty grave in a little garden outside Jerusalem. Saturday is about waiting, about uncertainty, about not knowing what’ll happen. Saturday is ambiguity. It’s about, as one theologian put it, “muddling through” when the future isn’t clear.
So much of Christian faith is Saturday faith.
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“[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 of the full horror of sin.
‘[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)
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)
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]
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church History Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Holy Week Parish Ministry Death / Burial / Funerals * Theology Anthropology Christology Eschatology
"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
Something strange is happening-there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.
“He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ Christ answered him: ‘And with your spirit.’ He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.’
“I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.
“For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.
“See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.
“I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.
“Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.”
–From an ancient homily for Holy Saturday
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church History Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Holy Week Parish Ministry Preaching / Homiletics * Theology Anthropology Christology Eschatology
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, now retired from being Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe
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