Saturday, April 19, 2014

Reverie, Plus One...


Reverie

Scott and Christine Dente colored our lives in the 90's.  It's hard to find their tunes today, but here's a favorite...


Holy Saturday

From this morning's Gospel Reading:
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb. 
The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, "Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, `After three days I will rise again.' Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, `He has been raised from the dead,' and the last deception would be worse than the first." Pilate said to them, "You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can." So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.
Yesterday was a day like none other.  Outside the city walls of Jerusalem, a cosmic collision of the temporal and eternal took place, affixed to a cruel Roman cross. In the eyes of some, it may have appeared as the death of a desperate hope of throwing off the yoke of Imperial Rome. To others, it represented the messy death of a wide-eyed Sophist. Still to others, it appeared as the timely demise of a troublesome meddler who was bent on usurping a culture and religious system. Irrespective a body, now still and lifeless, hung between heaven and earth. The eyes that stare in from outside of our timeline saw something completely apart. To these eyes, there on Golgotha's hill hung the only propitiatory offering that could satisfy a Holy and Just God. Just moments prior, this God-man suspended above the earth cried out "Tetelestai"! The debt for sins ancient and future were paid. The God-man then stepped out of our timeline and willingly yielding his life back into the hands of the Father. 

Those who were devoted to the decedent now had approximately three hours to see to the matter and in doing so, would render themselves ceremonially unclean for the coming feast Yet in their devotion, they sought the body of Jesus who might have otherwise been cast into the burning garbage dump outside of the city walls, gehenna. Instead of becoming food for carrion, the remains of the Christ were lovingly laid in a rich man's tomb.

A day later, the Jewish priestly aristocracy was nervous. They knew that in spite of the Christ's resounding declaration, that this was far from over. With the Roman governor's approval, the tomb was sealed with the signet of Imperial Rome. This seal was a dire warning to would be hoaxers that should they attempt to steal Christ's remains, they would suffer the same fate as the one lying on the other side of the stone.

From the standpoint of the Apostolic band, this had to be a crushing day. One of their own had handed Jesus over to the authorities and was now dead by his own hands. Their "class president" made a profanity-laced denial of their Master and was now living with the disgrace. The rest were hiding somewhere in the city, for fear that perhaps after the feast, they would be next.

Yet, we soon learn just how one day changes everything.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday, at the ninth hour...

It is finished...




Good Friday, on the sixth hour...

From St. John's Gospel:
So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, "Do not write, 'The King of the Jews,' but, 'This man said, I am King of the Jews.'" Pilate answered, "What I have written I have written." When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it." This was to fulfill what the scripture says, "They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots." And that is what the soldiers did. Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, "Woman, here is your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), "I am thirsty." A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, "It is finished." Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
As violent as our modern culture has become, I doubt that many readers of this blog have
witnessed a violent death, or have been called upon to serve as witness to a judicial execution.  

The U.S. is one of the few free societies which still administers the Death Penalty to the worst of offenders.  This said, our American method of Execution is sterile and detached, almost seeming like a medical procedure rather than an administration of death.  Those carrying out the execution have been medically trained and the act takes place in a room  resembling an operating theater.  Executions are carried out behind prison walls and witnessed by just a handful of individuals.  Every effort is made on the part of the state to carry out the procedure in a way that is quick, humane, and sparing the condemned from any unnecessary suffering.  Compared to other nation's who've retained capital punishment, these executions are relatively rare and get scant coverage.  This was hardly the case with the execution of the Christ.

Rome ruled with a hob-nailed boot and an iron fist, and her execution of justice was intentionally brutal.  The Roman crucifixion epitomized this fact.  Those unfortunates who experienced crucifixion died in the most prolonged, miserable way imaginable.  They would, over a period of hours to days, succumb to dehydration, physical exhaustion, and ultimately die by suffocation as breathing became ever more difficult.  Though this execution process could last days in the case of a strong individual, the process was artificially accelerated by the Roman's in order to satisfy the desire of the Jewish religious establishment who wanted the executions completed prior to sundown and the start of the Passover feast.

When comparing the most barbaric executions in our modern world to the death of Jesus, they would even be seen as relatively humane.  The execution of Jesus was slow, excruciating, and inhumane in the most extreme ways imaginable.

Jesus knew exactly what he'd be experiencing and I think that why he asked the Father if there was another way.  He was not merely going to die this afternoon.  He would be first offered up as a propitiation, poured out as the only offering fit to satisfy the justice and righteous wrath of the Almighty.  The weight of sin's debt demanded nothing less.  It was only upon it's satisfaction could Jesus cry out "TETELESTAI!", bow his head, and release his live to the Father.


Good Friday -- I

From the Book of Common Prayer, the Collect for Good Friday:
Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
By modern measurements, the sun would have rose in Jerusalem this morning at 6:07 AM.  On that first Good Friday as the city was waking up, Jesus' ordeal had been under way for several hours.  Its easy to overlook sometimes, but by now, he had likely been up for over 24 hours.  And, for the past few hours, he had already undergone two sham trials before Annas and Caiaphas where he was exposed to both physical and verbal abuse.  Now, we was being led to stand before the Roman governor, bound and beaten.  In an act of expediency Pontius Pilate would dismiss Jesus, referring him to Herod.  Herod, in-turn, would send him back to the Roman Governor who's legionnaire's will have beaten him within the limits of his life (a beating capable of killing most), before finally nailing him to the cross.  In the next nine hours, Jesus will have experienced an ordeal that's beyond our comprehension.

The cast of actors on this day were a broad and diverse bunch.  There were the members of the Jewish religious establishment who for quite some time, looked for an opportunity to rid themselves of this troublesome Galilean.  There was the Roman Governor who wanted no more trouble than he already had.  There were guards and soldiers.  There were followers, Apostles, and others who by providence were celebrating the Passover, "This year in Jerusalem".  Central to it all though, was the second person of the Trinity.  Jesus, Son of the living God.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Thursday in Holy Week (Maundy Thursday)

The Gospel reading for Holy Thursday:
Before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean." 
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord--and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them."
 I'm thoroughly arrested by this unfolding moment. The Christ is mere hours away from enduring the most hellish ordeal ever endured by one clothed in human flesh. The spotless Passover lamb would soon have the sins of the vilest offenders laid upon his shoulders.  It's weight may have felt like the shattering blow from a pile driver. It's at moments of reflection, such as now, my careless sins and betrayals become a foul, wretched stench in my own nostrils.

The unfolding picture is truly stunning.  Christ, in demonstrating this love that loves someone to the end, strips down to his inner garments and girds himself with a towel in preparation to wash the feet of his disciples.  Try to imagine a dinner where the host suddenly strips down to his boxers and tee-shirt; it would be an awkward moment at the very least.  The Christ of God is now seen as the servant of all; transformed from High King of Heaven to lowly house slave. All were shocked, but Peter seems to have been scandalized as seen in his reaction.  Jesus doesn't mince words; without this "washing" St. Peter would have no share in the Kingdom.  Peter suddenly gets it, and all but asks for a bath.

For a visual learner, this moment in the Gospel packs a powerful punch.  It teaches volumes about the Kingdom and how it will unfold.  It shows us that the Kingdom looks far more like a tiny sun-baked Albanian nun cradling the dying than a slick, polished preacher trying to sell you your best life now.  Its self-emptying rather than self-agrandizing. Our Lord has no need or use for strutting popinjays who seem to pervade the vast spiritual and cultural wasteland. The "No Fear" Crowd does little more than stir His holy wrath. He saw all of these traits in His onetime anointed cherub, and threw both him and his company of fallen angels down from Heaven. No, He seeks something quite to the contrary. 

Consider on this Maundy Thursday... Our Lord seeks those who've grasped the concept that in the greater scheme of things, they're truly of no account. They've got nothing to bring to the table. These are the ones whom the Master can fill with His power, and may well use them mightily in proclaiming the good news of the kingdom in both word and action.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wednesday in Holy Week

We read in this morning's appointed Gospel:
At supper with his friends, Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, "Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me." The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples-- the one whom Jesus loved-- was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, "Lord, who is it?" Jesus answered, "It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish." So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, "Do quickly what you are going to do." Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, "Buy what we need for the festival"; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

Another Passover was upon Jews and like so many of our holiday dinners, things may have become a little mechanical for some of those gathered in that upper room.  The wine, the unleavened bread, the bitter herbs; all part and parcel of a meal recalling an event that took place beyond anyone's memory.This passover would be like none other since that first one celebrated in Goshen.

St. John paints an interesting picture of the unfolding betrayal. Of the eleven faithful disciples, only St. Peter and the evangelist are initially aware of that Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, is about to betray the Master. In fact, the remaining nine seem to thing that the Teacher has sent their brother out to provide for those in need on this feast night. No, this was hardly the case.

Judas, according to Matthew's account, had in fact already agreed to throw the master to his enemies and was paid well for the deed. Now, he simply had to work out the logistics of making sure that Caiaphas's temple guard would make it to the garden in time to apprehend the Christ.

There are volumes of apologetics in print, giving an explanation for WHY Judas betrayed The Christ.  These range anywhere from pious conjecture to pure puffery.  The WHY will be revealed on that great and terrible day when all will stand before the Father and all things will be made known (A day that each of us, if we're honest with ourselves, fear to some degree or other).  


Judas should be a cautionary tale for us all.  Though he was one of the twelve who proclaimed the good news, drove out demons, and healed the sick, he was also known to be a thief.  This "power evangelist" was now twisted in to the traitor of all time.  The enemy of our soul is highly adept at leveraging "character flaws" (what was once commonly called sin) in our lives, and enticing us to do deeds beyond darkness.  

We've come to a societal point where betrayal is so common place that it seems to have lost its shock with many.  This morning, my mind goes to a lyric by Don Henley from his iconic "Sunset Grill":
"Respectable little murder's pay, they get more respectable everyday..."
We are all capable of becoming that "Man from Kerioth".  May each of our heart's be guarded, today and always.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tuesday in Holy Week

From this morning's Gospel reading:
"Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say-- `Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him." Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."

So much had happened in a few dozen hours; a man dead four days was walking among the living, the words of Zechariah 9:9 had been fulfilled and now the voice of God the Father was rolling like thunder. Doubtless, many of those gathered in Jerusalem for the passover may have sensed in their hearts that they were on the cusp of something epic, something that was paradigm-shifting. Yet for all of this, the Christ is standing center stage, with a heart that grows heavier with each beat.

A heavy heart is not an enviable possession and I have to confess that I have known those seasons of heavy heartedness in my life, but this thought isn't about me and I digress.  Our heaviest of hearts could never even approximate what Jesus was experiencing.

What weighed on Christ's heart? Was it the knowledge that in less than 72 hours, he would become the recipient of 15 hours of hell on earth? Was it knowing that the city where he stood would be leveled and her residents the recipients of imperial genocide? I suspect that what was occurring at present was certainly a cause for sorrow. At this point, the city was swelling and surging as pilgrims filled Jerusalem in preparation for the Passover. The lion's share of those coming for the Lamb of Passover would ultimately reject the Lamb of God.