Saturday, April 23, 2011

Ancient Homily on Holy Saturday

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “and with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying : “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth , all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I 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 has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Caesar and Jesus

I'm always haunted by the people's response at Jesus' trial. Yes, "crucify him" indicts all of us. Who killed Jesus? You and I did. It was my sins that sent him to the cross.

Beyond that, though, I am haunted by another response that day long ago. It is one that conflicts with the response of love we need to make to the King whose kingdom is not of this world.

As Jesus stood before Pilate, the people who for hundreds of years had been God’s people cried, “Crucify him!”

Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered (Jn. 19:15,16).

The Jewish leaders choosing Caesar over Jesus is all too much like some "Christians" today who seem far more concerned with America and its politics than being salt and light in the kingdom of God. God’s people today dare not turn their allegiance to “Caesar” for the sake of national status. We cannot give Jesus first place and at the same time give in to the compromising demands of our secular and pagan society. Neither national security nor personal security can be the first concern of the person who is committed to the One who said if anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it (Lu 9:23–24).

As the sign over the cross said, Jesus is the King.... and he asks for our total allegiance.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Just As I Am

I am deeply grateful for a gospel that invites me to come to Jesus "just as I am."

I am also very thankful that Jesus does not leave me "just as I am," but prunes and purges and refines so that I can hope to be holy as He is holy.

Christianity is more than forgiveness. Christian Faith is transformative. Christian life is, by its very nature, distinctive.

I am always coming to Jesus "just as I am," but as the years pass I am aware that I am not coming "as I was"; there is evidence of change "from glory to glory."

My friend, Paul Clark, has a song that contains the lyrics:
If seeing was the only way to believe in reality,
I'd have to say I believe 'cause I've seen the change in me.

"Just as I am," but not to stay that way....

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Sometimes the true context of worship hits me more than at others. It would seem ideal if every time we entered the liturgy we could be aware that heaven is coming to earth and that our role is to be "caught up in the Spirit" in much the same way as John the Revelator on the island of Patmos.

Today, as I carried the Gospel in the procession, I was aware that I was carrying the Book that had sustained the Church for centuries. I thought of the people who had died for their commitment to the Gospel – this God-breathed account of the One who died to make the Gospel possible.

As the Procession chant filled the sanctuary I was aware this was no song that would get air-time on Top-40 radio..... God be praised.

As we approached the altar I saw all the details that speak of heaven-come-to-earth. Here is no accommodation to contemporary culture. Sinners (all of us) are beckoned to learn the language of the Church – and of heaven. It is the refrains of Revelation 4 and 5, giving glory to the One who is holy, holy, holy, and to the Lamb who was slain.

I am not one of those Catholic converts who is overly enchanted with the Latin. I have no desire to return to the Tridentine Mass. I worship best in my first language.

Yet I belong to a universal Church. I am visibly connected to something that began when Jesus said to Simon, "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church." So I am learning, slowly, the language of Zion. It is first the language of Scripture, the way the message has been given and preserved from the beginning (and I am thankful for my Evangelical grounding in Scripture – it helps me know the language of the Church).

I am not enamored with the popular trend, especially in Protestant Evangelicalism, to be so contemporary that what is called the church is mostly like the world. That was one thing that drove me from the tradition of my past; it has largely ceased to exist, and the things I had loved about it were the things I found in greater fullness in the Church that is the source of all that is truly Christian.

Anyway (I have digressed), I was aware all over again today that worship is not about "this world." It is meant to be "otherworldly" because I am being prepared for a life beyond this one.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Lenten Implications

The Psalm in today's Office of Readings has this verse which caught my attention:

In their heart they put God to the test
by demanding the food they craved. (Psa 78)

In these days I find myself craving food more than usual because I take fasting more seriously during Lent. The world I live in invites indulgence and physical appetites are easily stirred. I try to turn that into a prayer: "Lord, let my soul hunger for you the way my body begs to be fed."

Do we take seriously the warning from the Psalmist? We can live in ways that put our own desires ahead of what God wants (which is idolatry). Again, our world restricts "sin" – to the extent it recognizes sin at all – to the "big, bad things": rape and child abuse, and some of the PC "isms." Hardly, even in the church, do we hear warnings against living self-indulgently. As long as we're "basically good people" it's supposedly normal always to do the things that make us "happy." Yet, it is a reality that what makes me happy can grieve God.

The Psalm continues:

he gave them all they craved.
But before they had sated their cravings,
while the food was still in their mouths,
God's anger rose against them....

Lent is a good time to check our cravings and to pray that we are described by another Psalm:

Like the deer that yearns for running streams,
so my soul is yearning for you, my God. (Psa 42)

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