Daily Archives: March 24, 2008
This Easter Sunday, the holiest day of the Christian calendar, many pastors will start their sermons about the Resurrection of Jesus and weave in a pointed message about racism and bigotry, and the need to rise above them.
Some pastors began to rethink their sermons on Tuesday, when Senator Barack Obama gave a speech about race, seeking to calm a furor that had erupted over explosive excerpts of sermons by his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.
The controversy drove the nation to the unpatrolled intersection of race and religion, and as many pastors prepared for their Easter message they said they felt compelled to talk about it. Their congregants were writing and e-mailing them: some wanted to share their emotional reactions to Mr. Obama’s speech; others asked how Mr. Wright, the minister, could utter such inflammatory things from the pulpit.
Some ministers interviewed over the last several days said they would wait until after Easter to preach on it all, because Easter and headlines do not mix. But others said there was no better moment than Easter, when sanctuaries swelled with their biggest crowds of the year, and redemption was the dominant theme.
At Mount Ararat Baptist Church in Pittsburgh, the Rev. William H. Curtis said: “At the end of the day, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ makes it possible for even an African-American and a female to articulate the hopes and dreams of America, and do so with the hope of becoming president. Isn’t that wonderful?
Easter Sunday was just another day at the office for S.C. National Guard troops here.
Convoys rolled out of the gate, watchtowers were manned, and patients were cared for at the base clinic.
“I didn’t even think about it until I walked into the chow hall and saw the decorations,” said Sgt. Natalia Levesque, a medic from Greenville. “Then it hit me, ”˜Oh, yeah, it’s Easter.’”
A lesbian priest says she wants to start a dialogue with church leaders after the Episcopal bishop of North Dakota refused her request for a license to minister in the state.
The Rev. Gayle Baldwin, 62, an associate professor of religion at the University of North Dakota, was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1980. She came out as a lesbian a decade ago in Wyoming, where she has a license to preach and administer the sacraments. She came to UND in 2000.
Baldwin went public this week with a letter Episcopal leaders explaining her request to be licensed in North Dakota.
The Episcopal Church’ consecration in 2003 of the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, led to division in the church and several dozen conservative U.S. parishes have split from the national denomination.
“I have been clear from the beginning what my expectations are,” said Bishop Michael Smith, head of the 3,000 Episcopalians in North Dakota. “That is fidelity in marriage and abstinence for those not called to marriage.”
Every time I go to church, which isn’t often, and I’m not bragging, I always come away frustrated at the way the mass is handled these days — with lots of acoustic guitars and folk-style singing. Sometimes I actually end up developing a feeling of hostility toward the ensemble leader, which kind of negates the whole point of going to church right there. But even when I feel in sympathy with these people, who after all are devoting hours and hours and hours of practice to these Sunday performances, I usually get the sense that they’re enjoying themselves a lot more than the Congregation is.
Two weeks ago Robinson was told he would not be allowed to take part in the event – the only bishop out of 880 to be excluded. He will still go to Canterbury, but with no official status and the same access as a member of the public. Yet he will, inevitably, be one of its star attractions. Robinson will not go into detail, but says he has his own events planned, including one with award-winning actor and gay rights campaigner Sir Ian McKellen, who will perform a reading.
His official exclusion came as a blow to Robinson, who told a spring gathering of the US Episcopal church house of bishops that he felt abandoned by Williams. He wept during the address. “It was the hardest time I’ve had since my consecration,” he said, driving along interstate 93. He suggested it was not his consecration or homosexuality that was tearing apart the Anglican communion, but a failure of the leadership.
“I don’t know if it was Rowan’s intention to divide the US house of bishops but he’s done the very thing he was trying to avoid through his action or lack of action. It mystifies me that he has never commented on statements Akinola [the Archbishop of Nigeria] has made about homosexuality,” he said.
Robinson has met Williams only once, although he has had three one-to-one encounters with the US Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama.
I will consider posting comments on this article submitted first by email to Kendall’s E-mail: KSHarmon[at]mindspring[dot]com.
Al-Qaida deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri called on Muslims in a new audiotape released Monday to strike Jewish and American targets in revenge for Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip earlier this month.
The al-Zawahri tape came on the heels of a message from Osama bin Laden, who called for a holy war to liberate the Palestinian territories””a new push by the terror network’s leadership to use widespread anger over the Gaza violence to whip up support.
The authenticity of the 4 minute, 44-second audiotape could not be independently confirmed. But the voice on it resembled that of al- Zawahri on previous audio and videotapes confirmed to be his. It was posted on an Islamic militant Web site where al-Qaida usually releases its statements, and a banner advertising the tape had the logo of al- Qaida’s media arm, Al-Sahab.
“Muslims, today is your day. Strike the interests of the Jews, the Americans, and all those who participated in the attack on Muslims,” al-Zawahri said. “Monitor the targets, collect money, prepare the equipment, plan with precision, and then””while relying on God””assault, seeking martyrdom and paradise.”
That triumphal barnburner of an Easter hymn, Jesus Christ Has Risen Today ”“ Hallelujah, this morning will rock the walls of Toronto’s West Hill United Church as it will in most Christian churches across the country.
But at West Hill on the faith’s holiest day, it will be done with a huge difference. The words “Jesus Christ” will be excised from what the congregation sings and replaced with “Glorious hope.”
Thus, it will be hope that is declared to be resurrected ”“ an expression of renewal of optimism and the human spirit ”“ but not Jesus, contrary to Christianity’s central tenet about the return to life on Easter morning of the crucified divine son of God.
Generally speaking, no divine anybody makes an appearance in West Hill’s Sunday service liturgy.
At one level, of course, the continued puzzlement of the disciples is a mark of the story’s authenticity. If someone had been making it all up a generation later, as many have suggested, they would hardly have had such a muddle going on. More particularly, nobody would have made up the remarkable detail of the cloth around Jesus’ head, folded up in a place by itself, or the even more extraordinary fact that Jesus is not immediately recognised, either here, or in the evening on the road to Emmaus, or the later time, cooking breakfast by the shore. The first Christians weren’t prepared for what actually happened. Nobody could have been. As one leading agnostic scholar has put it, it looks as though they were struggling to describe something for which they didn’t have adequate language.
But this problem isn’t confined to the first century. Ever since then, people have tried to squash the Easter message into conventional boxes that it just won’t fit. There was a classic example in the Times on Good Friday (I know I probably shouldn’t have been reading a Murdoch paper on a holy day, but there you are). In a first leader entitled ”˜Universal Truths’, the writer suggested that the Easter message is one that everyone can sign up to. ”˜Good Friday,’ it says, ”˜commemorates sacrifice, the giving of oneself as a martyr for the love of others, so Easter is the achievement of victory through suffering.’ ”˜These,’ the writer goes on, ”˜are universal spiritual truths. And the more interaction acquaints those of different faiths with the beliefs of others, the clearer is the common acceptance of these truths.’ So, in conclusion, ”˜The Easter message draws the devout together’ (presumably the devout of all religions). ”˜From suffering, goodness can triumph. Death is not final.’ And then, a grand and woefully misleading last sentence: ”˜That is what all faiths in Britain can proclaim and where they can come together this weekend.’
Well, sorry. Of course we must work to find common ground and common purpose with those of all faiths and none. I found myself on a platform in Sunderland not long ago with the deputy chairman of the Muslim Council of Great Britain, discussing these very things. The Archbishop of Canterbury has recently asked me to join a small group working to take forward the discussion of the Open Letter from leading Muslims to the Pope, entitled ”˜A Common Word’. These things matter enormously.
But you don’t achieve anything by downgrading the unique message of Easter.
A Muslim author and critic of Islamic fundamentalism who was baptized a Catholic by Pope Benedict said on Sunday Islam is “physiologically violent” and he is now in great danger because of his conversion.
“I realize what I am going up against but I will confront my fate with my head high, with my back straight and the interior strength of one who is certain about his faith,” said Magdi Allam.
In a surprise move on Saturday night, the pope baptized the 55-year-old, Egyptian-born Allam at an Easter eve service in St Peter’s Basilica that was broadcast around the world.
The conversion of Allam to Christianity — he took the name “Christian” for his baptism — was kept secret until the Vatican disclosed it in a statement less than an hour before it began.
This year, we as a nation have been summoned to a new beginning in our relationships with the first people of our land. We have been asked for reconciliation – a very powerful and very Christian idea. Apology on the one part, forgiveness on the other and a determination to make this ”˜new day’ work. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the moment of reconciliation. God summons us to give up our old wrong attitudes to him, to say sorry and to entrust ourselves to Jesus. He brings forgiveness from God and he has conquered death. When we understand what God has done for us, we find it easier to ask for forgiveness and easier to give it. The message of Easter is one of the most powerful things for good in this world ”“ and it shows us that death is not permanent!
“I have risen and I am still with you, for ever.” These words invite us to contemplate the risen Christ, letting his voice resound in our heart. With his redeeming sacrifice, Jesus of Nazareth has made us adopted children of God, so that we too can now take our place in the mysterious dialogue between him and the Father. We are reminded of what he once said to those who were listening: “All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Mt 11:27). In this perspective, we note that the words addressed by the risen Jesus to the Father on this day ”“ “I am still with you, for ever” ”“ apply indirectly to us as well, “children of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (cf. Rom 8:17). Through the death and resurrection of Christ, we too rise to new life today, and uniting our voice with his, we proclaim that we wish to remain for ever with God, our infinitely good and merciful Father.