On His Feast Day 2020, St. Augustine of Hippo Muses on the Sacraments

iuYour Lord is seated at the Father’s right hand in heaven. How then is the bread His Body? And the chalice, or rather its content, how is it His Blood?

These elements are called Sacraments, because in them one thing is perceived by the senses and another thing by the mind. What is seen has bodily appearance; what the mind perceives produces spiritual fruit. You hear the words “The Body of Christ,” and you answer “Amen” [so be it].

—Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 272.

Feast of the Ascension 2020: Pope Leo the Great on the Ascension of Jesus

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 Our faith is nobler and stronger because sight has been replaced by a doctrine whose authority is accepted by believing hearts, enlightened from on high.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.

Reflections for Easter Week: Helping You Focus on Christ and Heavenly Realities—Saturday

Your daily dose of encouragement to seek Christ and the things of heaven during the midst of pandemic and fear.

Reading for Saturday of Easter Week: 1 Corinthians 15.51-59

51 But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! 52 It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. 53 For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

54 Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
55 O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

56 For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57 But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58 So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.

Today we conclude our look at St. Paul’s masterful teaching about the resurrection of the dead. He begins by reminding us that resurrection is fundamentally about transformation: from death to life, from decay to vitality, from darkness to light, all made possible by the love and power of God the Father made known in the saving work of God the Son.

God’s new world will come in full in an instant and those who are still living when Christ returns to finish his saving work and finally judge all evil and evildoers, human and spiritual, will find their mortal bodies transformed along with the dead who are raised to new life. So whether living or dead, for those who belong to Christ, the end result is life eternal.

Again St. Paul tells us that Death is the last enemy to be conquered. We looked at his reasoning on Wednesday. Here he reminds us that immortal bodies along with God’s new world have always been God’s intention for his creation and creatures, especially his image-bearing creatures. God created everything good and intends to rescue and restore it, humans included. It’s the overarching story of Scripture. Our rebellion would have undone us permanently had it not been for the great love and mercy of God our Father who sent his only Son (or became human) to die for us so that God could finally undo death. For those who belong to Christ, the power of Sin cannot and will not prevail. Our future is secured. At the resurrection of the dead the last enemy is defeated and God’s saving work will be completed, thanks be to God!! (As a sidebar for you pet lovers, given the transformative nature of God’s new world, I see no reason why the non-human creatures that we loved will not also be present in the new heavens and earth. The logic of new creation points to it, even if Scripture for the most part remains silent about it. After all, animals belong to the created order and God has declared his intention to redeem and restore the entire created order, not just parts of it.)

But here’s the punchline. Notice carefully how St. Paul concludes his teaching on the resurrection. He doesn’t tell us to party like it’s the end time or focus entirely on the future, massively important as that is. No, St. Paul tells us to be strong and immovable, always working enthusiastically as God’s people because we know that nothing we ever do for the sake of Christ is ever useless or in vain (v.59). What a remarkable conclusion! St. Paul reminds us here that we are to leverage our future hope to help us live faithfully in a world surrounded by darkness and infested by human folly, sin, and the powers of Evil. Of course there are glimpses of God’s truth, beauty, love, and goodness all around. We can’t look at the beauty of nature or human relationships when they operate as God intended and not see that. But there is also much that corrupts and destroys the goodness of God’s world and our lives. St. Paul knows that it can overwhelm us and cause us to fall away from our faith in Christ. Don’t let that happen, he warns. You can’t always see or know the good you do in Christ’s name and for his sake. Don’t let it discourage you because your present and future are secure, and nothing in all creation, not even death, can separate you from the love of God made known in Jesus Christ our Lord (see Romans 8.31-39).

Of all the things St. Paul has talked about, this last verse might be most practical in helping us cope with the darkness of pandemic and our lives. Don’t give up hope. Don’t fall into despair. Keep on being faithful, even when it looks like nothing is happening. Jesus Christ is raised from the dead and Death is defeated. We can’t see that yet either, but we know it’s coming! So trust God based on an informed faith. Think about and ponder this hope that is yours. Talk to other Christians about how to encourage and support and love each other during these dark days. And then get to work because you know the world in which you live is important to God, who has moved to heal and redeem it through the power of suffering love. Get to work, even in the face of the darkness that confronts you, because you know that nothing you do in the name of the Lord is ever wasted or in vain, thanks be to God! Christos Anesti. Alithos Anesti!

Reflections for Easter Week: Helping You Focus on Christ and Heavenly Realities—Friday

Your daily dose of encouragement to seek Christ and the things of heaven during the midst of pandemic and fear.

Reading for Friday of Easter Week: 1 Corinthians 15.35-50

35 But someone may ask, “How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?” 36 What a foolish question! When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. 37 And what you put in the ground is not the plant that will grow, but only a bare seed of wheat or whatever you are planting. 38 Then God gives it the new body he wants it to have. A different plant grows from each kind of seed. 39 Similarly there are different kinds of flesh—one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish.

40 There are also bodies in the heavens and bodies on the earth. The glory of the heavenly bodies is different from the glory of the earthly bodies. 41 The sun has one kind of glory, while the moon and stars each have another kind. And even the stars differ from each other in their glory.

42 It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. 43 Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. 44 They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies.

45 The Scriptures tell us, “The first man, Adam, became a living person.” But the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit. 46 What comes first is the natural body, then the spiritual body comes later. 47 Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth, while Christ, the second man, came from heaven. 48 Earthly people are like the earthly man, and heavenly people are like the heavenly man.49 Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man.

50 What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever.

Today we come to the heart of St. Paul’s teaching about the resurrection of the body. St. Paul begins by asking the skeptic’s question: How are the dead raised, i.e., how can God possibly do that? We just can’t imagine it! What about, e.g., those whose bodies have been obliterated or lost at sea so there are no tangible remains? What about those who have been cremated? What a foolish question, St. Paul declares. Just because you can’t imagine resurrection doesn’t mean God doesn’t have the power to accomplish it. After all, God is the God who creates things out of nothing (the cosmos) and raises the dead to life (Romans 4.17), Jesus being the most important example! What is too hard for God to accomplish? In other words, St. Paul tells us that resurrection is God’s problem, not ours, and we shouldn’t worry about how God will pull off the resurrection of the dead and transform the old creation into the new. God has promised to do it in raising Christ from the dead and God will accomplish what he promises, so chill out, baby. St. Paul then continues his argument for bodily resurrection by declaring that there are different types of bodies in the created order. He is laying the foundation to talk about the difference between our present mortal bodies (psychikon soma) versus our future spiritual bodies. Below I post a short video by Dr. Ben Witherington, where he explains clearly and concisely what St. Paul meant by a “spiritual body” (pneumatikon soma). Listen to him now.

What I want to reemphasize here is that when St. Paul speaks of resurrection he is clearly speaking about bodily resurrection and affirming the goodness of the created order. Our mortal bodies will die because we all belong to Adam and have been afflicted and enslaved by the power of Sin, which leads to our mortal death. If you have ever seen a dead human body before the undertaker has prepared it for viewing, you know exactly what St. Paul is talking about when he speaks of our mortal bodies being buried in weakness and brokenness. I had never seen a dead body outside a funeral home until I served as a chaplain intern in preparation for my ordination to the priesthood. I’ll never forget the night I was called to the hospital to attend to a person to whom I had ministered in life who had just died. It was night, which only added to my apprehension as I walked into the dimly-lit room to see the person’s dead body lying there. An awful look had come over it, like an alien and hostile force had taken ahold of it, and I hardly recognized the person. I observed an ugliness that had never been there in life. It was very disconcerting and I realized that this is not what God ever intended for his image-bearers. Had it not been for me knowing that this saint was safely with the Lord and that the person’s mortal body would be raised and healed and transformed into a thing of astonishing beauty, even more beautiful than the person’s mortal body had been, I would have become completely unnerved and overwhelmed by what confronted me. I experienced first-hand what St. Paul was talking about in the passage above about the weakness and brokenness of our mortal bodies. Death is not pretty. It is not our friend, but our enemy.

But thanks be to God we also belong to Christ by baptism and faith so that we can look forward to having resurrected bodies like our crucified and risen Lord has now. Those bodies will be adapted for immortality because God’s new creation will be eternal when it comes in full at Christ’s return. In telling us that mortal bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God (the new creation when it comes in full), St. Paul is not denigrating bodily existence. He knew bodies matter to God! St. Paul is simply affirming that what is temporary (our mortal body) is not suited or equipped to inhabit that which is permanent and eternal (the new creation). Our mortal bodies die because we belong to Adam. Or resurrection bodies will never die because we belong to Christ.

As we are bombarded with news about COVID-19 and the rising death count, how can you use this passage from 1 Corinthians 15 to help you keep perspective and prevent you from falling into fear and despair? Perhaps the story I shared with you will also help guide your reflections. Think through what Paul is saying and then talk about it with fellow Christians. It is critical that we answer these questions. In doing so, we will find God gives us new power and resolve during this time of death and despair. Keep your focus where it should be—on Christ’s love, light, and power. Christos Anesti!

Tomorrow: Conclusion—1 Corinthians 15.51-59

Reflections for Easter Week: Helping You Focus on Christ and Heavenly Realities—Thursday

Your daily dose of encouragement to seek Christ and the things of heaven during the midst of pandemic and fear.

Reading for Thursday of Easter Week: 1 Corinthians 15.29-34

29 If the dead will not be raised, what point is there in people being baptized for those who are dead? Why do it unless the dead will someday rise again?

30 And why should we ourselves risk our lives hour by hour? 31 For I swear, dear brothers and sisters, that I face death daily. This is as certain as my pride in what Christ Jesus our Lord has done in you. 32 And what value was there in fighting wild beasts—those people of Ephesus—if there will be no resurrection from the dead? And if there is no resurrection, “Let’s feast and drink, for tomorrow we die!”33 Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for “bad company corrupts good character.” 34 Think carefully about what is right, and stop sinning. For to your shame I say that some of you don’t know God at all.

So far in this chapter, St. Paul has laid out the historical basis of Christ’s resurrection and the certainly of the future hope of resurrection for those who belong to Christ. Here he gives two more examples in support of his argument. Whatever was behind the purpose of being baptized for the dead—this is the only reference to it in the NT and other ancient Christian literature—we mustn’t let it distract our focus on resurrection. St. Paul mentions it simply to reinforce his argument that Christ has been raised from the dead and that the Christian hope of resurrection is based on that reality. If Christ isn’t raised, why conduct baptism by proxy for the dead? Makes no sense.

Likewise, if Christ isn’t raised and our future resurrection isn’t assured, why would St. Paul risk his own life and suffer what he had endured for the sake of proclaiming a false gospel (as some of his opponents had claimed in denying the resurrection) that Jesus Christ was crucified and raised from the dead to announce the forgiveness of sins and the partial in-breaking of God’s new world on the old? We could ask ourselves the same question. As we saw previously, if there is no resurrection, we have no hope for a real future beyond our mortal life and we’d better be about grabbing all the gusto and fun we can selfishly hoard (toilet paper anyone?) because our days are numbered.

St. Paul then scolds those in the church at Corinth (not unbelievers outside the church) who have caved to the cynical darkness of the world and taught wrongly and falsely that there is no resurrection of the dead. Those people, roars St. Paul, do not know God at all! To add to their foolishness and folly, they are trying to bring down others by denying the bodily resurrection of Christ. Yikes! If that is not enough to make us shudder as Christians, I don’t know what can.

Here’s an example that I hope illustrates what St. Paul is talking about. I read yesterday that a famous preacher in Virginia had died from COVID-19 after refusing to stay at home and preaching that “God is larger than this dreaded virus.” One of the commenters on the story sneered that karma was greater than the pastor’s God. I do not comment on the pastor’s decision. He has paid for it with his life; may he rest In peace and rise in glory. What I do comment on is the commenter’s sneering remark because it reflects pretty well the ethos of the world of Adam, the current Age in which we live, an age where the world is fundamentally hostile to God. When I read it I wondered how karma will work out for him on his deathbed as clearly he didn’t have a clue about the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has the power to create things out of nothing and raise the dead (Romans 4.17). Despite his tragic mistake, the Virginia pastor has a future awaiting him. The sneering commenter? Not so much unless he abandons his foolishness, and I pray to God that he will. This is what St. Paul is getting at in this section of 1 Corinthians 15. We have been given a great gift and treasure in the hope and promise of resurrection. Let us not feed our pearls to the pigs, but instead pray for those who do not have the treasure for themselves. The resurrection for St. Paul and countless other Christians over time and across cultures has made all the difference in the world for them and how they live(d) their lives.

How do you make your resurrection faith real as you cope with this pandemic? What makes you want to abandon it or deny the reality of your future? What do you do when that happens to resist the temptation? Think these questions through and talk to others about it. Encourage each other as needed. Doing so will help you refocus where your attention should be, on God’s new world, not the darkness of this world, and you will discover God’s blessings afresh. Christos Anesti!

Tomorrow: 1 Corinthians 15.35-50

Reflections for Easter Week: Helping You Focus on Christ and Heavenly Realities—Wednesday

Your daily dose of encouragement to seek Christ and the things of heaven during the midst of pandemic and fear.

Reading for Wednesday of Easter Week: 1 Corinthians 15.20-28

20 But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.

21 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. 23 But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.

24 After that the end will come, when he will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power. 25 For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. 26 And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For the Scriptures say, “God has put all things under his authority.” (Of course, when it says “all things are under his authority,” that does not include God himself, who gave Christ his authority.) 28 Then, when all things are under his authority, the Son will put himself under God’s authority, so that God, who gave his Son authority over all things, will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere.

St. Paul has built a case for the historical reality of Christ’s resurrection in the previous verses. Now he draws his conclusion. There’s going to be a general resurrection of the dead and Christ’s resurrection signals that reality. In other words, there’s going to be a new physical reality beyond the scope of history. Why is that important? Because the world is tied to Adam and its end is death and destruction. Why? Because everyone sins, which alienates us from God and excludes our presence with his. The profane (fallen humanity) does not fare well when it meets the holy (God). We, like our first ancestor Adam, are fundamentally flawed and have become slaves to the power of Sin; and as St. Paul writes elsewhere, sin leads to death. Without help from an outside Power, the world of Adam of which we are a part is bound to lead to suffering, sorrow, alienation, decay, and ultimately death. We see it swirling around and within us all the time. COVID-19 is a classic example of what’s wrong with Adam’s world, the current world in which we live. This is where the world and our lives are headed without outside intervention.

Fortunately there is a power greater than the power of Sin: The love and power of God made known to us in Jesus Christ and him crucified. Those who belong to Christ, who by baptism and faith believe him to be the Son of God and the Resurrection and the Life (John 11.25-26), will share in his risen life, even though our mortal body must die (because we formerly belonged to Adam).

But here’s the kicker for St. Paul. While most first-century Jews believed in a general resurrection of the dead at the end of history, nobody expected or anticipated a one-off event in the middle of history—until Christ arose from the dead, that is. So here we see St. Paul adjusting his theology to match the new reality that Christ has been raised from the dead to inaugurate and give us a glimpse of God’s new world and new life, all made possible by his death on the cross. He tells us that when Christ returns to usher in God’s new creation in full with its abolition of all things evil including Sin and Death, those who belong to Christ will be raised to new life.

The course of history, says St. Paul, has been radically altered from death to life.

Heaven and earth will be joined together and the goodness of God’s original creation will be restored, only on steroids. We can’t imagine what this looks like because it comes from God’s realm, heaven (that’s why we are to put our focus there). Whatever it looks like, it will reflect the love, beauty, and power of God, just as God’s current world partially reflects these things. Sins will be forgiven forever, memories and bodies healed, all things destructive will be banned so as not to harm us or God’s creation ever again (see Revelation 21.1-8). We can only imagine—and hope with eager anticipation.

But why is Death the last enemy to be destroyed? Because until Christ returns to raise the dead, folks are still dead! To be sure, the souls of the dead who belong to Christ are resting with him in heaven right now, aware of his loving presence (cf. Philippians 1.23-24), but until they are reunited with their body, they are still dead. Here we find another robust endorsement of the created order and a very high view of human beings. Bodies matter to the Lord! He created them and has redeemed them in Christ’s death (Romans 8.1-4), and he intends to restore them one day to their full glory at the resurrection of the dead. But until all the components that make us human are reunited, we are still dead and death still remains.

How can the promise of new creation and new indestructible bodies help you understand the importance of your own humanity in this life? How can the promise of an evil-free and perfect world where you can finally enjoy life fully as God created and intended for it to be help you cope with the darkness of your life? Why is the prospect of new creation so much better and more exciting than existing in a disembodied state for all eternity? How can the hope of resurrection and new creation help you cope during this pandemic with all its attendant bad news? Apply St. Paul’s teaching today to these questions. Think about it and reflect on it with other Christians and expect God to bless you as you do. After all, the blessing itself is a sign of new life in the midst of a death-dealing world! Christos Anesti!

Tomorrow: 1 Corinthians 15.29-34

Reflections for Easter Week: Helping You Focus on Christ and Heavenly Realities—Tuesday

Your daily dose of encouragement to seek Christ and the things of heaven during the midst of pandemic and fear. If yesterday you missed why I’m do this, you can read about it here.

Reading for Tuesday of Easter Week: 1 Corinthians 15.12-19

12 But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? 13 For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. 15 And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. 16 And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. 18 In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! 19 And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.

As we saw yesterday, resurrection is hard for us to imagine because it comes from God, not humans, and so it shouldn’t surprise us to see that even in St. Paul’s day there were folks who struggled to believe that Jesus Christ is raised from the dead. Here he tells us that our future resurrection is based on the fact that Christ is raised from the dead because our life here and hereafter are inextricably linked to his. No resurrection for Jesus, no resurrection for his followers.

Second, if the resurrection is a myth, then the things St. Paul and the other apostles had been preaching about the saving power of the cross were a lie. Without the resurrection, Jesus would have died the death of a common criminal and the cross would have remained a sign of shame and degradation rather than of God’s forgiveness, healing, and redemption of our sins and brokenness. If that were the case, then our sins have not been forgiven and we remain hostile and alienated from God. The trajectory of this world and our mortal life remains decay and death. We have no hope, no future. We are dead people walking.

Third, if we have no hope or future, we are living a lie and those who preached Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead are liars themselves. They lied about God, about life, and about death. No Good News there.

And finally, if there is no resurrection, anyone who follows Christ with his demand to us to deny ourselves and take up our cross is a fool and should be pitied. If we have no future other than this mortal life, we’d better be grabbing for all the gusto we can get (and other earthly things) before we die. With no real future, self-giving love is a farce and a delusion.

St. Paul’s point is that the resurrection was the course-changing event in history. It proclaims that we have a future and that even though we suffer mortal death and are afflicted by all kinds of evil, our future is life, not death. That’s why we have hope, the sure and certain expectation of things to come. We have this sure and certain expectation because we believe that Christ is alive, and because he is, we are taught that those who follow him are promised a share in both his life and death.

How can/does this hope (the sure and certain expectation of resurrected life in God’s new world) help mitigate the death dealing news of COVID-19 or other death dealing events in your life? What signs of new creation and new life do you see breaking through around you? Think it over and think it through. Then talk to other Christians and see what you come up with. This is keeping your focus on Christ and things of heaven. God in his grace and love for you will surely bless your efforts.

Tomorrow: 1 Corinthians 15.20-28

Reflections for Easter Week: Helping You Focus on Christ and Heavenly Realities—Monday

Yesterday in my sermon I talked about the practical advice St. Paul gave us to help keep us focused on the reality and promise of bodily resurrection, especially during these dark days of pandemic. This is what the apostle said:

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand.Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.

Colossians 3.1-4

It is easy for us to be uplifted during worship where we set our sights on the love and goodness and justice of God made known supremely in Christ and the realities of God’s space (heaven), and then get bogged down with the realities of the world after worship is over. But Christians are people of power and freedom, and we can choose to think about (or focus our attention on) things of heaven anytime we choose, things, e.g., that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and admirable.

One way for us to focus our attention on the truth of the heavenly reality of bodily resurrection that will be part and parcel of God’s new heavens and earth is to read and reflect on Scripture that talks about resurrection. During Easter Week, Common Worship’s Daily Lectionary assigns readings from St. Paul’s masterful treatise on resurrection found in 1 Corinthians 15. So to help you focus your attention on Christ and the heavenly realities this week, I offer you the assigned reading each day along with a very brief reflection. I use the NLT version of Scripture. Feel free to use your favorite translation if the NLT doesn’t float your boat. May God bless you and encourage you, may God equip you to be his resurrection peeps as you do.

Reading for Monday of Easter Week: 1 Corinthians 15.1-11

Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place.

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.

10 But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me—and not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace. 11 So it makes no difference whether I preach or they preach, for we all preach the same message you have already believed.

It is hard for us to imagine bodily resurrection because resurrection doesn’t originate from the human realm; it comes from God. For us to believe in bodily resurrection we must be convinced that it is rooted in human history, that Jesus of Nazareth really was crucified, died, and buried, and that he rose again on the third day. Here St. Paul reminds us of the historical basis of the resurrection. First, he tells us that Christ died for our sins, a conclusion the early Church drew based on the reality of the Resurrection. Why is that important? Because when Christ died for our sins he made those who believed in him ready to live in God’s direct presence in God’s new world. This is why Christ’s death and resurrection mark the turning point in history. Up to that time, our world and all that is in it were sin-corrupted and afflicted by the power of Evil, destined for decay, corruption, and death. We had no hope of ever living in God’s presence and enjoying sweet fellowship with him as our first ancestors did before they rebelled against him in paradise (Genesis 3). So the present age’s trajectory was decay and death before Christ.

But God changed all that by becoming human and dying for us to atone for our sins, thereby making it possible for us to be reconciled to him and ready to live in his promised new world. As we’ve just seen, Christ died for our sins as the Scriptures said he would. When God raised Jesus from the dead, God gave us a glimpse of life in God’s new world and proclaimed to us in this mighty act of power that Death would ultimately be defeated. The trajectory of God’s good but corrupted creation and our mortal lives therefore changed from death to life. This is news, my beloved. Good News. That’s why we call it the gospel or Good News of Jesus Christ. Everything has changed. To be sure, Sin and Death are still awful realities in this world and the power of Evil still makes itself known all too regularly. But for those who have a real relationship with Christ, our destiny is no longer death but life, bodily life, not some spiritual existence. In Christ’s death and resurrection God affirms and honors our humanity. And why wouldn’t he? After all, God made us in his own image to run his good world (see Genesis 1-2)!

St. Paul then established that the resurrection isn’t some made up baloney or a figment of human imagination. He tells us that he had passed on a well-established oral tradition, carefully preserved from the beginning so that future generations who weren’t eyewitnesses could be taught about this mighty and totally unexpected act of power and grace on God’s part. There were all kinds of eyewitnesses who had seen Jesus after his resurrection, including Paul. This was an event so important that those eyewitnesses made sure that their testimony would be transmitted faithfully and accurately to future generations after the eyewitnesses had died.

This was St. Paul’s point. The resurrection happened. It was an historical fact and reality, unbelievable as it sounded. It really was too good, but it was also true, which made it even better! How can that knowledge help lift and strengthen you to face the death-dealing stories that come from COVID-19? Think on these things today as they apply to your life and your situation and then talk it over with other Christians. As you do, know that you are focusing on things of heaven and God will surely bless your efforts.

Tomorrow: 1 Corinthians 15.12-19.

Holy Triduum 2020: Holy Saturday: Waiting for the Messiah We Didn’t Expect

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

–Lamentations 1.12 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Psalm 88 (NIV)

It is now the day after the crucifixion, and if we are to take it seriously, we must pause for a minute and reflect on what Jesus’ first disciples must have been dealing with on that day after. We cannot say for sure because Scripture is largely silent about this (but cf. John 20.19; Luke 24.13-24 for clues), but surely they would have been absolutely devastated. The most wonderful person they had ever known had been brutally 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 knew that God’s Messiah didn’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, much like many of feel during this pandemic. Like the psalmist above, surely they (like we) 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 in the midst of our own desolation as we reflect on the devastation Jesus’ followers must have felt the day after his crucifixion. In addition to the plague that besets us, 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, especially now, 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. In the midst of Covid19 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, both individually and collectively. 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 in the middle of this plague, we are reminded that despite our failures, hurts, fears, and brokenness, despite the virus that is rampaging around us (and God forbid in the midst of some of us), 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 during this plague with hope, real hope.

Take time to rest today, especially from the seemingly non-stop bad news of this pandemic. Reflect deeply on these things as you learn to wait on God to act in your life and in this world to end the scourge. 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 Professor N.T. 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, not even Covid19.

Good Friday 2020: Fleming Rutledge Offers a Good Friday Reflection

Then [the crucified criminal] said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Luke 23.42-43 (NRSV)

Somehow the crucified criminal on Jesus’ right was enabled to see something that day that no one else saw. He saw Jesus reigning as a King and determining the destinies of people even in his tormented mented and dying state. To see him that way, Luke is telling us, is to see him as he truly is and to understand the source of his power. Not by signs and wonders, not by magic and dazzlement, not by “shock and awe,” but only by an ultimate act of God’s own self-sacrifice does Christ rule. His power is made known only through his death.

I ask you now: Can you see yourself as one for whom Jesus died? Can you say with the second thief, Jesus, remember member me when you come into your kingdom? It was not only for the bandits and “bad elements” on the other side of the civilized divide; it was for us too, with our masks of innocence and our delusions about our own righteousness. ness. His death was for us too.

Fleming Rutledge. The Seven Last Words from the Cross (Kindle Locations 141-146). Kindle Edition.

Good Friday 2020: Fleming Rutledge on Faith and the Cross

A fantastic Good Friday devotional, and one I highly recommend you make part of your library.

Earlier [Jesus] had said to his disciples, “As the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected” (Luke 17:24-25). His triumph would be won, but only at greatest cost. Another other time, he said to the disciples, “1 saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10.18), so we know that he had before him the vision of his victory; but it would come only through his suffering. Once, we are told, “while they were all marveling” at the wonderful things he did – the healings and exorcisms and miracles – he turned to them and said, “Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of [wicked] men” (Luke 9:44), but they could not believe it; it was completely outside anyone’s conception of the Messiah that he would be betrayed, condemned, and crucified. cified.

Here in this final portion of our Good Friday vigil, we are trying to gain some deeper understanding of what this all means for us personally. In preparing to examine more closely the final saying, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit,” I have tried to indicate that not even Saint Luke would have us believe that this offering of Christ’s life was a gentle passage into a heavenly reward. In these meditations I have written first of John’s and now of Luke’s three sayings separately from the others so that we can see how they fit into the purposes of these two Evangelists, but in the end the Christian tradition has always combined the seven sayings into a whole. When I was in seminary, I had many wonderful professors, but in recent years there is one, a theologian, who has emerged as the most prominent in my memory. He is long dead now, but I will never forget what he meant to me. I remember member in particular talking to him once about great questions of life and death, and the struggle to believe and to make sense of things. His only child, a son, had been born when he and his wife were in their forties, and then they lost him to a rare disease when he was twenty-three. three. Out of his great grief, this bereaved father said, “The Christian life is lived in between – in between My God, my God, why halt thou forsaken me? and Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”

Fleming Rutledge. The Seven Last Words from the Cross (Kindle Locations 466-470). Kindle Edition.

Good Friday 2020: Fr. Carlo Carretto Offers a Reflection Appropriate for Good Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a discovery that was!

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

And still that was not all.

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

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

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

Jesus was not only bread, he was a friend.

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

—Carlo Carretto, In Search of the Beyond