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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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Read it all and enjoy the great pictures.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Church of England (CoE) * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Easter Holy Week Lent Parish Ministry * Culture-Watch Blogging & the Internet --Social Networking Media Urban/City Life and Issues * Theology
The Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue in the United States (ARC-USA) has concluded a six-year round of dialogue with the release of “Ecclesiology and Moral Discernment: Seeking a Unified Moral Witness,” approved at the most recent meeting February 24-25, 2014, at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia. The meeting was chaired by Bishop John Bauerschmidt of the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee; the Roman Catholic co-chairman, Bishop Ronald Herzog of Alexandria, Louisiana, was unable to attend for health reasons.
In 2008 the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, asked the ARC-USA to address questions of ethics and the Christian life in the context of ecclesiology, in an effort to achieve greater clarity regarding areas of agreement and disagreement. They were aware that dialogue on these issues was also taking place between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion at the international level, and also in other bilateral dialogues between churches of various traditions.
The statement reflects on the way the two churches pursue the work of teaching and learning within the Christian moral life. It examines the extent to which their respective church structures influence the way they teach and what they teach on moral questions. Inquiries and discussions about moral formation and the teaching charism of the churches guided them in addressing this topic.
Read it all and please note the link to the full text pdf provided.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal - Anglican: Primary Source -- Reports & Communiques * Religion News & Commentary Ecumenical Relations Other Churches Roman Catholic * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
At a time when the still sluggish economy has sent a flood of jobless young adults back home, older people are quietly moving in with their parents at twice the rate of their younger counterparts.
For seven years through 2012, the number of Californians aged 50 to 64 who live in their parents' homes swelled 67.6% to about 194,000, according to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development.
The jump is almost exclusively the result of financial hardship caused by the recession rather than for other reasons, such as the need to care for aging parents, said Steven P. Wallace, a UCLA professor of public health who crunched the data.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Children Marriage & Family Middle Age * Economics, Politics Economy Corporations/Corporate Life Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market Personal Finance The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007-- Politics in General * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology
A colleague of mine who had two young adult children would often talk to me about their escapades. I’ll never forget how he referred to the two using distinctly different language. Of his son, he always used the passionately emphasized phrase, “my son,” without fail. Of his daughter, who had been somewhat of a disappointment to him, he loosely and almost apologetically called her, “our daughter,” as though he would’ve preferred to attribute her entirely to his wife, rather than claim her as his own.
In these genealogies in 1 Chronicles, God is counting those returned exiles (chapter 9) as the heirs of the spiritual promises that he made to their ancestors. By listing their names and tribes and parentage, God is claiming them as his own, even after their time of pronounced disobedience. God is saying, essentially, “you, too, are my people.”
For us, when we feel cut off from relationship with God and his people (now the church), whether because of blatant sin, spiritual apathy, or a dullness of belief, we need to hear again that we are spiritual descendants in a long line of believers. We are heirs of the promises of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, “for all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Corinthians 1:20).
God claims us as his own, saying to us, “you, too, through Jesus, are my people.”
Read it all.
Listen to it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * Theology Christology Eschatology Theology: Scripture
Now after the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Mag′dalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulchre. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. Lo, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Hail!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed; and this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.
The very existence of the calendar reminds Christians that, as Robert Louis Wilken put it, “Christianity is a culture-forming religion.” Mission unfolds as nothing less than the re-making of human patterns of life and existence around a new story with cosmic implications. Wilken goes on to suggest that Christianity facilitated the making of more than one new civilization in part because it has no sacred tongue, no particular language or cultural system that it seeks to advance. Christianity advances culture through the ongoing formation of cultures, which occurs in the dance between retrieving the past, celebrating the local, and moving toward the global.
Indeed, the movement toward the global in Christian terms is simply a movement toward the End. However else one construes catholicity, its complete emergence, like the perfection of the saints, resides in that final ascent when the local fully expresses the global as all tribes and tongues gather around the throne of God. With its culmination in the celebration of Christ as King, the Christian calendar most crucially reminds believers that catholicity and culture formation go together as eschatological achievements.
Read it all.
...for many, it’s no longer good enough to just “be yourself” online, and selfie lovers want to put their best face forward.
"The days of that bare fresh face, no retouching, are kind of behind us. I think we're all moving into an era that it's so easy to do," image and fashion consultant Lori Ann Robinson said.
Like millions of people, Triana Lavey loves taking selfies, but doesn’t always love the result. She uses the Perfect365 app to touch up her photos now, but she used to hate the way she looked so much that she underwent a radical transformation, all to look better online.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Blogging & the Internet --Social Networking Health & Medicine Psychology Science & Technology * Economics, Politics Economy Consumer/consumer spending * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology
One of Tasmania's leading religious leaders has used his Easter message to criticise one of the new Government's key reforms.
The Anglican Bishop John Harrower has urged the government not to scrap suspended sentences, saying there is too much focus on locking up criminals rather than rehabilitating them.
Reverend Harrower today urged the congregation at St. David's Cathedral to show compassion and love towards all.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Anglican Church of Australia * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Easter * Culture-Watch Law & Legal Issues Prison/Prison Ministry * International News & Commentary Australia / NZ * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
First came the ruling against TEC in the direct appeal we brought to the Texas Supreme Court, issued on August 30. Second came the denial of TEC’s request for the court to rehear (or reconsider) that ruling. And now comes their third loss, on April 17. The high court has denied TEC’s motion to recall the mandate it sent to the trial court, which would have “stayed the proceedings” (stopped the legal process in Texas) while they try to get a review of our case from the U.S Supreme Court. Apparently the state Justices agreed with our attorneys that it is highly unlikely the U.S. Supreme Court will review the case at this stage. Nonetheless, TEC has until June 19 to seek review at the national level.
The next step in the litigation here in Fort Worth is a hearing at 9 a.m. on Thursday, April 24, in the courtroom of Judge John Chupp, where we have requested that he set aside the supersedeas order and refund to the Diocese the $100,000 cash bond we posted two years ago in order to maintain possession of our property. With his original decision having now been reversed by the Texas Supreme Court, there are no legal grounds for the order to remain in effect.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori TEC Conflicts TEC Conflicts: Fort Worth * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Stewardship * Culture-Watch Law & Legal Issues * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
We start with this reality: Social Security and Medicare are practically sacrosanct. Nearly nine-in-ten Americans say they're good for the country. That's an amazing number. But the popularity of these programs really isn't all that surprising. People love them because they do what they were created to do. They ease many of the frets and dreads of old age – a blessing not just for seniors but for everyone who loves, supports and depends on seniors. Which is to say, everyone.
But the status quo is unsustainable. Some 10,000 Baby Boomers will be going on Social Security and Medicare every single day between now and 2030. By the time everyone in this big pig-in-the-python generation is drawing benefits, we’ll have just two workers per beneficiary – down from three-to-one now, five-to-one in 1960 and more than forty-to-one in 1945, shortly after Social Security first started supporting beneficiaries.
The math of the 20th century simply won’t work in the 21st. Today's young are paying taxes to support a level of benefits for today's old that they have no realistic chance of receiving when they become old. And they know it – just 6% of Millennials say they expect to receive full benefits from Social Security when they retire. Fully half believe they’ll get nothing.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Aging / the Elderly Young Adults * Economics, Politics Economy The U.S. Government Budget Medicaid Medicare Social Security The National Deficit Politics in General House of Representatives Office of the President President Barack Obama Senate * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
Hundreds of people were killed because of their ethnicity after South Sudan rebels seized the oil hub of Bentiu last week, the UN has said.
They were targeted at a mosque, a church and a hospital, the UN Mission in South Sudan said in a statement.
It added that hate speech was broadcast on local radio stations, saying certain groups should leave the town and urging men to rape women.
The Nuer community are seen as supporters of rebel leader Riek Machar
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Violence * Economics, Politics Foreign Relations Politics in General * International News & Commentary Africa Sudan --South Sudan * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
The two ministers were foes before they ever met, partisans in a war they did not start, but partisans nonetheless.
For four years, they did not speak.
But in the spring of 2011, the Rev. Tory Baucum drove 100 miles south to Richmond to introduce himself to the Rev. Shannon Johnston. And now the friendship that resulted, nurtured over Guinness in the bar of Richmond’s storied Jefferson Hotel, at dinner with their wives and during many difficult conversations, is being hailed as one of the most unexpected and intriguing developments in a bitter feud that has split the Episcopal Church in the decade since the denomination elected an openly gay bishop.
Mr. Johnston is the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia — the most populous Episcopal diocese in the United States — and a supporter of same-sex marriage who has blessed same-sex couples. Mr. Baucum is the rector of an unusually vibrant parish, Truro Church in Fairfax, which left the Episcopal Church over the election of... [a same-sex partnered bishop], the final straw in a long-running dispute over theological orthodoxy.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) Episcopal Church (TEC) TEC Conflicts TEC Conflicts: Virginia * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry * Culture-Watch Law & Legal Issues * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology Pastoral Theology
...what he's saying, in effect, is that he's not going to allow his House of Bishops to effect a nifty U-turn that forces oppressed Christians abroad either to change their minds overnight about an "abomination", as they see it, or to leave the Anglican Communion when they crave its moral support.
That's a perfectly sensible approach, in so far as it goes. But Archbishop Welby's attempt to reconcile it with his surprisingly passionate defence of LGBT Christians is not convincing: we're supposed to believe that "consultation" will enable the C of E to arrive at the "right" decision about blessing homosexual marriages, whatever that might be. (There's no question, yet, of gay weddings in C of E churches, which are forbidden by the new law.)
Moreover, it means that the Archbishop of Canterbury will not say whether gay marriage is morally wrong. When Moreton asks him about the Anglican priest in Lincolnshire who's just married his boyfriend, he replies: “It’s best if I do not comment on that". It's a matter for the Bishop of Lincoln.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Archbishop of Canterbury --Justin Welby Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion) Same-sex blessings * Culture-Watch Globalization Law & Legal Issues Marriage & Family Religion & Culture Sexuality --Civil Unions & Partnerships * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology Theology: Scripture
Listen to it all from Saint Helena's, Beaufort (it begins with the Gospel reading followed by some music, the sermon itself starts at about 3:05)
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Anglican Church of Australia * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Easter Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * Theology Christology Eschatology Theology: Scripture
Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
Listen to it all should you wish to and also note that there is an option to download it there (using the button which says "download" underneath the link which says "listen").
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Easter Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * Theology Christology Eschatology Theology: Scripture
...we must learn, not only how to die, but how to turn and turn again, as Mary Magdalene did twice before she saw that it was Jesus right in front of her in the garden. Have you ever wondered about the fact that the first witnesses to the resurrection, supremely here Mary, did not recognize Jesus at all in the first instance, and some - according to the gospel of Matthew - even continued to "doubt" when they were in his risen presence? This is another very strange thought: that the risen Christ, being God's Son, is here all the time but that we have to "turn" and keep "turning" towards his gaze, until our senses and mind and soul and heart are so attuned and magnetized to his presence that we too can say Rabbouni - not to grasp and hold him, not to constrain him within our restricted human categories, but to worship and adore him.
St. Thomas Aquinas, writing in the thirteenth century, rather ruefully acknowledges that the women in the gospels understood this better and first because, as he puts it, of their "greater capacity for love," their resoluteness in not abandoning Christ on the cross and in following him even to his place of burial. To "turn" is to keep longing for and loving him, even in despair, as these women did - to keep discerning the wind of Christ's Spirit and leaning into it, until love and knowledge and sensuality all align and we can know as we are known in him.
Thirdly, and finally, only thus shall we learn to "see the Lord," as Mary saw Him, through tears to be sure, but with absolute conviction and certainty. Many think that this doesn't happen anymore, but let me tell you (as one who was once a hospital chaplain, ministering to the dying) it does
Read it all (emphasis hers).
...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.
Read it all.
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.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Easter Parish Ministry Death / Burial / Funerals * Culture-Watch Children Marriage & Family * Theology Christology Eschatology Pastoral Theology
The recovery from the recession has been nasty, brutish and long. It also is shaping up as one of the most enduring.
The National Bureau of Economic Research, the semiofficial arbiter of business cycles, judges that the U.S. economy began expanding again in June 2009, just over 58 months ago. That means the current stretch of growth, in terms of duration, is poised to drift past the average for post-World War II recoveries.
Yet after almost five years, the recovery is proving to be one of the most lackluster in modern times. The nation's 6.7% jobless rate is the highest on record at this stage of recent expansions. Gross domestic product has grown 1.8% a year on average since the recession, half the pace of the previous three expansions.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch History * Economics, Politics Economy Consumer/consumer spending Corporations/Corporate Life Housing/Real Estate Market Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007-- Politics in General * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
As Easter approaches, many Christians struggle with how to understand the Resurrection. How literally must one take the Gospel story of Jesus’ triumph to be called a Christian? Can one understand the Resurrection as a metaphor — perhaps not even believe it happened at all — and still claim to be a follower of Christ?
The struggle keeps some Christians from fully embracing the holiday. A 2010 Barna poll showed that only 42 percent of Americans said the meaning of Easter was Jesus’ resurrection; just 2 percent identified it as the most important holiday of their faith.
“More people have problems with Easter because it requires believing that Jesus rose from the dead,” said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of the new book, “Jesus: A Pilgrimage.”
“But believing in the Resurrection is essential. It shows that nothing is impossible with God. In fact, Easter without the Resurrection is utterly meaningless. And the Christian faith without Easter is no faith at all.”
Read it all.
Read it all (page 8).
What difference does it make that Christ is risen? I’m not asking what difference we would like it to make: I guess we want resurrection to be the answer to our questions, the happy ending to all our doubts and fears. I’ve spoken about ‘before’ and ‘after’, but I don’t mean that Easter is closure. Far from it: it pulls us into new journeys whose end we can never predict. So how does Easter change everything?
What it doesn’t do is to wind back the clock, as if this wilting daffodil could somehow regain its freshness and vitality. It’s the opposite. Easter winds the clock forward to the time where there will be a new heaven and a new earth, where everything we know is transformed. The Easter garden where Jesus comes to Mary and calls her by name – this is the paradise that an ageing, hurting world has looked forward to since time began. She thinks he is the gardener, and of course he is, exactly that, the divine Gardener who by rising on the first day of the week has begun to re-make creation and bring beauty out of ashes. And this new Eden is our destiny as human beings caught up in the renewal of creation that is Easter. Our first reading said: ‘when Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory’. It is coming, yet it has already begun: with Mary in the garden, with the disciples Jesus greets, with those who have not seen yet believed, with all who worship and love and follow him on this Easter Day.
For Easter takes our fear away, and gives us back our lives.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Church of England (CoE) * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Easter Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * Theology Christology Eschatology
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.
Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast—unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
--1 Corinthians 15:1-11
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]
Atheists should drop their easily dismissed scientific, philosophical or historical arguments against Christianity, and instead quiz believers about Old Testament violence and hell, writes John Dickson.
As an intellectual movement, Christianity has a head start on atheism. So it's only natural that believers would find some of the current arguments against God less than satisfying.
In the interests of a more robust debate this Easter, I want to offer my tips for atheists wanting to make a dent in the Faith. I've got some advice on arguments that should be dropped and some admissions about where Christians are vulnerable.
Read it all.
“The compelling evidence for me is the unanimous testimony of all the apostles and even a former persecutor like St. Paul,” said Brant Pitre, assistant professor of theology at Our Lady of Holy Cross College in New Orleans. “There was no debate in the first century over whether Jesus was resurrected or not.”
Scholars say that the witnesses to Christ’s resurrection are compelling for a variety of reasons.
“People will seldom die even for what they know to be true. Twelve men don’t give up their lives for a lie,” said Ray, who recently returned from France, where he was filming his “Footprints of God” series at the amphitheater in Lyon, the site of a persecution in A.D. 177. “The martyrs of Lyon underwent two days of torture and all they would say is, ‘I am a Christian.’ They knew the resurrection was true and didn’t question it.”
Barber also highlighted the diversity of sources and how they include different details as well as passages that do not paint the disciples in the best light.
“In the Road to Emmaus story, they write that they didn’t recognize him,” said Barber. “Our Biblical accounts are our best evidence.”
Several of the scholars pointed to 1 Corinthians, where Paul states that Christ appeared to 500 people.
“Some want to shy away from the Gospels because they say they were written later,” explained Barber. “If you want to believe that they were written later, then why wouldn’t the Gospels have made use of this piece of evidence from 1 Corinthians?” asked Barber.
Read it all.
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
Listen to it all.
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Going through the barrier with a colleague to board my train in a busy station in London, suddenly a loud alarm sounded. A voice came over the public address system advising, no instructing, every person in the station to leave the building immediately. The majority of passers-by stopped, stood still and looked at each other. Visitors to London were already making their way to the exits, Londoners were hurrying their way to their destinations. The message only came once. I looked at the person I was with, we shrugged our shoulders, and went through the barrier to catch our train.
We have, collectively, quite a bit of disbelief and fatigue when we are told that we really must respond, or do something, or change our behaviour or direction.
Mary Magdalene was exhausted by grief. With Jesus everything had died. Who knows why she thought she was going to the garden in which the tomb they had borrowed for him was situated, but who knows why we do lots of things when we are worn out by life? Mary’s emotion represents the emotion of the whole world in the presence of the overwhelming cruelty and irreparable nature of death.
With Mary there are so many that weep. In Syria mothers cry for their children and husbands. In the Ukraine neighbours cry because the future is precarious and dangerous. In Rwanda tears are still shed each day as the horror of genocide is remembered. In this country, even as the economy improves there is weeping in broken families, in people ashamed to seek help from food banks, or frightened by debt. Asylum seekers weep with loneliness and missing far away families. Mary continues to weep across the world.
This is the world we live in, a world which each of us has had a hand in creating. A world of crosses. We can comfort one another and treat the dying with dignity. We can make gardens and graves, we can move stones and wipe away tears. But we can do nothing to defeat death.
But listen, hear the announcement. . . The one who was dead, is now alive! The one whose body had been a corpse, lying motionless in the grave, inert, lifeless, lying flat on the stone ledge of the borrowed tomb – he now stands before Mary, speaking her name. This day he speaks everybody’s name to engage them with the news that he is alive.
When Mary hears her name spoken, we are told, she turns towards him. A moment before and she is in the deepest despair, a second after, her life has changed. For death has more than met its match. It has been defeated. Everything changes.
We cannot expel God, nor the life of God, from his world. In fact this new life insists that there is nowhere God is absent, powerless or irrelevant. There is no situation in the universe in the face of which God is at a loss. The one that was dead is now alive. Where there was weeping there is now joy.
Someone wrote recently ‘Joy might be a greater scandal than evil, suffering or death’. [David Ford]. This is what I have been moved by in Christian communities around the world who face the most devastating of conditions. Their certainty that Jesus is alive enables them to face all horrors with joy. Not happiness, but joy. Joy can exist alongside mental illness, depression, bereavement, fear, because the joy of Christ comes from knowing that nothing and no one less than God has the last word. I remember sitting in a room with the Bishop who had come over from Pakistan soon after the attack in September on a church in Peshawar. I asked how Christians were coping with the fear that such attacks brought, and wondered if there had been anyone in church the week following the attack. ‘Oh yes’ the bishop replied, ‘ there were three times as many people the next week’. Such action is made possible only by the resurrection. The persecuted church flourishes because of the resurrection. I think of women who I met earlier this year who have survived unspeakable sexual violence, yet who lift their arms in prayer and praise to God. I think of teenagers I met in Luton who have hope and joy, in lives that were dominated by self hatred and harm. This has only been made possible because Jesus is alive.
The announcement that Jesus is alive changes everything; not simplistically or even instantly do circumstances and situations change. But it changes us. It gives us hope where we were in despair, faith where we were lost, light where we were in darkness, joy where we were entirely in sorrow. That joy in huge life of Jesus is present in the food banks, the credit unions, the practical down to earth living that the churches are demonstrating across this country.
But Jesus hasn’t finished with Mary yet. It isn’t simply a personal thing for her. She must now become a witness. So Jesus sends her to the ‘brothers’ to tell them. Please notice, in all four gospels the first witness of the resurrection is a woman. So Mary becomes the apostle to the apostles.
Jesus comes to find us all. In all the gospels when anyone meets Jesus they are given a task. The task is to join the announcement. The meaning of our whole existence is to be witnesses to the new life that is offered by Jesus Christ. The persecuted church bears witness in its joy overcoming fear, in worship in the midst of war, of refugee camps. In an IDP camp in Goma in January, the reminder that Jesus is alive was worth more than many sentences of comfort, for he brings joy.
The new life of Jesus is given to us. We witness to it as we insist that money isn’t our ruler, that self- promotion isn’t King, that pleasure isn’t a fulfilling aim, and that the survival of the fittest simply means some die later than others. The new life of Christ has broken into our world, it cannot be contained, nor restricted, nor managed. The church exists to show by its life and work the transforming power that has been set free in the world. All that we need to do is respond in faith and receive the gift of that life.
To fail to respond is like hearing someone crying ‘fire’ and continuing to walk into the building. Or have someone whisper ‘will you marry me?’ and turn the channel to find something interesting to watch. This is an announcement that calls our attention, catches our lives, heals our brokenness, and send us out with a purpose, a hope and a joy. It is news that the world cannot ignore, that we cannot neglect, it is the news of joy immeasurable.
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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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This is the real meaning of Easter...
No tabloid will ever print the startling news that the mummified body of Jesus of Nazareth has been discovered in old Jerusalem. Christians have no carefully embalmed body enclosed in a glass case to worship. Thank God, we have an empty tomb.
The glorious fact that the empty tomb proclaims to us is that life for us does not stop when death comes. Death is not a wall, but a door. And eternal life which may be ours now, by faith in Christ, is not interrupted when the soul leaves the body, for we live on...and on.
There is no death to those who have entered into fellowship with him who emerged from the tomb. Because the resurrection is true it is the most significant thing in our world today. Bringing the resurrected Christ into our lives, individual and national, is the only hope we have for making a better world.
"Because I live ye shall live also."
That is the real meaning of Easter.
--Peter Marshall (1902-1949), The First Easter
Take the time to listen to it all from the Oxford Philomusica.
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)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
All night had shout of men, and cry
Of woeful women filled His way;
Until that noon of sombre sky
On Friday, clamour and display
Smote Him; no solitude had He,
No silence, since Gethsemane.
Public was Death; but Power, but Might,
But Life again, but Victory,
Were hushed within the dead of night,
The shutter’d dark, the secrecy.
And all alone, alone, alone,
He rose again behind the stone.
--Alice Meynell (1847-1922)
In the silence of this night, in the silence which envelopes Holy Saturday, touched by the limitless love of God, we live in the hope of the dawn of the third day, the dawn of the victory of God’s love, the luminous daybreak which allows the eyes of our heart to see afresh our life, its difficulties, its suffering. Our failures, our disappointments, our bitterness, which seem to signal that all is lost, are instead illumined by hope. The act of love upon the Cross is confirmed by the Father and the dazzling light of the resurrection enfolds and transforms everything: friendship can be born from betrayal, pardon from denial, love from hate.
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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!
This Holy Saturday we watch and wait.
What comes will surely be his surprise-
He’s working on it right now-
And we must wait for it,
There is nothing else to do.
On Holy Saturday we realize, as at no other time,
We simply have to wait.
And then it happens!
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, (recently retired) Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe
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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 the full horror of sin.
As Peter himself preached at Pentecost (Acts 2:23-24; 32-33):
‘[Jesus] being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you, by lawless hands, have crucified and put to death; who God raised up, having abolished the birth pangs of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it…This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit, He pour out this which you now see and hear.’
We ought to pause and note the passivity that is expressed here. Christ experienced what God was doing through Him by His purpose and foreknowledge. Jesus was truly dead and fully encompassed within and held by the pains of death and needed God to abolish them. He was freed from death by God, not simply by God’s whim, but because for God it was impossible that death should hold Christ. Christ Himself receives the Holy Spirit from the Father in order that He might pour out that Spirit. Balthasar writes:
‘Jesus was truly dead, because he really became a man as we are, a son of Adam, and therefore, despite what one can sometimes read in certain theological works, he did not use the so-called “brief” time of his death for all manner of “activities” in the world beyond. In the same way that, upon earth, he was in solidarity with the living, so, in the tomb, he is in solidarity with the dead…Each human being lies in his own tomb. And with this condition Jesus is in complete solidarity.’
According to Balthasar, this death was also the experience, for a time, of utter God-forsakenness—that is hell. Hell, then, is a Christological concept which is defined in terms of Christ’s experience on the Cross. This is also the assurance that we never need fear rejection by the Father if we are in Christ, since Christ has experienced hell in our place.”
–S. Joel Garver on Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988) [emphasis mine]
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O God, whose loving kindness is infinite, mercifully hear our prayers; and grant that as in this life we are united in the mystical body of thy Church, and in death are laid in holy ground with the sure hope of resurrection; so at the last day we may rise to the life immortal, and be numbered with thy saints in glory everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
If we really want prayer, we'll have to give it time. We must slow down to a human tempo and we'll begin to have time to listen. And as soon as we listen to what's going on, things will begin to take shape by themselves....The best way to pray is: Stop. Let prayer pray within you, whether you know it or not.
--Thoms Merton (1915--1968)
Tragically neglected, Holy Saturday remains a central part of the three most Holy Days of the Christian year. It is called the Triduum...
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In the centuries after Christianity emerged from the catacombs, the Church of Rome made an annual Lenten pilgrimage to a series of “station churches” at which the Bishop of Rome led his flock in prayer over the remains of one or another of the early martyrs. On the morning of Holy Saturday, however, the Church of the first millennium kept “station” not at a particular basilica made holy by the relics of martyrs and the prayers of those who have venerated them, but in her religious imagination. There was no Mass during the day, as there was no Mass on Good Friday. In the evening, as the sun set, the Roman Church would gather at the papal cathedral, the Basilica of St. John Lateran (“mother and head of all the churches in the city and the world”) to await the dawn of Resurrection. But Holy Saturday itself was a moment to enter reflectively into the divine rest.
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HOW life and death in Thee
Thou hadst a virgin womb
A Joseph did betroth
–Richard Crashaw (1613-1649)
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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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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.
Take the time to read it all.
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
"The single argument in its favor seems to be that it has been around so long," [Wayne] Grudem, a professor at Phoenix Seminary in Arizona, writes in his Systematic Theology, a popular textbook in evangelical colleges. "But an old mistake is still a mistake."
Grudem, like [John] Piper, has said that he skips the phrase about Jesus' descent when reciting the Apostles' Creed.
But the harrowing of hell remains a central tenet of Eastern Orthodox Christians, who place an icon depicting the descent at the front of their churches as Saturday night becomes Easter Sunday. It remains there, venerated and often kissed, for 40 days.
"The icon that represents Easter for us is not the empty cross or tomb," said Peter Bouteneff, a theology professor at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, N.Y. "It's Christ's descent into Hades."
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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]
…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)
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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)
In this empty hallway, there’s nothing expected of us at this moment. The work is out of our hands, and all we can do is wait, breathe, look around. People sometimes feel like this when they’ve been up all night with someone who’s seriously ill or dying, or when they’ve been through a non-stop series of enormously demanding tasks. A sort of peace, but more a sort of ‘limbo’, an in-between moment. For now, nothing more to do; tired, empty, slightly numbed, we rest for a bit, knowing that what matters is now happening somewhere else.
–Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams
So then, there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God; for whoever enters God's rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his.
St. Bernard was so terror-stricken by Christ’s sufferings that he said: I imagined I was secure and I knew nothing of the eternal judgment passed upon me in heaven, until I saw the eternal Son of God took mercy upon me, stepped forward and offered himself on my behalf in the same judgment. Ah, it does not become me still to play and remain secure when such earnestness is behind those sufferings. Hence he commanded the women: “Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.” Lk 23, 28; and gives in the 31st verse the reason: “For if they do these things in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” As if to say: Learn from my martyrdom what you have merited and how you should be rewarded. For here it is true that a little dog was slain in order to terrorize a big one. Likewise the prophet also said: “All generations shall lament and bewail themselves more than him”; it is not said they shall lament him, but themselves rather than him. Likewise were also the apostles terror-stricken in Acts 2, 37, as mentioned before, so that they said to the apostles: “0, brethren, what shall we do?” So the church also sings: I will diligently meditate thereon, and thus my soul in me will exhaust itself.
–Martin Luther (1483-1536)
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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(This story appears in the sermon by yours truly posted below--KSH).
"So you think I'm courageous?" she asked.
"Yes, I do."
"Perhaps I am. But that's because I've had some inspiring teachers. I'll tell you about one of them....
Many years ago, when I worked as a volunteer at Stanford Hospital, I got to know a little girl named Liza who was suffering from a rare and serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her five-year-old brother, who had miraculously survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness. The doctor explained the situation to her little brother, and asked the boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister. I saw him hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, 'Yes, I'll do it if it will save Liza.'
"As the transfusion progressed, he lay in a bed next to his sister and smiled, as we all did, seeing the color returning to her cheeks. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and
asked with a trembling voice, 'Will I start to die right away?'
"Being young, the boy had misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give her all his blood.
"Yes, I've learned courage," she added, "because I've had inspiring teachers."
--Jack Canfield and Mark Hansen Chicken Soup for the Soul (Deerfield Beach, Florida: Health Communications, 1993), pp.26-27
[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]
Listen to it all should you wish to and also note that there is an option to download it there (using the button which says "download" underneath the link which says "listen").
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Think of Jesus. His words are few. He is exhausted and in pain. Two words however remain: a word of mercy to the criminal who repents; a word of fidelity, handing himself to his Father, his mission completed.
Lord we live in a world filled with words. Perhaps never in history have there been so many words: spoken, printed, electronically stored or moving invisibly. Help us to realise that few words are necessary. Empty words foster empty hearts. There are realities which do not need words. Give us Lord the words to ask for forgiveness, the words which touch those things in our hearts we would not want anyone to hear, but things that keep us entrapped in sinfulness and isolation. Give us words to forgive, to be generous and loving.Open our heart in mercy to those who long for freedom. Keep us faithful like Jesus to what we are called to, to what is most noble and good in our lives.
In a world where everything has a shelf-life and what we dislike can be quickly discarded, help us to learn that singular characteristic of God: being faithful. The events of Good Friday realise something that has been spoken of throughout the history of God’s encounter with his people. God remains faithful to his people, even when his people generation after generation fail him and fail him and betray him and betray him[.]
True goodness is not a passing emotion. It is not about feeling good. It is about being faithful to goodness when it is easy, when it is challenging, and even when it leads to our annihilation in the eyes of those who seek their only own interest.
Jesus dies. He breathes his last and that last is the same as the first words recorded about Jesus: “I must be about my Father’s business”; “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”.
Jesus humbles himself, he empties himself, and his love is so great that he empties himself even unto death, death on the Cross. But the Cross triumphs. His self-giving love is so complete that it brings new life, true live.
Lord help us to reject everything that is trivial and superficial. Give us the love that Jesus showed on the Cross: love that endures and that saves.
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In recent years Luther's teaching on the atonement has been a subject of strong dispute. Some (mostly the Swedish interpreters) have stressed the ideas of "conflict" and "victory" in Luther's discussions of atonement, arguing for a discontinuity between the Reformer's own thinking and the "substitutionary" theory of later Protestant orthodoxy. Others have insisted that at this point Luther's teaching differs in no essentials from that of his successors. One is well advised to tread carefully on entering the field of controversy; nevertheless, I make bold to submit that the interpretation of atonement in both Luther and Calvin can be understood as turning on the central and pivotal conception of a "happy exchange," in which the believer's sins are laid upon Christ and Christ's own innocence is communicated to the believer. From this center, we may say, the Reformers' thinking moves outwards to the various other soteriological concepts, including the two about which modern opinion is chiefly divided, namely, "victory" and "substitution." First and foremost, the Christian is one who has been united with Christ so intimately that an exchange of qualities has somehow taken place.
Of course, this understanding of Luther's thought would not settle present-day controversies, for it is not incompatible with either of the two main rival theories, nor even with a combination of both. Neither is it incompatible with Calvin's threefold scheme of "Prophet, Priest, and King" (a scheme of which, in any case, he makes very little use), since Christ does not exercise these offices in any "private capacity," but rather communicates their benefits to believers. Perhaps we may say that the notion of "exchange" belongs to the presuppositions of atonement, as the Reformers understood it, whilst the detailed outworking of the doctrine demands the use of further categories.
That the notion is indeed fundamental to the Reformers' thinking could be demonstrated by many passages from the works of both.
Luther speaks explicitly of this "happy exchange" (fröhlich Wechsel) in the German version of the Treatise on Christian Liberty. The soul and Christ are united like bride and bridegroom. They become one flesh, and everything they possess is shared in common. "What Christ has is the property of the believing soul, what the soul has becomes the property of Christ." A similar passage occurs in the Larger Commentary on Galatians (though worded differently in Rörer's MS.): "So, making a happy exchange with us (feliciter commutans nobiscum) he [Christ] took upon him our sinful person, and gave us his own innocent and victorious person." These passages can readily be matched in Calvin's Institutes: "Who could do this [i.e., win salvation for men], unless the Son of God should become also the Son of Man, and so receive what is ours as to transfer to us what is his?" And again: "He was not unwilling to take upon him what was properly ours, that he might in turn (vicissim) extend to us what was properly his." The same pattern of thought recurs in both the Reformers when they speak of the Lord's Supper; as, for instance, in Luther's Treatise on the Blessed Sacrament, and the fourth book of Calvin's Institutes. What exactly it is that is "exchanged" is made perfectly clear in each of these passages: namely, Christ's righteousness is exchanged for the believer's sin.
--Brian A. Gerrish
In evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame or fear,
Till a new object struck my sight,
And stopp'd my wild career:
I saw One hanging on a Tree
In agonies and blood,
Who fix'd His languid eyes on me.
As near His Cross I stood.
Sure never till my latest breath,
Can I forget that look:
It seem'd to charge me with His death,
Though not a word He spoke:
My conscience felt and own'd the guilt,
And plunged me in despair:
I saw my sins His Blood had spilt,
And help'd to nail Him there.
Alas! I knew not what I did!
But now my tears are vain:
Where shall my trembling soul be hid?
For I the Lord have slain!
A second look He gave, which said,
"I freely all forgive;
This blood is for thy ransom paid;
I die that thou may'st live."
Thus, while His death my sin displays
In all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of grace,
It seals my pardon too.
With pleasing grief, and mournful joy,
My spirit now if fill'd,
That I should such a life destroy,
Yet live by Him I kill'd!
--John Newton (1725-1807)
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)
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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.
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
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.
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O My chief good,
How shall I measure out thy bloud?
How shall I count what thee befell,
And each grief tell?
Shall I thy woes
Number according to thy foes?
Or, since one starre show’d thy first breath,
Shall all thy death?
Or shall each leaf,
Which falls in Autumn, score a grief?
Or can not leaves, but fruit, be signe
Of the true vine?
hen let each houre
Of my whole life one grief devoure;
That thy distresse through all may runne,
And be my sunne.
Or rather let
My severall sinnes their sorrows get;
That as each beast his cure doth know,
Each sinne may so.
Since bloud is fittest, Lord, to write
Thy sorrows in, and bloudie fight;
My heart hath store, write there, where in
One box doth lie both ink and sinne:
That when sinne spies so many foes,
Thy whips, thy nails, thy wounds, thy woes,
All come to lodge there, sinne may say,
No room for me, and flie away.
Sinne being gone, oh fill the place,
And keep possession with thy grace;
Lest sinne take courage and return,
And all the writings blot or burn.
--George Herbert (1593-1633)
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)
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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
Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now; but you shall follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why cannot I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the cock will not crow, till you have denied me three times.
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.
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At a time when some argue that faith and religious life should be kept behind closed doors, it is reassuring that the BBC and other broadcasters still invest in imaginative, high-quality religious programming, especially during Christian festivals such as Easter and Christmas.
But I believe passionately that religious broadcasting is not just for Easter or Christmas: its presence is vital the whole year round. I could not agree more with Ian Hislop, who wrote in last month’s Radio Times “that programmes that concern themselves with faith are still trying to engage with the world, rather than just trying to escape from it into the next”.
The dramatic events of Holy Week remind us that God is intensely engaged with the world he created – not just the ‘religious’ bits of life. St Paul told early Christians that, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God chose to “reconcile to himself all things”.
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This week, as Jews celebrate the Passover holiday, they are commemorating the Bible's Exodus story describing a series of plagues inflicted on ancient Egypt that freed the Israelites, allowing them to make their way to the Holy Land. But over the past century, another exodus, driven by a plague of persecution, has swept across the Middle East and is emptying the region of its Christian population. The persecution is especially virulent today.
The Middle East may be the birthplace of three monotheistic religions, but some Arab nations appear bent on making it the burial ground for one of them. For 2,000 years, Christian communities dotted the region, enriching the Arab world with literature, culture and commerce. At the turn of the 20th century, Christians made up 26% of the Middle East's population. Today, that figure has dwindled to less than 10%. Intolerant and extremist governments are driving away the Christian communities that have lived in the Middle East since their faith was born.
In the rubble of Syrian cities like Aleppo and Damascus, Christians who refused to convert to Islam have been kidnapped, shot and beheaded by Islamist opposition fighters. In Egypt, mobs of Muslim Brotherhood members burn Coptic Christian churches in the same way they once obliterated Jewish synagogues. And in Iraq, terrorists deliberately target Christian worshippers. This past Christmas, 26 people were killed when a bomb ripped through a crowd of worshipers leaving a church in Baghdad's southern Dora neighborhood.
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch Law & Legal Issues Psychology Religion & Culture Violence * Economics, Politics Politics in General * International News & Commentary Middle East * Religion News & Commentary Inter-Faith Relations Other Faiths Islam Muslim-Christian relations Judaism * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
Few who have heard or read [Barbara Brown] Taylor are surprised that she is nudging people down a path toward endarkenment. For years, her sermons have been required reading at seminaries nationwide, and she often lectures at Princeton, Duke and the National Cathedral in Washington. She is the most requested Sunday speaker at New York’s Chautauqua Institution and draws both atheists and divinity students to her book signings. And 13 books on, she has chronicled her own fascinating and complex faith journey for hundreds of thousands of readers. Taylor, says Randall Balmer, chair of Dartmouth’s department of religion, “belongs in the pantheon of spiritual writers that includes such luminaries as the late Will Campbell, Anne Lamott and Frederick Buechner. She doesn’t shy away from big issues, and her honesty is disarming.”
Certainly, Taylor’s new memoir, Learning to Walk in the Dark–on spirituality and self-help shelves in time for Good Friday–challenges the broad theological belief that darkness is evil, scary and just plain bad. But she is also taking on the sometimes far-too-sunny fashion in which churches tell their most important stories. It is easy to forget, amid “the Easter lilies, the sound of trumpets and bright streaming light,” she notes, that the Resurrection happened in a dark cave. “God and darkness have been friends for a long time,” Taylor says. “It’s just one nighttime story after another–amazing.”
Read it all and take a look at the Time Cover picture also.
Some people feel that in this ever more secular age we shouldn't talk about these things. I completely disagree. I believe we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country, more ambitious about expanding the role of faith-based organisations, and, frankly, more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people's lives.
First, being more confident about our status as a Christian country does not somehow involve doing down other faiths or passing judgement on those with no faith at all. Many people tell me it is easier to be Jewish or Muslim in Britain than in a secular country precisely because the tolerance that Christianity demands of our society provides greater space for other religious faiths, too.
Crucially, the Christian values of responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, and love are shared by people of every faith and none - and we should be confident in standing up to defend them.
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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Church of England (CoE) * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture * Economics, Politics Politics in General * International News & Commentary England / UK * Theology
This Lent we, and thousands of others, made the rise of hunger in the UK the focus of our fasting. It has been a time of sorrowful and deep reflection on a rise we see every day in the numbers visiting food banks in towns and cities across the country.
The Trussell Trust figures, released today, only further illustrate this terrible rise, from 350,000 last year to over 900,000 this year. This figure, shocking as it is, is far from the total number of people going hungry in our country today – from those too ashamed to visit their local food bank to those many families not in crisis but ever more worried about keeping the cupboards full. One in four is cutting portion sizes and half are cutting their household food budgets.
Lent has finally seen the beginning of a real national discussion on what this hunger means, what causes it and how we as a society can begin rising to the challenge of this national crisis.
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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Holy Week Lent * Culture-Watch Dieting/Food/Nutrition Globalization Hunger/Malnutrition Poverty Religion & Culture * Economics, Politics Politics in General * International News & Commentary England / UK * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
Lift up your hearts
We lift them to the Lord
The focus of my sermon this evening is what it means to say those words and what it is to set those words at the heart of ministry.
Some of us have the immense privilege as priests of summoning a whole community to lift up their hearts in the Eucharist. But others are called no less to invite God’s people to lift up their hearts in different ways: in the ministry of the word and in the prayers, in pastoral care, in evangelism, as we lead worship or work with children or young people. This call and invitation goes right to the heart of our understanding of every kind of ministry. So what does it mean?
The words have a long and wide pedigree. They go back to the earliest descriptions of the Eucharist in the third century. They are present in the rites of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches and all the churches of the Reformation as well as our own Church of England. What does it mean to say “Lift up your hearts”?
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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Church of England (CoE) CoE Bishops * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Holy Week Liturgy, Music, Worship Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * Theology
Of old thou didst lay the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They will perish, but thou dost endure; they will all wear out like a garment. Thou changest them like raiment, and they pass away; but thou art the same, and thy years have no end.
Mahatma Gandhi was once asked what was the greatest obstacle to the extension of Christianity. He answered: "Christianity."
Christianity faces the prospect of its own death through the death of its inadequately conceived Easter God. Christianity, as practised in New Zealand, is not credible and is dying.
If Christianity faces up to this full reality, it will survive to be a useful religious community. If it fails to shoulder the full weight of its own cross, it will not discover whether its Christian faith is really true.
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Young adults who occasionally smoke marijuana show abnormalities in two key areas of their brain related to emotion, motivation, and decision making, raising concerns that they could be damaging their developing minds at a critical time, according to a new study by Boston researchers.
Other studies have revealed brain changes among heavy marijuana users, but this research is believed to be the first to demonstrate such abnormalities in young, casual smokers.
The Boston scientists also found that the degree of brain changes appeared to be directly related to the amount participants smoked per week.
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Given what we’ve seen in Ukraine, the US and the EU need to work much more closely together on policy vis a vis the non-Russian former Soviet states. This policy can’t be seen as simply legalistic or commercial, expanding free trade zones or supporting the rule of law and the development of institutions; security issues are also involved.
More, Europe’s failure to develop coherent energy policy is clearly a contributing factor to Putin’s transparent contempt for the bloc as well as to Europe’s continuing vulnerability to Russian pressure. Europe’s countries have many voices when it comes to energy policy; the United States needs to play a larger and more constructive role in the continent’s musings over energy policy, and the new American reserves now coming on line could be part of a long term strategy to reduce Europe’s vulnerability to energy blackmail.
The US may also need to consider how it can play a more useful role in Europe’s internal debates over economic policy. Europe’s weakness before Russian pressure is both directly and indirectly attributable in part to the fallout from the euro disaster. Economic pain has divided the union, alienated many voters both from Brussels and their national authorities, reduced Europe’s energy and resources for external policy ventures, contributed to the bitterness over immigration and fueled the rise of the extreme right wing parties Putin now seeks to mobilize. Important American interests have been seriously harmed by the monetary muddle in Europe, and Washington needs to think more carefully about how it can play a more consequential and constructive role.
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Filed under: * Economics, Politics Defense, National Security, Military Economy Energy, Natural Resources Foreign Relations Politics in General * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. Europe Russia Ukraine * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
Easter is now [almost] upon us, and we await the predictable onslaught of naysayers who declaim with an almost evangelical fervour that the Jesus story is one big lie. Such tirades by the evangelists of scepticism seem almost to constitute a pastoral responsibility on their part annually to reinforce the ideological conceits of their tribe of followers, thus providing atheists, agnostics and "nones" with reassurance that they needn't take Jesus too seriously.
The opening salvo this year comes courtesy of the indefatigable Bart Ehrman. For those who don't know, Ehrman is something of a celebrity sceptic in the United States. A professor of religion at the University of North Carolina, he was formerly a fundamentalist Christian who de-converted to agnosticism, and now writes books exposing the apparently fallacious claims of traditional Christianity. He has several New York Times best-sellers to his name, including Misquoting Jesus: The Story of Who Changed the Bible and Why, Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible and Forged: Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are. Ehrman is a regular on the talk-show circuit, frequenting programs like The Colbert Report, The Daily Show, Dateline, CNN, and National Public Radio.
A genuinely erudite scholar of ancient texts and a fierce debater, Ehrman is the bane of traditionalists and the champion of sceptics. A pity, then, that he is almost always wrong.
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The language used by the national media in reporting the story this time reveals the lack of confidence now placed in the fragment. The Boston Globe reported that the tests “have turned up no evidence of modern forgery,” but the reporter had to acknowledge that at least one of the scholars writing in the Harvard Theological Review insisted that the fragment is not only a forgery, but an amateurish effort. The New York Times ran a story that featured a headline announcing that the fragment “is more likely ancient than fake.” Note the uncertainty evident even in the headline.
In her major article released last week, Professor King defended the fragment’s authenticity, but acknowledged that — all previous sensationalism aside — “It is not entirely clear, however, how many women are referred to [in the fragment], who they are, precisely what is being said about them, or what larger issues are under consideration.”
This is a very different message than was sent back in 2012. Professor King now acknowledges that all the references to females in the fragment might be “deployed metaphorically as figures of the Church, or heavenly Wisdom, or symbolically/typologically as brides of Christ or even mothers.” In other words, the fragment might not even conflict with Christian orthodoxy.
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Apartment vacancy rates have dropped so low that forecasters at Capital Economics, a research firm, said rents could rise, on average, as much as 4 percent this year, compared with 2.8 percent last year. But rents are rising faster than that in many cities even as overall inflation is running at little more than 1 percent annually.
One of the most expensive cities for renters is Miami, where rents, on average, consume 43 percent of the typical household income, up from a historical average of just over a quarter.
Stella Santamaria, a divorced 40-year-old math teacher, has been looking for an apartment in Miami for more than six months. “We’re kind of sick of talking about it,” she said of herself and fellow teachers in the same boat. “It’s like, are you still living with your mom? Yeah, are you? Yeah.” After 11 years as a teacher, Ms. Santamaria makes $41,000, considerably less than the city’s median income, which is $48,000, according to Zillow.
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch Urban/City Life and Issues * Economics, Politics Economy Consumer/consumer spending Housing/Real Estate Market Personal Finance The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007-- * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
This coming Aug. 3 will mark the golden anniversary of Flannery O’Connor’s “Passover,” to adopt the biblical image John Paul II used to describe the Christian journey through death to eternal life. In the 50 years since lupus erythematosus claimed her at age 39, O’Connor’s literary genius has been widely celebrated. Then, with the 1979 publication of The Habit of Being, her collected letters, another facet of Miss O’Connor’s genius came into focus: Mary Flannery O’Connor was an exceptionally gifted apologist, an explicator of Catholic faith who combined remarkable insight into the mysteries of the Creed with deep and unsentimental piety, unblinking realism about the Church in its human aspect, puckish humor—and a mordant appreciation of the soul-withering acids of modern secularism.
Miss O’Connor’s sense that ours is an age of nihilism—an age suffering from by a crabbed sourness about the mystery of being itself—makes her an especially apt apologist for today...
[She believed the world's]...darkness is rendered darker still by late modernity’s refusal to recognize its own deepest need. For as Miss O’Connor put it in a 1957 lecture, “Redemption is meaningless unless there is cause for it in the actual life we live, and for the last few centuries there has been operating in our culture the secular belief that there is no such cause.”
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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church History Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Holy Week * Culture-Watch Poetry & Literature Religion & Culture Women * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Secularism * Theology Apologetics
The Mustang, Okla., school board voted Monday (April 14) to adopt a Bible course developed by Steve Green, clearing the way for the Hobby Lobby president, whose suit against the Affordable Care Act is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, to enter another charged arena at the borderline of church and state.
The board, whose district is practically in Hobby Lobby’s Oklahoma City backyard, agreed to beta-test the first year of the Museum of the Bible Curriculum, an ambitious four-year public school elective on the narrative, history and impact of the Good Book.
For at least the first semester of the 2014-15 year, Mustang alone will employ the program, said Jerry Pattengale, head of the Green Scholars Initiative, which is overseeing its development. In September 2016, he hopes to place it in at least 100 high schools; by the following year, “thousands.”
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How the Lord in his anger
has set the daughter of Zion under a cloud!
He has cast down from heaven to earth
the splendor of Israel;
he has not remembered his footstool
in the day of his anger.
The Lord has destroyed without mercy
all the habitations of Jacob;
in his wrath he has broken down
the strongholds of the daughter of Judah;
he has brought down to the ground in dishonor
the kingdom and its rulers.
He has cut down in fierce anger
all the might of Israel;
he has withdrawn from them his right hand
in the face of the enemy;
he has burned like a flaming fire in Jacob,
consuming all around.
He has bent his bow like an enemy,
with his right hand set like a foe;
and he has slain all the pride of our eyes
in the tent of the daughter of Zion;
he has poured out his fury like fire.
The Lord has become like an enemy,
he has destroyed Israel;
he has destroyed all its palaces,
laid in ruins its strongholds;
and he has multiplied in the daughter of Judah
mourning and lamentation.
He has broken down his booth like that of a garden,
laid in ruins the place of his appointed feasts;
the Lord has brought to an end in Zion
appointed feast and sabbath,
and in his fierce indignation has spurned
king and priest.
The Lord has scorned his altar,
disowned his sanctuary;
he has delivered into the hand of the enemy
the walls of her palaces;
a clamor was raised in the house of the Lord
as on the day of an appointed feast.
The Lord determined to lay in ruins
the wall of the daughter of Zion;
he marked it off by the line;
he restrained not his hand from destroying;
he caused rampart and wall to lament,
they languish together.
Her gates have sunk into the ground;
he has ruined and broken her bars;
her king and princes are among the nations;
the law is no more,
and her prophets obtain
no vision from the Lord.
The number and identity of the women in the resurrection accounts can be difficult to untangle, which is one of the reasons why we provide a glossary in The Final Days of Jesus as a guide. One of the confusing things, for example, is that no less than four of the women share the name Mary: (1) Mary Magdalene; (2) Mary the mother of Jesus; (3) Mary the mother of James and Joses/Joseph; and (4) Mary the wife of Clopas (who may have been the brother of Joseph of Nazareth). In addition, there is Joanna (whose husband, Chuza, was the household manager for Herod Antipas) and Salome (probably the mother of the apostles James and John).
As you preach this Easter, do not bypass the testimony of the women as an incidental detail. In the first century, women were not even eligible to testify in a Jewish court of law. Josephus said that even the witness of multiple women was not acceptable "because of the levity and boldness of their sex." Celsus, the second-century critic of Christianity, mocked the idea of Mary Magdalene as an alleged resurrection witness, referring to her as a "hysterical female … deluded by … sorcery."
This background matters because it points to two crucial truths. First, it is a theological reminder that the kingdom of the Messiah turns the system of the world on its head. In this culture, Jesus radically affirmed the full dignity of women and the vital value of their witness. Second, it is a powerful apologetic reminder of the historical accuracy of the resurrection accounts. If these were "cleverly devised myths" (2 Pet. 1:16, ESV), women would never have been presented as the first eyewitnesses of the risen Christ.
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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Easter Holy Week Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * Theology Christology Eschatology Theology: Scripture
Efforts to fix the notorious Heartbleed bug threaten to cause major disruptions to the Internet over the next several weeks as companies scramble to repair encryption systems on hundreds of thousands of Web sites at the same time, security experts say.
Estimates of the severity of the bug’s damage have mounted almost daily since researchers announced the discovery of Heartbleed last week. What initially seemed like an inconvenient matter of changing passwords for protection now appears much more serious. New revelations suggest that skilled hackers can use the bug to create fake Web sites that mimic legitimate ones to trick consumers into handing over valuable personal information.
The sheer scale of the work required to fix this aspect of the bug — which makes it possible to steal the “security certificates” that verify that a Web site is authentic — could overwhelm the systems designed to keep the Internet trustworthy.
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CareerCast is out with their annual ranking of the 10 best and 10 worst jobs for 2014, and let's just say that math and science guys everywhere are about to high-five.
Nine out of 10 of the best jobs fell into the STEM career category (science, technology, engineering and math), with the "numbers guys," in particular, locking in 3 of the top 4 spots.
"This absolutely verifies the importance of STEM careers," said Tony Lee, publisher of CareerCast.com and JobsRated.com.
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The Rev David Smith from Oakfield Methodist Church, Rev Kelvin Bolton from Christ Church and Holy Trinity and Father Stephen Maloney from All Saints Church Anfield led the service and read the names of the 96 from the Book of Remembrance.
It took eight poignant minutes.
The stadium then fell silent for a minute in memory of the victims of that terrible day in Sheffield at the FA Cup semi-final in 1989.
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Around 100 girls are thought to have been abducted in an attack on a school in north-east Nigeria, officials say.
Gunmen reportedly arrived at the school in Chibok, Borno state, late last night, and ordered the hostel's teenage residents on to lorries.
The attackers are believed to be from the Islamist group, Boko Haram, whose militants frequently target schools.
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An historic consultation took place between Anglicans and Pentecostals earlier this week at High Leigh in Hertfordshire.
Initiated by the Church of England’s Council for Christian Unity, it took forward resolutions passed at successive Lambeth Conferences, and bore out Archbishop Justin Welby’s recent call for greater interaction between the two traditions.
Nine Anglicans and eight Pentecostals gathered for two days of dialogue, prayer and worship to explore their similarities and differences, and to chart a way forward for enhanced partnership in mission.
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