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?

Good? Friday

Christ Before Pilate. Friedländer (1969): p. 83.

Christ Before Pilate. Friedländer (1969): p. 83. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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,who for 30 pieces of silver betrayed his Lord, soon repented, attempted to return the reward (which ended up funding the 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 Temple and 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?

[First published on 29 March 2013]

 

What If The Crucifixion Never Happened?

English: A 14th-century of Jesus Christ bearin...

English: A 14th-century of Jesus Christ bearing the cross, from the monastery in . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I saw this article this morning and it moved me in several ways. First it is a very good commentary on the whole “For God so loved us that He gave His only begotten Son” theme. He did, and not only did He give us his wisdom and goodness, and gentleness, He allowed the world to torture Him and inflict a barbaric death upon Him. But what really struck me is a comparison. First read what Brother Burrito has to say and then we’ll talk a bit

 

Just suppose that God became incarnate and grew up to become the greatest teacher of Divine wisdom the world has ever seen, as would be appropriate for the Son of God. Just suppose that his every word was recorded for all time in incorruptible form, without error, and was passed down through the ages without misinterpretations to enlighten all the generations of men born thereafter.

Just suppose that after a long lifetime of teaching and good works and countless miracles to prove his provenance, Jesus just died of old age and was buried in the most magnificent tomb which became the supreme place of pilgrimage for all human beings until the end of time.

Wouldn’t that have been a much neater solution  to the problem of fallen mankind needing salvation from his sins, and hope of eternal life? Much less of a bloody mess. Less disturbing to keep in mind. Feel-good warm glow all round.

Well, I hope that anyone reading this can see that the correct answer to this question is:

NO!

The reason for Christ’s bloody torture and mutilation unto death is because sin and its cost is real, terrible and infinite.  That cost must be met or the Book of Life will not balance. Sinful creatures cannot enter Heaven as anti-matter cannot exist amongst matter.

Who can settle an infinite debt other than infinite God Himself. We all know the pain of indebtedness, and the hungry gnawing feeling it gives us. Imagine that feeling lasting for eternity. That is what Hell feels like.

So why should God repay our debts? Surely it would be less trouble for Him to write off the debt and dispose of us, His wayward creatures, as broken playthings. That is what we would do.

Now this is the clincher: God values us too highly to write us off. He makes us in His own image and loves us as His children!

 

 

Continue reading What If The Crucifixion Never Happened?.

 

We will talk more on this tomorrow but for now let us think a bit about Christianity itself. Of all the world’s religions only Christianity is based on the actual begotten Son of God, not a prophet, not revealed wisdom, but the actual begotten Son of the one God. And what happened to him? He was arrested, convicted (of nothing much) and executed. Not the way religions are normally founded is it?

 

In the early days, our religion was known as “The Way” and it spread like a prairie fire in Nebraska during a drought. By the time Mohammed was born it had spread from those 11 men and a few women in Jerusalem to all parts of the known world. From the British Isles to China, from Norway far into Africa, “The Way” was known. It never spread by the sword, as some others did. It never posited world conquest, and most of all it never promised a good life on earth. Instead it has always offered (and still does) each individual life everlasting in the next. But you have to learn to trust and obey God.

 

And you must learn to serve men as well, pride has no place at this table as Jess has shown us this morning both here and on her site. The Apostles themselves had a great deal of trouble with this lesson and so do we. And we will continue to do so, it’s a very difficult thing.

 

The main thing Christianity teaches is that good and evil exists and we must strive to do good, they are not relative, they exist, and if we attempt to humbly do good we will be better for it and if we trust God we will be saved. This is the religion of the Christ, and him crucified, and there is nothing easy about being a Christian, never has been, never will be. It is the toughest mission on earth because we live our religion not die for it.

 

We honor many martyrs, and we know there will be many more. Everyday we see reports of those murdered because of their faith, and we wonder how we would bear up. Hopefully, we will never know, but the answer is there, and the answer is that symbol, the cross.

 

We will bear up in direct proportion to our faith.

[First published on 28 March 2013]

 

 

Holy Week Reading List

Jess on the benchThis is nearly a duplicate of the post I have up at All Along the Watchtower, and it’s here for the same reason. it’s here to give you a bit of insight as to the posts that follow for Holy Week

I was thinking about what I would write for Easter this year, and I came to the conclusion that I had little new to say. It’s the most important series of events in Christianity but, still, we’ve been writing and talking about it for around two thousand  years. We’ve explored it pretty thoroughly.

But as I was looking around in the archives here, and All Around the Watchtower, I realized something. Two years ago, both blogs were immensely productive, mostly because of Jessica herself. From Thursday right on to Sunday, she published at least one post on each blog every day.

If you don’t know, this blog and AATW have often worked together with articles and occasionally whole series that jumped back and forth between the two blogs. I think it was good for both, and I miss it.

If any of you haven’t visited, the Watchtower, it is the blog that my dearest friend and Editor here, Jessica founded nearly three years ago. It is one of the most friendly and ecumenical Christian blogs that I have known. It is my second home, and yes, I am a contributor there as well.

So after speaking with Chalcedon, and asking Jess if it was OK, I have decided to share with them, four of Jessica’s posts from our blog. A few of you may remember them but, to most they will be new. They are specific to the day, and they showcase her voice exceptionally well. I think they also showcase her distinct viewpoint which often (for me, anyway) yields a different lesson than what others have written. they will be exactly as she wrote them, with merely a note that they were first published on NEO.

I’ll also note that  here, I am running my companion articles from that week here. I think it remarkable that we were both writing an article for NEO, and Jess was writing one for AATW as well, and often more than one.

This was one of the high points for our blogs, before in Chesterton’s words:

“And this is the word of Mary,
The word of the world’s desire
`No more of comfort shall ye get,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.’ 

And those skies grew dark indeed, as the seas rose, and in time we came so very close to losing Jessica for ever and despair was very close for all of us. But in the end, God’s grace sustained us and God restored her to life and perhaps some wondrous day she will return to us. As GKC said:

The King looked up, and what he saw
Was a great light like death,
For Our Lady stood on the standards rent,
As lonely and as innocent
As when between white walls she went
And the lilies of Nazareth.

And so, starting tomorrow, All Along the Watchtower, will again feature posts by its Foundress, and Chatelaine, and my dearest friend,and Editor of NEO, Jessica.

You will note that there is a live RSS feed for the Watchtower in my sidebar, and so you will easily be able find her posts. They are some of her best.

Enjoy!

 

 

Palm Sunday, Triumphalism, and Leadership

palm-sunday-jesus-christ-on-donkeyOn 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, one of her co-authors, Fr. Malcolm has a beautiful Palm Sunday post.

ImageBoy with a donkey on the road from Bethany to Jerusalem.

John 12:9-19

9 When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, 11since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

12 The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,
‘Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
the King of Israel!’
14Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:
15 ‘Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.
Look, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!’
16His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. 17So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify.*18It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. 19The Pharisees then said to one another, ‘You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!’

Continue reading That first Palm Sunday.

[First published on 24 March 2013]

The Greatest Knight and the End of an Age

English: William Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke

English: William Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the things that happens as we grow up (and even older) is that we discover our heroes have feet of clay. That’s because they, like us, are men, not gods, or even demigods. Still some seem to endure, and I suppose I was lucky, mine did better than most.

One of the first men in history that I decided was a hero and a good man to model  my life on was William Marshal, earl of Pembroke. Gallant knight, respected by all of Henry II fractious children, as well as nearly all of the barons of England, signatory of Magna Charta doing his duty as Marshal of England. And reissuing the Charter as Regent of England for John’s son Henry III,

Here’s a bit more about his sojourn as a crusading knight, following the dying request of the young Henry, Henry the II’s son. by Thomas Asbridge in History Today

William Marshal, warrior and tutor-in-arms to the son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, promised his dying charge that he would complete the sacred task of crusading to the Levant. Did he succeed in his mission and fight the forces of Saladin?

One of England’s finest warriors was laid to rest in London’s Temple Church on May 20th, 1219. In his funeral oration that day, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, reportedly described this celebrated veteran of countless wars – William Marshal – as ‘the greatest knight in the world’. The youngest son of a minor Anglo-Norman noble, Marshal had risen through the ranks to serve at the right hand of five English monarchs. He became a revered tournament champion, esteemed by his peers as the paragon of chivalry and a powerful landed baron of the realm.

Having been on intimate terms with figures such as Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lionheart and ‘Bad’ King John, Marshal was ultimately appointed as regent for the boy-king Henry III. Fighting in one final campaign, the 70-year-old Marshal successfully stemmed the tide of a major French invasion and baronial revolt in 1217, at the Battle of Lincoln, saving the Angevin (or Plantagenet) dynasty from utter annihilation. Though Marshal is far from a household name today, this remarkable career marks the knight out as one of the most compelling, extraordinary and intriguing figures of the Middle Ages.

Manuscript of the History of William Marshal. Thomas Asbridge.Manuscript of the History of William Marshal.

Marshal was also the subject of the first known contemporary biography of a medieval knight, the so-called History of  William Marshal, written some six years after his death on the orders of his eldest son and now surviving in a single manuscript held in New York’s Morgan Library. This work serves as the key source for Marshal’s life, though inevitably it offers a highly partisan account of his achievements. However, the biography has sparked an enduring mystery about one particular phase of its hero’s career: the time he spent on crusade in the Holy Land.

While still in his early twenties, Marshal was appointed as tutor-in-arms to Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine’s son and heir, Young Henry. In the course of the next 13 years the pair became close associates,  achieving renown on the tournament fields of northern France; but they were also embroiled in two abortive rebellions against Henry II’s overbearing authority. In the midst of the second of these civil wars, in June 1183, Young Henry contracted dysentery and suffered a squalid and agonising death in Aquitaine. As he lay dying, Young Henry charged his friend and confidante with a sacred task. Some months earlier, the Angevin heir had made a commitment to lead a crusade to the Levant (modern Lebanon, Syria and Palestine) and he now begged his ‘dearest friend’, Marshal, to fulfil that vow in his stead, carrying the cloak upon which Henry had affixed his cloth crusader’s cross all the way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Honouring Young Henry’s request was no simple matter; it involved a challenging journey of more than 2,000 miles, almost to the edge of what was then the known world, but Marshal undertook this last act of service, nonetheless. The best estimates suggest that Marshal set out from western Europe in the autumn of 1183 and probably returned either in late 1185 or early 1186. This places him in the Near East at the precise moment when a titanic struggle was brewing between the Latin Christian crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem and the emerging might of the great Muslim sultan, Saladin. Not surprisingly, the notion of one of the foremost warriors of the Middle Ages arriving in such a contested battleground has sparked both scholarly and popular imaginations.

Over the last century, the leading historians of Marshal’s career – from Sidney Painter to Georges Duby and David Crouch – have all struggled to interpret or to explain his short-lived crusading career. This was largely because the History of William Marshal offered only a brief and frustratingly evasive comment upon the period that its chief protagonist spent in the Holy Land. The History recorded that William performed ‘many feats of bravery and valour’ during his stay, achieving as much as ‘if he had lived there for seven years’, adding that these ‘fine deeds’ were ‘still known about today’ and widely discussed. But Marshal’s biographer then declared that he could not describe these marvellous exploits because: ‘I was not there and did not witness them, nor can I find anyone who can tell me half of them.’

As a result, most historians have been content simply to pass over William’s time in the East in a few sentences. Painter, for example, argued that, as ‘a crusade was the supreme adventure’, William ‘undoubtedly performed [great deeds] against the forces of the redoubtable Saladin’. More recently, Crouch suggested that, while ‘a cynic might conclude’ from the History’s relative silence that Marshal ‘had done very little’ in Palestine, ‘this would be unjust’. Crouch also stated that ‘by no stretch of the imagination could [William’s crusading pilgrimage] be interpreted as a career move’.

– See more at: http://historytoday.com/thomas-asbridge/greatest-knight-or-failed-crusader#sthash.ytlL2Bal.dpuf

Continue reading The Greatest Knight or a Failed Crusader? | History Today.

Yesterday, 2 February was the 114 th Anniversary of Queen Victoria’s state funeral.and so the end of the Victorian age.

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