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 Our faith is nobler and stronger because sight has been replaced by a doctrine whose authority is accepted by believing hearts, enlightened from on high.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.
If our flesh is not saved, then the Lord has not redeemed us with his blood, the eucharistic chalice does not make us sharers in his blood, and the bread we break does not make us sharers in his body. There can be no blood without veins, flesh and the rest of the human substance, and this the Word of God actually became: it was with his own blood that he redeemed us. As the Apostle says: “In him, through his blood, we have been redeemed, our sins have been forgiven.”
We are his members and we are nourished by creation, which is his gift to us, for it is he who causes the sun to rise and the rain to fall, He declared that the chalice, which comes from his creation, was his blood, and he makes it the nourishment of our blood. He affirmed that the bread, which comes from his creation, was his body, and he makes it the nourishment of our body. When the chalice we mix and the bread we bake receive the word of God, the eucharistic elements become the body and blood of Christ, by which our bodies live and grow. How then can it be said that flesh belonging to the Lord’s own body and nourished by his body and blood is incapable of receiving God’s gift of eternal life? Saint Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians that “we are members of his body,” of his flesh and bones. He is not speaking of some spiritual and incorporeal kind of person, “for spirits do not have flesh and bones.” He is speaking of a real human body composed of flesh, sinews and bones, nourished by the chalice of Christ’s blood and receiving growth from the bread which is his body.
The slip of a vine planted in the ground bears fruit at the proper time. The grain of wheat falls into the ground and decays only to be raised up again and multiplied by the Spirit of God who sustains all things. The Wisdom of God places these things at the service of human beings and when they receive God’s word they become the eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ. In the same way our bodies, which have been nourished by the eucharist, will be buried in the earth and will decay, but they will rise again at the appointed time, for the Word of God will raise them up to the glory of God the Father. Then the Father will clothe our mortal nature in immortality and freely endow our corruptible nature with incorruptibility, for God’s power is shown most perfectly in weakness.
Against Heresies 5, 2, 2-3: SC 153, 30-38
Saint Irenaeus, a late second-century Christian commentator and apologist, was bishop of Lyons and a spiritual grandson of the Apostles, having studied under Polycarp who in turn had studied under the Apostle John, one of the original twelve Apostles of Christ. So we can have great confidence that he received the real teachings of the Lord. Here he speaks of the relationship between Holy Eucharist and the Resurrection of the body that Christ’s Resurrection signals.
Resurrection, as Saint Irenaeus reminds us, is about new bodily existence, not living forever as a spirit without a body. His logic above is straightforward: The Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ after it has been consecrated, signals a new created order in which our mortal bodies are raised from the dead and reanimated by the Holy Spirit to live forever in God’s direct presence (1 Corinthians 15.35-50; Revelation 21.1-7). If the Eucharist consists of created elements (bread and wine) that are Christ’s body and blood after they are consecrated, it makes no sense that they would point to a state of existence (eternal life) that is spiritual rather than physical in nature. Just as consecrated bread and wine signal a new creation, Resurrection signals a new created order, one that is entirely consistent with God’s original good intentions for his creation. We get to live in that new order only by having a relationship with the crucified and risen Lord Jesus because only Christ’s Death can cleanse us of the sin and filth that prevent us from living in the Presence of a Holy God. Every time we come to Christ’s Holy Table to feed on his body and blood, we are strengthened in our living relationship with Christ and reminded of our glorious future because of his great love and sacrifice for us. What could possibly be better and more hopeful?
If you are a Christian, the next time you are beaten down by the news and events of today (they are legion) and start to lose hope, do as Saint Irenaeus and countless other Christians have done: Remember what Christ has done for you in his saving Death and the future awaiting you that his Resurrection proclaims. If you are not a Christian, consider how much better this hope and future is than the one of your own making, and choose to follow Christ.
Listen and understand if you have ears to hear.
The following day, Sunday, marks the beginning of Holy Week, which they call here the Great Week. On this [Palm] Sunday morning, at the completion of those rites which are customarily celebrated at the Anastasis [the Lord’s tomb] or the Cross from the first cockcrow until dawn, everyone assembles for the liturgy according to custom in the major church, called the Martyrium. It is called the Martyrium because it is on Golgotha, behind the Cross, where the Lord suffered His Passion, and is therefore a shrine of martyrdom. As soon as everything has been celebrated in the major church as usual, but before the dismissal is given, the archdeacon raises his voice and first says: “Throughout this whole week, beginning tomorrow at the ninth hour [3pm], let us all gather in the Martyrium, in the major church.” Then he raises his voice a second time, saying: “Today let us all be ready to assemble at the seventh hour [1pm] at the Eleona.” When the dismissal has been given in the Martyrium or major church, the bishop is led to the accompaniment of hymns to the Anastasis, and there all ceremonies are accomplished which customarily take place every Sunday at the Anastasis [Church of the Holy Sepulcher] following the dismissal from the Martyrium. Then everyone retires home to eat hastily, so that at the beginning of the seventh hour everyone will be ready to assemble in the church on the Eleona, by which I mean the Mount of Olives, where the grotto in which the Lord taught is located.
At the seventh hour all the people go up to the church on the Mount of Olives, that is, to the Eleona. The bishop sits down, hymns and antiphons appropriate to the day and place are sung, and there are likewise readings from the Scriptures. As the ninth hour approaches, they move up, chanting hymns, to the Imbomon, that is, to the place from which the Lord ascended into heaven; and everyone sits down there. When the bishop is present, the people are always commanded to be seated, so that only the deacons remain standing. And there hymns and antiphons proper to the day and place are sung, interspersed with appropriate readings from the Scriptures and prayers.
As the eleventh hour [5pm] draws near, that particular passage from Scripture is read in which the children bearing palms and branches came forth to meet the Lord, saying: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” The bishop and all the people rise immediately, and then everyone walks down from the top of the Mount of Olives, with the people preceding the bishop and responding continually with “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” to the hymns and antiphons. All the children who are present here, including those who are not yet able to walk because they are too young and therefore are carried on their parents’ shoulders, all of them bear branches, some carrying palms, others olive branches. And the bishop is led in the same manner as the Lord once was led. From the top of the mountain as far as the city, and from there through the entire city as far as the Anastasis, everyone accompanies the bishop the whole way on foot, and this includes distinguished ladies and men of consequence, reciting the responses all the while; and they move very slowly so that the people will not tire. By the time they arrive at the Anastasis, it is already evening. Once they have arrived there, even though it is evening, vespers is celebrated; then a prayer is said at the Cross and the people are dismissed.
—Egeria, Abbess, Pilgrimage
The extraordinary twist in this story is that, having announced judgment upon Jerusalem for refusing God’s way of peace, Jesus went ahead, embodying simultaneously the love and the judgment of God himself, to suffer the Roman horror he had predicted for his people.
That dark royal story lies at the heart of all subsequent Christian understanding of the cross, though it is a truth so strange that few hymns or liturgies plumb its depths. Theseus and Oberon are one and the same. Good Friday, itself a form of Roman street theatre, was taken up paradoxically within God’s street theatre, the play within the play within the play that explains everything else.
But, even without that sequel, the questions of Palm Sunday itself force themselves upon us.
First, the questions of which story we are living in, and which king we are following, remain urgent within our culture. As our public institutions are less trusted than ever, and our behaviour at home and abroad is more confused than ever, the stories which used to make sense of our lives have let us down.
We thought we knew how the play worked: get rid of tyrants, and people will embrace democracy, peace, love and flower-power. How quickly things have moved from Palm Sunday to Good Friday. The so-called Arab Spring has turned back to winter, as we have no idea what to do about Syria, about Israel/Palestine and, of course, about Ukraine. We have run out of stories, we have run out of kings of whatever kind; all we think we can do is trust the great god Mammon, as though our fragile economic half-recoveries would trickle out into the mountains of Syria or the deserts of South Sudan. Give me Psalm 72 any day.
But that’s where the second question comes in, a personal question. If the Palm Sunday street theatre means what Jesus meant, it challenges all his followers, then and now. The crowds may have been fickle, but they were not mistaken. The two on the road to Emmaus had hoped he would redeem Israel, and they were hoping for the right thing – God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven, a this-worldly reign of justice and peace – but they had not glimpsed the means by which Jesus would bring it about. Right story, wrong king.
Sooner or later, this happens to all of us. We start out following Jesus because we think we know the story, we know what sort of king we want him to be – and then things go badly wrong, he doesn’t give us what we wanted, and we are tempted to wonder if we’ve been standing on the wrong side of town, watching the wrong procession.
Jesus warned us this would happen: we all have to live through a Holy Week, a Gethsemane, a Good Friday of one sort or another. That happens in personal life, in vocational life, as well as in public life.
With great sorrow at the recent decision of the Church of England’s General Synod to legitimise and incorporate into the Church’s liturgy the blessing of same sex unions, ten Primates of the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA)[i] met virtually on 13 Feb 2023 under the chairmanship of Archbishop Justin Badi (Chairman of GSFA & Primate of South Sudan) to discuss our response.
The panel of Primates agreed on the following resolutions which it now commends to the orthodox[ii]provinces and dioceses who are part of her Fellowship for the respective Primate & Province to consider and deliberate on.
- As the Church of England has departed from the historic faith passed down from the Apostles by this innovation[iii] in the liturgies of the Church and her pastoral practice (contravening her own Canon A5[iv]), she has disqualified herself from leading the Communion as the historic “Mother” Church. Indeed, the Church of England has chosen to break communion with those provinces who remain faithful to the historic biblical faith expressed in the Anglican formularies (the 39 Articles, the Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal and the Book of Homilies) and applied to the matter of marriage and sexuality in Lambeth Resolution 1.10[v] of the 1998 Lambeth Conference.
- As much as the GSFA Primates also want to keep the unity of the visible Church and the fabric of the Anglican Communion, our calling to be ‘a holy remnant’[vi] does not allow us be “in communion” with those provinces that have departed from the historic faith and taken the path of false teaching. This breaks our hearts and we pray for the revisionist provinces to return to ‘the faith once delivered’ (Jude 3) and to us.
- The GSFA is no longer able to recognise the present Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt Hon & Most Revd Justin Welby, as the “first among equals” Leader of the global Communion. He has sadly led his House of Bishops to make the recommendations that undergirded the General Synod Motion on ‘Living in Love & Faith,’ knowing that they run contrary to the faith & order of the orthodox provinces in the Communion whose people constitute the majority in the global flock. We pray that our withdrawal of support for him to lead the whole Communion is received by him as an admonishment in love.
The worldwide Anglican Communion as we know it is dead, but it will be reconstituted and emerge stronger than ever. It is simultaneously heartbreaking and infuriating to see a majority group of bishops in the Church of England vote to violate their consecration vows and abandon the historic Faith once and for all time delivered to the saints, the Faith every bishop vows to defend and teach at his consecration. They are apostate and have chosen to drink the koolaid of the 21st century sexual agenda, an agenda that is utterly opposed to the Christian Faith, an agenda that is disordered and cannot bring about human flourishing as the gospel can, precisely because it is disordered. Humans in their foolishness, pride, and folly may kick at the pricks, but that will never produce real peace and flourishing. May God the Father have mercy on the sin-sick souls of these apostate bishops.
That’s the bad news. The Good News is that Jesus Christ is still Lord and in control of God’s good creation, despite appearances to the contrary. Our Lord himself promised that the gates of Hell will not prevail against his Church and so those of us who remain orthodox Anglican Christians continue to live in hope, even as the Church in the West is in a death spiral. I doubt this is much different from the days when the 4th-century heresy of Arianism seemed to prevail. But it didn’t. Neither will this latest enemy of the Faith prevail. And so we take courage, even in the darkest night. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
The Fortieth Day after Epiphany [Candlemas, February 14] is observed here with special magnificence, On this day they assemble in the Anastasis [Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem]. Everyone gathers, and things are done with the same solemnity as at the feast of Easter. All the presbyters [priests] preach first, then the bishop, and they interpret the passage from the Gospel about Joseph and Mary taking the Lord to the Temple, and about Simeon and the prophetess Anna, daughter of Phanuel, seeing the Lord, and what they said to him, and about the sacrifice offered by his parents. When all the rest has been done in the proper way, they celebrate the sacrament and have their dismissal.
—Egeria, Abbess, Pilgrimage 26: SC 296, 254-256
…Candlemas, a Christian holiday that remembers when Mary presented the Christ child at the Temple in Jerusalem and performed her purification (see below). Candlemas is also called the Festival Day of Candles, in which the parish priest would bless candles for use in the local church for the coming year and would occasionally send some of them home with his parishioners for them to use. It is one of the earliest known feasts to be celebrated by the Church.
Candlemas falls 40 days from the birth of Jesus because that is the day Mary would have completed her purification process as prescribed by the Law, which means that Candlemas always falls on February 2. It is the midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox and before there ever was a Groundhog Day (also observed on February 2), tradition held that when Candlemas fell on a sunny day, there was more winter to come. But when it fell on a cloudy, wet, or stormy day, it meant that the worst of winter was over. Check out the two Candlemas poems below and see if you recognize anything familiar in them:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.
(Anonymous English poem)
If Candlemas day be dry and fair,
The half o’ winter to come and mair,
If Candlemas day be wet and foul,
The half of winter’s gone at Yule.
(Anonymous Scottish poem)
For you Christmas junkies out there, tradition also holds that any Christmas decorations not taken down by Twelfth Night (January 5) should be left up until Candlemas and then taken down. Candlemas also officially marks the end of the Christmas and Epiphany seasons, seasons in which the Church celebrates Christ as being the light to the world.
Now you know.
Quite some time ago, during his seminary days, a young priest friend of mine attended an introductory lecture on Revelation and the Scriptures. The lecturer told the class that there is considerable distance between God’s actual message and instructions and the texts we have in the Old and New Testaments. The lecturer wasn’t saying, like the Jesuit superior general, that we don’t know what Christ taught because they didn’t have recorders then, didn’t have phones to capture the moment. But she was heading in that direction.
My friend inquired innocently whether the Second Vatican Council had said anything on this topic. The lecturer, confident in her expertise, explained that it had. What was the document called? Quick as a flash the reply came: “Dei Verbum,” the Word of God. It was only when she stopped to smile and enjoy her contribution that the lecturer realized she had been decapitated. The Scriptures are God’s words for us, written in different forms and styles and in different ages by human authors. Although they were not dictated by the archangel Gabriel, as the Muslims claim the Quran was, they remain for us the Word of God.
Before his conversion to Roman Catholicism Gavin Ashenden was an Anglican priest and bishop as well as former Chaplain to the Queen. I fear his concerns are real and true. From Christian Today:
It used to be the fashion to address a monarch as His or Her ‘Most Christian Majesty’. In the case of Elizabeth II, that was the most appropriate description. People have discussed her longevity, her family, her good judgement; but behind the length of her reign, and the reason why she found herself so dearly loved, was her Christian character.
Alongside a life constructed and sculpted by faith is the congruence that the demise of Christian faith in the public sphere may take place in parallel to her own personal demise…
As the society she ruled over constitutionally grew more heterodox and hedonistic, the dignity and integrity that she embodied both personally and constitutionally resonated with a contrasting moral and existential value which was nurtured by her relationship with God – her sense of vocation as his servant, placed within the royal family to serve both him and her nation – and her love of Christ, whose Spirit renewed her daily.
The mourning that will accompany her passing will be a grief not only for a remarkable woman, a treasured mother, a dignified grandmother and a much-loved Queen, it will also include a sorrow for the passing of a Christianised culture whose deepest and most noble virtues she represented and embodied. In every sense it is true to say of her, we shall not see her like again.
But on the fiftieth day, that is, the Lord’s Day, when the people have a very great deal to go through, everything that is customary is done from the first cockcrow onwards; vigil is kept in the Anastasis, and the bishop reads the passage from the Gospel that is always read on the Lord’s Day, namely, the account of the Lord’s Resurrection, and afterwards everything customary is done in the Anastasis [the cross], just as throughout the whole year. But when morning is come, all the people proceed to the great church, that is, to the martyrium [the church], and all things usual are done there; the priests preach and then the bishop, and all things that are prescribed are done, the oblation being made, as is customary on the Lord’s Day, only the same dismissal in the martyrium is hastened, in order that it may be made before the third hour [9am].
And when the dismissal has been made at the martyrium, all the people, to a man, escort the bishop with hymns to Sion, [so that] they are in Sion when the third hour is fully come. And on their arrival there the passage from the Acts of the Apostles is read where the Spirit came down so that all tongues [were heard and all men] understood the things that were being spoken, and the dismissal takes place afterwards in due course For the priests read there from the Acts of the Apostles concerning the selfsame thing, because that is the place in Sion—there is another church there now—where once, after the Lord’s Passion, the multitude was gathered together with the Apostles, and where this was done, as we have said above. Afterwards the dismissal takes place in due course, and the oblation is made there. Then, that the people may be dismissed, the archdeacon raises his voice, and says: “Let us all be ready to day in Eleona, in the Imbomon [place of the Ascension], directly after the sixth hour [noon].”
So all the people return, each to his house, to rest themselves, and immediately after breakfast they ascend the Mount of Olives, that is, to Eleona, each as he can, so that there is no Christian left in the city who does not go. When, therefore, they have gone up the Mount of Olives, that is, to Eleona, they first enter the Imbomon, that is, the place whence the Lord ascended into heaven, and the bishops and the priests take their seat there, and likewise all the people. Lessons are read there with hymns interspersed, antiphons too are said suitable to the day and the place, also the prayers which are interspersed have likewise similar references. The passage from the Gospel is also read where it speaks of the Lord’s Ascension, also that from the Acts of the Apostles which tells of the Ascension of the Lord into heaven after His Resurrection. And when this is over, the catechumens and then the faithful are blessed, and they come down thence, it being already the ninth hour [3pm], and go with hymns to that church which is in Eleona, wherein is the cave where the Lord was wont to sit and teach His Apostles. And as it is already past the tenth hour [4pm] when they arrive, lucernare takes place there; prayer is made, and the catechumens and likewise the faithful are blessed.
And then all the people to a man descend thence with the bishop, saying hymns and antiphons suitable to that day, and so come very slowly to the martyrium. It is already night when they reach the gate of the city, and about two hundred church candles are provided for the use of the people. And as it is agood distance from the gate to the great church, that is, the martyrium, they arrive about the second hour of the night, for they go the whole way very slowly lest the people should be weary from being afoot. And when the great gates are opened, which face towards the market-place, all the people enter the martyrium with hymns and with the bishop. And when they have entered the church, hymns are said, prayer is made, the catechumens and also the faithful are blessed; after which they go again with hymns to the Anastasis, where on their arrival hymns and antiphons are said, prayer is made, the catechumens and also the faithful are blessed; this is likewise done at the Cross. Lastly, all the Christian people to a man escort the bishop with hymns to Sion, and when they are come there, suitable lessons are read, psalrns and antiphons are said, prayer is made, the catechumens and the faithful are blessed, and the dismissal takes place. And after the dismissal all approach the bishop’s hand, and then every one returns to his house about midnight. Thus very great fatigue is endured on that day, for vigil is kept at the Anastasis from the first cockcrow, and there is no pause from that time onward throughout the whole day, but the whole celebration (of the Feast) lasts so long that it is midnight when every one returns home after the dismissal has taken place at Sion.
—Egeria, Abbess (late 4th century), The Pilgrimage of Egeria, 85-90
The idea of the human Jesus now being in heaven, in his thoroughly embodied risen state, comes as a shock to many people, including many Christians. Sometimes this is because many people think that Jesus, having been divine, stopped being divine and became human, and then, having been human for a while, stopped being human and went back to being divine (at least, that’s what many people think Christians are supposed to believe). More often it’s because our culture is so used to the Platonic idea that heaven is, by definition, a place of “spiritual,” nonmaterial reality so that the idea of a solid body being not only present but also thoroughly at home there seems like a category mistake. The ascension invites us to rethink all this; and, after all, why did we suppose we knew what heaven was? Only because our culture has suggested things to us. Part of Christian belief is to find out what’s true about Jesus and let that challenge our culture.
This applies in particular to the idea of Jesus being in charge not only in heaven but also on earth, not only in some ultimate future but also in the present. Many will snort the obvious objection: it certainly doesn’t look as though he’s in charge, or if he is, he’s making a proper mess of it. But that misses the point. The early Christians knew the world was still a mess. But they announced, like messengers going off on behalf of a global company, that a new CEO had taken charge.
What happens when you downplay or ignore the ascension? The answer is that the church expands to fill the vacuum. If Jesus is more or less identical with the church—if, that is, talk about Jesus can be reduced to talk about his presence within his people rather than his standing over against them and addressing them from elsewhere as their Lord, then we have created a high road to the worst kind of triumphalism.
Only when we grasp firmly that the church is not Jesus and Jesus is not the church—when we grasp, in other words, the truth of the ascension, that the one who is indeed present with us by the Spirit is also the Lord who is strangely absent, strangely other, strangely different from us and over against us, the one who tells Mary Magdalene not to cling to him—only then are we rescued from both hollow triumphalism and shallow despair.
Conversely, only when we grasp and celebrate the fact that Jesus has gone on ahead of us into God’s space, God’s new world, and is both already ruling the rebellious present world as its rightful Lord and also interceding for us at the Father’s right hand—when we grasp and celebrate, in other words, what the ascension tells us about Jesus’s continuing human work in the present—are we rescued from a wrong view of world history and equipped for the task of justice in the present. Get the ascension right, and your view of the church, of the sacraments, and of the mother of Jesus can get back into focus.
— N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope.