Traditional Memorial Day

Today is the traditional day for Memorial Day, originally called “Decoration Day.” Up until the 1971 it was always celebrated today. But afterward it has become a movable federal holiday. You can read about its history here, and I hope you will take the time to do so. On a personal note, my grandparents Shaffer were married on this day in 1917. Cool.

Take a moment today to remember those who have given their lives so that we might enjoy the freedom we have. Take time to remember the current members of our armed forces as well and give thanks that God continues to raise up brave men and women to serve our country in a very dangerous world.

Thank you veterans, past and present, for your service to our country. May God bless you and yours.

General Orders No.11, Washington, D.C., May 5, 1868

From here.

  1. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.


Adjutant General


Read the entire order that started Memorial Day.

A Memorial Day Prayer

Adapted from here:

Eternal God,
Creator of years, of centuries,
Lord of whatever is beyond time,
Maker of all species and master of all history —
How shall we speak to you
from our smallness and inconsequence?
Except that you have called us to worship you in spirit and in truth;
You have dignified us with loves and loyalties;
You have lifted us up with your loving-kindnesses.
Therefore we are bold to come before you without groveling
(though we sometimes feel that low)
and without fear
(though we are often anxious).
We sing with spirit and pray with courage
because you have dignified us;
You have redeemed us from the aimlessness
of things going meaninglessly well.

God, lift the hearts of those
for whom this holiday is not just diversion,
but painful memory and continued deprivation.
Bless those whose dear ones have died
needlessly, wastefully (as it seems)
in accident or misadventure.
We remember with compassion and thanksgiving those who have died
serving this country in times of war.

We all must come to bereavement and separation,
when all the answers we are offered
fail the question death asks of each of us.
But we believe that you will provide for us
as others have been provided with the fulfillment of
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”
because we believe that you have raised Jesus our Lord from the dead
and conquered death itself,
and that you have given us the privilege
of sharing in his risen life as his followers,
both now and for all eternity.
We offer our prayers and thanksgiving
in Jesus our risen Lord’s name. Amen.

Leo the Great on the Ascension

With all due solemnity we are commemorating that day on which our poor human nature was carried up, in Christ, above all the hosts of heaven, above all the ranks of angels, beyond the highest heavenly powers to the very throne of God the Father. And so our Redeemer’s visible presence has passed into the sacraments. Our faith is nobler and stronger because sight has been replaced by a doctrine whose authority is accepted by believing hearts, enlightened from on high. This faith was increased by the Lord’s ascension and strengthened by the gift of the Spirit.

Pope Francis on the Meaning of the Ascension

From here.

“In the Creed,” noted the pontiff, “we confess our faith in Christ who ‘ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father’. … What does this mean for our lives? While he ‘ascends’ to [Jerusalem], where his ‘exodus’ from this life will take place, Jesus already sees the goal, Heaven, but he knows well that the path that will take him back to the Father’s glory passes through the Cross, through obedience to the divine plan of love for humanity. … We also must be clear, in our Christian lives, that entering into God’s glory demands daily fidelity to his will, even when it requires sacrifice, when it sometimes requires us to change our plans.”

The Pope explained the Ascension in light of St Luke’s Gospel, which gives a short version of it. “Jesus led his disciples ‘as far as Bethany, raised his hands, and blessed them. As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven’. .. This is the first important point: Jesus is the only and eternal Priest who, by his passion, has traversed death and the grave and is risen and ascended into Heaven. He is with God the Father, where he always intercedes in our favour. As St. John affirms in his First Letter: He is our Advocate.”

He then added: “How wonderful it is to hear this! When someone is called in front of a judge or goes to court, the first he does is look for a lawyer to defend him. We’ve got one who always defends us, who defends us from the devil’s snares, defends us from ourselves, from our sins! Dear brothers and sisters, we have this Advocate. Let us not be afraid to go to him and ask forgiveness, to ask for blessing, to ask for mercy. He always forgives us. He is our Advocate. He defends us always. Never forget this!”

An excellent piece. I like this pope a lot. Please do take the time and read it all. There’s lots to chew on and give you hope.

Another Prayer for the Feast of the Ascension

O God the King of glory,
you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ
with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven:
we beseech you, leave us not comfortless,
but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us
and exalt us to the place where our Savior Christ is gone before,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

From The Book of Common Worship

Dr. John Stott on Ascension Day (2)

There is no need to doubt the literal nature of Christ’s ascension, so long as we realize its purpose. It was not necessary as a mode of departure, for ‘going to the Father’ did not involve a journey in space and presumably he could simply have vanished as on previous occasions. The reason he ascended before their eyes was rather to show them that this departure was final.  He had now gone for good, or at least until his coming in glory.  So they returned to Jerusalem with great joy and waited – not for Jesus to make another resurrection appearance, but for the Holy Spirit to come in power, as had been promised.

Understanding the Bible, 103.

Dr. John Stott on Ascension Day (1)

It is a pity that we call it ‘Ascension Day’, for the Bible speaks more of Christ’s exaltation than of his ascension. This is an interesting avenue to explore. The four great events in the saving career of Jesus are described in the Bible both actively and passively, as deeds done both by Jesus and to Jesus. Thus, we are told with reference to his birth both that he came and that he was sent; with reference to his death both that he gave himself and that he was offered; with reference to his resurrection both that he rose and that he was raised; with reference to his ascension both that he ascended and that he was exalted. If we look more closely, we shall find that in the first two cases, the active phrase is commoner: he came and died, as a deliberate, self-determined choice. But in the last two cases, the passive phrase is more common: he was raised from the tomb and he was exalted to the throne. It was the Father’s act.

—The Exaltation of Jesus’ (sermon on Phil. 2:9-11)

What’s This Ascension Thing All About?

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

–Matthew 28.16-20 (NIV)

Today is Ascension Day, the day when the resurrected Christ went to be in God’s dimension (heaven). You can read Luke’s account of it in Acts 1.1-11. As Bishop Tom Wright has written, for many of us who live in the post-Enlightenment era, the Ascension means that Jesus has left us to join his deistic Father and who is no longer really interested in the affairs of his world. But as today’s passage from Matthew reminds us, this is just not true.

When the NT talks about Jesus being exalted to the “right hand of the Father,” see, e.g., Colossians 3.1-3; Hebrews 1.2-4, it is not telling us that Jesus has gone away and no longer cares about what happens to us here on earth. Instead, the NT authors have in mind that Jesus has assumed his rightful and God-given place as ruler of the cosmos. As Paul reminds us in Colossians, Jesus has disarmed the powers and principalities through his cross and after his Ascension is now firmly in charge of all things. This is part of God’s eternal plan to restore his good but fallen world.

“But wait,” you say. “How can that be? Look around you! If Jesus really is in control of things why are there still wars? Why does greed and hate and self-aggrandizement still abound? Why are there so many starving and needy people in the world? Why is there so much suffering? Why do the secularists and atheists and all the other enemies of the cross seem to be winning the day?”

All good questions to which I would respond by asking if you think Paul was not aware of the mess that is God’s fallen and broken world? After all, Paul wrote Colossians from prison! He more than anyone was quite aware that God’s good but fallen creation had not been completely fixed yet! So why then did he write what he did? Because he firmly believed that it is true that God in Christ has decisively defeated the powers and principalities. He could write this because he had a deep and intimate relationship with Jesus and he knew that Jesus’ promises are true.

This is what it means to live by faith in the “already-not yet.” In Christ, God has decisively defeated evil. He has decisively overcome the power of sin and the alienation it causes between God and humans and among humans. God has done this by bearing the just punishment for our sins himself on the cross. In Jesus’ resurrection, God has given us a preview of coming attractions regarding his promised New Creation, the new heavens and earth in which God’s dimension and our earthly dimension will be fused together and we will get to live directly in God’s Presence forever to love and enjoy him as he created us to do. Moreover, we will get to become the proper stewards of this New Creation, just as God intended when he created us and there will be none of the nastiness that afflicts us in our mortal lives. This is the Easter hope. This is the “already” because the Resurrection has happened and Jesus now rules his cosmos as the Ascended Christ, complete with his resurrected body and exalted humanity.

But the New Creation is not yet a reality. Christ has not yet returned to finish his mighty work of redemption and usher in the New Creation. This is the “not yet” part. So how is Jesus the sovereign ruler of the universe? Why is there still so much sin and brokenness in this world? Because God in Christ has chosen to exert his sovereign rule during these last times (the time between the Resurrection and Jesus’ Second Coming) through his people.

We see that plainly in today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus tells his disciples that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given him. So how has he chosen to exercise that authority? By sending his followers into his world so that they can make disciples of all people! Those who follow Christ are to baptize new believers (baptism is not an optional thing for Christians as this passage indicates) and then teach them to obey their Lord. This is not unlike how yeast works in dough. The more disciples of Christ there are, disciples who truly love the Lord and are obedient to his commands, the more his healing touch can come to bear on his hurting and broken world.

If we think about this for a minute, we cannot help but have our breath taken away.

God intends to use his human creatures to be the agents of his healing and redemption. What an awesome responsibility and opportunity for us! Talk about the potential to find real meaning and purpose in your life. This surely is it! None of us can say why God has chosen to restore his broken creation in this way but all of us can be thankful that God thinks enough of his human creatures to give us the opportunity to be his agents of New Creation until he returns again in great power and glory to finish the work he started.

We also see in this plan the proper ordering of things. Humans are being proper stewards of God’s creation by being God’s Kingdom workers and bringing God’s love in Christ to bear on his broken and hurting world. But God’s redemptive work will not be complete until God himself completes it as only God has the power to do. Only God could initiate his redemptive plan and only God can complete it fully.

And as our Lord reminds us in today’s lesson, we do not have to do this work alone. He promises to be with us always–even to the end of the age–in and through his Spirit. It is by his Spirit that we become his Kingdom workers. This is not of our own doing because left to our own devices we are part of the problem rather than becoming part of the solution. But when we are empowered by the Spirit, the sky’s the limit in what we can do for our Lord. Simply put, it is impossible to be a Christian without the power and Presence of the Holy Spirit living in and through us.

As we think about Jesus’ promise to be with us always, we cannot help but think back to the opening of Matthew’s Gospel in which an angel of the Lord announced the impending birth of Jesus, Immanuel–God with us (1.23). What a wondrous promise this is! We can be assured that God is with us in any and every situation to help us overcome all that bedevils us and to empower us to be his Kingdom workers, to bring his healing love, mercy, and grace to a broken and hurting world who desperately needs it.

This is the promise of the Ascension. This is worthy of our time, our reflection, and more importantly, our obedience with the help of the Spirit. Are you ready for this kind of action? Do you know this God well enough to trust his promises to you the way Paul and countless others have, even when appearances suggest otherwise? If so, draw strength and refreshment from God’s promise to you as you do the work he has called you to do.

If you don’t know God well enough to trust his promises to you, what are you waiting for? You will never know if God is good to his word unless you take a chance and allow him to demonstrate his trustworthiness to you. You simply cannot be an armchair quarterback in this regard. The very God of this universe has work for you to do and he loves and respects you enough to give you the opportunity to do your part in his redemptive plan for this tired and broken old world. What a grand opportunity!

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen (and ascended) indeed! Alleluia!

N.T. Wright: The Cross and the Kingdom: How God Became King

An excellent, albeit dense, piece. Take your time and wrestle with it all.

r1282164_17370163The attempt to reconstruct a “Jesus” other than the one given by classic Christianity goes back, in the modern period, to H.S. Reimarus (1694-1768). He was writing at the height of the Enlightenment’s rebellion against the classic Christianity it knew and despised. He is the equivalent, within the study of the gospels, of the great eighteenth-century French writer Voltaire, with his battle-cry of ecraser l’infame, “wipe out the scandal” – meaning the “scandal” of official Christianity and the posturing and hypocrisy of the church. Whereas some theologians have spoken of “faith seeking understanding,” Reimarus and his later followers and imitators (up to the present day) have been more in the mode of unfaith seeking historical validation. That spirit is alive and well, both in the scholarly and popular markets. But the catch is this.

Just like the would-be “orthodox” readings, though for almost the opposite reasons, this reductionistic reading of the gospels has simply ignored the story which the gospels themselves were keen to tell. All that these movements have done is to stand the “orthodox” reading on its head, to highlight the middle at the cost of the edges rather than vice versa. Instead of privileging the creeds and screening out the middle of the gospels, they have privileged the middle material of the gospels and screened out all that odd “supernatural” stuff at either end, the material that found its way into the creeds. But this hasn’t, in fact, really advanced the understanding of the middle material itself. Nor has it begun to address the question of why the gospels told the story the way they did, with their careful and subtle integration of the edges and the middle – indeed, without any indication that they were aware of two different types of material in the first place.

When we examine the wider movements of thought and culture in the eighteenth century, we find something of enormous significance for understanding why the gospels were being read in the way they were. At the heart of what called itself “the Enlightenment” was a resolute determination that “God” – whoever “God” might be – should no longer be allowed to interfere, either directly or through those who claimed to be his spokesmen, in the affairs of this world. Once “man had come of age,” there was no room for theocracy. It was as simple as that. God was pushed upstairs, like the doddery old boss who used to run the company but has now been superseded.

But the whole point of the gospels is to tell the story of how God became king, on earth as in heaven. They were written to stake the very specific claim to which the eighteenth-century movements of philosophy and culture, and particularly politics, were reacting with such hostility. Behind the attempts of Reimarus and others to suggest that “the kingdom of God” in the teaching of Jesus referred either to a violent military revolution or to “the end of the world” there lay the determination to make sure that God was kept out of real life. This was not a “result” of fresh research. It was the philosophical and theopolitical assumption which drove the research in the first place.

Read it all.