Gavin Ashenden: Mourning the Loss of Our Queen and All that She Embodied

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:

Queen Elizabeth listening to speeches by others at the Home Office last month.

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.

Read it all.

Augustine Longs for God

Beautiful.

Where did I find you, that I came to know you? You were not within my memory before I learned of you. Where, then, did I find you before I came to know you, if not within yourself, far above me? We come to you and go from you, but no place is involved in this process. In every place, O Truth, you are present to those who seek your help, and at one and the same time you answer all, though they seek your counsel on different matters.

You respond clearly, but not everyone hears clearly. All ask what they wish, but do not always hear the answer they wish. Your best servant is he who is intent not so much on hearing his petition answered, as rather on willing whatever he hears from you. 

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you; now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.

When once I shall be united to you with my whole being, I shall at last be free of sorrow and toil. Then my life will be alive, filled entirely with you. When you fill someone, you relieve him of his burden, but because I am not yet filled with you, I am a burden to myself. My joy when I should be weeping struggles with my sorrows when I should be rejoicing. I know not where victory lies. Woe is me! Lord, have mercy on me! My evil sorrows and good joys are at war with one another, | know not where victory lies. Woe is me! Lord, have mercy! Woe is me! I make no effort to conceal my wounds. You are my physician, I your patient. You are merciful; I stand in need of mercy. 

Is not the life of man upon earth a trial? Who would want troubles and difficulties? You command us to endure them, not to love them. No person loves what he endures, though he may love the act of enduring. For even if he is happy to endure his own burden, he would still prefer that the burden not exist. I long for prosperity in times of adversity, and I fear adversity when times are good. Yet what middle ground is there between these two extremes where the life of man would be other than trial? Pity the prosperity of this world, pity it once and again, for it corrupts joy and brings the fear of adversity. Pity the adversity of this world, pity it again, then a third time; for it fills men with a longing for prosperity, and because adversity itself is hard for them to bear and can even break their endurance. Is not the life of man upon earth a trial, a continuous trial?

All my hope lies only in your great mercy.

Responsory
Late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient, ever new,
late have I loved you.
—You called, you shouted,
and you broke through my deafness.

The Son of Man came to seek out the lost
and lead them to salvation.
—You called, you shouted,
and you broke through my deafness.

Confessions

Occasional Reflection, July 19, 2022: Entering God’s Holy Presence

1 Then David again gathered all the elite troops in Israel, 30,000 in all. He led them to Baalah of Judah to bring back the Ark of God, which bears the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, who is enthroned between the cherubim. They placed the Ark of God on a new cart and brought it from Abinadab’s house, which was on a hill. Uzzah and Ahio, Abinadab’s sons, were guiding the cart that carried the Ark of God. Ahio walked in front of the Ark. David and all the people of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, singing songs and playing all kinds of musical instruments—lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets, and cymbals.

But when they arrived at the threshing floor of Nacon, the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah reached out his hand and steadied the Ark of God. Then the Lord’s anger was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him dead because of this. So Uzzah died right there beside the Ark of God.

David was angry because the Lord’s anger had burst out against Uzzah. He named that place Perez-uzzah (which means “to burst out against Uzzah”), as it is still called today.

David was now afraid of the Lord, and he asked, “How can I ever bring the Ark of the Lord back into my care?” 10 So David decided not to move the Ark of the Lord into the City of David. Instead, he took it to the house of Obed-edom of Gath. 11 The Ark of the Lord remained there in Obed-edom’s house for three months, and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and his entire household.

12 Then King David was told, “The Lord has blessed Obed-edom’s household and everything he has because of the Ark of God.” So David went there and brought the Ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the City of David with a great celebration.

—2 Samuel 6.1-12

How do sin-stained humans approach a Holy and morally perfect God, a God whose holiness can tolerate not one hint of evil or imperfection in his direct Presence? Very carefully if we are to believe the old and new testaments. Take today’s story for example. King David had decided to bring the Ark of the Covenant, the very place where God chose to dwell with God’s people, the very place ancient Israel believed heaven and earth intersected, to Jerusalem even though no ark could contain God. Touching the Ark meant entering the Presence of a Holy God. God had given Moses very specific instructions on how to handle and transport this Ark. Only Levites were authorized to carry the Ark and handle it. You can read about that in Numbers 1.50-51 if you’re interested.

Now here we are with David leading the procession to bring the Ark of God to Jerusalem. But the oxen pulling the cart with the Ark stumbled and the Ark was about to be thrown off. One of men guiding the Ark instinctively reached to catch it before it fell. Surely he did so with the best intentions. And what happened? In great understatement the writer tells us that this act aroused God’s anger and God struck him dead. Talk about the ultimate buzz-kill to spoil a perfectly good party!

God’s seemingly heartless and merciless action made David angry, and why wouldn’t it? At first blush it would make anyone angry. Isn’t God supposed to be kind and merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love? What kind of cruel God would strike someone dead over a seemingly innocent behavior like this?

God is indeed loving and merciful and gracious, but God is first and foremost a holy God, separate and apart from creation and God’s creatures, and God in his holiness can brook no act of disobedience or sin or evil. Nothing but good can dwell in God’s presence and that is for our ultimate good if we ever hope to live with him throughout eternity. Who wants to live forever with evil or brokenness or sickness or incompleteness?

So why did God strike this man dead? The answer is straightforward. Uzzah was not a Levite. Obed-edom was (we learn that from 1 Chronicles 15.14-18). David and Uzzah did not follow God’s strict instructions to his people about how to handle the Ark of his Presence and awful consequences ensued. But when David finally followed God’s instructions, God’s blessing ensued. God blessed Obed-edom and his household.

If all the above is true, how can sinful mortals like you and me ever hope to live in God’s holy Presence forever, the same Presence that can tolerate nothing but perfection? Even the best of us are far from morally perfect as this story powerfully and frighteningly shows! No wonder David was angry and afraid. Who in his or her right mind wouldn’t be afraid if this is true? It would seem none of us will get to go to heaven or live in God’s direct Presence forever in the new heavens and earth. And this isn’t the only story of its kind in Scripture. Any time sinful mortals approach God’s holy Presence in ways not prescribed by God, it never turns out well for us. What to do?

Some will dismiss this story as pure fiction. It’s too terrifying to actually believe. But there is a better, life-giving way. Thankfully God has given us a way to approach him without fear. Enter the Cross of Jesus Christ. The only way we can approach God’s Presence is through Christ’s Death. In Christ’s holy Death, God took away our deserved punishment for our sins and made us spotless and without blemish in God’s sight. We aren’t told how this all works, only that it does. And those who put their faith in Christ and act accordingly can have every expectation and confidence that their present and future are with God, not separated from him. We have God’s very word on that contained in the NT and the tradition of the Church. God did not have to do that for us. In the Cross of Christ, in becoming human and dying our death and suffering God’s terrible separation on our behalf, God found a most unexpected way to make us holy and acceptable in God’s sight while satisfying God’s sense of real justice so that we could not only approach God but also get to live with God forever, God be thanked and praised!

This is the God we worship. This is the God we are called to love. Resolve today to stop serving the ways and gods of this broken and sinful world with its destructive and death-dealing systems and beliefs and give yourself entirely to this God who loves you so much he became human (or as the Church has traditionally stated, sent his only Son, Christ) to die for you to make you holy so you are worthy to stand in God’s Presence forever. This is the heart of the Good News of Jesus Christ. This is what real love is always all about. Real love never enables sin and brokenness or anything else that dehumanizes us and therefore is not always easy to give or be recognized because the world loves its sin and brokenness. Real love shows us the way to receive real healing, real hope, real mercy, the kind that only God the Father can give us through our Lord Jesus Christ. Real love always shows us Jesus, the only Way to the Father.

—Mark 4:9

Occasional Reflection, July 16, 2022: Where’s God?

13 O Lord, I cry out to you.
    I will keep on pleading day by day.
14 O Lord, why do you reject me?
    Why do you turn your face from me?

15 I have been sick and close to death since my youth.
    I stand helpless and desperate before your terrors.
16 Your fierce anger has overwhelmed me.
    Your terrors have paralyzed me.
17 They swirl around me like floodwaters all day long.
    They have engulfed me completely.
18 You have taken away my companions and loved ones.
    Darkness is my closest friend. —Psalm 88.13-18

As the war between the house of Saul and the house of David went on, Abner became a powerful leader among those loyal to Saul. One day Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, accused Abner of sleeping with one of his father’s concubines, a woman named Rizpah, daughter of Aiah.

Abner was furious. “Am I some Judean dog to be kicked around like this?” he shouted. “After all I have done for your father, Saul, and his family and friends by not handing you over to David, is this my reward—that you find fault with me about this woman? May God strike me and even kill me if I don’t do everything I can to help David get what the Lord has promised him!10 I’m going to take Saul’s kingdom and give it to David. I will establish the throne of David over Israel as well as Judah, all the way from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south.” 11 Ishbosheth didn’t dare say another word because he was afraid of what Abner might do.

12 Then Abner sent messengers to David, saying, “Doesn’t the entire land belong to you? Make a solemn pact with me, and I will help turn over all of Israel to you.” —2 Samuel 3.6-12

If you have had a relationship with God for long enough, you will surely have experienced a feeling similar to the psalmist’s above. You are rocking along and then all of a sudden disaster of some kind strikes. You cry out to God for help and relief, but hear and experience nothing but darkness.

Our psalm appointed for yesterday reflects the terror we feel when that happens. We accuse God of abandoning us and/or rejecting us. We tell ourselves that God does this because God is angry at us. In the psalmist’s day it was a commonly held belief that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked. Many of us still cling to that belief despite the warning of Job that that might not necessarily be the case in every instance. Because God allows bad things to happen to us doesn’t necessarily mean that God is punishing us. Unless we hear clearly from the Lord that he is indeed punishing us, we need to be very circumspect in our thinking about this.

All that notwithstanding, the fact remains that the psalmist despairs God has abandoned and rejected him forever. For those who believe in God, this is a terrifying prospect. And yet, the psalmist continues to reach out to God in prayer. Like St. Peter asked Christ, “Lord where else can we go? To whom can we turn?”

And then we read today’s OT lesson. Surely the players involved in this sad story would have been tempted to believe God had abandoned and rejected them. God had indeed rejected Saul and his line. There was prophetic confirmation of that reality. So why hadn’t Abner and Israel submitted to David’s kingly rule? Was Samuel really a false prophet?

The point is this. God’s will didn’t magically come about by God snapping his fingers and making it so, much as many of us expect God to act in this manner. God didn’t cause chaos for Ishbosheth, Ishbosheth caused his own chaos. Whether his accusations against Abner were true we are not told, but if they were it would have been a clear attempt by Abner to usurp Ishbosheth. Neither was Abner’s murder or Ishbosheth’s murder caused by God. Human agents were responsible for both treacherous acts. You can read about them later in the story above.

What God did do was use these evil acts to help accomplish his purpose of making David King over all Israel. The point here is that even in the midst of treachery, murder, duplicity, and chaos God was at work accomplishing his purposes. Unless the players and those surrounding the players were tuned firmly into God, God’s hand at work would have been hard to see. The psalmist surely would have understood this dynamic.

And so do we. I look at the chaos and lawlessness running rampant in many of our nation’s cities. I see the wicked fruits of the the sexual revolution coming to full fruition and making otherwise reasonable people act and talk like lunatics. I see green politics causing all kinds of suffering and hunger and want and I wonder if this nation will survive me. How can humans flourish with all this darkness swirling around us? Where are you God? Why are you not making things right? Why are the patients running the asylum??

So what to do? For Christians, the answer is to come together as God’s people in Christ and keep our eyes firmly fixed on Christ’s cross. As we saw on Thursday, that is the answer. As the NT audaciously proclaims, Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not. It didn’t look that way to Christ’s followers that first Good Friday. It took a mighty act of God the Father raising Christ from the dead that first Easter Sunday to show them that God was still in control and the promises and proclamations of Christ were true. That hasn’t changed over the course of history.

But let’s be honest here. Many of us increasingly feel like the psalmist who wrote Psalm 88 above, and with good reason. But that isn’t the last word. God’s will be done on earth as in heaven. Christ rules, even in the midst of chaos to accomplish God’s will. That takes a good bit of faith, the kind you only develop by having a real relationship with the living Lord and studying his word contained in Scripture to learn how God has set about to rescue his good creation and creatures from ourselves and the Evil we have unleashed in our foolishness. We need to do this together as a family in Christ and to support each other because seeing Christ’s hand at work in our lives and his world is not always easy to see. Sometimes it is impossible. But his Death and Resurrection remind us in no uncertain terms that God is in charge and works through suffering and injustice to accomplish God’s will. Christ is the supreme exemplar of that dynamic and truth. And because it is true, one day those who put their hope and faith in Christ will see the reward for their faith and suffering in this mortal life. When that blessed day comes and Christ returns to finish his saving and healing work, these momentary trials and tribulations, awful and real as they were and are, will seem as nothing compared to the beauty, health, and life that will be part and parcel of God’s new heavens and earth.

—Mark 4.9

Occasional Reflection, July 14, 2022: God’s Justice

Today begins an occasional series of reflections based on assigned readings from the Daily Office. May God bless you in your reading and reflection of them.

How long, O Lord?
    How long will the wicked be allowed to gloat?
How long will they speak with arrogance?
    How long will these evil people boast?
They crush your people, Lord,
    hurting those you claim as your own.
They kill widows and foreigners
    and murder orphans.
“The Lord isn’t looking,” they say,
    “and besides, the God of Israel doesn’t care.”

Think again, you fools!
    When will you finally catch on?
Is he deaf—the one who made your ears?
    Is he blind—the one who formed your eyes?
10 He punishes the nations—won’t he also punish you?
    He knows everything—doesn’t he also know what you are doing?
11 The Lord knows people’s thoughts;
    he knows they are worthless!

20 Can unjust leaders claim that God is on their side—
    leaders whose decrees permit injustice?
21 They gang up against the righteous
    and condemn the innocent to death.
22 But the Lord is my fortress;
    my God is the mighty rock where I hide.
23 God will turn the sins of evil people back on them.
    He will destroy them for their sins.
    The Lord our God will destroy them.

—Psalm 92.3-11, 20-23

Strong language from one of the psalms assigned for today. The psalmist sees massive injustices all around him and calls on the Lord God to do something about it. Doesn’t God see what’s going on? Doesn’t God care about his people? But how can that be? After all, God punishes the nations. God punishes evildoers. God knows human thinking on its own is worthless, leading to no good, and God will not let it stand. The psalmist finally concludes that God will act on behalf of God’s people. He will punish evildoers and actually destroy them. Strong words. Troubling words. Nobody likes to think about God punishing humans because in our heart of hearts (if we have not totally deluded ourselves or lost our minds completely) we all know we are candidates for God’s punishment. Every one of us has missed the mark of God’s moral perfection.

When I was growing up, I wasn’t the only one who had trouble with these words. Apparently many deep thinkers of the church had trouble with these words too because there was a lot of scrambling to rationalize them and to convince us God wasn’t really that way.

Right.

And their efforts trickled down into the pulpits and ministers who were supposed to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ totally and faithfully. After all, look at Jesus. He never had strong words for evildoers. Gentle Jesus meek and mild and all that.

Right.

Apparently texts like St. Matthew 23 (and many more) held and hold no weight to these deep thinkers and those they influenced. Or maybe these texts are later insertions by the church.

Right.

This is why Christian denominations that have rejected strong words like these and drunk the culture’s Kool-aid in an attempt to fit into today’s bizarre new world are dying. They deny their own story in the name of relevance. Nobody likes or respects someone who denies or disrespects his or her own story.

At one point in my life I almost drank the Kool-aid. But by the grace of God as I grew older I came to realize with the help of God and some true deep Christian thinkers how beautiful, real and hopeful these troubling words actually are. If God is truly a good, just, and loving God, how can God have any other reaction to evil and evildoers, human or otherwise? Why would God not be angry at things that dehumanize and ultimately destroy humans, God’s image-bearing creatures? Why would God not act on our behalf to rescue us from real injustices and wrongs, not the made-up, distorted ones we humans love to devise in our worthless thinking?

Think about it. We see folks attempting to foist critical race theory—a hateful, distorted, and inherently racist viewpoint—and apparently succeeding. We see DAs who refuse to prosecute criminals or uphold the law and we hear all kinds of angry rhetoric aimed at dehumanizing and delegitimizing law enforcement. As a result crime is skyrocketing in our cities as lawlessness and chaos ensue. How can humans flourish in that kind of environment? We hear angry voices denouncing our nation’s cherished institutions like the Supreme Court because it had the audacity to do the right thing in overthrowing Roe v Wade and put the decision back on the states as to whether to legitimize the murder of innocents. Let us pray that by the grace of God the states are wiser and more courageous than the 1973 Supreme Court who gave us Roe v Wade. How can humans flourish, especially the unborn, if they aren’t?

I can’t speak for anyone else but all these things and others make me angry because all these movements at their very core advocate lawlessness, the very essence of sin, and I hate sin, both my own and the sin of others. Sin is evil, wicked, harmful, and it has our destruction as its goal. If broken and fallible people like me can get angry over sin and injustice, how much more will God—the only perfectly good and moral being, our Creator who created things to run according to his good and perfect will—get angry at such doing and thinking?

I hope and pray God will make all things right. I also hope and pray that all men and women, even the worst of us, even those who make me angry, will be saved by God’s grace, justice, and mercy. I can have such a hope, even as a sinful man deserving God’s just punishment, because I have put my whole hope and trust in Christ crucified, the God-man who bore the punishment I deserved out of love for me, a sinner and evildoer. That same God-man loves and died for you to spare you of God’s just punishment for your sins if you will only believe God’s promise in Christ (the gospel) contained in holy Scripture. This is God’s merciful, righteous, just, and surprising justice. It has the power to heal you, but it won’t if you do not accept the gift and live by it in faith. Without Christ I could not pray for all to be saved. Neither would I have any hope for myself because I am part of the human race. The same goes for you too. Without Christ and his Death and Resurrection no one has the basis for any real or legitimate hope.

So the next time you read or hear about hard things in holy Scripture like God’s punishment and anger toward evil and evildoers, stop and remind yourself about the end game, God’s promised new creation, the new heavens and earth, a creation utterly devoid of human sin and evil and the suffering and brokenness it all causes. Who in their right mind would not want to live in such a world forever? This is the unique hope (the sure and certain expectation) of the Christian faith, a hope and expectation made possible only by the terrible sacrifice of Christ himself, God become human, offered on our behalf to spare us from God’s anger and punishment for our sins by bearing that anger and punishment himself, not because we deserve it (we absolutely deserve nothing of the kind), but because of the astonishing and breathtaking love of God the Father for us his wayward and rebellious creatures. God did this for us because God loves us and wants us to have a real relationship with him so that we can live with him both in this world and in God’s promised new world. Try reading the whole of Scripture through that lens, the lens of God working to make all things right through his surprising love, grace, and power, the power of crucified and resurrected love. Resolve to make this love your own and start (or continue) to live accordingly. It has the power to heal you.

—Mark 4.9

Feast of the Ascension 2022: N.T. Wright on the Ascension of Jesus

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.

Feast of the Ascension 2022: Dr. John Stott on the Ascension (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.

Feast of the Ascension 2022: Dr. John Stott on the Ascension (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)

Holy Week 2022: An Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday

What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.

Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam’s son.

The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his Cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: “My Lord be with you all.”

And Christ in reply says to Adam: “And with your spirit.” And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.”

“l am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.

“I command you: Awake, sleeper, | have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; | am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and | in you, together we are one undivided person.

“For you, | your God became your son; for you, | the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, | who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, | became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, | was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.

“Look at the spittle on my face, which | received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which | accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.

“See the scourging of my back, which | accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.

“| slept on the Cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.

“But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; | will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. | denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now | myself am united to you, | who am life. | posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now | make the cherubim worship you as they would God.

“The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages.”

Holy Triduum 2022: 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?
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. 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. 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. 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, we are reminded that despite our failures, hurts, fears, and brokenness, God is a sovereign and merciful God, capable of bringing about New Creation from our desolation, and all this helps us wait on God this day with hope, real hope.

Take time to rest today, especially from the seemingly non-stop bad news of this crazy mixed-up world. 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.

Holy Week 2022: Good Friday

One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”

But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23.39-43).

NLT

Today is Good Friday, the most sacred day of the year and the turning point in history. Yet here we are, living in a world gone mad, and it certainly doesn’t feel like today is the turning point of anything. Why is it the turning point? Because God himself has moved to redeem us from our slavery to the power of Sin. Our sin got us booted from paradise as our first ancestors arrogantly sought to be equal to God. Today the Son of God makes our reentrance into paradise possible. He does so in complete agreement and perfect obedience to God the Father’s will, and by giving up his equality with God in utter humility so that we might be saved.

On the cross, Jesus, God become human, is giving himself for us in self-sacrificial love to end our alienation from God and deal a decisive blow to the dark powers. This has always been enigmatic and paradoxical to us. It doesn’t look like Jesus is reigning as king from the cross. It doesn’t look like the evil powers have been defeated. It looks just the opposite! And it often looks that way in our lives and the world in which we live. With the powers of Evil so active, how can our Christian faith proclaim the defeat of these dark powers? We aren’t told how it all works, just that the powers of Evil have been defeated. Listen to St. Paul:

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins.  He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross (Colossians 2.13-15).

NLT

St. Paul wrote these words while he was languishing in a prison dungeon because he was an apostle for Christ! He of all people knew the evil and suffering the dark powers could inflict on the saints of God. Yet he still maintained that on the cross our slavery to Sin had been broken. Certainly not completely during this mortal life as we all can attest, but we believe that despite the darkness around us and within us, we are truly free because we believe that the cross of Christ is the power of God, the only power that can free us from our slavery. Reality isn’t always perceived by our senses and the world’s wisdom is foolishness to God. May God be gracious to us and give us the wisdom and humility to have ears to hear and hearts/minds believe this astonishing truth.

At the foot of the cross, we also find God’s forgiveness for the evil and folly we have committed in our lives. Like the repentant criminal dying next to Jesus, we believe that in Christ’s death we see the love of God being poured out for us so that we are spared God’s perfect justice and judgment on our sins, and we dare cry out to our Lord, asking him to remember us. Remember me, Jesus. Because if you don’t, my mortal life will be over before I know it and I will return to dust, desolate and bereft in my grave, and unremembered after only a few short years, perhaps a fate as awful as your judgment on my sins.

We cry to our merciful Lord to save us and remember us even though we don’t deserve such love and grace because we believe in the love of God shown us today. Like the repentant criminal, we dare believe that we will hear Christ’s promise to us that on the day of our death we will be with him in paradise to await our new bodies to live in God’s new world. St. Paul boldly proclaims this above. St. Luke tells us this in the exchange between Jesus and the repentant criminal and in the larger story of Christ’s passion. Earlier he tells us that Pilate had released Barabbas, a known terrorist, instead of Jesus. The innocent is condemned and the guilty go free. That sounds about right, but in telling us this, St. Luke reminds us that even in the darkness, God’s saving power is at work. Christ has stepped into the breach to die for us so that we can live. We may not be terrorists like Barabbas was, but none of us on our own merits is able to live in the perfect holiness of God’s presence—until today, until Christ’s death, thanks be to God!

During this time of war, inflation, and strife, this is worthy of our best contemplation, our deepest mourning, and our most joyful and profound thanks to God the Father, whose great love for us in Christ surpasses our own poor expectations, hopes, and fears. This is why we call this particular Friday “Good.”

Good Friday 2022: N.T. Wright Muses on the Cross as Recounted by St. Luke

Read St. Luke 23.26-46

One of the most moving moments at the Lambeth Conference in 2008 came when Sir Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, gave a splendid and stirring lecture. Many of us, who had only heard him on the radio before, hadn’t realized that he can not only do a brilliant three-minute ‘thought for the day’ but also a magisterial and moving full-scale address—part lecture, part sermon, part testimony.

In the question time that followed, one question in particular made everyone pause and hush. ‘Tell us about Jesus.’ What would he, a leading Jew, say about the one we call ‘Messiah’?

Sir Jonathan went straight for this passage, and for verse 34, at the heart of Luke’s story of the crucifixion. ‘Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they are doing.’ At that point, he said, Jesus was echoing what the high priest says on the Day of Atonement, interceding to God for muddled and sinful Israel. Jesus, said the Chief Rabbi, was never more thoroughly Jewish than at that moment, praying for those around, praying for forgiveness, pleading the ignorance of the people as the particular reason.

As we stand back from the story, we remind ourselves that this last phase of the whole gospel had begun with Jesus coming to Jerusalem and solemnly declaring God’s judgment on the Temple and its whole system. That had led to his trial before the high priest of the day, and then to Pilate and to condemnation. Jesus really does seem to have believed that it was part of his role to take into himself the task of Temple and Priest together. He would be the place where, and the means by which, God would meet with his people in grace and forgiveness.

But if Jesus on the cross is the true Priest, Luke insists that he is also the true king. This, he says, is what it looks like when God’s kingdom comes! ‘This is the king of the Jews’! Of course, it doesn’t look like that. It looks as though he’s a failed Messiah. The sneering challenge, ‘If you’re the king of the Jews’, goes back to the demonic challenge in the desert: ‘If you’re the son of God …’

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

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

But Jesus surprises us, as he surprised the brigand, by his response. He is becoming king, here and now. No more waiting.

Today.’ In the brigand’s case: paradise now, and resurrection still to come. In our case: forgiveness, healing and hope, here and now. And the call to serve, and to give ourselves, as he gave himself for us.

 Wright, T. (2009). Lent for Everyone: Luke Year C (pp. 108–110). London.

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