Kostenberger and Taylor: April 3, AD33

It certainly is plausible. See what you think.

In our new book, The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived, we assume but do not argue for a precise date of Jesus’s crucifixion. Virtually all scholars believe, for various reasons, that Jesus was crucified in the spring of either a.d. 30 or a.d. 33, with the majority opting for the former. (The evidence from astronomy narrows the possibilities to a.d. 27, 30, 33, or 34). However, we want to set forth our case for the date of Friday, April 3, a.d. 33 as the exact day that Christ died for our sins.

To be clear, the Bible does not explicitly specify the precise date of Jesus’s crucifixion and it is not an essential salvation truth. But that does not make it unknowable or unimportant. Because Christianity is a historical religion and the events of Christ’s life did take place in human history alongside other known events, it is helpful to locate Jesus’s death—as precisely as the available evidence allows—within the larger context of human history.

Read it all.

The Resurrection: History’s Turning Point

Sermon delivered on Easter Sunday C, March 27, 2016, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Acts 10.34-43; 1 Corinthians 15.19-26; John 20.1-18.

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

Today is Easter Sunday, the day when we as God’s people in Jesus celebrate his mighty resurrection from the dead. It is quite simply the turning point in history. But why? Sadly in the last 50-100 years, the Church has done a terrible job in teaching its people about the resurrection so that there are all kinds of screwy ideas about it. I suspect many, if pressed, could not articulate what the gospel or Good News of Jesus Christ really is, and as a result we are left impoverished as God’s family in Jesus. So today I want to remind us why Easter matters, not only to us as Christians, but to the whole world, and why it is the turning point in history.

Paul gives us the reason in our epistle lesson. Alluding to the strange and haunting story in Genesis 3.1-19 that we read at the Easter Vigil of how human sin and rebellion thoroughly corrupted God’s good and beautiful creation, opening the door for evil to enter God’s good world and bringing death to us as God’s image-bearing creatures, Paul tells us what we already know all too well. We live in a corrupted world beset by sin and evil, which leads inevitably to our death. To be sure, most of us find pockets of happiness when life seems good. But then disaster strikes, whether in our personal lives or in our world, and we are reminded otherwise. Without some dramatic intervention on our behalf, sin and corruption of all kinds is our lot and death is our destiny. How do you like this joyous Easter sermon so far? Pretty uplifting, isn’t it?

Enter the resurrection of our Lord Jesus. As Paul further reminds us, when God raised Jesus from the dead, the final Great Reversal has begun. Death is no longer our destiny. Yes, barring the return of our Lord Jesus in our lifetime, we will all die. But we will not remain dead forever. Like our Lord Jesus, those of us who are united to him in baptism and faith are destined for new bodies patterned after his (cf. Romans 6.3-5). More about that in a moment. Elsewhere Paul and the other NT writers talk about how on the cross, God dealt with our sins and destroyed evil (see, e.g., Romans 8.1-3; Colossians 1.18-23, 2.15). But without Jesus’ resurrection, they could not have made such bold, audacious claims.

So let’s be clear about the Christian Good News here. News, of course, is about something that has happened, either for good or ill, and as a result everything changes. The news of the terror attacks on Brussels, for example, means that for those directly involved (and those of us indirectly involved), everything is different. Loved ones have been murdered. Our sense of security is diminished. This is news, bad news. The Good News about which Paul and the other NT writers speak is the resurrection. Before Jesus’ death and resurrection, the dark powers and principalities had apparently usurped control of God’s good world from God and were ruling over it, corrupting it and us, and causing massive suffering and misery, mysterious and enigmatic as that is. Sin and death were the order of the day. Since we all have sinned, and since sin leads to death (Romans 3.23, 6.16), this was our awful fate.

But now because of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus, everything is different. And here we need to pay close attention to what Paul tells us because it helps us establish appropriate expectations about what God has done, is doing, and will do in and through the resurrection of Jesus. Paul tells us there is a proper order to God regaining control over his good creation and redeeming it and us. First came the resurrection of Jesus. And let’s be clear about what resurrection is. Resurrection means bodily resurrection. It refers to the transformation of our mortal bodies so that they share some of the properties of our old mortal bodies but also have totally new ones. For example, the risen Jesus was able to eat and drink with his disciples. They saw the wounds he bore on the cross. They were able to touch him and hear him, just like we are able to do with other living people. But there was a difference about Jesus’ resurrected body. He was able to appear and disappear at will. Initially his risen body was in a form such that the first eyewitnesses were not always able to recognize him. He was able to pass through solid objects such as walls and closed doors, none of which our mortal bodies can do (cf. Luke 24.36-43; John 20.19-20). More importantly, as the NT writers make clear, Jesus’ resurrected body was no longer subject to decay or death (see, e.g., Romans 6.9). Contrast this, for example, to Lazarus’ body after Jesus resuscitated him from the dead. Lazarus would eventually die again. Jesus never will. As Paul and John both tell us, each in his own way, Jesus remains alive and reigns over God’s creation until he returns again to finish the work of new creation that he started with his death and resurrection. This is the first step in God’s unexpected and startling plan to rescue his world and us from evil, sin, and death: Jesus is the first (or as Pauls says, the first fruits) to be raised from the dead.

And those of us who are baptized into Christ and have faith in him, will one day experience the same destiny as our Lord at the general resurrection of the dead. Before that, we will all die and go immediately to rest with our Lord Jesus (cf. Luke 23.43; Philippians 1.23). In other words, we will survive our bodily death. But this is not our resurrection. Our resurrection will come only when Christ returns and God raises and transforms our mortal bodies. Only then, as Paul reminds us, will death be defeated. This is why we need to be clear in our thinking about what resurrection really is all about. It doesn’t refer to life after death. Even our loved ones who have died in the Lord are still dead. They are no longer with us. We cannot see or hear or touch them. They are dead, albeit resting with their Lord in heaven. But when the Lord returns, those of us who are united to Christ will have our mortal, decayed bodies raised to new life and we will receive new bodies patterned after Jesus’ body, never to die again, never to be afflicted again, thanks be to God! Amen? As Bishop Tom Wright says, resurrection refers to life after life after death. Our new bodies will be part of God’s new creation in which evil, sin, and death are vanquished forever and we are restored to our original purpose of being God’s faithful image-bearing stewards over his new creation, just like God originally intended for us.

This is why Paul says we are most to be pitied if there is no resurrection of the dead. If that’s true, then Christ was not raised and we will therefore not be raised. To live this mortal life without the hope of new embodied life in God’s new creation forever makes us pitiable people indeed. It means we are living a lie and a delusion. It means we are suffering needlessly for a dead guy who in no way rules over this world. It means we are trying to put to death our sinful nature when we should be trying to grab all the gusto we can because tomorrow we will be dead and gone. This is why Jesus’ death and resurrection are Good News. God has intervened decisively in his good but corrupted creation to break the power of evil, sin, and death, and to bring about new life, new creation that is forever good, beautiful, and uncorrupted. If you cannot find meaning and purpose for living in this hope and promise, I frankly don’t know of anything that will ever give you meaning and purpose for living. This is why the resurrection is the turning point of history and this is why we as Christians must be clear in our thinking about it so that we can embrace it and let it fill our lives with meaning, purpose, and joy.

John tells us essentially the same thing in his gospel if we have ears to hear and minds to grasp his brilliant and sophisticated theology. Recall how John begins his gospel—In the beginning… This, of course, is patterned after the creation narratives found in Genesis 1. How do they start? In the beginning, God… And in John’s gospel we hear something very similar—In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God. Fast forward to the crucifixion narrative we heard on Good Friday. Jesus is on the cross and his final words are, “It is finished!” (John 19.30). But what was finished? John tells us in his chronology and overarching narrative. In Jesus’ death God has dealt with our sins and the evil that has corrupted his world. Evil, sin, and death have been dealt a decisive blow in Jesus’ death on the cross and God has reclaimed control over his creation, unlikely as that appears at times, all because of Jesus’ saving and healing death on the cross.

John goes on to tell us that Jesus was then laid in a newly-hewn tomb. And on what day did that happen? The sixth day, the day before the Sabbath rest or seventh day. Just like God rested from his work on the seventh day of creation (Genesis 2.1-3), Jesus rested from his redemptive work on the Sabbath. Now in today’s gospel lesson, John makes it a point to tell us that the story continues early in the morning on the first day of the week, the eighth day, the day when God’s new creation bursts forth with the raising of Jesus from the dead. Note the same motifs we have just talked about. Mary comes to the tomb to anoint her Lord’s dead body. She doesn’t come there expecting to find Jesus alive. She comes there to take care of the dead. That is why she is so perplexed about finding an empty tomb. In all likelihood it meant that Jesus’ body had been victimized by grave robbers, not that he was raised from the dead. Peter and the beloved disciple are just as perplexed in finding the empty tomb with its grave clothes neatly folded. John tells us the beloved disciple believed, but not what he believed. Surely it wasn’t that Jesus was raised from the dead. Otherwise why would they have returned home?

Notice too that Mary does not recognize our Lord when he first appears to her. She assumes he is the gardener, and here we see John’s brilliance shine forth again. Think back to the first gardeners of God’s original creation. Adam and Eve took care of paradise before their sin got them expelled. Here Mary mistakes Jesus for a gardener, but in one sense she is quite correct. Here is Jesus, the new gardener and person responsible for the beginning of God’s new creation in which human beings will once again be able to live and care for paradise. This is hardly simplistic theology, my beloved. Notice too, that the story John tells us does not make much sense without our knowledge and understanding of the larger story of God’s creation, the devastating impact of human sin on it, and God’s subsequent plan to heal and redeem it and us through the family of Abraham and his ultimate descendant, Jesus the Messiah. And like Paul, John too alludes to the fact that Jesus will ascend to the Father to assume his rightful rule as Lord over all God’s creation. In telling Mary not to hold onto him, Jesus seems to be telling her that from now on, she will have to get used to interacting with him in a different way than which she was accustomed because he will no longer be physically present to her after he has ascended into heaven. But please do notice that she was able to touch him. This is resurrection.

So what should we take away from all this? Several things, but I mention three here. First, on a personal level our Lord’s resurrection reminds us that we and our loved ones who have died in Christ have a future and a hope. Our destiny is not death or a disembodied eternity, but rather new embodied life with new and meaningful work to do as God’s faithful stewards. It means that one day we will be able to embrace our loved ones again, to hear their voice, and feel their touch. It means restored health and vitality and endless goodness and beauty. I can’t speak for you, but that future is much more appealing to me than some Platonic, disembodied spiritual existence where we float on clouds and play harps for all eternity. Boring.

Second, on a broader scale, the resurrection of Jesus means that creation matters to God. We matter to God. We know this because he has come to us in the person of Jesus to heal and redeem his world and us, and has given us a glimpse of his new world in Jesus’ resurrected body. This means that creation and people had better matter to us as well. It simply won’t do to be lousy stewards of God’s good creation for the sake of our own personal aggrandizement. It simply won’t do to ignore human suffering and need when we are in the position to do something about it. Easter reminds us that creation and God’s creatures matter to God and they’d better matter to us as well as God’s image-bearing creatures.

Last, Easter issues a clarion call to us to learn to live like the truly human beings God created us to be. That means we must learn to live like Jesus lived. As we have seen, the final redemption of the world has begun with Jesus’ death and resurrection, but it is not yet consummated. That will come only when Jesus returns. So what to do in the meantime? Sit around and act snotty while we contemplate our navels? Hardly. No, our Lord calls us as his family to embody his healing love and presence in the world, which means we must take seriously his command to us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. To be sure, we are people with a real future and a hope, a future and a hope grounded in history, and it is critical that we understand this. We are not talking wishful thinking. We are talking history. We have Good News. Jesus’ death and resurrection really happened so we have a real future and a hope. But we still live in a world where evil is not yet dead and sin still remains. As we live our lives faithfully to Jesus, this means that we will run into suffering and opposition for his name’s sake, just the way he did. But we dare not lose hope or courage or our joy, precisely because we are people of hope. We are a resurrection people and we must live accordingly to bring the healing love of God to the world around us and proclaim the Good News of Jesus. We are living on this side of the turning point of history. God has reestablished his rule in and through Jesus. We sang it in our hymn, This is My Father’s World.

That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world, why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King, let the heavens ring!
God reigns, let the earth be glad!

What an appropriate hymn to sing on Easter Sunday!

So let us resolve to put to death in the power of the Spirit all that is within us that corrupts and dehumanizes us. This is not an easy thing to do and we are promised that we will suffer as a result of our new way of living because it reminds the world that its ways are corrupt and evil, and the world will try to whack us because of that. But think of it this way. Remember that our trials and tribulations for the Lord’s sake remind us that we are preparing to live in God’s new world when it comes in full, with it’s promise of new bodily life and perfect truth and beauty, where suffering, sorrow, and death are no more. May we therefore resolve to embrace our Easter hope and live faithfully to Christ, precisely because we are resurrection people who have Good News to share with God’s hurting and suffering world. To be sure, our faithfulness will not always bear immediate or even tangible results. That’s where faith comes in. But we are promised that to pattern our lives after our crucified and risen Lord ensures that resurrection is our future, not death. Let that hope sustain us as we attempt to live faithfully to our Lord.

In closing, this is why we must celebrate and party like it is the eschaton (end times) during these next 50 days of Easter and this is my charge to you this morning. What are ways we can celebrate God’s victory over evil, sin, and death and announce to the world that God’s new creation has been launched? How can we be signs of God’s new creation with an unmistakable and infectious joy? Most of us did Lent pretty well and that is to be commended. But this is Eastertide, the 50 days where we celebrate the beginning of God’s new world and our part in it, both now and in the future! How can we let other people in on the Good News so that they might stop and ask us why we do what we do and why we are so doggone happy in doing it. Whatever that looks like—and we need to have an ongoing conversation about this—let us do it with joy, hope, faith, and power, the power of people who have been healed and redeemed and called to be with Jesus in this world and the new world to come. During this Eastertide, therefore, let us live and work and speak as people who know unmistakably that we have Good News, not only for our sake but also for the sake of the world, 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.

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.

Holy Saturday: Waiting for the Unexpected Messiah

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 20.19Luke 24.13-24 for clues), but surely they would have been absolutely devastated. The most wonderful person they had ever known had been brutally and unjustly 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.

Fr. Philip Sang: Suffering Servant

Sermon delivered on Good Friday, March 25, 2016, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 52.13-53.12; Psalm 22.1-31; Hebrews 4.14-16, 5.7-9; John 18.1-19.42.

Good Friday, the most tragically beautiful date on the Christian calendar, is set aside to remember the passion of our Lord. It’s tragic for what the creator would suffer at the hands of those he created, and it’s beautiful for the work that was done on that dreadful day.

Today is the bleakest moment in the Gospel story. Reading the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion today, we have the benefit of knowing that it’s all leading up to the triumph of Easter. But to the Jesus-followers present at the scene, it must have seemed that the world as they knew it was falling apart and maybe Coming to an end.

One of the challenges of reading the crucifixion story two thousand years after the event took place is that it’s difficult for us to empathize with its participants. From our perspective, the Easter crowds seem insanely fickle; Jesus’ disciples seem utterly clueless; the members of the Sandhedrin seem evil; and Pilate corrupt.

Those things are true. Nobody except Jesus behaves well in the Good Friday story. But it’s these very people—fickle, clueless, evil, corrupt—that Jesus died for.

All we like sheep have gone astray;  we have turned—every one—to his own way;and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all”(v. 6).

To most of us, death is not usually one of the most favourite topics for public speaking or not usually a welcome topic. For those of us who drive, we come across dead end signs when driving, and also we are always rushed to meet the deadline in our daily undertakings.

In all these cases, the word “dead” implies an end of some kind: end of the road; end of an order/programme; end of time. And “dead’ means just that: no more, finished, done, over.

But With Jesus, “already dead” isn’t the end. The cross is not only the instrument of the death of Jesus, but better to be viewed, as the sweet wood of exaltation, salvation, and reconciliation.

On this day, we need to silence ourselves and ask again and again who was this man, this man of sorrow; this man of suffering? A suffering servant as alluded to by prophet Isaiah.

And why did he have to undergo all off this?

It is my assumption that we Christians know the answers. But sometime it calls us to do more. This is why I love Good Friday service. I love the solemn atmosphere: we need to quiet our mind and soul so that the answers can resonate in an innovative and new way; that the answers will find a new way in our spirit; that the answers will awaken and find an inner room in our conscience; that place, deep within where we tend to connect with God; that place deep within where God speaks in the silence of our being.

Why did he have to suffer, be scorned?

This should drive us then to live in gratitude and love. We need to show appreciation that we have been redeemed; that Christ has transformed us from within and he has opened the gates of heaven for us.

When we ponder what Christ has done for us, this can only create a wellspring of love, gushing out from within: a wellspring of love that purifies and cleanses and returns us to the one who should be at the centre of our life.

We need to be willing to die to ourselves if we want to heal divisions, hurts and pain. We need to be willing to die if we want to love others with the same compassion and mercy that Jesus faithfully showed.

The cross, the mystery of death – calls upon us to the transformation of self, that is the only way to harmony and to lasting peace.

This day – this Good Friday, is a reminder that the road to peace is paved by a cross. This day – this Good Friday, is a reminder that “dead” is no longer the end. Death opens the way for new life, unity and peace.

All of us have betrayed and Denied Jesus like those disciples so long ago in one way or the other. The encouragement of this day is that Jesus does not count betrayal and denial as the last word. His last words, “It is finished,” indicate that he had accomplished all that was necessary to heal our betrayal, our denial of him, to heal our divisions, to bring reconciliation among us, and between humanity and his Father.

To live this well, we must surrender ourselves to do as Jesus did – die to self for the sake of others. We actually look for ways to embrace death, to be self-giving, to die to self. This is how we should live. This is how we choose life.

Today is our Lord’s Good Friday. But each of us is called in love to live our own Good Fridays.

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

N.T. Wright Reflects on the Meaning of Good Friday

From Lent for Everyone, Luke, Year C. I encourage you to add this book to your collection.

[T]his moment [of crucifixion], this bloody and dark moment, this miscarriage of justice, this terrible suffering, this offering of Jesus of his full self to the will of God—this is how God is dealing, in sovereign, rescuing love, with the weight of the world’s evil and pain, and with death itself. Jesus is the green tree, the wood that wasn’t ready for burning, dying in the place of the dry trees, the people all around who were eager to bring in the kingdom in their own way rather than God’s way.

So we draw all our prayers together in daring to echo that strange request made by one of the brigands alongside him: “Jesus—remember me when you finally become king.” That is often as much as we dare say.

But Jesus surprises us, as he surprised the brigand, by his response. He is becoming king, here and now. No more waiting. “Today.” In the brigand’s case: paradise now, and resurrection still to come. In our case: forgiveness, healing and hope, here and now. And the call to serve, and to give ourselves, as he gave himself for us.

—pp.109-110

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 Observed in 4th-Century Jerusalem

[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 [8am]; and thus until the sixth hour [noon] 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 Lord’s tomb]. 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 [noon-3pm] 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

St. John Tells the Story of Good Friday

The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to St. 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.

Deacon Terry Gatwood: A New Commandment

Sermon delivered on Maundy Thursday, March 25, 2016, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

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

Lectionary texts: Exodus 12.1-14; Psalm 116.1, 10-17; 1 Corinthians 11,23-26; John 13.1-7, 31b-35.

Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Standing at the doorways into many homes during this period of the Ancient Near East would have been a servant with one essential task: to wash the feet of those who entered the home. As touching another’s’ dirty feet was something that would have never been done by anyone of higher stature this task naturally fell to those of low standing in the community. Most of us know about things rolling downhill towards the least among us, which has sometimes been ourselves. These servants were looked down upon because of the disgusting nature of their job, and the fact that God had obviously, in the prevailing culture’s mind, not blessed them to have any sort of stature.

So it really isn’t all that difficult to understand when Peter freaks out as Jesus takes off his outer garment, wraps a towel around his waist, and washes his way through the gathered disciples’ feet. When he comes to Peter, Peter gives him one of those “what in the world do you think you’re doing!” responses. This is the one we have called Teacher, Rabbi; I have confessed aloud that this man, Jesus, is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and the only one to whom we can go. He is the only one who has the words of eternal life! No, no, no, Jesus; do not touch my feet, for I am not worthy to have someone like you do this. This is the kind of stuff that is completely beneath you. Please do not touch my feet. This is the work of servants and slaves.

But Jesus insists that this must be done. “Unless I wash you, Peter, you have no share with me.” Jesus realizes that this act is a scandalous thing in this time and place, but what he is doing will be understood by his disciples after this night. Here he is, the very Son of God the Father, washing from their feet the dust of the earth that he had created. Here is the Son of God, Jesus, washing the feet of a tax collector, a bunch of fishermen, and a man who belonged to a violent group of zealots. This was a ragtag group of people who, by all measure in their culture, did not deserve to have this done to them by their own Rabbi. They knew full well that what Jesus is saying to them when he tells them no servant is greater than their master is true. But this master of theirs lowers himself, taking the very nature of a servant, the nature of the lowest of low positions in the eyes of the people. And he tells his disciples, flat out, that as he has done to them they ought to do for one another. He has given them the example to answer a question they had previously been arguing over: who will be greatest in the Kingdom of God. The answer is the one who is last, who is least, the servant.

The word for servant here, doulos, is best translated as slave. Jesus, the Son of God, has been entirely submissive to the Father, carrying out his will. And in his submission to the Father his Father is glorified in him, and he is glorified. And he is further glorified in the disciples as they observe the pattern set by Jesus’ submission to the Father in following the example that is set before them. And they will be blessed in their submission and servanthood. The life that has been given to these disciples, a life of loving servanthood, is far more than just some idea to be talked about; it is a life that is lived. It is truly the good life.

And what does this look like for us, the Lord’s disciples, now? I will not give any answer to this question right now, as if I have some special knowledge of what it is the Lord is calling each one of us to do to be his servants in a very real and tangible way. But I am asking that you ponder this question seriously; pray to our Lord that he will guide you into how you can best serve, and discuss it with your brothers and sisters in this gathered assembly. God has gifted every one of us in this room to lead as servants; how will you wash the dirty feet of your neighbor? And who are those whose feet you will wash? Pray for God to send you the dirty feet that no one else wants to touch. Find the feet of the one who has been pushed aside, who has never been met with love, and wash them.

We have been called to this high position of lowering ourselves to care for others, even those whom no one else would give a second look towards. This is the love of God becoming real and fleshed out in the world, following the command of our Lord that he gave to us, as he knew he was only hours away from being taken captive and killed; from demonstrating a sacrificial love for us that we could not have even dreamed of. And he gave us this command that people seeing this love would know we are his disciples, and would see the Kingdom of God in their midst. Not just the people who are most like us in culture and stature, but for the life of the whole world does his give his life as an example, and an atonement for sin.

As the Scripture tells us: “For there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Jesus Christ.” And this kind of unity is what he intended when he united himself to us in the flesh, and united us to him, the divine Son of God. So we do as Jesus commanded us, to love one another as he has loved us, taking on servanthood regardless of our positions in society at large and within the Church hierarchy. We wash one another’s feet, we seek to ensure the one who is mistreated in any way in the community is honored among us, and we feast together at the Table of our Lord, remembering his last meal, a Seder celebrating God’s salvation of our forefathers in the Exodus, as we celebrate Christ’s appointed sacrament of his body and blood that draws us together as one with Christ and one another. We remember, we do again, the receiving of the gift of salvation given to us by our loving Father in the work of his Son Jesus, who is ready and willing this night to stretch out his loving arms on the hard wood of the cross for us. We, the Lord’s disciples, now have some understanding of Christ’s commandment to us.

So tonight we will again remember, we will do again, the things Christ has called us to do for one another as an act of his mercy and grace towards all. And we will leave this place quietly reflecting on the sacrifice our Lord will make for us, praying that God will transform us to be servants like his Son Jesus.

May it be so, Lord. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.