N.T. Wright: Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?

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Wonderful stuff. The video is over an hour but you don’t have over an hour to watch it. Do yourself a favor and watch it anyway.

And if you are the reading type rather than the viewing type, pick up Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope and read chapter 4 because it essentially contains the contents of this lecture.

The Resurrection: Sharing Life with Our Risen Lord! Alleluia!

Sermon delivered on Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

If you would prefer to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Jeremiah 31.1-6; Acts 10.34-43; Colossians 3.1-4; John 1.1-18.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Happy Easter, St. Augustine’s! Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia! So what do you think? Is our gospel lesson this morning about Jesus being raised up and going to heaven? A lot of people would say yes, that’s what Easter is all about. But as we look carefully at what John’s gospel and our other readings have to say, we will discover that Easter is much more than Jesus rising from the dead so that he could go to heaven and this is what I want us to look at briefly on this joyous morning.

John makes it very clear that when Mary went to the tomb that first Easter morning, she was expecting to find Jesus’ body lying in it and we all get that. After all, who among us has ever witnessed a body being raised from the dead? Last time I went to the cemetery to tend to my family’s graves, everybody (no pun intended) was present and accounted for. In fact, there was a time in my life when I refused to recite the clause in the Apostles’ Creed about believing in the resurrection of the body for this exact reason. I didn’t have a clear understanding of the biblical hope of resurrection and chose to come up with my own version of life after death that conveniently omitted this fantastic and frankly unbelievable notion of bodies being raised from the dead.

So we can appreciate Mary’s anxiety as she approached Jesus’ tomb—doubtless with the awful images of Jesus’ naked, pierced, and bloody body seared into her brain and grieving the death of the One whom she hoped was God’s promised Messiah—only to find it empty. Being a good Jew, Mary would have believed in the resurrection of the body but that wasn’t something that Jesus’ contemporaries generally believed would happen until the Last Day and that Sunday morning certainly wasn’t it. Alarmed, Mary ran to tell the disciples that someone had stolen the body of Jesus, adding insult to the injury and grief with which they were all dealing. John reports that Peter and the beloved disciple ran back to the tomb to check it out and when the beloved disciple saw the folded grave clothes, he believed.

But what did the beloved disciple believe? He believed that Jesus was alive again. But at this particular moment, the beloved disciple believed by faith because John tells us that he did not yet understand the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead. Once the beloved disciple saw the risen Jesus with his own eyes, ate with him, and heard Jesus unpack the scriptures for them, faith was no longer necessary. But for the moment, it was.

To help us understand how seeing folded grave clothes would have helped the beloved disciple believe Jesus was alive, think back to Jesus’ resuscitation of Lazarus. When Lazarus came out of the tomb, his body had to be unwrapped by others. But Jesus had left his grave clothes behind, a powerful indication that something radically different had transpired. Lazarus would be raised to face death once again. In fact, John tells us that the Jewish authorities sought to put Lazarus to death on account of Jesus. But here John is telling us that Jesus had entered death and emerged from it as a new creation where death was abolished forever, swallowed up by life at its most abundant.

How do we know this? Pay close attention to what John says at the beginning of our lesson. Being the brilliant theologian and subtle and nuanced writer that he is, John starts his account of the resurrection by telling us that Mary came to the tomb on the first day of the week. Remember back to John’s prologue with its echoes of the Genesis creation narratives, “In the beginning…” Throughout John’s gospel we are presented with seven signs that demonstrate Jesus is indeed the Word of God who has come into the world to save it and us. And what was the seventh sign? Our Lord’s crucifixion.

This is significant because John tells us that Jesus’ last words were, “It is finished.” But what was finished on the cross? The decisive defeat of evil and the dark powers that have corrupted and despoiled God’s good world and its creatures, albeit a victory over evil that is not yet fully consummated. And as Peter tells us in our NT lesson, on the cross we see God the Son bearing the awful and deadly wrath of God the Father on our behalf so that we can enjoy reconciliation with God and the peace that flows from it. Earlier in the passion narrative, and without explicitly stating this, John had reported that Barabbas was the first beneficiary of Jesus dying in his place and we too have been offered this same life-saving and life-giving grace.

And this all happened on the sixth day, the day before the Sabbath. We note in the creation narratives of Genesis that on the sixth day God created human beings in his image, the consummation of his creative activity, and declared them to be very good. Sadly we remember that humans rebelled against their Creator and sin, evil, and death entered the picture, effectively hijacking God’s good creation and creatures away from him. Now here in John’s narrative, we see God the Son rescuing his sinful and fallen human creatures from the ravages of evil, sin, and death by defeating evil and bearing our just punishment.

Then on the seventh day, just as God rested from his creative activity in Genesis, God the Son rested in his tomb after his saving work. Now it is the first day of the week, the eighth day so to speak, the day of new creation and new beginnings, and we see Jesus bursting forth from his tomb to conquer the last enemy, death itself. In other words, John is telling us to look carefully because we are witnessing the launching of God’s new creation in which he has begun to take back his good but corrupted world to heal and redeem it and us completely.

Well isn’t that special, you say. But what’s that got to do with us? Get on with it, dude. We’ve got Easter brunch to catch and rounds of golf to play! From a future perspective, Jesus’ resurrection and the bursting forth of God’s new creation means that our destiny as God’s people in Christ is literally new bodily creation, not some kind of disembodied spiritual existence. Peter makes it very clear that the resurrected Lord ate and drank with his disciples. They were able to see and touch him. But there was also a difference. Jesus was able to appear suddenly to them behind locked doors. He was able to disguise his appearance so that his followers often didn’t recognize him immediately. Clearly Jesus’ body was equipped to live in both the dimension of heaven (God’s space) and yet interact with humans in our space (earth). When the new creation comes, the dimensions of heaven and earth will be fused together and our mortal bodies will be raised from the dead and patterned after our Lord’s. When that happens, death will be conquered forever, swallowed up by life and utter healing and wholeness. Jesus’ resurrection reminds us that God is faithful to his creation and intends to heal and restore it and us in the manner he promises through his prophet Jeremiah. Whatever the new vineyards look like in the new creation, they will be filled with God’s goodness, never to be corrupted or defiled.

But that’s the future. What about right now? Here is where we need to pay attention to Paul. Our epistle lesson this morning is part of a larger pericope in which Paul talks about dying and rising with Christ in and through our baptism. In our baptism we share Jesus’ death so that we can share in his resurrection. In other words, Paul wants us to understand that when we are baptized, we are utterly joined with Christ, to be with him and to share in his new and risen life.

When Paul talks about our life being hidden with Christ, he is not saying that our relationship with Jesus is gone or extinguished. He is talking about God’s intention for us to share with Jesus all the things God has given him. It’s like a lover saying to his beloved, “I want you to be with me wherever I am so that we can share together all that is good and wonderful in this life!” We are to enjoy new life and one day rule with Christ in God’s new creation when it comes in full. This life with Jesus is “hidden” because currently he is hidden from us, dwelling in and ruling from heaven, God’s space. But one day when Jesus reappears and the dimensions of heaven and earth are fused together, our life with Jesus will no longer be hidden because he will be fully revealed to all. This is probably what Jesus was trying to tell Mary when he told her not to cling to him because he had not yet ascended to the Father. He was telling Mary that she must get used to having a relationship with him in a new way because he would soon be hidden from her in heaven. And that way, of course, is through the Spirit that would dwell in her and us.

This union with Christ in our baptism is why we must never take our baptism for granted or see it as a one-time event. Rather, we are to work out what our relationship with Jesus looks like in the power of the Spirit. We are never to look at the cross or our baptism as a “get-out-of-jail-free” card. Seeing it this way means that we haven’t really set our minds, i.e., our desires and will, on following Jesus by patterning our living after his. Instead, we are merely interested in saving our hides, and that is no kind of relationship. Think about it. Would you want someone to engage in a relationship with you only for what you could do for that person? Me neither.

But Jesus’ resurrection promises us so much more than a get-out-of-jail-free card! Because we are in Christ, his death and resurrection remind us that we are freed from our bondage to sin and death to live fully human lives in the manner God intended for us when he originally created us in his image. When we set our mind on Christ, we resolve to put to death all our disordered desires with the help of the Spirit, things like our desires for autonomy, wealth, power and control over others, and happiness of our own making, so that we can truly be free to live life fully like Jesus. The hope and promise of resurrection challenges us to live in the power of the Spirit to bear his fruit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control, and all the rest—in all aspects of our life: money, family, work, sex, friendship, politics, neighborliness, and attitudes. In other words, the hope and promise of our baptism and resurrection is a clarion call to repent of all our disordered ways and reorder our lives in ways that imitate Jesus who is alive in heaven (hidden from us) and available to us in the power of the Spirit. What in your life needs Jesus’ healing touch? Whatever it is, seek his touch with confidence because you know he is alive and reigns!

In patterning our life after Jesus, we are also living out each day our hope for the day when God’s new creation will be fully consummated. In living out our Easter hope, we are promised that God will use our work to build on the foundation of the new creation that Jesus’ death and resurrection established. As Paul tells the Corinthians, we are to remain steadfast and immovable in our good works in the Lord, i.e., in setting our minds on Christ who is hidden in heaven, because we know that our work in the Lord is never in vain (1 Corinthians 15.58).

This clearly takes faith on our part, just like it did for the beloved disciple that day at the tomb, because it is not always evident that our good works are not in vain. And that is why we need to be very clear in our thinking about the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection as well as our own baptism in them. Christ’s death and resurrection mark the turning point in history where evil, sin, and death have been decisively defeated and we are called into new life that not even our physical death can defeat. Simply put, is the basis of our faith. With the resurrection, everything changes, and for the good. But if the resurrection did not occur, we are still dead in our sins and without hope. That is why I am going to preach a two-part series on why we can have confidence that the resurrection did occur and is an historical fact. I will begin the series the week after Bishop Ames visits and hope you will plan to check it out.

Finally, the resurrection of Jesus is an invitation to the Church to hold a fifty day party. As Jesus’ people we are living signs of God’s new creation and I therefore challenge each one of us to think about ways in which we as a parish and as individuals can embody our resurrection hope to a world that desperately needs to hear real Good News and see it embodied. Of course, living the Christian life is more than a fifty day proposition. But you get the point because your life is hidden in Christ’s so that you can live with him now and be confident that one day you will be raised with him to continue sharing your life with him in the new creation. If you understand this, folks, you surely understand what Easter is all about and that you have Good News, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Holy Saturday: Waiting for the Messiah We Didn’t Expect

Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
Look around and see.
Is any suffering like my suffering
that was inflicted on me,
that the LORD brought on me
in the day of his fierce anger?

–Lamentations 1.12 (NIV)

LORD, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.

I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.

You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
my eyes are dim with grief.

I call to you, LORD, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction[e]?
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

But I cry to you for help, LORD;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, LORD, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?

From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.

–Psalm 88 (NIV)

It is now the day after the crucifixion, and if we are to take it seriously, we must pause for a minute and reflect on what Jesus’ first disciples must have been dealing with on that day after. We cannot say for sure because Scripture is largely silent about this (but cf. John 20.19; Luke 24.13-24 for clues), but surely they would have been absolutely devastated. The most wonderful person they had ever known had been brutally executed. The women had seen his bloodied and pierced body taken down from the cross and buried. The man his disciples had hoped was Israel’s Messiah was dead and every good Jew knows that God’s Messiah doesn’t get crucified like a criminal–or so they thought.

Surely today’s texts would have reflected the utter devastation and hopelessness Jesus’ followers must have felt on that first Saturday. Like the psalmist above, surely they were asking the “why questions”–Why did this happen to Jesus? Why did God allow this to happen? Where was God in all of it? Why had he apparently abandoned not only Jesus but them as well? For you see, Jesus’ followers did not have the advantage of 20-20 hindsight we have. They were definitely not expecting Jesus to be raised from the dead because there was nothing in their Scripture that would have prepared them for what God did in Jesus that first Easter Sunday. And we fail to take Jesus’ death seriously if we gloss over all this and simply want to skip ahead to tomorrow.

But that is not how life works, is it? We typically don’t have the advantage of 20-20 hindsight as we live out our days and here is where we can learn some things about faith and hope as we reflect on the devastation Jesus’ followers must have felt the day after his crucifixion. Each one of us has our own hurts and sorrows and brokenness. Perhaps it stems from a job we did not get or that we lost. Perhaps a loved one got sick and died despite our prayers for healing. Perhaps we have had our families torn apart by divorce or addiction. Like Jesus’ first disciples, we too have had our expectations violated, and typically more than once. We’ve had our hopes and dreams shattered to one degree or another, and like Jesus’ first disciples, we look around and ask why. We wonder where God is in it all and why he has apparently abandoned us.

And this is precisely why Holy Saturday can be helpful to us because if we really believe in a sovereign God, Holy Saturday is a time when we must wait on him and see how he is going to act in our lives. We must put aside our limited expectations and wait and see what God is going to do in and through us. Like the psalmist in his utter desolation above, we too must cling to our hope in God and his mercy, in God and his sovereign power, and in doing so we will discover that we gain some much needed and desired patience. It is a patience tempered with humility as we wait on our Sovereign God to see what he will do to bring new life out of our own desolation, fears, and violated expectations.

We wait on this Holy Saturday even though it is not entirely possible to block out the wondrous truth that happened that first Easter. Unlike Jesus’ first disciples, we do know how the story turns out. While we didn’t expect a crucified Messiah, we have seen his dead body taken down from the cross and we have seen the empty tomb and heard the stunned and joyous testimony of the first eyewitnesses. And like his first disciples, this has violated our expectations. But we realize that God’s power and plans for us are so much better than our own. As we wait for Easter morning on this Holy Saturday, we are reminded that despite our failures, hurts, fears, and brokenness, God is a sovereign and merciful God, capable of bringing about New Creation from our desolation, and all this helps us wait on God this day with hope, real hope.

Take time to rest today. Reflect deeply on these things as you learn to wait on God to act in your life. Remember that if God really did raise Jesus from the dead, he can surely do mind-blowing things for you and in and through you (or as a cabbie once said to Bishop Tom Wright, “If God raised Jesus from the dead, everything else is basically rock and roll, isn’t it?”), no matter who you are or what you are dealing with. As you do wait on God–and this will not happen overnight–you will also discover you are gaining the prerequisite humility and patience that you need to open yourself up fully to the Presence and Power of God’s Holy Spirit living in you. And when that happens you will have the assurance that nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate you from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

A Prayer for Holy Saturday

O God, Creator of heaven and earth:  Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Fr. Ron Feister: Are You There When They Crucify the Lord?

Sermon delivered on Good Friday, April 18, 2014, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.

If you would prefer to hear the audio podcast of this sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 52.13-53.12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 4.14-16, 5.7-9; John 18.1-19.42.

Every year – first on Palm Sunday and again on Good Friday. we hear the Gospel reading of the passion story – we trace out in chronological fashion those last hours. It is a moving story , but does it really move us. Are we spectators who would almost rather sit home in front of our TV’s or in a movie house, and watch it play out in front of us with no little personal involvement or is this re-telling within the community something different, something unique to us as the people of God. I belief that not only is the Passion Story a story of Christ’s . suffering – but it is in a special way a story of our relationship with Christ and how it came to be and how it is meant to transform us.

We are called to be Christ’s disciples – and like the disciples of the New Testament, we are asked to enter into the Garden. It is now not a place of joyful solitude and beauty, but the place where Jesus would suffer in great anguish – first to be relieved from the Father’s Will and then to gain the strength and courage to do that Will. Our we taking time – garden or no – to see the Father’s Will. Are we honest enough to admit that their are times that we do not want to do the Father’s Will. We want our will to be done. How do we respond when the Father says no to our plans and desires? Do we then join with Jesus in asking the Father for the strength and courage to do that which the Father asks of us. Do not be surprised that if on saying yes we still feel unable, we still feel anxiety, we still feel scared.—Jesus did.

Jesus is betrayed in the Garden by Judas. – a man whom he taught, lead, prayed with and loved. Judas betrays with a Kiss a sign of affection – a sign of closeness. Have not almost all of us felt betrayed by someone – someone who is closed to us. Perhaps a family member or fellow worker or someone who we called friend. Such betrayal can hurt as much as physical pain.

Yet Jesus does not condemn Judas but pities him for the Lord knows the costs of betrayal. Yet what of us, we have not also been lead by, taught, cared for and loved by Jesus and yet is it possible that we have betrayed someone who is close to us. Have we turned our back on those we have loved? Then we have betrayed Jesus as well.

Let us not judge Judas too harshly for we may indeed be judging ourselves. Be thankful Jesus does not condemn but gives us the grace to heal relationships broken by betrayal. What of those who have betrayed us – it would be easy to despise them, but this is not the way of our Master. Jesus calls us to forgive, and even pray for those who would do us harm.

Simon Peter is there in the Garden and he is ready to defend his Lord and friend. Not always known for thinking first and acting later, but a man of true heart, Peter quickly draws his sword and cuts off the ear of the High Priest’s servant. How would we have responded? How do we respond now when our faith, our love of Jesus is directly confronted? Do we not feel the heat of battle welling up inside us. Do we reach for our “swords” – that is our ways of cutting the person down? Or do we remember that as Jesus admonished Peter to forsake such, that we are admonished to do the same.

Jesus is taken prisoner and lead off first to the Jewish tribunal and then to Pilate. Peter follows. Eventually Peter is challenged as a follower of Jesus. Peter denies the Lord, not just once but three times. Criticize Peter if you dare but here was a man caught in the most terrible of circumstances – his Lord, Master – Messiah- was being held as a prisoner and it was the same Lord, Master and Messiah that kept him from using the only weapon that he had.

Peter knew that his fate could soon be the same. Of course, he did not want to stand out, he was no fool, he did not want to be seen as different. If we were in that situation, would we have wanted to stand out – would we have been that brave (or foolish). For that matter- are we ready to standout as Christians. When was the last time you declared yourself to be a Follower of Jesus? When did you risk anything – status, friendships, being made fun of, to declare yourself for Jesus.  Are you living your life, so that those around you know will say, yes he or she is a Christian?

Eventually after first being abused by the Jewish Leadership, Jesus is taken to Pilate. We could see Pilate as the arch-villain, a man of pure evil but wait is it not Pilate who says to those seeking Jesus’ death – I find no fault in Him-is it not Pilate who in his own feeble and human way acknowledges that Jesus is a King. Pilate gives in only after he has tried his best to prevent a riot and a crucifixion. He is even ready to release a murdering rebel called Barabbas to have Jesus spared. How far are we willing to go to bring the Peace of Jesus into the disharmony of our families, churches, and government?What are we willing to sacrifice. Do we call and claim Jesus as our King?

Then there is the Crowd, just days ago, some welcomes Jesus as the Messiah with great fanfare. They cried Hosanna and placed palm branches at his feet. Now egged on by those seeking the Lord’s death, the demand that death, with the chant of Crucify Him Crucify Him. Imagine ourselves now as part that crowd, we are swept up with the moment. Some year ago I participated in a service in which the part of the crowd was read by the congregation and I was part of that congregation of about 800. When it came to that part of the Passion Reading, the whole congregation began yelling Crucify Him, Crucify Him. Suddenly I realized what I was saying. I had to stop. I was repulsed . I did not want to be one of those who caused the Crucifixion of My Lord. This is Jesus – My Lord, My Messiah and yes My Friend. Yet as the days have passed, I have come to realize that I still find myself yelling Crucify Him, not by my words for I can no longer bring myself to speak such with the crowd, but by the way I keep letting sin back into my life. I pray daily for that time when both my word and my life no longer speak such a horrible thing.

Jesus is nailed to the cross and it is dropped into place, the execution has begun in earnest. Jesus is crucified with two thieves . It is fitting in a way, for to quote a popular song on Christian radio it was Jesus who came to steal our hearts away. Away from the world, the flesh, and the devil and to make them a gift to the Father.. Little did the two thieves realize that hanging between them was the Greatest Thief of all.

Even in the midst of His suffering on the cross Jesus would be thinking of others. He would by example transform the heart of the one we call the Good Thief and by doing so grant him a place in the Kingdom. Jesus would grant forgiveness to those who were in the very act of killing him. How well do we forgive those who harm us? If Jesus can forgive from the Cross, are we not also called to be a people who forgives?

Jesus cares for his mother and He commits her to the care of John and likewise commits John to the care of His mother. His concern for others remains even in the moments leading up to death. Do we in this life share Jesus’ concern for others especially the weak?

Jesus calls out ” My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Some interpret this to mean that in that moment God the Father withdrew Himself from the presence of Jesus. But it seem clear to me that Jesus was making reference, if not beginning to pray, the 22nd Psalm. While this Psalm starts by prophetically pointing out the sufferings that the Messiah would have to endure in the darkest of terms, the tone of the Psalm changes as it reaches the end, Let me read a few lines. ( Psalm 22, Verses 25-30.)

In His agony, at the very moment of death, it is not that Jesus is abandoned. but it is rather that Jesus proclaims that despite the apparent victory of the world and Satan over Him, that He places His trust, his confidence, in the Will of the Father – that through the Cross God’s victory will be won.

When we are hurting, when we feel all is lost, can we not look to those last lines of Psalm 22 and be assured that while it may appear to the world, and may even feel like, we have been abandoned by God, that we still can trust in the Victory of the Cross.

AMEN.

Carlo Carretto Offers a Reflection Appropriate for Good Friday

As for me, I began to know Jesus as soon as I accepted Jesus as the truth; I found true peace when I actively sought his friendship; and above all I experienced joy, true joy, that stands above the vicissitudes of life, as soon as I tasted and experienced for myself the gift he came to bestow on us: eternal life.

But Jesus is not only the Image of the Father, the Revealer of the dark knowledge of God. That would be of little avail to me in my weakness and my sinfulness: he is also my Saviour.

On my journey towards him, I was completely worn out, unable to take another step forward. By my errors, my sinful rebellions, my desperate efforts to find joy far from his joy, I had reduced myself to a mass of virulent sores which repelled both heaven and earth.

What sin was there that I had not committed? Or what sin had I as yet not committed simply because the opportunity had not come my way?

Yet it was he, and he alone, who got down off his horse, the the good Samaritan on the way to Jericho; he alone had the courage to approach me in order to staunch with bandages the few drops of blood that still remained in my veins, blood that would certainly have flowed away, had he not intervened.

Jesus became a sacrament for me, the cause of my salvation, he brought my time in hell to an end, and put a stop to my inner disintegration. He washed me patiently in the waters of baptism, he filled me with the exhilarating joy of the Holy Spirit in confirmation, he nourished me with the bread of his word. Above all, he forgave me, he forgot everything, he did not even wish me to remember my past myself.

When, through my tears, I began to tell him something of the years during which I betrayed him, he lovingly placed his hand over my mouth in order to silence me. His one concern was that I should muster courage enough to pick myself up again, to try and carry on walking in spite of my weakness, and to believe in his love in spite of my fears. But there was one thing he did, the value of which cannot be measured, something truly unbelievable, something only God could do.

While I continued to have doubts about my own salvation, to tell him that my sins could not be forgiven, and that justice, too, had its rights, he appeared on the Cross before me one Friday towards midday.

I was at its foot, and found myself bathed with the blood which flowed from the gaping holes made in his flesh by the nails. He remained there for three hours until he expired.

I realized that he had died in order that I might stop turning to him with questions about justice, and believe instead, deep within myself, that the scales had come down overflowing on the side of love, and that even though all, through unbelief or madness, had offended him, he had conquered for ever, and drawn all things everlastingly to himself.

Then later, so that I should never forget that Friday and abandon the Cross, as one forgets a postcard on the table or a picture in the wornout book that had been feeding one’s devotion, he led me on to discover that in order to be with me continually, not simply as an affectionate remembrance but as a living presence, he had devised the Eucharist.

What a discovery that was!

Under the sacramental sign of bread, Jesus was there each morning to renew the sacrifice of the Cross and make of it the living sacrifice of his bride, the Church, a pure offering of the Divine Majesty.

And still that was not all.

He led me on to understand that the sign of bread testified to his hidden presence, not only during the Great Sacrifice, but at all times, since the Eucharist was not an isolated moment in my day, but a line which stretched over twenty-four hours: he is God-with-us, the realization of what had been foretold by the cloud that went before the people of God during their journey through the desert, and the darkness which filled the tabernacle in the temple at Jerusalem.

I must emphasize that this vital realization that the sign of bread concealed and pointed out for me the uninterrupted presence of Jesus beside me was a unique grace in my life. From that moment he led me along the path to intimacy, and friendship, with himself.

I understood that he longed to be present like this beside each one of us.

Jesus was not only bread, he was a friend.

A home without bread is not a home, but a home without friendship is nothing.

—Carlo Carretto, In Search of the Beyond

N.T. Wright Muses on the Cross

Read Matthew 27.33-56

As you stand there [before the cross] in this strange, powerful mixture of recognition and horror, bring bit by bit into the picture the stories on which you have lived. Bring the hopes you had when you were young. Bring the bright vision of family life, of success in sport or work or art, the dreams of exciting adventures in far-off places. Bring the joy of seeing a new baby, full of promise and possibility. Bring the longings of your heart. They are all fulfilled here, though not in the way you imagined. This is the way God fulfilled the dreams of his people. This is how the coming king would overcome all his enemies.

Or bring the fears and sorrows you had when you were young. The terror of violence, perhaps at home. The shame of failure at school, of rejection by friends. The nasty comments that hurt you then and hurt you still. The terrible moment when you realized a wonderful relationship had come to an end. The sudden, meaningless death of someone you loved very much. They are all fulfilled here, too. God has taken them upon himself, in the person of his Son. This is the earthquake moment, the darkness-at-noon moment, the moment of terror and sudden faith, as even the hard-boiled Roman soldier blurts out at the end. (Don’t forget that ‘Son of God’ was a regular title claimed by Caesar, his boss.)

But then bring the hopes and sorrows of the world. Bring the millions who are homeless because of flood or famine. Bring the children orphaned by AIDS or war. Bring the politicians who begin by longing for justice and end up hoping for bribes. Bring the beautiful and fragile earth on which we live. Think of God’s dreams for his creation, and God’s sorrow at its ruin.

—Wright, T. (2011). Lent for Everyone: Matthew Year A (pp. 137–138). London: SPCK.

Let us pray.

Almighty Father,
look with mercy on this your family
for which our Lord Jesus Christ was content to be betrayed
and given up into the hands of sinners
and to suffer death upon the cross;
who is alive and glorified with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Good Friday: Notable and Quotable (2)

There is a Tree, “mystical and eternal” which rises above the hills of time. Where its shadow falls, there God’s claim rests upon us and something is exacted of us. Those who have entered even a little way into the silence of the threefold hour [of Jesus' crucifixion] are bound to say, “This must be saved, this particular thing, this very tree.”

–The Rev’d Dr Wheaton Phillips Webb, The Dramatic Silences of His Last Week, 52

Good Friday: Notable and Quotable (1)

Sometimes just as we have come to accept “the withering away of the Cross,” a silence falls…darkness,…and it strikes us how mortal we are and that before three decades have passed, or four, our very names will be unremembered and all we strive for as if it had never been.

Yes, and it is here [at the foot of the cross] where at last we find the courage to address [Jesus] with the same desperate familiarity with which a man just beyond his reach [the repentant thief who was crucified with Jesus]–yet not beyond his reach–dares to plead, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power.” Remember me! For if you do not remember me, I shall go down to the dust bereft and unremembered of all.

–The Rev’d Dr Wheaton Phillips Webb, The Dramatic Silences of His Last Week, 50

An Account of How Good Friday Was Celebrated in Jerusalem in the Fourth Century

[On Good Friday] following the dismissal from the Cross, which occurs before sunrise, everyone now stirred up goes immediately to Sion to pray at the pillar where the Lord was whipped. Returning from there then, all rest for a short time in their own houses, and soon all are ready. A throne is set up for the bishop on Golgotha behind the Cross, which now stands there. The bishop sits on the throne, a table covered with a linen cloth is set before the bishop, and the deacons stand around the table. The gilded silver casket containing the sacred wood of the cross is brought and opened. Both the wood of the cross and the inscription are taken out and placed on the table. As soon as they have been placed on the table, the bishop, remaining seated, grips the ends of the sacred wood, while the deacons, who are standing about, keep watch over it. There is a reason why it is guarded in this manner. It is the practice here for all the people to come forth one by one, the faithful as well as the catechumens, to bow down before the table, kiss the holy wood, and then move on. It is said that someone (I do not know when) took a bite and stole a piece of the holy cross. Therefore, it is now guarded by the deacons standing around, lest there be anyone who would dare come and do that again.

All the people pass through one by one; all of them bow down, touching the cross and the inscription, first with their foreheads, then with their eyes; and, after kissing the cross, they move on. No one, however, puts out a hand to touch the cross. As soon as they have kissed the cross and passed on through, a deacon, who is standing, holds out the ring of Solomon and the phial with which the kings were anointed. They kiss the phial and venerate the ring from more or less the second hour; and thus until the sixth hour all the people pass through, entering through one door, exiting through another. All this occurs in the place where the day before, on Thursday, the sacrifice was offered.

When the sixth hour is at hand, everyone goes before the Cross, regardless of whether it is raining or whether it is hot. This place has no roof, for it is a sort of very large and beautiful courtyard lying between the Cross and the Anastasis. The people are so clustered together there that it is impossible for anything to be opened. A chair is placed for the bishop before the Cross, and from the sixth to the ninth hours nothing else is done except the reading of passages from Scripture.

First, whichever Psalms speak of the Passion are read. Next, there are readings from the apostles, either from the Epistles of the apostles or the Acts, wherever they speak of the Passion of the Lord. Next, the texts of the Passion from the Gospels are read. Then there are readings from the prophets, where they said that the Lord would suffer; and then they read from the Gospels, where He foretells the Passion. And so, from the sixth to the ninth hour, passages from Scripture are continuously read and hymns are sung, to show the people that whatever the prophets had said would come to pass concerning the Passion of the Lord can be shown, both through the Gospels and the writings of the apostles, to have taken place. And so, during those three hours, all the people are taught that nothing happened which was not first prophesied, and that nothing was prophesied which was not completely fulfilled. Prayers are continually interspersed, and the prayers themselves are proper to the day. At each reading and at every prayer, it is astonishing how much emotion and groaning there is from all the people. There is no one, young or old, who on this day does not sob more than can be imagined for the whole three hours, because the Lord suffered all this for us. After this, when the ninth hour is at hand, the passage is read from the Gospel according to Saint John where Christ gave up His spirit. After this reading, a prayer is said and the dismissal is given.

As soon as the dismissal has been given from before the Cross, everyone gathers together in the major church, the Martyrium, and there everything which they have been doing regularly throughout this week from the ninth hour when they came together at the Martyrium, until evening, is then done. After the dismissal from the Martyrium, everyone comes to the Anastasis, and, after they have arrived there, the passage from the Gospel is read where Joseph seeks from Pilate the body of the Lord and places it in a new tomb. After this reading a prayer is said, the catechumens are blessed, and the faithful as well; then the dismissal is given.

On this day no one raises a voice to say the vigil will be continued at the Anastasis, because it is known that the people are tired. However, it is the custom that the vigil be held there. And so, those among the people who wish, or rather those who are able, to keep the vigil, do so until dawn; whereas those who are not able to do so, do not keep watch there. But those of the clergy who are either strong enough or young enough, keep watch there, and hymns and antiphons are sung there all through the night until morning. The greater part of the people keep watch, some from evening on, others from midnight, all doing what they can.

—Egeria, Abbess and Pilgrim, Pilgrimage 17

Good Friday

No personal reflection today. I will let Scripture and a selection from the Good Friday liturgy speak for itself.

The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John.

When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was an olive grove, and he and his disciples went into it.   Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.   Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”   “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.   “I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” “I told you that I am he,” Jesus answered. “If you are looking for me, then let these men go.”This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”

Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)   Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound himand brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it would be good if one man died for the people.   Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the girl on duty there and brought Peter in.   “You are not one of his disciples, are you?” the girl at the door asked Peter.   He replied, “I am not.”

It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.   Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.   “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret.Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.”   When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby struck him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded.   “If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?”Then Annas sent him, still bound, to Caiaphas the high priest.

As Simon Peter stood warming himself, he was asked, “You are not one of his disciples, are you?”   He denied it, saying, “I am not.”   One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the olive grove?” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.

Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”   “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”   Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”   “But we have no right to execute anyone,” the Jews objected. This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled.

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”   “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”   “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”   Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”   “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.   Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”   “What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”   They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him in the face.   Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”

As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!” But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”   The Jews insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”

When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”   Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”   From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”

When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour.   “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.   But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”   “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.   “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.   Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). Here they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.   Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.” Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, “They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” So this is what the soldiers did. Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,”and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”

Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. (John 18:1–19:42 NIV)

This is the Passion of the Lord.

Hymn: Faithful Cross

Faithful Cross!
above all other,
one and only noble Tree!
None in foliage, none in blossom,
none in fruit thy peers may be;
sweetest wood and sweetest iron!
Sweetest Weight is hung on thee!

Lofty tree, bend down thy branches,
to embrace thy sacred load;
oh, relax the native tension
of that all too rigid wood;
gently, gently bear the members
of thy dying King and God.

Tree, which solely wast found worthy
the world’s Victim to sustain.
harbor from the raging tempest!
ark, that saved the world again!
Tree, with sacred blood anointed
of the Lamb for sinners slain.

Blessing, honor, everlasting,
to the immortal Deity;
to the Father, Son, and Spirit,
equal praises ever be;
glory through the earth and heaven
to Trinity in Unity. Amen.

Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow which was brought upon me, which the Lord inflicted on the day of his fierce anger.
Holy God, holy and strong,holy and immortal, have mercy upon us.

O my people, O my Church, what have I done to you, or in what have I offended you? Testify against me. I led you forth from the land of Egypt, and delivered you by the waters of baptism, but you have prepared a cross for your Savior.
Holy God, holy and strong, holy and immortal, have mercy upon us.

I led you through the desert forty years, and fed you with manna. I brought you through tribulation and penitence, and gave you my body, the bread of heaven, but you prepared a cross for your Savior.
Holy God, holy and strong, holy and immortal, have mercy upon us.

What more could I have done for you that I have not done? I planted you, my chosen and fairest vineyard, I made you the branches of my vine; but when I was thirsty, you gave me vinegar to drink, and pierced with a spear the side of your Savior.
Holy God, holy and strong, holy and immortal, have mercy upon us.

I went before you in a pillar of cloud, and you have led me to the judgement hall of Pilate. I scourged your enemies and brought you to a land of freedom, but you have scourged, mocked and beaten me. I gave you the water of salvation from the rock, but you have given me gall and left me to thirst.
Holy God, holy and strong, holy and immortal, have mercy upon us.

I gave you a royal scepter, and bestowed the keys of the kingdom, but you have given me a crown of thorns. I raised you on high with great power, but you have hanged me on the cross.
Holy God, holy and strong, holy and immortal, have mercy upon us.

My peace I gave, which the world cannot give, and washed your feet as a sign of my love, but you draw the sword to strike in my name, and seek high places in my kingdom. I offered you my body and blood, but you scatter and deny and abandon me.
Holy God, holy and strong, holy and immortal, have mercy upon us.

I sent the Spirit of truth to guide you, and you close your hearts to the Counselor. I pray that all may be one in the Father and me, but you continue to quarrel and divide. I call you to go and bring forth fruit, but you cast lots for my clothing.
Holy God, holy and strong, holy and immortal, have mercy upon us.

I came to you as the least of your brothers and sisters; I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.
Holy God, holy and strong, holy and immortal, have mercy upon us.

O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, set your passion, cross and death between your judgement and our souls, now and in the hour of our death. Grant mercy and grace to the living, rest to the departed, to your Church peace and concord and to us sinners forgiveness, and everlasting life and glory; for, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, you are alive and reign, God, now and for ever. Amen.