One Little Word, and Passover

We going to start this post with one of Jessica’s articles. She speaks here of how Christ chose to send the news of His resurrection by Mary Magdalene, whose testimony would have borne no weight at all under Jewish law at that time. Then I want to speak of something else. Here’s Jessica-

Under Jewish Law, the testimony of a woman was no testimony at all. The first witness to the Risen Lord was a woman – Mary Magdalen. She was tearful. There she was, come to the tomb to anoint Him, and there was the stone moved. Her mind went where most of our minds would have gone – someone had taken Him away. That great stone had not moved itself, and dead bodies don’t walk out of tombs. The grave-clothes were bundled up and there was no trace of Jesus. Hard to imagine her feelings at the point. Only two days earlier her world had fallen apart. The man whose feet she had anointed and whom she had followed so loyally had been taken, tortured and then crucified. She knew that; she’d been there (which was more than could be said for most of those Apostles). It was over. All that remained was for her to do a final duty to the corpse. But even that was to be denied her. They had taken her Lord away.

She ran back to where the disciples were and told Peter the horrible news. Typically Peter, he ran to the tomb, and equally typically was outpaced by the younger John. But John stood at the entrance, and when Peter arrived he it was who, impulsive and brave as ever, went inside to see that the tomb was, indeed, as empty as Mary had said. The men went back home, no doubt to tell the others; Mary, as is the way of women, wanted to stay there a moment longer, perhaps to gather her thoughts, perhaps to mourn a moment alone.

She looked into the tomb again, only to be met by the most amazing sight – two angels asking her why she wept. The answer she gave echoes down the ages:  “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” As she turned away she saw a stranger, whom she took to be the gardener and asked where Jesus was. Then the man spoke – just one word, one word which shattered the world as she had known it and which echoes down the ages, even to the end of all things. ‘Mary’ was that word, the first from the lips of the Resurrected Lord. However much her tears had blinded her, that voice was clearly unmistakable: “Rabboni!” She said. Teacher, teacher, that was what she called Him. She went to cling to Him and He said: ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’  He bade her to go and tell the others what she had seen.

The testimony of a woman was no testimony in Jewish Law, and yet it was to a woman that the Risen Lord first came. He had broken the bonds of death, He had conquered the power of death and of Satan, the hold of sin on mankind was broken; and these things He entrusted to the power of one who in Jewish Law could offer no testimony at all.

She was the first. Let us love and honour her for that this Easter morning: ‘He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!’

[From Neo] A remarkable thing, really, especially when one considers that the Angel had spent the time to convince The Virgin Mary to consent to bearing Jesus. Remarkable in that time and place to show such respect to women. So should we.


And something that applies to us Christians but comes from our Jewish (religious) forebearers. Bookworm in her Good Friday post has some good thinking for us.

An antisemitic Jew I know, rather than seeing the Passover ceremony as a celebration of freedom (commemorating as it does the world’s first and, for a long time, only successful slave revolt), justice, and morality (insofar as it gave us the Ten Commandments), derides the whole ceremony as the unconscionable and immoral celebration of the genocide of the Egyptian people. What troubles him so much is the fact that, after each plague, when Pharaoh seems about to soften and let the Jews go, God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, leading to the necessity of yet another plague, culminating in the death of the first born.

As those familiar with the Bible know, his objection is predicated upon ignorance. The tenth plague, which saw God strike down the first born in every family that did not have the blood of the Pascal lamb above their door, was not a random punishment. It was, instead, divine retribution for the Pharaoh’s own ruling, in effect beginning before Moses’s birth, that all first born Jewish males should be drowned in the Nile.

She’s right of course. And how does that apply today? This way –

The Bible is not so superficial. There is, instead, a much more profound purpose behind the ten plagues, and that is to remind us of the tyrant’s capacity for tolerating others’ suffering, as long as his power remains in place.

What Pharaoh discovered with the first nine plagues is that life can go on, at least for the ruler, no matter the burdens placed upon his people. A blood filled Nile River may, at first, have seemed appalling, but the red receded and life went on. Pharaoh still held together his government. The same held true for each subsequent plague, whether lice or boils or wild animals or frogs, or whatever: As long as Pharaoh could maintain his power base, he could always reconcile himself to the incremental decimation visited upon those he ruled.

Sheltered in his lavish palace, Pharaoh might have a theoretical concern that a starving and frightened populace could turn on him. However, as long as he was assured that his people, despite the horrors inflicted against them, continued to fear and worship him, their suffering was irrelevant. It was only when the price became too high — when Pharaoh’s power base was destroyed because his citizens were destroyed and when the plague struck in his own palace, killing his own first born* — that Pharaoh was convinced, even temporarily, to alter his evil ways.

Human nature hasn’t changed much in 3,000 years. Think, for example, of both the Nazis and the Japanese at the end of WWII. For the Nazis, it was apparent by December 1944 (the Battle of the Bulge) that the war was over. Hitler, however, was a megalomaniac in the pharaonic mold, and his high command, either from fear or insanity, would not gainsay him. Rather than surrendering, the Nazi high command was willing to see its country overrun and its citizens killed. Only when the death toll became too high,when it was apparent that nothing could be salvaged from the ashes, and when the high command realized that the Americans and Russians were coming after them, personally, did the war on the continent finally end.

Read it all at The news from North Korea reminds is that Passover is always relevant.

And that too is correct. They say the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and so it is here. She speaks, and rightly of how Whoa Fat is scurrying for cover and being all reasonable all of a sudden, because America told him, and showed him that “We will destroy you, not you slaves, YOU”.

We are starting to see the same thing with Iran, and even with China, and again with Russia, who ejected the requisite number of American diplomats, but without much in the way of rhetoric. Once again they are being shown America’s economic and military supremacy, they don’t like it any more than they did in the 1980s, but again they are seeing defeat.

All based on the Exodus combined with the American character.

 

 

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He is Risen

That’s the importance of the day. Jesus the Christ is risen from the dead.

Let’s speak a bit about the history. You may know that Easter is an Anglophone term for what nearly everybody else calls some form of Pasch. There’s a myth about that, which The Clerk of Oxford does a fine job of debunking.

How was Easter celebrated in Anglo-Saxon England? There’s a popular answer to that question, which goes like this: ‘the Anglo-Saxons worshipped a goddess called Eostre, who was associated with spring and fertility, and whose symbols were eggs and hares. Around this time of year they had a festival in her honour, which the Christians came over and stole to use for their own feast, and that’s why we now have Easter’.

Yeah, not so much, Eostre was mentioned in two sentences by St Bede, the rest is mostly 19th-century fabrication.

The women and the angel at the tomb, from the Benedictional of St Æthelwold
(BL Additional 49598, f. 51v)

The reenactment of this scene – the women and the angel at the empty tomb – forms one of the best-known elements of the early medieval Easter liturgy, famous because it is often said to be one of the oldest examples of liturgical drama. To quote from Regularis Concordia, as translated in this excellent blogpost at For the Wynn:

When the third reading [of Nocturns] is being read, let four brothers clothe themselves, one of whom, clothed in white and as if about to do something else, should go in and secretly be at the burial place, with his hand holding a palm, and let him sit quietly.  And while the third responsory is being sung, let the remaining three follow: all clothed with cloaks, carrying censers with incense in their hands, and with footsteps in the likeness of someone seeking something, let them come before the burial place. And let these things be done in imitation of the angel sitting on the tomb and of the women coming with spices, so that they might anoint the body of Jesus.

And when the one remaining has seen the three, wandering and seeking something, approach him, let him begin, with a moderate voice, to sing sweetly: ‘Whom are you seeking?’ When this has been sung to the end, let the three respond with one voice: ‘Jesus of Nazareth’. To whom he should say: ‘He is not here.  He has risen, as he said before.  Go, announce it, because he has risen from the dead.’ With this command, let those three turn around to the choir, saying, “Alleluia, the Lord has risen.’ When this has been said, let the one sitting turned back, as if calling them back, say this antiphon: ‘Come and see the place’.

Saying these things, let him rise and lift up the veil and show them the place devoid of the cross, but with the linens placed there which with the cross had been wrapped. When they have seen this, let them set down the censers which they were carrying in the same tomb, and let them take the linen and spread it out in front of the clergy, and, as if showing that the Lord has risen and is not wrapped in it, let them sing this antiphon, ‘The Lord has risen from the tomb’, and let them lay the linen upon the altar.

This is a dramatic replaying of the crucial moment in the Easter story, bringing it to life through the voices and bodies of the monks. Although presumably the primary audience for this liturgical play was the monastic community itself, it may also have been witnessed by lay people. That appears to be the implication of a miracle-story told by Eadmer, describing something which he saw take place as the ritual was being performed in Canterbury Cathedral in c.1066:

There is quite a lot more at her post which is linked above and recommended highly.

We have often spoken about Jesus the leader, and his unflinching dedication to the death to his mission. On Easter, this mission is revealed. It finally becomes obvious that His mission (at this time, anyway) is not of the Earth and its princelings. It is instead a Kingdom of souls.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son,

that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

And so we come to the crux of the matter. The triumph over original sin and death itself. For if you believe in the Christ and his message you will have eternal life. This is what sets Christianity apart, the doctrine of grace. For if you truly repent of your sins, and attempt to live properly, you will be saved. Not by your works, especially not by your wars and killing on behalf of your faith, valid and just though they may be,  but by your faith and your faith alone. For you serve the King of Kings.

And as we know, the Christ is still leading the mission to save the souls of all God‘s children. It is up to us to follow the greatest leader in history or not as we choose. We would do well to remember that our God is a fearsome God but, he is also a just God. We shall be judged entirely on our merits as earthly things fall away from us. But our God is also a merciful God. So be of good cheer for the Father never burdens his people with burdens they cannot, with his help, bear.

As we celebrate the first sunrise after the defeat of darkness, Hail the King Triumphant for this is the day of His victory.

 

He is Risen indeed!

And hath appeared unto Simon!

Even Simon, the coward disciple who denied him thrice

“Christ is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon!”

to Simon Peter the favored Apostle, on whom the Church is built

Jess’ companion article will be along at Noon for your enjoyment.

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 about 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. 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 exist 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. Every day 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.

 

To Gethsemane

jesus-in-gethsemane[I wanted to say something about Maundy Thursday but, I found whatever I tried to write just wasn’t coming out right. So, we’ll share in Jessica’s from a couple of years ago, which I think to be excellent.  Neo]

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.

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Palm Sunday, Triumphalism, and Leadership

Yesterday, we reviewed the difference between leaders and non-leaders. Today in my traditional Palm Sunday post we will look at Jesus’s leadership in Passion week, and see what lessons we can learn from him, and like Jessica, we will look at a contemporary example.

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 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. In some ways, he reminds me of Flavius Josephus, a man who (in the 3d century, I think)  managed to turn some of Christ’s miracles into mere magic tricks, for glory and money.

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.

 

 

Have yourself a Merry Christmas

savior-of-the-world_t_nt

As I look back on the year, and the years, many of them are marked by Christmas, as indeed this one is. I find myself missing  my sisters and Brothers in Law. Well, I’ll see them again, in the next world, and that day isn’t so far off, and my old partner and dearest friend, well never say never. I have my memories, and a few pictures, and yes, some tears will be shed. But this day brings that promise, that I shall see them again, and it provides a good excuse to read Jessica’s words once again because she wrote it so beautifully. But first, a song that she introduced me to that has come to symbolize Christmas for me. Jessica’s post is after the Pogues with Kristy MacColl. A side note: Kristy died in December 2000 while saving her son from being struck by a speeding boat in Mexico. Doing her maternal duty, but a sad end to a great talent. Merry Christmas to you all!

And so we come to the day when the world opens its presents – and we do the same, but we celebrate the greatest present ever – the gift of ever-lasting life. Paul is right, our minds cannot encompass what it means, or what it will be like, but we can know what it is to be covered by the blood of the Lamb and to know that our sins are forgiven, and that our souls are being healed; that’s what Christmas means for us all – it’s just that only some of us ‘get it’.

The most (in the proper meaning of the word) awesome aspect of what we celebrate today is that the eternal Word, who was with God from the beginning, who created the world, came into it in human form, assuming our flesh and healing it. We say these things so easily, but how marvellous that the Lord of all things should have condescended to be one of us, to share our fate, to live among us, as one of us. It isn’t surprising that early heresies centred around trying to explain that away, because the ancient world was used enough to gods who took on human form, but it was just that – an act, an appearance, a guise for some purpose (often amorous) which was later dropped. The notion of God as one of us (cue the song) – note that contra the song there is no ‘if’ – he was one of us – was and remains revolutionary. At a stroke, in the twinkling of an eye, we poor sinners are rich beyond our deserts – all that was ruined, all that was broken is made whole.

That is why Christians celebrate this day. It is the day God’s love was incarnate, and the Apostles saw Him, they touched Him, they lived with Him – the Word made flesh dwelt with men and though the world saw Him not, enough did that two thousand yaears on, we celebrate it. This is something we can share with Jesus.

The Lord’s first miracle was at a celebration – a wedding – and it was something which helped the celebration along – good wine at that stage of the proceedings must have been greatly welcomed – and there might have been a few sore heads in the morning. If anyone here has been to a Jewish wedding, you’ll know how joyous it can be, and how the dancing and the eating fuse together into a celebration of life itself. That’s a reminder to us all that the new life we have in Christ is a cause for huge celebration. It is good to go to Church and to give thanks to God for all our blessings – and then to go home and be with some of them – our family and friends.

If you get bored enough, I’ll likely be around some today, I’ll be with some friends, but will probably be in and out some. Going to be rather quiet here today, I expect.

A very holy and happy Christmas from me! Neo.

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