Category : Theology

Philip Yancey on Holy Saturday–“In the cosmic drama, we live out our days on Saturday”

[Tony] Campolo skipped one day in his sermon, though. The other two days [besides Holy Saturday] have earned names on the church calendar: Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Yet in a real sense we live on Saturday, the day with no name. What the disciples experienced on a small scale—three days, in grief over one man who had died on a cross—we now live through on a cosmic scale. Human history grinds on, between the time of promise and fulfillment. Can we trust that God can make something holy and beautiful and good out of a world that includes Bosnia and Rwanda, and inner-city ghettoes and jammed prisons in the richest nation on earth? It’s Saturday on planet earth; will Sunday ever come?

That dark, Golgothan Friday can only be called Good because of what happened on Easter Sunday, a day which gives a tantalizing clue to the riddle of the universe. Easter opened up a crack in a universe winding down toward entropy and decay, sealing the promise that someday God will enlarge the miracle of Easter to cosmic scale.

It is a good thing to remember that in the cosmic drama, we live out our days on Saturday, the in-between day with no name. I know a woman whose grandmother lies buried under 150-year-old live oak trees in the cemetery of an Episcopal church in rural Louisiana. In accordance with the grandmother’s instructions, only one word is carved on the tombstone: “Waiting.”

–Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992 paperback ed. of the 1995 original), p.275

Posted in Holy Week, Theology

Andy Alexander S.J.: A Reflection for Holy Saturday

From here:

On Holy Saturday we enter into the mystery. Today we contemplate Jesus, there in the tomb, dead. In that tomb, he is dead, exactly the way each of us will be dead. We don’t easily contemplate dying, but we rarely contemplate being dead. I have had the blessed experience of being with a number of people who have died, of arriving at a hospital shortly after someone has died, of attending an autopsy, and of praying with health sciences students over donated bodies in gross anatomy class. These were powerful experiences because they all brought me face-to-face with the mystery of death itself. With death, life ends. Breathing stops, and in an instant, the life of this person has ended. And, in a matter of hours, the body becomes quite cold and life-less – dramatic evidence, to our senses, that this person no longer exists. All that is left is this decaying shell that once held his or her life.
Death is our ultimate fear. Everything else we fear, every struggle we have, is some taste of, some chilling approach to, the experience of losing our life. This fear is responsible for so much of our lust and greed, so much of our denial and arrogance, so much of our silly clinging to power, so much of our hectic and anxiety-driven activity. It is the one, inevitable reality we all will face. There is not enough time, money, joy, fulfillment, success. Our physical beauty and strength, our mental competency and agility, all that we have and use to define ourselves, slip away from us with time. Our lives are limited. Our existence, in every way we can comprehand it, comes to an end. We will all die. In a matter of time, all that will be left of any of us is a decomposing body.

Today is a day to soberly put aside the blinders we have about the mystery of death and our fear of it. Death is very real and its approach holds great power in our lives. The “good news” we are about to celebrate has no real power in our lives unless we have faced the reality of death. To contemplate Jesus’ body, there in that tomb, is to look our death in the face, and it is preparation for hearing the Gospel with incredible joy. That we are saved from the ultimate power of sin and of death itself comes to us as a great relief, as a tremendous liberation. If Jesus lives, you and I will live! The mystery of death, which we contemplate today, will be overcome – we will live forever!

Posted in Holy Week, Theology

Joel Garver on the 20th century’s greatest Theologian of Holy Saturday

From here:Balthasar’s theology of Holy Saturday is probably one of his most intriguing contributions since he interprets it as moving beyond the active self-surrender of Good Friday into the absolute helplessness of sin and the abandonment and lostness of death.

In the Old Testament one of the greatest threats of God’s wrath was His threat of abandonment, to leave His people desolate, to be utterly rejected of God. It is this that Jesus experienced upon the Cross and in His descent into the lifeless passivity and God-forsakenness of the grave. By His free entrance into the helplessness of sin, Christ was reduced to what Balthasar calls a “cadaver-obedience” revealing and experience the full horror of sin. As Peter himself preached at Pentecost (Acts 2:23-24; 32-33):

[Jesus] being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you, by lawless hands, have crucified and put to death; who God raised up, having abolished the birth pangs of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it…This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses. Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit, He pour out this which you now see and hear.

We ought to pause and note the passivity that is expressed here. Christ experienced what God was doing through Him by His purpose and foreknowledge. Jesus was truly dead and fully encompassed within and held by the pains of death and needed God to abolish them. He was freed from death by God, not simply by God’s whim, but because for God it was impossible that death should hold Christ. Christ Himself receives the Holy Spirit from the Father in order that He might pour out that Spirit. Balthasar writes:

Jesus was truly dead, because he really became a man as we are, a son of Adam, and therefore, despite what one can sometimes read in certain theological works, he did not use the so-called “brief” time of his death for all manner of “activities” in the world beyond. In the same way that, upon earth, he was in solidarity with the living, so, in the tomb, he is in solidarity with the dead…Each human being lies in his own tomb. And with this condition Jesus is in complete solidarity.

According to Balthasar, this death was also the experience, for a time, of utter God-forsakenness—that is hell. Hell, then, is a Christological concept which is defined in terms of Christ’s experience on the Cross. This is also the assurance that we never need fear rejection by the Father if we are in Christ, since Christ has experienced hell in our place.

–S. Joel Garver on Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988)

Posted in Holy Week, Theology

Eugene Peterson on Holy Saturday

Yet, there was one large omission that set all other truth dangerously at risk: the omission of holy rest. The refusal to be silent. The obsessive avoidance of emptiness. The denial of any experience and any people in the least bit suggestive of godforsakenness.

It was far more than an annual ignorance on Holy Saturday; it was religiously fueled, weekly arrogance. Not only was the Good Friday crucifixion bridged to the Easter resurrection by this day furious with energy and lucrative with reward, but all the gospel truths were likewise set as either introductions or conclusions to the human action that displayed our prowess and our virtue every week of the year. God was background to our business. Every gospel truth was maintained intact and all the human energy was wholly admirable, but the rhythms were all wrong, the proportions wildly skewed. Desolation””and with it companionship with the desolate, from first-century Semites to twentieth-century Indians””was all but wiped from consciousness.
But there came a point at which I was convinced that it was critically important to pay more attention to what God does than what I do; to find daily, weekly, yearly rhythms that would get that awareness into my bones. Holy Saturday for a start. And then, times to visit people in despair, and learn their names, and wait for resurrection.

Embedded in my memory now is this most poignant irony: those seven or eight Indians, with the Thunderbird empties lying around, drunk in the alley behind the Pastime Baron Saturday afternoon, while we Scandinavian Christians worked diligently late into the night, oblivious to the holiness of the day. The Indians were in despair, religious despair, something very much like the Holy Saturday despair narrated in the Gospels. Their way of life had come to nothing, the only buffalo left to them engraved on nickels, a couple of which one of their squaws had paid out that morning for four bony ham hocks. The early sacredness of their lives was a wasteland; and they, godforsaken as they supposed, drugged their despair with Thunderbird and buried their dead visions and dreams in the alley behind the Pastime, ignorant of the God at work beneath their emptiness.

Take the time to read it all.

Posted in Holy Week, Theology

An In-between Moment

In this empty hallway, there’s nothing expected of us at this moment. The work is out of our hands, and all we can do is wait, breathe, look around. People sometimes feel like this when they’ve been up all night with someone who’s seriously ill or dying, or when they’ve been through a non-stop series of enormously demanding tasks. A sort of peace, but more a sort of ‘limbo’, an in-between moment. For now, nothing more to do; tired, empty, slightly numbed, we rest for a bit, knowing that what matters is now happening somewhere else.

–Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams

Posted in --Rowan Williams, Holy Week, Theology

Hans Urs von Balthasar on Holy Saturday–‘His being with the dead is an existence at the utmost pitch of obedience’

This ultimate solidarity is the final point and the goal of that first ‘descent,’ so clearly described in the Scriptures, into a ‘lower world’ which, with Augustine, can already be characterised, by way of contrast with heaven, as infernum. Thomas Aquinas will echo Augustine here. For him, the necessity whereby Christ had to go down to Hades lies not in some insufficiency of the suffering endured on the Cross but in the fact that Christ has assumed all the defectus of sinners…Now the penalty which the sin of man brought on was not only the death of the body. It was also a penalty affected the soul, for sinning was also the soul’s work, and the soul paid the price in being deprived of the vision of God. As yet unexpiated, it followed that all human beings who lived before the coming of Christ, even the holy ancestors, descended into the infernum. And so, in order to assume the entire penalty imposed upon sinners, Christ willed not only to die, but to go down, in his soul, ad infernum. As early as the Fathers of the second century, this act of sharing constituted the term and aim of the Incarnation. The ‘terrors of death’ into which Jesus himself falls are only dispelled when the Father raises him again…He insists on his own grounding principle, namely, that only what has been endured is healed and saved.

That the Redeemer is solidarity with the dead, or, better, with this death which makes of the dead, for the first time, dead human beings in all reality- this is the final consequence of the redemptive mission he has received from the Father. His being with the dead is an existence at the utmost pitch of obedience, and because the One thus obedient is the dead Christ, it constitutes the ‘obedience of a corpse’ (the phrase is Francis of Assisi’s) of a theologically unique kind. By it Christ takes the existential measure of everything that is sheerly contrary to God, of the entire object of the divine eschatological judgment, which here is grasped in that event in which it is ‘cast down’ (hormemati blethesetai, Apocalypse 18, 21; John 12; Matthew 22, 13). But at the same time, this happening gives the measure of the Father’s mission in all its amplitude: the ‘exploration’ of Hell is an event of the (economic) Trinity…This vision of chaos by the God-man has become for us the condition of our vision of Divinity. His exploration of the ultimate depths has transformed what was a prison into a way.

––Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988), Mysterium Paschale: The Mystery of Easter [emphasis mine]

Posted in Holy Week, Theology

The Transition

Holy Saturday is a neglected day in parish life. Few people attend the Services. Popular piety usually reduces Holy Week to one day Holy Friday. This day is quickly replaced by another Easter Sunday. Christ is dead and then suddenly alive. Great sorrow is suddenly replaced by great joy. In such a scheme Holy Saturday is lost.

In the understanding of the Church, sorrow is not replaced by joy; it is transformed into joy. This distinction indicates that it is precisely within death the Christ continues to effect triumph.

–Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983)

Posted in Holy Week, Theology

God knows our Dying From the Inside

Jesus dies. His lifeless body is taken down from the cross. Painters and sculptors have strained their every nerve to portray the sorrow of Mary holding her lifeless son in her arms, as mothers today in Baghdad hold with the same anguish the bodies of their children. On Holy Saturday, or Easter Eve, God is dead, entering into the nothingness of human dying. The source of all being, the One who framed the vastness and the microscopic patterning of the Universe, the delicacy of petals and the scent of thyme, the musician’s melodies and the lover’s heart, is one with us in our mortality. In Jesus, God knows our dying from the inside.

–The Rt. Rev. Dr. Geoffrey Rowell

Posted in Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Holy Week, Theology

Jesus Christ was Buried

“By the grace of God” Jesus tasted death “for every one”. In his plan of salvation, God ordained that his Son should not only “die for our sins” but should also “taste death”, experience the condition of death, the separation of his soul from his body, between the time he expired on the cross and the time he was raised from the dead. The state of the dead Christ is the mystery of the tomb and the descent into hell. It is the mystery of Holy Saturday, when Christ, lying in the tomb, reveals God’s great sabbath rest after the fulfillment of man’s salvation, which brings peace to the whole universe.

–The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, para. 624

Posted in Holy Week, Theology

In the End A Sort of Quietness

I hope no one who reads this book has been quite as miserable as Susan and Lucy were that night; but if you have been, if you’ve been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you, you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quietness. You feel as if nothing was ever going to happen again.

–C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)

Posted in Holy Week, Theology

From the Morning Scripture Readings

So then, there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God; for whoever enters God’s rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his.

–Hebrews 4:10-11

Posted in Theology: Scripture

“[God] humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and godforsaken, so that all the godless and godforsaken can experience communion with him”

Posted in Christology, Holy Week, Theology

We need “more emphasis on the blood of Christ, as well as the brutal method of his death”

Isn’t it curious that the Son of God would die in this particular way? Even Paul was permitted a nice, neat slice of the sword. Why did the Son of God die in the worst possible way? That’s the point here. Crucifixion was specifically designed to be the worst of the worst. It was so bad, good Roman citizens didn’t discuss it in public. It’s very much like the way we avoid talking about death and sin. The Romans avoided talking about crucifixion because it was so horrible, so disgusting, so obscene they used that word to describe it.

Why this method and not another? Because it corresponds to the depth of depravity caused by human rebellion against God. It shows us just how bad things really are with us. No wonder we don’t want to look at it. Yet again, the African American church has never been afraid to look at it. It gives them hope. It gives them strength. It gives them comfort. As for the blood: It is important because it’s mentioned so much in Scripture. It’s a synecdoche, a word that stands for the whole thing. When you say “the blood of Christ,” you mean his self-offering, his death, the horror of it, the pouring out of it. It sums up the whole thing.

And it’s not just a metaphor; he really did shed blood when he was scourged. He was a bloody mess. I remember one line from an article by a secular journalist. Concerning the crucifixion of Jesus, he wrote, “He must have been ghastly to behold.” That’s a great sentence.

Fleming Rutledge in a Christianity Today interview (emphasis mine)

Posted in Christology, Holy Week, Theology: Scripture

Eleanor Parker–‘My folk, what have I done to thee?’ A medieval English version of the Good Friday Reproaches

My folk, what have I done to thee?
Or in what thing angered thee?
Speak now, and answer me.

For from Egypt I led thee;
Thou leadest me to rood-tree.
My folk, what have I done to thee?
Or in what thing angered thee?
Speak now, and answer me.

Through the wilderness I led thee,
And forty years I cared for thee,
And angels’ bread I gave to thee,
And into rest I brought thee.
My folk, what have I done to thee?
Or in what thing angered thee?
Speak now, and answer me.

Read it all.

Posted in Church History, Holy Week, Theology

“Though God is not there for him to see or hear, he calls on him still”

“MY GOD, MY GOD, why hast thou forsaken me?” As Christ speaks those words, he too is in the wilderness. He speaks them when all is lost. He speaks them when there is nothing even he can hear except for the croak of his own voice and when as far as even he can see there is no God to hear him. And in a way his words are a love song, the greatest love song of them all. In a way his words are the words we all of us must speak before we know what it means to love God as we are commanded to love him.

“My God, my God.” Though God is not there for him to see or hear, he calls on him still because he can do no other. Not even the cross, not even death, not even life, can destroy his love for God. Not even God can destroy his love for God because the love he loves God with is God’s love empowering him to love in return with all his heart even when his heart is all but broken.

–Frederick Buechner A Room Called Remember (HarperOne:New York, 1992 paperback ed. of 1984 original), Chapter 4

Posted in Christology, Holy Week

Samuel Zwemer–‘If the Cross of Christ is anything to the mind, it is surely everything –the most profound reality and the sublimest mystery’

“But Christian messengers of the good news cannot be silent about the cross. Here is the testimony of the American missionary Samuel M. Zwemer (1867–1952), who laboured in Arabia, edited The Muslim World for forty years, and is sometimes called ‘The Apostle to Islam’: The missionary among Moslems (to whom the Cross of Christ is a stumbling- block and the atonement foolishness) is driven daily to deeper meditation on this mystery of redemption, and to a stronger conviction that here is the very heart of our message and our mission…. If the Cross of Christ is anything to the mind, it is surely everything –the most profound reality and the sublimest mystery. One comes to realize that literally all the wealth and glory of the gospel centres here. The Cross is the pivot as well as the centre of New Testament thought. It is the exclusive mark of the Christian faith, the symbol of Christianity and its cynosure. The more unbelievers deny its crucial character, the more do believers find in it the key to the mysteries of sin and suffering. We rediscover the apostolic emphasis on the Cross when we read the gospel with Moslems. We find that, although the offence of the Cross remains, its magnetic power is irresistible.”

–John R W Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downer’s Grove, InterVaristy Press, 2006), page 41

Posted in Atonement, Books, Christology, Evangelicals, Holy Week

“The love that Jesus showed on the Cross: love that endures and that saves”

Think of Jesus. His words are few. He is exhausted and in pain. Two words however remain: a word of mercy to the criminal who repents; a word of fidelity, handing himself to his Father, his mission completed.

Lord we live in a world filled with words. Perhaps never in history have there been so many words: spoken, printed, electronically stored or moving invisibly. Help us to realise that few words are necessary. Empty words foster empty hearts. There are realities which do not need words. Give us Lord the words to ask for forgiveness, the words which touch those things in our hearts we would not want anyone to hear, but things that keep us entrapped in sinfulness and isolation. Give us words to forgive, to be generous and loving.Open our heart in mercy to those who long for freedom. Keep us faithful like Jesus to what we are called to, to what is most noble and good in our lives.

In a world where everything has a shelf-life and what we dislike can be quickly discarded, help us to learn that singular characteristic of God: being faithful. The events of Good Friday realise something that has been spoken of throughout the history of God’s encounter with his people. God remains faithful to his people, even when his people generation after generation fail him and fail him and betray him and betray him[.]
True goodness is not a passing emotion. It is not about feeling good. It is about being faithful to goodness when it is easy, when it is challenging, and even when it leads to our annihilation in the eyes of those who seek their only own interest.

Jesus dies. He breathes his last and that last is the same as the first words recorded about Jesus: “I must be about my Father’s business”; “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”.

Jesus humbles himself, he empties himself, and his love is so great that he empties himself even unto death, death on the Cross. But the Cross triumphs. His self-giving love is so complete that it brings new life, true live.

Lord help us to reject everything that is trivial and superficial. Give us the love that Jesus showed on the Cross: love that endures and that saves.

Read it all.

Posted in Christology, Holy Week

From the Morning Scripture Readings

After these things God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Mori′ah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; and he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the ass; I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. Then Abraham put forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place The Lord will provide; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

–Genesis 22:1-14

Posted in Theology: Scripture

Saint Augustine–Christ’s Death as the perfection of Love

The Lord, beloved brethren, hath defined that fullness of love which we ought to bear to one another, when He said: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Inasmuch, then, as He had said before, “This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you;” and appended to these words what you have just been hearing, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends;” there follows from this as a consequence, what this same Evangelist John says in his epistle, “That as Christ laid down His life for us, even so we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren;” loving one another in truth, as He hath loved us, who laid down His life for us. Such also is doubtless the meaning of what we read in the Proverbs of Solomon: “If thou sittest down to supper at the table of a ruler, consider wisely what is set before thee; and so put to thy hand, knowing that thou art bound to make similar preparations.” For what is the table of the ruler, but that from which we take the body and blood of Him who laid down His life for us? And what is it to sit thereat, but to approach in humility? And what is it to consider intelligently what is set before thee, but worthily to reflect on the magnitude of the favor? And what is it, so to put to thy hand, as knowing that thou art bound to make similar preparations, but as I have already said, that, as Christ laid down His life for us, so we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren? For as the Apostle Peter also says, “Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow His steps.” This is to make similar preparations. This it was that the blessed martyrs did in their burning love; and if we celebrate their memories in no mere empty form, and, in the banquet whereat they themselves were filled to the full, approach the table of the Lord, we must, as they did, be also ourselves making similar preparations. For on these very grounds we do not commemorate them at that table in the same way, as we do others who now rest in peace, as that we should also pray for them, but rather that they should do so for us, that we may cleave to their footsteps; because they have actually attained that fullness of love, than which, our Lord hath told us, there cannot be a greater. For such tokens of love they exhibited for their brethren, as they themselves had equally received at the table of the Lord.

But let us not be supposed to have so spoken as if on such grounds we might possibly arrive at an equality with Christ the Lord, if for His sake we have undergone witness-bearing even unto blood. He had power to lay down His life, and to take it again;1419 but we have no power to live as long as we wish; and die we must, however unwilling: He, by dying, straightway slew death in Himself; we, by His death, are delivered from death: His flesh saw no corruption;1420 ours, after corruption, shall in the end of the world be clothed by Him with incorruption: He had no need of us, in order to work out our salvation; we, without Him, can do nothing: He gave Himself as the vine, to us the branches; we, apart from Him, can have no life. Lastly, although brethren die for brethren, yet no martyr’s blood is ever shed for the remission of the sins of brethren, as was the case in what He did for us; and in this respect He bestowed not on us aught for imitation, but something for congratulation. In as far, then, as the martyrs have shed their blood for the brethren, so far have they exhibited such tokens of love as they themselves perceived at the table of the Lord.

–St. Augustine’s Treatise on the Gospel of John, Tractate LXXXIV.

Posted in Christology, Church History, Holy Week

God in Private and Public: A Bishop Tom Wright Maundy Thursday Sermon

Because the newly public message which is the good news of Easter is at one and the same time so obvious – the message of new creation, which answers the deepest longings of the whole cosmos – and so utterly unexpected that if we are to announce God in public in these terms, as Paul did so spectacularly at Athens, we need the preceding private stillness to rinse our minds out of preconceived notions and make ready for God’s startling new world. Note, by the way, that it is the public truth of Easter – the dangerous, strikingly political truth that the living God is remaking the world and claiming full sovereignty over it – that has been for two hundred years the real objection, in western thinking, to the notion that Jesus rose bodily from the tomb. Western thought has wanted to keep Christianity as private truth only, to turn the Lion of Judah into a tame pussy-cat, an elegant and inoffensive, if occasionally mysterious, addition to the family circle.

And part of the point of where we are today, culturally, socially, politically and religiously, is that we don’t have that option any more. We face a dangerous and deeply challenging future in the next few years, as the demons we’ve unleashed in the Middle East are not going to go back into their bag, as the ecological nightmares we’ve created take their toll, as the people who make money by looking after our money have now lost their own money and perhaps ours as well, as our cultural and artistic worlds flail around trying to catch the beauty and sorrow of the world and often turning them into ugliness and trivia. And we whose lives and thinking and praying and preaching are rooted in and shaped by these great four days – we who stand up dangerously before God and one another and say we are ready to hear and obey his call once more – we have to learn what it means to announce the public truth of Easter, consequent upon the public truth of Good Friday and itself shaped by it (as the mark of the nails bear witness), as the good news of God for all the world, not just for those who meet behind locked doors. Every eye shall see him, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn as they realise the public truth of his Easter victory. But we can only learn that in the quiet privacy around the Lord’s Table, and the humble stillness where we lay aside our own agendas, our own temperamental preferences, in the darkness of Holy Saturday. When we say Yes to the questions we shall be asked in a few minutes’ time, we are saying Yes to this rhythm, this shaping, of our private devotion to our Lord, our private waiting on him in the silence, in order to say Yes as well to this rhythm, this shaping, of our public ministry, our living out of the gospel before the principalities and powers, our working with the grain of the world where we can and against the grain of the world where we must.

Read it all.

Posted in Christology, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Holy Week, Preaching / Homiletics

“The most profound revelation of the heart of God apart from the crucifixion”

From Rod Whitacre here:

In the story of the footwashing, then, we have the most profound revelation of the heart of God apart from the crucifixion itself. We also learn more of the relation between Jesus and his disciples, the relation of the disciples with one another in humble service and the mission of the disciples to the world. These themes are similar to those of the Eucharist developed earlier (see comments on 6:52-59). The community that Jesus has been forming here takes more definite shape, revealing more clearly “the law of its being” (Bultmann 1971:479), which is humble, self-sacrificing love.

Posted in Christology, Holy Week, Theology: Scripture

(CT) Peter Leithart–Taste and See That the Lord’s Supper Is Good

Evangelicals need to thicken our theology of the Lord’s Supper, first by drawing more of the Bible into the discussion of the Supper, and second by drawing more of the Supper into discussion of the Supper.

Even a fine recent treatment of Reformed sacramental theology, Todd Billings’s Remembrance, Communion, and Hope, is still too thin on both counts. Billings does discuss the key New Testament passages—the institution narratives, Jesus’ resurrection meals, 1 Corinthians 10-11—and makes passing references to Passover and other Old Testament passages, meals, and festivals. But the richness of Old Testament theology still feels lacking. Billings observes that Paul sees manna as a type of the church’s covenant meal, but he doesn’t follow up the clue. If manna is a type, might there be others?

Many examine the Supper through a “zoom lens,” focusing narrowly on the most disputed point in historic debates—the metaphysics of the bread and wine. Much to his credit, Billings pulls back the camera to give us a wider view. In several “congregational snapshots,” he reminds us that the Supper involves people gathered to say and do, eat and drink. He rightly shows that a theology of the Supper must be integrated with the theology of the church.

But we need an even wider angle. Communion bread doesn’t fall from heaven. Wine doesn’t come tricklin’ down the rock. As one Eucharistic prayer puts it, the bread and wine are “fruit of the earth and the work of human hands.” Bread and wine represent nature transformed into culture by human action. A thick theology of the Supper needs to broaden beyond the theology of the church into a theology of culture. So, I offer a suggestive, not definitive, picture of what a thicker theology of the Supper might look like—a pencil drawing, not a portrait.

Read it all.

Posted in Eucharist, Evangelicals, Holy Week, Sacramental Theology

Jean Vanier gets to the Heart of Maundy Thursday

Posted in Christology, Holy Week

(Crux) Life and death with a Jesuit: Father James Schall on the important things

Lopez: What is best about life?

Schall: What is best about life? The first thing is having it, actually being in existence and knowing that we exist as this human being, that we do not cause ourselves to exist. We are given life. What is best about life is to know that it is a gift rather than some blind development with no internal meaning to itself as this, and not that, being.

Following on this realization of our own existence, what is best is knowing that we are not alone. We live among others and seek and rejoice in our friends. We discover in revelation that we are also to become friends of God. Our lives are often filled with sin and suffering, when we need others most, for forgiveness, for help, for understanding.

What is best about life is also the fact that we can walk this green earth, see things, and especially know what not ourselves is. We exist also that what is not ourselves in all its variety and complexity can be known to us. We are not deprived of the world or others because we are not they. Instead in knowledge, the world and our friends return to us. We know a world that is not ourselves; we are blessed.

What is most challenging about life?

Finding its order. My book, The Order of Things, goes into this issue. At first sight, the world seems a chaos, a disorder. But the earth and all in it reveal an order that is not there because we put it there. We find it already there. This is what we discover when we discover anything.

Modern (and Muslim) voluntarism will claim that nothing is stable (an old Greek view also). Everything can be its opposite. Therefore, there are no evils. But there are evils, due precisely to a lack of order. Moral evil is a lack of order that we put in our own thoughts and deeds because we reject that order that is given to us that constitutes our own real good. The challenge of life is to deal with the reasons for evil without despair or without affirming that evil is good.

Even in the worst circumstances, we strive to see what is in order. But when it is our responsibility to affirm or allow that order, we can prefer our own ideas. In doing so, we implicitly reject the being that is. Thanks to the redemption, this rejection can be repented and reordered, but even here, we are required to act in a way that confronts what is really wrong. We are responsible for our own lives. In the end, the story of our personal existence will be told in terms of how we lived and understood the gift of life that we have been freely given.

Read it all.

Posted in Death / Burial / Funerals, Philosophy, Roman Catholic, Theology

From the Morning Scripture Readings

O Lord, thou hast deceived me,
and I was deceived;
thou art stronger than I,
and thou hast prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all the day;
every one mocks me.
For whenever I speak, I cry out,
I shout, “Violence and destruction!”
For the word of the Lord has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.
If I say, “I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,”
there is in my heart as it were a burning fire
shut up in my bones,
and I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.
For I hear many whispering.
Terror is on every side!
“Denounce him! Let us denounce him!”
say all my familiar friends,
watching for my fall.
“Perhaps he will be deceived,
then we can overcome him,
and take our revenge on him.”
But the Lord is with me as a dread warrior;
therefore my persecutors will stumble,
they will not overcome me.
They will be greatly shamed,
for they will not succeed.
Their eternal dishonor
will never be forgotten.

–Jeremiah 20:7-11

Posted in Theology: Scripture

(Spectator) Tom Holland: Thank God for western values The debt of the West to Christianity is more deeply rooted than many might presume

Christianity had revealed to the world a momentous truth: that to be a victim might be a source of strength. No one in modern times saw this more clearly than the religion’s most brilliant and unsparing critic. Because of Christianity, wrote Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘the measure of a man’s compassion for the lowly and suffering comes to be the measure of the loftiness of his soul’. The commanding heights of western culture may now be occupied by people who dismiss Christianity as superstition; but their instincts and assumptions remain no less Christian for that. If God is indeed dead, then his shadow, immense and dreadful, continues to flicker even as his corpse lies cold. The risen Christ cannot be eluded simply by refusing to believe in him. That the persecuted and disadvantaged have claims upon the privileged — widely taken for granted though it may be today across the West — is not remotely a self-evident truth. Condemnations of Christianity as patriarchal or repressive or hegemonic derive from a framework of values that is itself nothing if not Christian.

Familiarity with the Easter story has desensitised us to what both Paul and Nietzsche, in their very different ways, instinctively recognised in it: a scandal. The cross, that ancient tool of imperial power, remains what it has always been: the fitting symbol of a transfiguration in the affairs of humanity as profound and far-reaching as any in history. ‘God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.’ It is the audacity of it — the audacity of finding in a twisted and defeated corpse the glory of the creator of the universe — that serves to explain, more surely than anything else, the sheer strangeness of Christianity, and of the civilisation to which it gave birth.

Today, the power of this strangeness remains as alive as it has ever been. It is manifest in the great surge of conversions that has swept Africa and Asia over the past century; in the conviction of millions upon millions that the breath of the Spirit, like a living fire, still blows upon the world; and, in Europe and North America, in the assumptions of many more millions who would never think to describe themselves as Christian. All are heirs to the same revolution:
a revolution that has, at its molten heart, the image of a god dead upon an implement of torture.

Read it all.

Posted in Christology, Holy Week, Theology

(Eleanor Parker) On ‘Spy Wednesday’ of Holy Week, a 13th-century English poem with an unusual story about Judas’ betrayal

The Wednesday of Holy Week, sometimes called ‘Spy Wednesday’, is traditionally considered to be the day on which Judas went to betray Christ for thirty pieces of silver. There’s a fascinating Middle English poem about Judas’ betrayal, dating to the end of the thirteenth century, which gives us an unusual take on the story: Judas is forced into betraying Christ to regain money which has been stolen from him.

The poem tells how Judas is sent by Jesus to buy food for the apostles with thirty pieces of silver, but on the way he meets his sister, who berates him for supporting a false prophet. She lulls him to sleep, and when he wakes up the silver has been stolen. Judas, in despair at having lost the money Jesus entrusted to him, is taken before Pilate, who asks him what it will take to make him betray his lord. Judas says he will never betray Christ, except to regain the thirty pieces of silver. The poem doesn’t tell us what happens next – a very pregnant pause – but the scene cuts to Christ and the apostles dining together. Christ tells them that one of them has betrayed him, and Judas denies it. Peter speaks up to deny it too, but Christ tells him “Peter, I know you well; you will forsake me three times before the cock crows”.

Read it all and make sure to read and ponder the translation of the poem.

Posted in Church History, Holy Week, Poetry & Literature, Theology

(Psephizo) Isabelle Hamley–Why does Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral matter?

It was therefore deeply moving, last night, to hear journalists groping for words they had almost forgotten—words that speak of faith and what faith had meant to the nation over the years. Many of them were trying to put into words the sense of connection they felt to the cathedral, how moved they were to hear hymns and prayers from Christians surrounding them, and find words that would nurture hope. This morning, journalists were tentatively using the word ‘miracle’ as they contemplated the picture of the inside of the cathedral, the cross illuminated from the side windows, still intact, and heard of the news that many windows had survived, and the organ maybe too. To hear these words spoken with awe and genuine interrogation is nothing short of a miracle – and it may be short lived. But as I listened, I realised that Notre-Dame had lived up to its destiny: it reminded a people of its past, and of the hope of new life we find at the foot of the cross.

France has tried very hard to push God away, and forget the faith of centuries. But when the people fell silent, the very stones cried out. The question is, now that we remember, what will we do with these memories for the future? There is a small window of opportunity for the nature of public discourse to change. For the derision and suspicion of faith to morph into respect and attentive listening. Yesterday, the French president embraced the rector of the cathedral. Church and state in a long forgotten embrace? It was a fleeting image, and yet a hint that new life, new ways of imagining our life together are always possible.

And for me, this is the real question of the rebuilding. What is it we are rebuilding? What kind of vision will animate the endless years of work ahead? Will we listen to the memory of stones, and honour the God whose cross triumphed over destruction, fire and ashes? Notre-Dame held memories we had forgotten; will we accept God’s gift of memory, and reshape some of the distorted, incomplete stories we tell ourselves, so that we can move into a better future? I hope and pray that we do; and I believe that we can, because I believe in the God of Good Friday and of Easter Sunday, who ultimately holds all memory, all past and future in his hand.Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Church History, Ethics / Moral Theology, France, Police/Fire, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Theology

From the Morning Scripture Readings

Thus says the LORD: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his arm, whose heart turns away from the LORD. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it? “I the LORD search the mind and try the heart, to give to every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.”

–Jeremiah 17:5-10

Posted in Theology: Scripture

From the Morning Scripture Readings

O LORD, rebuke me not in thy anger, nor chasten me in thy wrath. Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing; O LORD, heal me, for my bones are troubled. My soul also is sorely troubled. But thou, O LORD–how long? Turn, O LORD, save my life; deliver me for the sake of thy steadfast love.

–Psalm 6:1-4

Posted in Theology: Scripture