Good? Friday

When I was a child, I always wondered how the day when Jesus suffered murder by the state could be called Good. As I grew up and put away childish things and thoughts, I came to understand the story. It is the ultimate story of servant leadership. It is the story of how God himself came down in the guise of a man, to show us the way. Here’s a part of the story.

And so now we come to the climax. We have seen Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, we have seen the Last Supper with it’s echoing call “Do this in Remembrance of Me”, we have seen the arrest during prayers in the garden.

We have seen Peter, renamed Cephas (the Rock) deny the Christ 3 times. We have seen the trial before the Sanhedrin, and the passing of the buck to the Roman, Pontius Pilate who could find no fault in this man but allowed him to be condemned according to Roman practice.

We have even seen the treachery of Judas, paupers who for 30 pieces of silver betrayed his Lord, soon repented, attempted to return the reward (which ended up funding paupers cemetery) and his death as a suicide.

And so now we come to the fatal procession from Jerusalem to Golgotha.

In one way or another we will all walk the Via Dolorossa. One of the mottoes I use to keep trying to do the right thing, “No one, not even Christ, ever got out of life alive”. For me, that about sums it up. You may as well do the right thing, you might not get the reward on earth that you were striving for, but at the judgment seat you will be rewarded.

Here is the story according to St. Matthew:

And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. And sitting down they watched him there. And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross, and the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew.

And the chief priests said unto Pilate, It should be written and set up over his head, his accusation, This is he that said he was Jesus, the King of the Jews. But Pilate answered and said, What I have written, I have written; let it alone.

Then were there two thieves crucified with him; one on the right hand, and another on the left. And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, and saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it again in three days save thyself. If thou be the Son of God come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others, himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now; if he will save him, let him save him; for he said, I am the Son of God.

One of the thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth. But the other rebuked him, saying, Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art under the same condemnation; and this man is just, and hath not sinned; and he cried unto the Lord that he would save him. And the Lord said unto him This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli,lama sabachthani?(That is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?) Some of them that stood there, when they heard him, said, This man calleth for Elias. And straightway one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink. The rest said, Let him be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.

Jesus when he had cried again with a loud voice, saying, Father, it is finished, thy will is done, yielded up the ghost. And behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and the graves were opened; and the bodies of the saints which slept, arose, who were many, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, heard the earth quake, and saw those things which were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God. And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him for his burial; among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children.

Now, remember this was on Friday following the triumphant entry the prior Sunday. How the mighty had fallen, from the crowd’s hero, one might say a rock star, to an executed criminal buried in a borrowed grave in a week.

This was the man many had expected to free Israel from Rome, there would be others for that mission, it would culminate at Masada and in the destruction of Jerusalem and the diaspora. The next ruler of the city, after Rome, would be Islam, contested by the Crusader knights. But until our own time Jerusalem would not be ruled again by the Jews.

And so the Messiah, the King of the Jews died. The lesson would seem to be not to upset the applecart, to go along to get along, even to sit down and shut up, wouldn’t it?

It’s a pretty sharp lesson too. One of the most cruel methods of execution ever devised by man.

And so ends the story;

or does it?

To Gethsemane

jesus-in-gethsemane

And so, it is Maundy Thursday. Tonight it all comes together, the Last Supper, where that hard belief, that we consume the Real Presence, has sifted more than a few, then the faithlessness of all the Disciples, and the Betrayal of Jesus. This Holy Week, many are pulling a parallel in the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral, I think it likely valid, but too soon. In any case, in 2013 Jessica wrote about the evening, I think it one of her best, and more one of the best articles on Maunday Thursday I have read, so here it is, again.

There they had been, camping out as they usually did. We don’t get much of a sense of the daily life of Jesus as He and His disciples tramped the roads of Judea, but the Gospel narratives give us some insight. They settled down for the night in Gethsemane. They’d had a good evening, and only one person at that supper knew why Judas had left early. We get a sense of companionship, and we can grasp something of the feeling of love which Jesus inspired in those close to Him. They were calm and rested, so much so that when Jesus asked them to watch with Him, they fell asleep. Like us all, they had no idea that their world was about to be torn apart – and that the world and history would be changed forever.

How small a series of events came together that evening as they camped in Gethsemane. The Jewish High Priest had enough. The events of what we call Palm Sunday had warned him that the ever volatile population of Jerusalem might be roused to rebellion – and he knew what the consequences of that would be. Within a generation of the crucifixion Caiaphas’ fears had come to pass, and in AD 70 the Temple would be destroyed and thousands of Jews killed or dispersed; it is easy to dismiss Caiaphas, but he was, by his lights, doing his duty. How often do men of power think it better than one man should die than thousands suffer?

Judas had clearly had enough. Though the Synoptic Gospels tell us he betrayed Jesus for silver, John gives us the clue that it was Mary’s use of expensive oil to anoint Jesus’ feet which pushed him over the edge. It might, of course, be, as John said, that he had been tipping into the till and helping himself to money, but his taking offence was clear enough evidence of what type of man he was.  He was a zealot, a puritan – how dare Jesus allow people to waste oil which could have been spent to help the poor. He, Judas, knew what was right, and he had lost patience with Jesus.

Simon Peter was headstrong, and didn’t always get it right. After supper, when Jesus had said He was going to wash the feet of the disciples, Peter protested and said He wouldn’t allow it. But when Jesus told him that if he didn’t, he couldn’t be with Him, Peter didn’t ask for an explanation, he told Jesus he wanted to be washed all over.

Caiaphas and Judas reasoned their way through to a conclusion based on their own insights, and they saw, as we all do, only so far. Peter also reasoned his way to what seemed to him a sensible conclusion, but the love he felt for Jesus opened his heart and he saw further than he had with his intellect. Jesus warned him that he had been handed over to Satan to be ‘sifted’. Peter declared he never would deny Jesus – but Christ knew what was coming.

As the disciples slept and the Romans and the Jewish guard came closer, the silence of that dark night was broken only by the anguish of Jesus. His time had come.

Lessons from History; Some Things Never Change

This is one of those weeks that we think about absent friends when one gets to my age, a fair number are waiting on the other bank, but not all. Many things keep us from being with those we wish to be around, both in our lives and theirs. Can’t be helped. But we can think of them and remember. This is a post from July of 2012, part of it is a sermon presented by my friend Chalcedon (there are links to the rest of his series), and then a current follow up to Rebecca Hamilton. Since she no longer blogs, the link is dead, but the advice is just as current at was then. Enjoy. Neo

Chalcedon451, Jessica Hoff’s co-writer at All Along the Watchtower has done a series on a long sermon that has major significance for us today. My understanding is that Chalcedon is a distinguished scholar and historian of the early church, which is consonant with his work that I have seen. It is something that our clergy don’t often go into with us and yet, it tells us a lot about where our faith began and how took the shape we know today. I’m going to let Chalcedon introduce his subject, and then excerpt it. But, in truth, you need to read the entire series. So let’s get started.

Theophilus ofAlexandria is regarded as a Saint in the Coptic Church. He was Patriarch of Alexandria from 385-412, when he was succeeded by his nephew, the great St. Cyril. Much less well-known, he has been neglected by later historians. The best (indeed the only) scholarly introduction by Norman Russell. Theophilius’ homily on the Penitent Thief is worth our reflection

….

This, if you like, is the way of Our Lord Jesus Christ, when he saw the real enemy of the whole human race, who is the devil. For the devil invade the whole earth, and afflicted everyone with many kinds of sins, which he spreads with these great scourges, namely, idolatry, robbery, vanity, fornication, theft, murder, slander, licentiousness, envy, hatred, contempt, anger, sorcery, pollution, fraud, arrogance, perjury, falsehood, corruption, prostitution, deceit and whatever is similar in them. These are the traps which the devil set for humanity, until he brought it to perdition and dispersed it.

….

When he descended into this world, he came to the people of Israel and preached to them saying: ‘Repent for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’ (Mt. 4:17) But they paid no heed to his holy counsels. After this he performed all the signs of his divinity in their presence, miracles without number. … It was because an adulterous woman was made worthy of this great grace that her hands anointed the feet of him who had created her. (Lk. 7 37-8 ) From the moment she participated in the purity of his divinity, the voice of God came to her. ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’ (Lk. 7:50

….

They crucified him with two thieves. One of them, who was unworthy of the vision of his divinity, said to the Lord, deriding him: ‘If you are the Christ, save yourselves and us’. (Lk 23:39) The other replied, rebuking him with indignation: ‘Do you not fear God? We are receiveing the reward of our sins, which we have committed, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him with great joy, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’ (Lk 23:40-3).

The Gate of Paradise has been closed since the time when Adam transgressed, but I will open it today, and receive you in it. because you have recognised the nobility of my head on the cross, you who have shared with me the suffering of the cross will be my companion in the joy of the kingdom. You have glorified me in the presence of carnal men, in the presence of sinners. I will therefore glorify you in the presence of the angels. You were fixed with me me on the cross, and you united yourself with me of your own free will. I will therefore love you, and my Father will love you, and the angels will serve you with my holy food. If you used once to be a companion of murderers, behold, I who am the life of all have now made you a companion with me. You used once to walk the night with the sons of darkness; behold, I who am the light of the whole world have now made you walk with me. You used once to take counsel with murderers; behold, I who am the Creator have made you a companion with me.²

….

All these things I will pardon you because you have confessed my divinity in the presence of those who denied me. For they saw all the signs which I performed, but did not believe in me. You then, a rapacious robber, a murderer, a brigand, a swindler, a plunderer have confessed that I am God….

….

See, now, brethren, what torment the man who denied the Lord brought upon himself? We should therefore watch over ourselves that we should not be led astray, that for the sake of the things of this life we should not be made strangers to him who has created us. Perhaps there is someone today who is denying God for the sake of riches, because the love of money closes the eyes of those who are given to it. Such a person takes the part of Judas. He has sold the Lord for thirty pieces of silver.³

I think there are lessons for us approximately 1600 years later in this homily.

  • First, Jesus came to save us but, if we fail to recognize him, he, in his turn, will also fail to recognize us, with dire consequences for our soul.
  • Second, Confessing in church on Sunday morning isn’t going to cut it, if you are not going to confess your faith when it has a cost for you, your return will equal your benefit. You shall reap what you sow.
  • Third, let not the things of this world concern you more than the things of the next. Be careful, it’s very easy to do this, even with good will.

Would you like a real-life example of this sermon in action? I thought so. Let’s wander out to Oklahoma and talk with a legislator there a bit, her name is Rebecca Hamilton, and she is a heroine of mine.

Where there is no vision, the people perish.    Proverbs 29: 18

 … and he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.     Mark 6: 34

For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required.   Luke 12: 48

Demagoguery is not preaching Christ.

Protecting priestly privilege is not preaching Christ.

Pandering to your parishioners is not preaching Christ.

Pandering to your brother and sister clergy is not preaching Christ.

Pandering to political parties and secular powers is not preaching Christ.

Protecting your career and advancement in the Church is not preaching Christ.

We are like sheep without a shepherd. In fact, we are more than like sheep without a shepherd. We are sheep without a shepherd. Telling us how to vote is not telling us how to live. It does not equip us to be the salt and light that bring the Kingdom. It does not grow our faith in Christ. What it does is gather political power to the person who is telling us how to vote.

We are lied to, manipulated, whipped up into hatred and degraded with cheap slogans instead of intelligent dialogue by the media, the two political parties and the various candidates. We don’t need more of the same coming at us from the pulpits in our churches.

We need Christ and Him crucified. We need clergy who will preach the revolutionary, civilization-building, soul-saving Gospel of Christ in all its fullness.

Continue reading Stop Slogan-Voting. Stop Hate-Voting. Stop Being Manipulated. Part 6. Preach Christ = Preach Christ Crucified. In fact you should read the whole series, it is all of this quality.

So there we have it, the church in Alexandria in approximately 400 AD and the church in Oklahoma with exactly the same problem in 2012 AD. Is it any different where you live?

Same problem, Same solution.

 

¹ Theophilus of Alexandria: The Penitent Thief (part 1)

² The Penitent Thief (part 2)

³ The Penitent Thief (3)

A time to weep

That, of course, is Notre Dame de Paris, as she has looked since roughly 1260. The interior it is said requited cutting some 52 acres of timber. That’s a lot of wood. And it’s been quite the life, through war and revolution, and even desecration, it’s hung on. But this morning it looks different.

Smoke billows as fire engulfs the spire of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier – RC1AC7F22C50

Frankly, it hit me as I watched very much like watching the attack on the World Trade Center did, for both were symbols the WTC of a proud trading nation, and Notre Dame of a time when lives were centered on God, not ourselves. I sat here for a while yesterday, watching through my tears, even as I did on 9/11. I’m neither proud nor ashamed of that, it just is. Not only me, either.

The French say it was just an accident caused by the renovators currently working there. Like most of you, I tend to distrust governments because they have a propensity to lie, to cover up, on the other hand, it would hardly be the first time a careless workman destroyed a building. So, it likely is so.

The French also say it will be rebuilt, and already contributions are pouring in. But I wonder, are they rebuilding a historic building, or a tourist attraction, or a house of God. The name is Our Lady of Paris after all, and the French have not been noted for their Christianity since before the Revolution. So we (or more likely you younger people) will see. I will pray for the rebuilding of a house of God.

Some, at least of the relics and artwork were saved, amongst them The Crown of Thorns, reputed to be the actual Crown of Thorns that was pressed on Jesus’s head this very week long ago. It may or may not be the original, but it is a reminder.

Another parallel with the Trade Center. I suspect some of you remember this, as I instantly did yesterday.

This is from the interior of Notre Dame this morning.

And so, again, the essential remains, and we have received a message, we would do well to heed.

Ecclesiastes 3 Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (DRA)

All things have their season, and in their times all things pass under heaven.

A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.

A time to kill, and a time to heal. A time to destroy, and a time to build.

A time to weep, and a time to laugh. A time to mourn, and a time to dance.

A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather. A time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.

A time to get, and a time to lose. A time to keep, and a time to cast away.

A time to rend, and a time to sew. A time to keep silence, and a time to speak.

A time of love, and a time of hatred. A time of war, and a time of peace.

What hath man more of his labour?

10 I have seen the trouble, which God hath given the sons of men to be exercised in it.

11 He hath made all things good in their time, and hath delivered the world to their consideration, so that man cannot find out the work which God hath made from the beginning to the end.

12 And I have known that there was no better thing than to rejoice, and to do well in this life.

13 For every man that eateth and drinketh, and seeth good of his labour, this is the gift of God.

14 I have learned that all the works which God hath made, continue for ever: we cannot add any thing, nor take away from those things which God hath made that he may be feared.

15 That which hath been made, the same continueth: the things that shall be, have already been: and God restoreth that which is past.

16 I saw under the sun in the place of judgment wickedness, and in the place of justice iniquity.

17 And I said in my heart: God shall judge both the just and the wicked, and then shall be the time of every thing.

18 I said in my heart concerning the sons of men, that God would prove them, and shew them to be like beasts.

19 Therefore the death of man, and of beasts is one, and the condition of them both is equal: as man dieth, so they also die: all things breathe alike, and man hath nothing more than beast: all things are subject to vanity.

20 And all things go to one place: of earth they were made, and into earth they return together.

21 Who knoweth if the spirit of the children of Adam ascend upward, and if the spirit of the beasts descend downward?

22 And I have found that nothing is better than for a man to rejoice in his work, and that this is his portion. For who shall bring him to know the things that shall be after him?

Palm Sunday, Triumphalism, and Leadership

palm-sunday-jesus-christ-on-donkey

Yesterday was, as mentioned Palm Sunday where we mark Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem where the authorities will murder him within the week. Like all the events we will mark this week, there are lessons for us to learn. This is a post that we publish for Palm Sunday every year because we all need reminding of the lessons it holds.

On Palm Sunday, way back in the mid 60’s, according to the traditions of the Evangelical and Reformed Church, I became a man, with all the responsibilities to God that that carried. It was also when you traditionally got your first suit. The Sunday before was Examination Sunday, the test was verbal, in front of the congregation. This entitled me to take my First Communion on Easter Sunday, as was considered meet and right.

As always the Sanctuary was decorated in palm fronds commemorating Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Also as on all special Sundays we processed behind the Pastor and Choir up the center aisle to this, Hymn No. 1 in the old E&R Hymnal.

And so I became responsible for my own everlasting fate, which up until this time had been my parents (and Godparents) responsibility.

Palm Sunday was, of course, the most triumphant day of the Christ’s ministry. With the adoring and worshipful crowds which of course would soon demand and receive his death.

What can we learn from this? General Patton put it this way:

“For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of triumph, a tumultuous parade. . .

A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”


We know that earthly glory is fleeting, who can recite the exploits of Edward Longshanks, or Frederick Barbarossa from memory. Sure we remember some of our founders but its only been a few generations, and we have been trained (some of us anyway) pretty well.

But what is different about the Christ, other than the Resurrection that is. Like most troublemakers through the ages he died a common criminals death. Think about that for a moment. Within a week he went from the darling of the populace, to an executed criminal, that’s quite a fall, in any time or place.

The other thing is: He never forgot the mission. What thoughts must have been in his mind on that long ago Palm Sunday, knowing, as he did, the fate that awaited him. But he never flinched, only prayed that this fate might be averted. He knew, as did his disciples and followers in coming times, that there would be many martyrs, Saints of the Faith, if you will. There will be many more. Christianity, even more than the Judaism from which it sprang, is the religion of the oppressed, the underdog, the person who never got a fair shake in this world, the sovereign individual made in God’s image. All you have to do is: Remember the Mission and take care of your people. The shepherd of the flock. And that is more than most of us can do consistently, without God’s help, because it is one of the most difficult missions ever entrusted.

Do not fall into the trap of triumphalism, earthly glory leads to nothing but trouble. I think most of us know this instinctively. What is the thing we remember about George W. Bush? He had many faults, which most conservatives can recite from memory. But, and it’s a huge but, he was a humble God-fearing man. To me, that is a lot of the difference between him and Barack Obama. Obama wants lives for the acclaim of the crowd, the earthly glory, one could easily call it the cult of personality.

And so the lesson for me from this Palm Sunday is the old one that the US Air Force taught me long ago and far away:

First the Mission

Second the People

Last Yourself.

Over at Jess’s site,  a few years ago Chalcedon talked about going into Holy Week, his thoughts are well worth review.

It will soon be Palm Sunday; Lent is coming to its appointed climax. In Sunday’s Gospel we get the first sign of a something which will become more prominent on Maundy Thursday – Jesus’ fear of what awaits him: ‘Father, save me from this hour’. He would have seen crucifixions; he knew what there was to fear. Crucifixion was intended to instil fear; it was brutal, bloody and fatal. Yet it was for ‘this hour’ that Jesus had come into the world. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us so that He might be raised up as the propitiation for our sins. He died for our sins.

There is this something against which our notions of justice rail. How, we ask, can it be right for an innocent man to die for the guilty?’ What sort of Father, we wonder, sacrifices his son for rogues such as ourselves. Of late I have found praying the Sorrowful Rosary next to impossible; the envisaging of what happened to Jesus unsettles my prayer, and it is only by thinking on what was to come that I get through. But, as St Isaac reminds us, this is an act of love. There were, he tells us, many ways God could have chosen to save us, and by choosing this one, he shows us the extent of His love; I think He also shows us the extent of our sins.

Soon, then, we shall be following the familiar story of the Passion of the Lord, Perhaps its familiarity robs it of its power for us, so we might want to spend more time meditating on it. Every stripe applied to His back is a sin of mine; that Crown of Thorns he bears, they are the sting of my sins; and high on that Cross on Calvary my sins are forgiven, and through Him I am saved from my sins.

[First published on 24 March 2013]

Sunday Funnies, The Nonsense Continues

The Week.

A serious country, willing to fight to the last avocado, not like this one

The Telegraph

A variation

And since it is Palm Sunday, perhaps the Passion Play for our time.