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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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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.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church History Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained * Culture-Watch Books Religion & Culture * Economics, Politics Politics in General * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Religion News & Commentary Ecumenical Relations Other Churches Evangelicals Lutheran Roman Catholic * Theology Christology Ethics / Moral Theology
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.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch History Religion & Culture Sociology * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Evangelicals Roman Catholic * Theology Christology Soteriology
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.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Church of England (CoE) Global South Churches & Primates Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion) Same-sex blessings * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture * Theology Christology Ethics / Moral Theology Theology: Scripture
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.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Church of England (CoE) CoE Bishops * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Easter * Theology Christology Eschatology Theology: Scripture
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.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Church of England (CoE) * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained * Culture-Watch Multiculturalism, pluralism Religion & Culture * Religion News & Commentary Inter-Faith Relations * Theology Anthropology Christology Theology: Scripture
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.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) * Christian Life / Church Life Church History Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Easter Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained * Theology Christology Eschatology Theology: Scripture
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.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Church of England (CoE) CoE Bishops * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Easter Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture * International News & Commentary England / UK * Theology Christology Eschatology Theology: Scripture
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.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Easter Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * Theology Christology Eschatology
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.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Easter * Economics, Politics Economy Euro European Central Bank The Banking System/Sector Foreign Relations Politics in General * International News & Commentary Europe Germany Greece * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Orthodox Church Roman Catholic * Theology Christology Eschatology Ethics / Moral Theology
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
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) * Christian Life / Church Life Church History Parish Ministry Evangelism and Church Growth * Theology Anthropology Christology Soteriology Theology: Scripture
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
Listen to it all.
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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]
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"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
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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
On Holy Saturday we enter into the mystery. Today we contemplate Jesus, there in the tomb, dead. In that tomb, he is dead, exactly the way each of us will be dead. We don't easily contemplate dying, but we rarely contemplate being dead. I have had the blessed experience of being with a number of people who have died, of arriving at a hospital shortly after someone has died, of attending an autopsy, and of praying with health sciences students over donated bodies in gross anatomy class. These were powerful experiences because they all brought me face-to-face with the mystery of death itself. With death, life ends. Breathing stops, and in an instant, the life of this person has ended. And, in a matter of hours, the body becomes quite cold and life-less - dramatic evidence, to our senses, that this person no longer exists. All that is left is this decaying shell that once held his or her life.
Death is our ultimate fear. Everything else we fear, every struggle we have, is some taste of, some chilling approach to, the experience of losing our life. This fear is responsible for so much of our lust and greed, so much of our denial and arrogance, so much of our silly clinging to power, so much of our hectic and anxiety-driven activity. It is the one, inevitable reality we all will face. There is not enough time, money, joy, fulfillment, success. Our physical beauty and strength, our mental competency and agility, all that we have and use to define ourselves, slip away from us with time. Our lives are limited. Our existence, in every way we can comprehand it, comes to an end. We will all die. In a matter of time, all that will be left of any of us is a decomposing body.
Today is a day to soberly put aside the blinders we have about the mystery of death and our fear of it. Death is very real and its approach holds great power in our lives. The "good news" we are about to celebrate has no real power in our lives unless we have faced the reality of death. To contemplate Jesus' body, there in that tomb, is to look our death in the face, and it is preparation for hearing the Gospel with incredible joy. That we are saved from the ultimate power of sin and of death itself comes to us as a great relief, as a tremendous liberation. If Jesus lives, you and I will live! The mystery of death, which we contemplate today, will be overcome - we will live forever!
…Suddenly all of them standing around the gallows know it: he is gone. Immeasurable emptiness (not solitude) streams forth from the hanging body. Nothing but this fantastic emptiness is any longer at work here. The world with its shape has perished; it tore like a curtain from top to bottom, without making a sound. It fainted away, turned to dust, burst like a bubble. There is nothing more but nothingness itself.
The world is dead.
Love is dead.
God is dead.
Everything that was, was a dream dreamt by no one. The present is all past. The future is nothing. The hand has disappeared from the clock’s face. No more struggle between love and hate, between life and death. Both have been equalized, and love’s emptying out has become the emptiness of hell. One has penetrated the other perfectly. The nadir has reached the zenith: nirvana.
Was that lightning?
Was the form of a Heart visible in the boundless void for a flash as the sky was rent, drifting in the whirlwind through the worldless chaos, driven like a leaf?
Or was it winged, propelled and directed by its own invisible wings, standing as lone survivor between the soulless heavens and the perished earth?
Chaos. Beyond heaven and hell. Shapeless nothingness behind the bounds of creation.
Is that God?
God died on the Cross.
Is that death?
No dead are to be seen.
Is it the end?
Nothing that ends is any longer there.
Is it the beginning?
The beginning of what? In the beginning was the Word. What kind of word? What incomprehensible, formless, meaningless word? But look: What is this light glimmer that wavers and begins to take form in the endless void? It has neither content nor contour.
A nameless thing, more solitary than God, it emerges out of pure emptiness. It is no one. It is anterior to everything. Is it the beginning? It is small and undefined as a drop. Perhaps it is water. But it does not flow. It is not water. It is thicker, more opaque, more viscous than water. It is also not blood, for blood is red, blood is alive, blood has a loud human speech. This is neither water nor blood. It is older than both, a chaotic drop.
Slowly, slowly, unbelievably slowly the drop begins to quicken. We do not know whether this movement is infinite fatigue at death’s extremity or the first beginning - of what?
Quiet, quiet! Hold the breath of your thoughts! It’s still much too early in the day to think of hope. The seed is still much too weak to start whispering about love. But look there: it is indeed moving, a weak, viscous flow. It’s still much too early to speak of a wellspring.
It trickles, lost in the chaos, directionless, without gravity. But more copiously now. A wellspring in the chaos. It leaps out of pure nothingness, it leaps out of itself.
It is not the beginning of God, who eternally and mightily brings himself into existence as Life and Love and triune Bliss.
It is not the beginning of creation, which gently and in slumber slips out of the Creator’s hands.
It is a beginning without parallel, as if Life were arising from Death, as if weariness (already such weariness as no amount of sleep could ever dispel) and the uttermost decay of power were melting at creation’s outer edge, were beginning to flow, because flowing is perhaps a sign and a likeness of weariness which can no longer contain itself, because everything that is strong and solid must in the end dissolve into water. But hadn’t it - in the beginning - also been born from water? And is this wellspring in the chaos, this trickling weariness, not the beginning of a new creation?
The magic of Holy Saturday.
The chaotic fountain remains directionless. Could this be the residue of the Son’s love which, poured out to the last when every vessel cracked and the old world perished, is now making a path for itself to the Father through the glooms of nought?
Or, in spite of it all, is this love trickling on in impotence, unconsciously, laboriously, towards a new creation that does not yet even exist, a creation which is still to be lifted up and given shape? Is it a protoplasm producing itself in the beginning, the first seed of the New Heaven and the New Earth?
The spring leaps up even more plenteously. To be sure, it flows out of a wound and is like the blossom and fruit of a wound; like a tree it sprouts up from this wound. But the wound no longer causes pain. The suffering has been left far behind as the past origin and previous source of today’s wellspring.
What is poured out here is no longer a present suffering, but a suffering that has been concluded–no longer now a sacrificing love, but a love sacrificed.
Only the wound is there: gaping, the great open gate, the chaos, the nothingness out of which the wellspring leaps forth. Never again will this gate be shut. Just as the first creation arose ever anew out of sheer nothingness, so, too, this second world - still unborn, still caught up in its first rising - will have its sole origin in this wound, which is never to close again.
In the future, all shape must arise out of this gaping void, all wholeness must draw its strength from the creating wound.
High-vaulted triumphal Gate of Life! Armored in gold, armies of graces stream out of you with fiery lances. Deep-dug Fountain of Life! Wave upon wave gushes out of you inexhaustible, ever-flowing, billows of water and blood baptizing the heathen hearts, comforting the yearning souls, rushing over the deserts of guilt, enriching over-abundantly, overflowing every heart that receives it, far surpassing every desire.
–Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988)
In this empty hallway, there’s nothing expected of us at this moment. The work is out of our hands, and all we can do is wait, breathe, look around. People sometimes feel like this when they’ve been up all night with someone who’s seriously ill or dying, or when they’ve been through a non-stop series of enormously demanding tasks. A sort of peace, but more a sort of ‘limbo’, an in-between moment. For now, nothing more to do; tired, empty, slightly numbed, we rest for a bit, knowing that what matters is now happening somewhere else.
–Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams
I hope no one who reads this book has been quite as miserable as Susan and Lucy were that night; but if you have been–if you’ve been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you–you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quietness. You feel as if nothing was ever going to happen again.
–C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)
The church is dark now. The altar is stripped and bare. Some are getting up and leaving in silence. Others remain kneeling, looking into the darkness. Holy Saturday is ahead, the most quiet day of the year. The silence of that silent night, holy night, the night when God was born was broken by the sounds of a baby, a mother’s words of comfort and angels in concert. Holy Saturday, by contrast, is the sound of prefect silence. Yesterday’s mockery, the good thief’s prayer, the cry of dereliction—all that is past now. Mary has dried her tears, and the whole creation is still, waiting for what will happen next.
Some say that on Holy Saturday Jesus went to hell in triumph, to free the souls long imprisoned there. Others say he descended into a death deeper than death, to embrace in his love even the damned. We do not know. Scripture, tradition and pious writings provide hints and speculations, but about this most silent day it is perhaps best to observe the silence. One day I expect he will tell us all about it. When we are able to understand what we cannot now even understand why we cannot understand.
--Richard John Neuhaus (1936-2009)
Listen to it all.
How did Jesus love His disciples and why did He love them? Ah! It was not their natural qualities that could have attracted Him, since there was between Him and them an infinite distance. He was knowledge, Eternal Wisdom, while they were poor ignorant fishermen filled with earthly thoughts. And still Jesus called them his friends, His brothers. He desires to see them reign with Him in the kingdom of His Father, and to open that kingdom to them He wills to die on the cross, for He said: ‘Greater love than this no man has than that he lay down his life for his friends.’
–St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897)
DROP, drop, slow tears,
And bathe those beauteous feet
Which brought from Heaven
The news and Prince of Peace:
Cease not, wet eyes,
His mercy to entreat;
To cry for vengeance
Sin doth never cease.
In your deep floods
Drown all my faults and fears;
Nor let His eye
See sin, but through my tears.
Surely. But if it is not sure, if it is not certain, if it is not real, if these things are not true: then that Friday afternoon was the end. If all that went before was just the product of imaginative minds, then it would be right to turn our backs and to walk away. ‘Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?’ asks the lamentation and we would reply, ’yes, it is nothing, for this man is dead and gone.
Christianity is not a religion of compromise or fudging, the claims made are too radical. At its very heart the Christian faith is about the supernatural and the miraculous. Christianity is not reasonable: it challenges us to be sure, or to reject it. The dying man upon the cross confronts us with the fact that here is a man being executed in a hideous manner and asks us how we respond to what we see.
Read it all.
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“Here the hangman stops his cart:
Now the best of friends must part.
Fare you well, for ill fare I:
Live, lads, and I will die.
“Oh, at home had I but stayed
‘Prenticed to my father’s trade,
Had I stuck to plane and adze,
I had not been lost, my lads.
“Then I might have built perhaps
Gallows-trees for other chaps,
Never dangled on my own,
Had I left but ill alone.
“Now, you see, they hang me high,
And the people passing by
Stop to shake their fists and curse;
So ’tis come from ill to worse.
“Here hang I, and right and left
Two poor fellows hang for theft:
All the same’s the luck we prove,
Though the midmost hangs for love.
“Comrades all, that stand and gaze,
Walk henceforth in other ways;
See my neck and save your own:
Comrades all, leave ill alone.
“Make some day a decent end,
Shrewder fellows than your friend.
Fare you well, for ill fare I:
Live lads, and I will die.”
–A. E. Housman (1859-1936)
The Cross is the abyss of wonders, the centre of desires, the school of virtues, the house of wisdom, the throne of love, the theatre of joys, and the place of sorrows; It is the root of happiness, and the gate of Heaven.
Of all the things in Heaven and Earth it is the most peculiar. It is the most exalted of all objects. It is an Ensign lifted up for all nations, to it shall the Gentiles seek, His rest shall be glorious: the dispersed of Judah shall be gathered together to it, from the four corners of the earth. If Love be the weight of the Soul, and its object the centre, all eyes and hearts may convert and turn unto this Object: cleave unto this centre, and by it enter into rest. There we might see all nations assembled with their eyes and hearts upon it. There we may see God’s goodness, wisdom and power: yea His mercy and anger displayed. There we may see man’s sin and infinite value. His hope and fear, his misery and happiness. There we might see the Rock of Ages, and the Joys of Heaven. There we may see a Man loving all the world, and a God dying for mankind. There we may see all types and ceremonies, figures and prophecies. And all kingdoms adoring a malefactor: An innocent malefactor, yet the greatest in the world. There we may see the most distant things in Eternity united: all mysteries at once couched together and explained. The only reason why this Glorious Object is so publicly admired by Churches and Kingdoms, and so little thought of by particular men, is because it is truly the most glorious: It is the Rock of Comforts and the Fountain of Joys. It is the only supreme and sovereign spectacle in all Worlds. It is a Well of Life beneath in which we may see the face of Heaven above: and the only mirror, wherein all things appear in their proper colours: that is, sprinkled in the blood of our Lord and Saviour.
The Cross of Christ is the Jacob’s ladder by which we ascend into the highest heavens. There we see joyful Patriarchs, expecting Saints, Prophets ministering Apostles publishing, and Doctors teaching, all Nations concentering, and Angels praising. That Cross is a tree set on fire with invisible flame, that Illuminateth all the world. The flame is Love: the Love in His bosom who died on it. In the light of which we see how to possess all the things in Heaven and Earth after His similitude. For He that suffered on it was the Son of God as you are: tho’ He seemed only a mortal man. He had acquaintance and relations as you have, but He was a lover of Men and Angels. Was he not the Son of God; and Heir of the whole world? To this poor, bleeding, naked Man did all the corn and wine, and oil, and gold and silver in the world minister in an invisible manner, even as He was exposed lying and dying upon the Cross.
--Centuries of Meditations 1:58-60 (Hat tip: WW)
It so happened that in this man Jesus God himself came into the world, which he had created and against all odds still loved. He took human nature upon himself and became man, like the rest of us, in order to put an end to the world's fight against him and also against itself, and to replace man's disorder by God's design. In Jesus God hallowed his name, made his kingdom come, his will done on earth as it is in heaven, as we say in the Lord's Prayer. In him he made manifest his glory and, amazingly enough, he made it manifest for our salvation. To accomplish this, he not only bandaged, but healed the wounds of the world he helped mankind not only in part and temporarily but radically and for good in the person of his beloved Son; he delivered us from evil and took us to his heart as his children Thereby we are all permitted to live, and to live eternally.
It happened through this man on the cross that God cancelled out and swept away all our human wickedness, our pride, our anxiety, our greed and our false pretences, whereby we had continually offended him and made life difficult, if not impossible, for ourselves and for others. He crossed out what had made our life fundamentally terrifying, dark and distressing - the life of health and of sickness, of happiness and of unhappiness, of the highborn and of the lowborn, of the rich and of the poor, of the free and of the captive. He did away with it. It is no longer part of us, it is behind us. In Jesus God made the day break after the long night and spring come after the long winter.
All these things happened in that one man. In Jesus, God took upon himself the full load of evil; he made our wickedness his own; he gave himself in his dear Son to be defamed as a criminal, to be accused, condemned, delivered from life unto death, as though he himself, the Holy God, had done all the evil we human beings did and do. In giving himself in Jesus Christ, he reconciled the world unto himself; he saved us and made us free to live in his everlasting kingdom; he removed the burden and took it upon himself He the innocent took the place of us the guilty. He the mighty took the place of us the weak. He the living One took the place of us the dying.
This, my dear friends, is the invisible event that took place in the suffering and death of the man hanging on the middle cross on Golgotha. This is reconciliation: his damnation our liberation, his defeat our victory, his mortal pain the beginning of our joy, his death the birth of our life. We do well to remember that this is what those who put him to death really accomplished. They did not know what they did. These deluded men and women accomplished by their evil will and deed that good which God had willed and done with the world and for the world, including the crowd of Jerusalem.
--Karl Barth (1886-1968) from a sermon in 1957
The story of the salvation of the dying thief is a standing instance of the power of Christ to save, and of his abundant willingness to receive all that come to him, in whatever plight they may be. I cannot regard this act of grace as a solitary instance, any more than the salvation of Zacchaeus, the restoration of Peter, or the call of Saul, the persecutor. Every conversion is, in a sense, singular: no two are exactly alike, and yet any one conversion is a type of others. The case of the dying thief is much more similar to our conversion than it is dissimilar; in point of fact, his case may be regarded as typical, rather than as an extraordinary incident. So I shall use it at this time. May the Holy Spirit speak through it to the encouragement of those who are ready to despair!
Remember, beloved friends, that our Lord Jesus, at the time he saved this malefactor, was at his lowest. His glory had been ebbing out in Gethsemane, and before Caiaphas, and Herod, and Pilate; but it had now reached the utmost low-water mark.
Stripped of his garments, and nailed to the cross, our Lord was mocked by a ribald crowd, and was dying in agony: then was he “numbered with the transgressors,” and made as the offscouring of all things. Yet, while in that condition, he achieved this marvellous deed of grace. Behold the wonder wrought by the Saviour when emptied of all his glory, and hanged up a spectacle of shame upon the brink of death! How certain is it it that he can do great wonders of mercy now, seeing that he has returned unto his glory, and sitteth upon the throne of light! “He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” If a dying Saviour saved the thief, my argument is, that he can do even more now that he liveth and reigneth. All power is given unto him in heaven and in earth; can anything at this present time surpass the power of his grace?
It is not only the weakness of our Lord which makes the salvation of the penitent thief memorable; it is the fact that the dying malefactor saw it before his very eyes. Can you put yourself into his place, and suppose yourself to be looking upon one who hangs in agony upon a cross? Could you readily believe him to be the Lord of glory, who would soon come to his kingdom? That was no mean faith which, at such a moment, could believe in Jesus as Lord and King. If the apostle Paul were here, and wanted to add a New Testament chapter to the eleventh of Hebrews, he might certainly commence his instances of remarkable faith with this thief, who believed in a crucified, derided, and dying Christ, and cried to him as to one whose kingdom would surely come. The thief’s faith was the more remarkable because he was himself in great pain, and bound to die. It is not easy to exercise confidence when you are tortured with deadly anguish. Our own rest of mind has at times been greatly hindered by pain of body. When we are the subjects of acute suffering it is not easy to exhibit that faith which we fancy we possess at other times. This man, suffering as he did, and seeing the Saviour in so sad a state, nevertheless believed unto life eternal. Herein was such faith as is seldom seen.
Recollect, also, that he was surrounded by scoffers. It is easy to swim with the current, and hard to go against the stream. This man heard the priests, in their pride, ridicule the Lord, and the great multitude of the common people, with one consent, joined in the scorning; his comrade caught the spirit of the hour, and mocked also, and perhaps he did the same for a while; but through the grace of God he was changed, and believed in the Lord Jesus in the teeth of all the scorn. His faith was not affected by his surroundings; but he, dying thief as he was, made sure his confidence. Like a jutting rock, standing out in the midst of a torrent, he declared the innocence of the Christ whom others blasphemed. His faith is worthy of our imitation in its fruits. He had no member that was free except his tongue, and he used that member wisely to rebuke his brother malefactor, and defend his Lord. His faith brought forth a brave testimony and a bold confession. I am not going to praise the thief, or his faith, but to extol the glory of that grace divine which gave the thief such faith, and then freely saved him by its means. I am anxious to show how glorious is the Saviour—that Saviour to the uttermost, who, at such a time, could save such a man, and give him so great a faith, and so perfectly and speedily prepare him for eternal bliss. Behold the power of that divine Spirit who could produce such faith on soil so unlikely, and in a climate so unpropitious.
–From a sermon of C.H. Spurgeon preached on April 7, 1889
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From the BBC blurb:
To lay down your life for others; we're told there is no greater love than this, and that's the subject of the Good Friday Meditation. 350 years ago, when the Plague tore through the community of Eyam in Derbyshire, the villagers' first instinct was to flee - but their agreement with their local clergy's brave decision that all should stay - keeping the plague within the village - probably saved thousands of lives throughout the North of England...Listen to it all at this link (just under 28 minutes).
Just last year, self-imposed isolation was also the choice of British doctor, Dr Nathalie MacDermott. She was unsure whether she was incubating the deadly Ebola virus already contracted by two close medical colleagues in Liberia. Emerging from a lonely confinement, at least safe in the knowledge that she did not have the virus - this time - she returned to Liberia for a third tour of duty, struggling to bring care and comfort to communities that have lost thousands to this modern-day plague. Guided by the present Rector of Eyam, the Revd Mike Gilbert, and local school pupils, she hears heart-rending stories of this historic sacrifice at locations around the village; but also how genetic research on descendants of Eyam's plague survivors is bringing hope to fight both plague and HIV in the world today. With music and readings illustrating the timeless story of Good Friday, presenter Dr Nathalie McDermott shares her own Christian perspective of why she, too, is still prepared to risk her life for strangers. Reader: Robert Lindsay. Producer: Rowan Morton-Gledhill.
Philosophers have measured mountains,
Fathomed the depths of seas, of states, and kings,
Walked with a staff to heaven, and traced fountains:
But there are two vast, spacious things
The which to measure it doth more behoove:
Yet few there are that sound them: Sin and Love.
Who would know Sin, let him repair
Unto Mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man so wrung with pains that all his hair,
His skin, his garments bloody be.
Sin is that press and vice, that forceth pain
To hunt his cruel food through every vein.
Who knows not Love, let him assay
And taste that juice, which on the cross a pike
Did set again abroach; then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.
--George Herbert (1593-1633)
Watch and listen to it all.
Watch and listen to it all.
[Shusaku] Endo locates the point of contact between Japanese life and the Gospel in what he observes, and has experienced personally, to be the essence of Japanese religious awareness. This he sees as the sense of failure in life and the subsequent shame and guilt that leave a lasting impact upon a person's life. Such theological notions as love, grace, trust, and truth are intelligible only in the experience of their opposites. Endo sees them incarnate in the person of Jesus through his own experience of failure, rejection, and, most of all, ineffectualness. Only rarely has modern Christianity presented the story of Jesus as the one to whom those who had failed, were rejected, lonely, and alienated could turn and find understanding and compassion. Endo argues that it is our universal human experience of failure in life that provides us with an understanding of Christian faith in its depth.
--Fumitaka Matsuoka, The Christology of Shusaku Endo, Theology Today (October 1982) [emphasis mine]
Read it all.
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And so we come to Good Friday, day of the Passion and crucifixion of the Lord. Every year, placing ourselves in silence before Jesus nailed to the wood of the cross, we realize how full of love were the words he pronounced on the eve, in the course of the Last Supper. "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many" (Mark 14:24). Jesus willed to offer his life in sacrifice for the remission of humanity's sins. Just as before the Eucharist, so before the Passion and Death of Jesus on the cross the mystery is unfathomable to reason. We are placed before something that humanly might seem absurd: a God who not only is made man, with all man's needs, not only suffers to save man, burdening himself with all the tragedy of humanity, but dies for man.
Christ's death recalls the accumulation of sorrows and evils that beset humanity of all times: the crushing weight of our dying, the hatred and violence that again today bloody the earth. The Lord's Passion continues in the suffering of men. As Blaise Pascal correctly writes, "Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world; one must not sleep during this time" (Pensées, 553). If Good Friday is a day full of sadness, and hence at the same time, all the more propitious a day to reawaken our faith, to strengthen our hope and courage so that each one of us will carry his cross with humility, trust and abandonment in God, certain of his support and victory. The liturgy of this day sings: "O Crux, ave, spes unica" (Hail, O cross, our only hope)."
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Holy Week Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI * Theology Christology
Listen to it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Church of England (CoE) * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Holy Week Liturgy, Music, Worship Parish Ministry * Theology Christology
Let man’s soul be a sphere, and then, in this,
Th’ intelligence that moves, devotion is ;
And as the other spheres, by being grown
Subject to foreign motion, lose their own,
And being by others hurried every day,
Scarce in a year their natural form obey ;
Pleasure or business, so, our souls admit
For their first mover, and are whirl’d by it.
Hence is’t, that I am carried towards the west,
This day, when my soul’s form bends to the East.
There I should see a Sun by rising set,
And by that setting endless day beget.
But that Christ on His cross did rise and fall,
Sin had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for me.
Who sees Gods face, that is self-life, must die ;
What a death were it then to see God die ?
It made His own lieutenant, Nature, shrink,
It made His footstool crack, and the sun wink.
Could I behold those hands, which span the poles
And tune all spheres at once, pierced with those holes ?
Could I behold that endless height, which is
Zenith to us and our antipodes,
Humbled below us ? or that blood, which is
The seat of all our soul’s, if not of His,
Made dirt of dust, or that flesh which was worn
By God for His apparel, ragg’d and torn ?
If on these things I durst not look, durst I
On His distressed Mother cast mine eye,
Who was God’s partner here, and furnish’d thus
Half of that sacrifice which ransom’d us ?
Though these things as I ride be from mine eye,
They’re present yet unto my memory,
For that looks towards them ; and Thou look’st towards me,
O Saviour, as Thou hang’st upon the tree.
I turn my back to thee but to receive
Corrections till Thy mercies bid Thee leave.
O think me worth Thine anger, punish me,
Burn off my rust, and my deformity ;
Restore Thine image, so much, by Thy grace,
That Thou mayst know me, and I’ll turn my face.
–John Donne (1572-1631)
O all ye, who pass by, whose eyes and mind
To worldly things are sharp, but to me blind;
To me, who took eyes that I might you find:
Was ever grief like mine?
The Princes of my people make a head
Against their Maker: they do wish me dead,
Who cannot wish, except I give them bread:
Was ever grief like mine?
Without me each one, who doth now me brave,
Had to this day been an Egyptian slave.
They use that power against me, which I gave:
Was ever grief like mine?
Take the time for careful prayer, rumination and meditation over it all.
Through Mary he received his humanity, and in receiving his humanity received humanity itself. Which is to say, through Mary he received us. In response to the angel’s strange announcement, Mary said yes. But only God knew that it would end up here at Golgotha, that it had to end up here. For here, in darkness and in death, were to be found the prodigal children who had said no, the prodigal children whom Jesus came to take home to the Father.
Read it all.
The ancient and saintly fathers and theologians have contrasted the living wood with dead and have allegorized that contrast this way: From the living wood came sin and death; from the dead wood, righteousness and life. They conclude: do not eat from that living tree, or you will die, but eat of the dead tree; otherwise you will remain in death.
You do indeed desire to eat and enjoy [the fruit] of some tree. I will direct you to a tree so full you can never eat it bare. But just as it was difficult to stay away from that living tree, so it is difficult to enjoy eating from the dead tree. The first was the image of life, delight, and goodness, while the other is the image of death, suffering and sorrow because one tree is living, the other dead. There is in man's heart the deeply rooted desire to seek life where there is certain death and to flee from death where one has the sure source of life.
--Martin Luther, "That a Christian Should Bear his Cross With Patience," 1530
From Rod Whitacre here:
In the story of the footwashing, then, we have the most profound revelation of the heart of God apart from the crucifixion itself. We also learn more of the relation between Jesus and his disciples, the relation of the disciples with one another in humble service and the mission of the disciples to the world. These themes are similar to those of the Eucharist developed earlier (see comments on 6:52-59). The community that Jesus has been forming here takes more definite shape, revealing more clearly "the law of its being" (Bultmann 1971:479), which is humble, self-sacrificing love.
Because the newly public message which is the good news of Easter is at one and the same time so obvious – the message of new creation, which answers the deepest longings of the whole cosmos – and so utterly unexpected that if we are to announce God in public in these terms, as Paul did so spectacularly at Athens, we need the preceding private stillness to rinse our minds out of preconceived notions and make ready for God’s startling new world. Note, by the way, that it is the public truth of Easter – the dangerous, strikingly political truth that the living God is remaking the world and claiming full sovereignty over it – that has been for two hundred years the real objection, in western thinking, to the notion that Jesus rose bodily from the tomb. Western thought has wanted to keep Christianity as private truth only, to turn the Lion of Judah into a tame #####-cat, an elegant and inoffensive, if occasionally mysterious, addition to the family circle.
And part of the point of where we are today, culturally, socially, politically and religiously, is that we don’t have that option any more. We face a dangerous and deeply challenging future in the next few years, as the demons we’ve unleashed in the Middle East are not going to go back into their bag, as the ecological nightmares we’ve created take their toll, as the people who make money by looking after our money have now lost their own money and perhaps ours as well, as our cultural and artistic worlds flail around trying to catch the beauty and sorrow of the world and often turning them into ugliness and trivia. And we whose lives and thinking and praying and preaching are rooted in and shaped by these great four days – we who stand up dangerously before God and one another and say we are ready to hear and obey his call once more – we have to learn what it means to announce the public truth of Easter, consequent upon the public truth of Good Friday and itself shaped by it (as the mark of the nails bear witness), as the good news of God for all the world, not just for those who meet behind locked doors. Every eye shall see him, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn as they realise the public truth of his Easter victory. But we can only learn that in the quiet privacy around the Lord’s Table, and the humble stillness where we lay aside our own agendas, our own temperamental preferences, in the darkness of Holy Saturday. When we say Yes to the questions we shall be asked in a few minutes’ time, we are saying Yes to this rhythm, this shaping, of our private devotion to our Lord, our private waiting on him in the silence, in order to say Yes as well to this rhythm, this shaping, of our public ministry, our living out of the gospel before the principalities and powers, our working with the grain of the world where we can and against the grain of the world where we must.
Read it all.
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You can listen directly there and download the mp3 there.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal * By Kendall Sermons & Teachings * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Holy Week * Theology Anthropology Christology Soteriology Theology: Scripture
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