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Musings on Easter Night: Holy Week Happenings, Busted Brackets a Radical Pope and Opening Night

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The liturgy proclaims “Alleluia! The Lord is Risen. He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” It is the triumph song of life conquering death in the Suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.

This week I have done about all that I could to avoid political, legal and even religious controversies. Lord knows there are enough of those that i get involved in but I really wanted to focus more on Jesus, my wife Judy and our friends. So I have stayed away from becoming too deeply involved in the heated debates and topics of the past week limiting myself to skimming the news, reading as little commentary as possible and making almost no editorial comments of my own. That was hard but I digress…

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Instead I have spent most of my time reading to the Gospel accounts of the Passion narrative and historical accounts and descriptions of the time, culture and political conditions that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem. I began Holy Week hoping to complete the first two parts of a historical fiction trilogy built around the Roman Centurion that tradition calls Longinus. According to tradition was the man who placed his spear in the side of Jesus and who exclaimed “surely this man was the son of God” as Jesus died on the cross. You can find the links to the first two parts of the Trilogy below.

Part One: A Centurion in Jerusalem 

A Centurion’s Sunday in Jerusalem: The Story of Longinus

The Story of Longinus the Centurion: A Meeting of Friends

The Story of Longinus the Centurion: A Visit to Death Row

Duplicity in Jerusalem: An Official Visit and 30 Pieces of Silver

Part Two: An Unenviable Mission

The Long Good Friday of Longinus the Centurion

The Morning After a Most Unsettling Crucifixion: The Story of Longinus the Centurion

New Troubles: A Missing Body an Empty Tomb and Sleeping Soldiers The Story of Longinus the Centurion

In fact I did not spend time in church this week. Usually i will spend large parts of Holy Week engaged in attending or performing different services, Masses or times of prayer. However, I have been on the road a lot the past couple of years. Judy and I have spent too much time apart. Apart from personal meditations and prayers on Holy Thursday and Good Friday the only thing that we did was to have me celebrate an Easter Sunday Eucharist together at home. We could have spent a lot of the limited time that I was home in church, and as much as I love the people at the small Episcopal parish that I attend when home I needed the time with Judy more. Being stationed over 200 miles from home for the past two and a half years does help help one realize what is important. Next year I will be in charge of a chapel and then I will be fully engaged in Holy Week activities, this year however, we needed to be together. Some might find fault in this but if they do they can pound sand, of course in Christian love.

The week was interesting because Wednesday was my birthday and Judy made arrangements to have friends go with us to a local German restaurant. I really enjoyed being with Judy and our friends and that time was well spent. Once again, something that I have come to be thankful for and to make sure that I spend time to do now is to make time for friends and family.

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Speaking of baseball I found it fitting and quite symbolic that Opening Night 2013 fell on Easter Sunday. If you ask me this should always be the case but it would involve having all of Christianity having to change their calendars to fit and that will not happen. If Pope Francis hailed from the Dominican Republic there might be a chance, but we need to wait to get a Pope from the Dominican Republic.

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Speaking of Pope Francis it appears that he is really starting to rattle some guided cages at the Vatican and among Church Traditionalists, and if you ask me not a moment too soon. He turned a lot of heads with his common touch over the first couple of weeks of his Papacy but it was his actions on Holy Thursday that set heads spinning a la Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

For the first time a Pope washed the feet of women, one of them being a Moslem. I do pray for this Pope and I worry about him because some of the most violent people are religious types. Some of the more traditional mindset don’t take change well. Some, even among Christians resort to violence when a church or religious leader is going outside what they believe is “orthodox” even if it has little to do with their actual orthodoxy.

Well now it is the time that I need to get ready for work in the morning. While I am doing this I will continue to watch the Texas Ranger’s play their new American League Central neighbors the Houston Astros.

Until tomorrow,

Peace, Happy Easter and Happy Opening Night after all “the only church that truly feeds the soul day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.” 

Padre Steve+

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Alleluia Christ is Risen!

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, `He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” Matthew 28:1-10

It is Easter at last and Christians around the world sing the triumphant message “alleluia Christ is risen, he is risen indeed!”  Just as the first disciples walked with Jesus we too have walked with Jesus through the penitential season of Lent beginning on Ash Wednesday where we remembered that “we are but dust and to dust we shall return.” With each thing that we abstained from or added to our spiritual discipline we in a small way were reminded that we are to “deny ourselves, take up our Cross and follow.”  In Holy week we experienced the nearly schizophrenic emotions of triumph and tragedy of Palm or Passion Sunday, the solemnity that comes on Holy or Maundy Thursday as we recall the institution of the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper and the humility of Jesus as he takes on the mantle of a lowly servant and washes the feet of his disciples.  Leaving that we enter into the suffering of Jesus on Good Friday and see how even his friends betrayed or abandoned him with only a thief on an adjacent cross and the officer in charge of the crucifixion realizing just who was on that middle cross.  We wait overnight Friday and through Saturday in the uncomfortable middle between the crucifixion and resurrection that so often mirrors events in our own life where we sometimes experience what we feel to be forsaken by family, friends, church and sometimes even God.  Yet in the pre-dawn darkness of that first Easter morning we like the disciples awake to find that something has happened, that the stone is rolled away, the tomb is empty and Jesus is raised from the dead crushing sin death and hell.  We are greeted by Jesus who tells us not to be afraid but to go and tell others what has happened.  He greets us on the road to Emmaus and breaks bread with us even as we tell him about the tragedy of his death and then our eyes are opened.  Jesus is the victor and in his death burial and resurrection we have the forgiveness of sins.  The event is also eschatological in that it opens the door for him to return in glory and for him to be revealed in his people For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God;  “for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Romans 8:20-21

Likewise it is in this series of inseparable events that Christ establishes our redemption by the forgiveness of sins “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8.

It is a universe changing event whereby Christ sets his people free and destroys the power of his enemies. Karl Barth wrote: “Look once again to Jesus Christ in his death upon the cross.  Look and try to understand that what he did and suffered he did and suffered for you, for me, for us all.  He carried our sin, our captivity and our suffering, and did not carry it in vain.  He carried it away.  He acted as the captain of us all.  He broke through the ranks of our enemies.  He has already won the battle, our battle.  All we have to do is to follow him, to be victorious with him.  Through him, in him we are saved.  Our sin no longer has any power over us.  Our prison door is open…when he, the Son of God, sets us free, we are truly free.” This is the redemption that the world awaits, not a redemption that is to be hoarded by believers but a redemption that extends beyond the present redemption for all people, especially those who believe and the people of God are to toil and struggle for this “For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” 1 Timothy 4:10

The Cross and Resurrection are to be a new and purifying wind in the world and the people of God are to be the vehicle for this wind empowered by the Holy Spirit of God.  It is not simply about mastering the art of dying as Socrates did but experiencing resurrection.  Christ did not merely die but he overcame the last enemy which is death itself. (1 Corinthians 15:26)  The power of this is not to be taken lightly in its possibilities for real change for as Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote “If a few people really believed that and acted on it in their daily lives, a great deal would be changed. To live in the light of the Resurrection—that is what Easter means.”

While we live in the reality of the light of the Resurrection we simultaneously live under the shadow of the Cross of Christ as well as the cross that we are obliged by God to carry in our own lives. In the duality and unity of the Cross and Resurrection we have hope and in that hope we are not to be overwhelmed by events in the world that we cannot control.  Nor are we to be consumed by false “gospels” presented by various ideologues of the right and the left who may identify themselves as “Christian” but place their ideologies, social, political, national and economic over the Gospel itself.  Ideologues who quote scripture to buttress their arguments so that their ideology and the “Gospel” are one in the same much as Satan did during the temptation of Jesus to provide a veneer of Christianity to ideologies that are often opposed to the message of the Gospel. Such an idea is much like the message on German soldier’s belt buckles in the Second World War proclaimed “Gott Mit Uns” even as their nation made war on the world and executed an evil ideology of death upon the Jews and others unfortunate enough to be considered the enemies of the Nazi Party.

It is the ideologues who now endanger the Church and Gospel itself for many choose to remain inside the walls of the church and attempt to turn it into a tool of their ideology and in doing so these ideologues measure and evaluate “others only from the standpoint of whether they are supporters of this ideology, or whether they might become such, or whether they might at least be useful to it even without their consent, or whether they must be fought as its enemies. Its glory has already become for him the solution not only to the personal problem of his own life but to each and all of the problems of the world.” But the Cross and resurrection cry out “NO!” to such ideas even when they are drenched with so called “Biblical” support.

The Cross and the Resurrection bring us to life and promise that Christ who died and was raised will come again and in doing so will complete the redemption of the world for which he suffered and died. It is the real world for which God cares for enough to live suffer and die to save, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer so eloquently wrote “God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.”

It is God’s unfathomable love that Easter proclaims as victorious and allows us will all people to cry out “Alleluia Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed!”

Peace and Happy Easter

Padre Steve+

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Holy or Maundy Thursday….Pausing to Reflect on Communion

Today is Holy or Maundy Thursday, a day where many Churches and Christians take the time within their theological traditions to reflect upon in their worship, the institution of the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper.  Today for me is always special, though the past couple years I was not doing well do to PTSD and other stuff.  This year is different in the sense that I have began to recover that sense of mystery and awe that comes in this celebration.

I grew up in kind of an eclectic faith tradition as a Navy brat. My family was Methodist and I was baptized in my parents and grandparents home church, Southside Methodist Church in Huntington West Virginia.  However living on the West coast we went to Navy Chapels or local civilian churches of various denominations.  During my dad’s time in Vietnam it was a Roman Catholic Navy chaplain who showed us the love of God when many civilian churches made military families unwelcome.  I owe my vocation and faith to that man who took care of our Protestant family.  I remember attending the Holy Thursday Mass at the little Naval Communication station in 1971. There was a sense of mystery and holiness in that service that stayed with me.  When I was in high school I went to a Conservative Baptist church where communion was not observed in the same manner but the Pastor, Reverend Ron Lundy made it special. There was a sense of holiness and thankfulness that I have seldom seen in Evangelical churches since.

When I went to seminary I was attending a non-denominational evangelical/charismatic church.  It was a good church but little emphasis was placed on communion and apart from Easter Sunday no attention was paid to Holy Week. However as a seminary student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1988-1992 before the great purge of moderates I had a number of professors, but in particular my Church History professor Dr Doyle Young took the time to look at how the major traditions within the Christian faith viewed the Eucharist or Holy Communion.   I was acquainted with most in a fairly rudimentary manner Dr Young brought out the really important theological aspects of each in the context of how each view came about.  I always had a sort of Reformed or Presbyterian view of Holy Communion in that unlike most of my Baptist and Evangelical friends I really believed that there was a “spiritual” presence of Christ in communion as opposed to it being a symbolic memorial.  That changed as I was taught the Roman Catholic and Orthodox understandings of the Eucharist but was nailed down as we studied Martin Luther, his understanding of the Eucharist and the discussion between Luther and Ulrich Zwingli at the Marburg Colloquy.  It was Luther’s argument from Scripture “This is my Body, this is my Blood” with which he responded to every argument posed by Zwingli that convinced me of the reality of Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist in more than just a spiritual manner.  I could not ignore Scripture and that was the watershed in bringing me to an Anglican or Anglo-Catholic understanding of faith and the Eucharist.

My purpose here is not to argue for my theological view but rather to encourage Christians to take advantage of the communion that we have with Jesus and through him with the Father and the Spirit as well as the communion that we share with each other.  Though I may believe my understanding of the Eucharist fits best with Scripture and the earliest teaching of the Church I will not use this to attack those who have different viewpoints.  Instead regardless of the theological perspective I hope that my readers will be able to renew their faith tonight as we celebrate this holy evening where Jesus met with his disciples before he was betrayed a Luke the Evangelist wrote:

“When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16for I tell you, I will not eat it* until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ 17Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ 19Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 20And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Luke 22:14-20

And Paul to the Corinthians

“ For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for* you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 25In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

And Saint John’s comments in the Gospel bearing his name:

“This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John 6:50-51

It is important that no matter whether we view this as a Sacrament or a symbolic memorial that we take this feast of God’s love for us seriously for he comes to us in Word, Sacrament in this moment where we take the time to spend with him and his people as we prepare to celebrate the “Mystery of Faith” “Christ has Died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again.”

My prayer is that we all find God’s peace and life during this Easter Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday as we walk with Jesus and his disciples through that tumultuous time.  Lent is ended, our seasonal penitence is done so let us take the time to pause remember and reflect of the remarkable depth of God’s love for us in that “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” As Martin Luther said “For here in the sacrament [Communion] you receive from Christ’s lips the forgiveness of sins, which contains and conveys God’s grace and Spirit with all his gifts, protection, defense, and power against death and the devil and all evils” (The Large Catechism — p. 98).

Another feature of Holy Thursday is the enactment by the clergy of Jesus washing his disciple’s feet. This is important in a world where power and fame is sought after over service to one another, even in churches.  The call of Christ is that we are to be servants of all.

In a world wracked by so much division including Christians who cannot agree on exactly what is going on when we come to the Altar or to the Communion table it is imperative that Christians even given their longstanding differences regarding this would be good to acknowledge their dependence upon God and one another.  If while acknowledging our differences we can at least share in the love and communion of God in Christ even if our individual churches will not share communion with one another. After all in the end it really is about the Lord and his relationship with his people and their relationship with each other and the world that he came to save.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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