April 21st, 2014
Reblogged from Gabriel Ellsworth
April 20th, 2014

I got me flowers to straw thy way;

I got me boughs off many a tree: 

But thou wast up by break of day, 

And brought’st thy sweets along with thee.

The Sunne arising in the East, 

Though he give light, and th’ East perfume;

If they should offer to contest 

With thy arising, they presume.

Can there be any day but this, 

Though many sunnes to shine endeavour? 

We count three hundred, but we misse: 

There is but one, and that one ever.

— “Easter”, George Herbert

April 18th, 2014

LET mans Soule be a Spheare, and then, in this,
 The intelligence that moves, devotion is,
 And as the other Spheares, by being growne
 Subject to forraigne motions, lose their owne,
 And being by others hurried every day,
 Scarce in a yeare their naturall forme obey:
 Pleasure or business, so, our Soules admit
 For their first mover, and are whirld by it.
 Hence is’t, that I am carryed towards the West
 This day, when my Soules forme bends toward the East.
 There I should see a Sunne, by rising set,
 And by that setting endlesse day beget;
 But that Christ on this Crosse, did rise and fall,
 Sinne had eternally benighted all.
 Yet dare I’almost be glad, I do not see
 That spectacle of too much weight for mee.
 Who sees Gods face, that is selfe life, must dye;
 What a death were it then to see God dye?
 It made his owne Lieutenant Nature shrinke,
 It made his footstoole crack, and the Sunne winke.
 Could I behold those hands which span the Poles,
 And turne all spheares at once, peirc’d with those holes?
 Could I behold that endlesse height which is
 Zenith to us, and our Antipodes,
 Humbled below us? or that blood which is
 The seat of all our Soules, if not of his,
 Made durt of dust, or that flesh which was worne
 By God, for his apparell, rag’d, and torne?
 If on these things I durst not looke, durst I
 Upon his miserable mother cast mine eye,
 Who was Gods partner here, and furnish’d thus
 Halfe of that Sacrifice, which ransom’d us?
 Though these things, as I ride, be from mine eye,
 They’are present yet unto my memory,
 For that looks towards them; and thou look’st towards mee,
 O Saviour, as thou hang’st upon the tree
 I turne my backe to thee, but to receive
 Corrections, till thy mercies bid thee leave.
 O thinke mee worth thine anger, punish mee,
 Burne off my rusts, and my deformity,
 Restore thine Image, so much, by thy grace,
 That thou may’st know mee, and I’ll turne my face.

 —John Donne, *Good Friday, 1613, Riding Westward*

April 18th, 2014

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.

April 17th, 2014

   Praise to the Holiest in the height,

and in the depth be praise;

in all his words most wonderful,

most sure in all his ways!

   O loving wisdom of our God!

When all was sin and shame,

a second Adam to the fight

and to the rescue came.

   O wisest love! that flesh and blood,

which did in Adam fail,

should strive afresh against the foe,

should strive, and should prevail;

   And that the highest gift of grace

should flesh and blood refine:

God’s presence and his very self,

and essence all-divine.

   O generous love! that he who smote

in man for man the foe,

the double agony in Man

for man should undergo.

   And in the garden secretly,

and on the cross on high,

should teach his brethren, and inspire

to suffer and to die.

   — John Henry Newman, *Gerontion*, (1801 – 1890)

April 17th, 2014

Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

April 15th, 2014
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at table with him. Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it. Jesus said, “Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial. The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” — John 12: 1 – 8

He did it for the money. Judas earlier had approached the chief priest to ask, “What are you willing to give me if I hand Jesus over to you?” On Monday in Holy Week, we read what provoked Judas finally to hand him over. Worship. He witnessed Mary’s act of devotion. And it provoked him to go out and fink on his friend.

Judas sees Mary’s self-forgetfulness as she pours out this nard on Jesus’s feet, then unbinds her hair and wipes his feet with her hair. He sees that extravagant worship. And he expresses what some other disciples also were thinking. “What a waste!”

It happens. I once had a pious person come into my first cure, St. Bartholomew’s in New York City, one of the landmark churches in Manhattan, and looking around in that Romanesque church with Byzantine decoration, gazing about in that 1.7 million cubic feet of space you could fly a little airplane around in, they wondered aloud what loads of cash it must have cost to put up that building. “Think how that money could have been used to feed the poor,” they said. All that treasure, and merely for the worship of Jesus! People, not least religious people, are never more sanctimonious than when they presume to know better how to spend someone else’s money.

The Bible has the last word on this sort of thing. In the Revelation of John, the scrim is peeled back, and John peers into the mid-most mysteries of the universe. And what is revealed? The angels, the ten thousand times ten thousand encircling the throne, singing in a loud voice, “Worthy is the lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and glory and praise.”

Judas saw Mary worshiping Jesus, and instead of joining her and the angels and archangels, Matthew and Mark tell us that the next thing Judas did was go out to betray Jesus. He sells him out for thirty pieces of silver. That’s the base value, according to Exodus 21: 32, the lowest cash value of a human life. Just another man; that’s all Jesus is, is what Judas is saying. It’s not that he hated Jesus. He just didn’t love him.

April 14th, 2014

John the Evangelist tells us of a woman named Mary anointing Jesus with costly perfume, and the story takes place in the home she kept with Martha and Lazarus.

Luke the Evangelist, like Matthew and Mark, tells a similar story set in the home of a man named Simon. Luke doesn’t tell us the name of the woman who anoints Jesus. Luke’s story, told in the seventh chapter of his gospel, is the one I’m meditating upon today.

Luke sets this woman out as a parade example of what could have been said, in various permutations, about all the women who were in the band of Jesus’s disciples. She responds to Jesus with an extravagant expression of love, giving of her substance to Christ, pouring out her precious ointment on Jesus. She’s an example. “The women” we read in chapter eight of Luke’s gospel, “were helping to support them out of their own means.” They were giving generously. They are an example for what happens in the early church later on when in the Book of Acts we read how many sold their various assets, real estate in Barnabas’s case, took the proceeds and placed it at the feet of the apostles to use as they saw fit. That’s the following context in Luke’s story. What happens here is exemplary.

The preceding context has Jesus healing the son of the widow of Nain, bringing him back to life. The widow of Nain is in a funeral procession because her only son now is dead. She’s in tough shape. Jesus in mercy brings her son back to life and thus ministers to her. Those who witnessed it “were all filled with awe and glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has arisen among us.’”

This intrigues because Jesus didn’t say much. If we think of prophets as those who say things, Jesus hadn’t said anything in particular. He just saw this funeral procession, recognized the desperate need, and told the woman ‘Don’t cry’, hardly a prophetic statement. But then he touched the coffin and addressed the son, saying ‘Young man I say to you ‘Arise.’” And the crowd concludes “a great prophet has appeared among us.” They say, “‘God has come to help his people.’ And this news about Jesus spread about Judea and the surrounding country.”

This helps us understand Luke’s story about the anointing because what does Simon, the Pharisee, the host, say about Jesus when the sinful woman comes in and begins behaving in the way that she does? What’s his comment? “Not much of a prophet. How can this guy be a prophet?” Literally what Luke writes is that Simon says, “If this man were a prophet he would know who was touching him and what kind of woman she is, that’s she’s a sinner.”

The crowd was thinking Jesus was a prophet when he raised this dead person because in the Book of Deuteronomy (see chapters 18 and 34), fourteen hundred years before Christ, Moses was told to tell the people that his life and ministry would be, as powerful as it was, finite. He was going to die. But after him the Most High would eventually raise up a prophet like him that would be one to whom all the people were to listen. And the prophet who would be like him, would be like him not just in that he would be a mouthpiece for God but that he would do the kinds of things Moses did, miraculous works of deliverance. That’s how you can tell a prophet like Moses. Not just that he’s a mouthpiece, one who speaks the word of God, but that that word has the same power as when God said ‘Let there be light.’

John the Baptist is himself at just this time, in Luke’s gospel, wondering. If this is the Moses-like miracle-working prophet who is going to deliver God’s people why isn’t he delivering me from prison? That captivity will soon result in John the Baptist’s decapitation.

As serious a situation as John is in Jesus has in mind a much more confining imprisonment than what John is going through, from which to deliver human beings. Slavery not to Egyptians, not to the will of Herod, but a slavery to sin.

Jesus has come as the Second Adam, the Second David, as the great redeemer of sinners. During Holy Week we relive liturgically the events of the last week of Jesus’s life. There isn’t much, really nothing, for us to do but watch. Watch Jesus. Watch what he does. What he comes to do isn’t to bring the judgment that he will bring at his Second Coming. He comes, this week, to bear it. 

April 13th, 2014

The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, 13 April 2014, St Francis Church, Potomac, Maryland. Based on Matthew 21: 1 – 11. 

We admire their literature. We use their laws and legal vocabulary. Their architecture and engineering are on proud display in our beautiful city everywhere you turn. Their political principles of the separation of powers and checks and balances are our principles. Yet as classicists to this day acknowledge, the boot heel of Roman tyranny, the brutality with which they subjected their enemies, is legendary. And in terms of their culture — and I’m talking about the period after the Roman Republic — the time from Octavian on was characterized by moral decay of unbelievable proportion, increasingly decadent even in the minds of Latin philosophers and the most popular writers of the day.

That’s the Rome Israel is subjugated to when Jesus rides into Jerusalem; a lethal occupying army, severe hardship, economic privation, and things were going to go only from bad to worse. The people were at a crossroads. The question was how to secure real peace. In the minds of many there was only one hope: revolution. Overthrow the Roman tyrant. 

A few decades after that first Palm Sunday, in 70 AD, the Roman general Titus would be collecting his armies and marching against Jerusalem. He would soon surround the city and eventually take it, plunder it for all it was worth, and then destroy it. He went to the Temple and, after desecrating it, he leveled it so that not a stone was left upon another. The so-called ‘wailing wall’ was a retention wall. It had nothing to do with the Temple itself. It just held up the platform on which the Temple was built. Nothing left, and it has never since been rebuilt. The people were wiped out. The atrocities were astonishing. A hundred thousand Jewish men women and children were taken captive as emblems, trophies of the victory, and, according to the historian Josephus, over one million Jewish men women and children were killed. 

It’s not surprising that Jesus wept over Jerusalem as he approached the city and then said, “If you had only known on this day what would bring you peace but now it is hidden from your eyes.” They thought the answer was a political solution and, emboldened, eventually they did in fact revolt against Rome, and it was suicidal. “The days will come upon you,” Jesus said, “when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you against the ground, you and the children within your walls, they will not leave one stone on another because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

As Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, Pontius Pilate represents Roman authority. His contemporary Philo describes him as “naturally inflexible, a blend of self will and relentlessness.” If you were a Jew living in Jerusalem at that time you would definitely suppose that life would be better if we could get rid of him. 

Pilate had full powers of life and death over the people. All capital crimes had to be referred to him. That’s why when Jesus was tried by the Sanhedrin under Caiaphas and found guilty the imposition of the death penalty could not be made until the case was referred to Pilate. The prosecuting attorneys had to change the description of the crime. Pilate in Roman law would not have imposed a death penalty for blasphemy against the Jewish God. So now the complaint was this man was making himself the equal of Caesar. Pilate takes the bait and ultimately condemns him.

So when Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, what is going on? When you’re on a donkey — in terms of the symbolism of the ancient world — you’re laying claim to that which is rightfully yours. In the Book of Judges it says that Jair had 30 sons who owned 30 donkeys and they ruled 30 cities in Gilead. You’re on a donkey, that means you’re in charge, that you rightfully rule over a city. Or King David himself as an elderly man, his son Adonijah couldn’t wait for the old man to die so he makes a bid for the throne and announces himself as king, the successor to David while David was still alive. Word came back to David that Adonijah is pretending to be the king and David responds by commanding his trusted officers — he convenes Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah who was one of his mighty men — and he says this to them, “Take your Lord’s servants with you and set Solomon, my son, on my own mule, and take him down to Gihon. There anoint him king over Israel. Blow the trumpet. Shout, ‘Long live King Solomon!’” Not Adonijah but Solomon, of the Lord’s choosing, who rode in on a pack animal.

And so we come to that original Palm Sunday. As they approach Jerusalem, Jesus sends two disciples with instructions to bring a donkey to him. And that rang bells in their minds. Jesus is not being meek and mild; he’s deliberately staging this with the most audacious gesture imaginable. He does what only a megalomaniac would do, or one who truly is the rightful King of Israel. He is fulfilling the promise of Zechariah. The false claimant is on the throne. Pilate pretends to be the governor of Israel, Herod’s sons ruling other parts of the community. And Jesus is now asserting his rightful rule over against the phonies. He’s going to ride into town on a donkey. He exercises the kingly right of impressment, demanding an animal that isn’t his, because you see if the Lord needs it, if the King requires it, that’s all we need to know. Everything we are and have belongs to him, so it’s put at his disposal to use as he sees fit.

Luke and John just tell us about the colt, one that hadn’t been ridden. Matthew tells us that there were two animals, the unbroken colt but also its mother that would comfort the little guy being ridden for the first time. And Matthew tells us that the disciples brought the animals and “put their cloaks on them.” They take off their garments, and place them on the animals. Why? 

In the ancient world your garment represents your inheritance, everything you are, your status. When Jonathan wanted to abdicate the throne and allow David to be the king, he takes off his garment and puts it on David. And so we take off our garments, we get off the throne of our own lives, and recognize Jesus as Lord, the only one who can run our lives the way they were meant to be. That’s what they were doing taking their garments off as they welcomed and received him into the holy city. And they waved palm fronds. That was a wonderful symbol in the ancient world. It came originally from the celebration of tabernacles where we made a little tent out of palm branches to remind ourselves that we’re sojourners in this life and we don’t want to live without God tabernacling among us. It became a symbol of liberation, too; they stamped it on coins saying “Free Us!” We’re oppressed. We need the king of glory to set us free. And so I want you to take that palm frond you have in your hand today and ask yourself, ‘Do I want God to save me?’ “Hosanna!” That cry is the Hebrew word “Save Us!” It’s the ancient near eastern equivalent to an SOS signal.

Jesus rides into Jerusalem during a festival assembly. He stuck out like a sore thumb doing so. No one rides into the holy city at Passover. The Mishna forbids it. What about the disabled? Maybe they rode the hundred miles or whatever it was to get close to Jerusalem, but just as they were about to surmount the Mount of Olives, just before they would see the first glimpse of the Temple, they would dismount and, if necessary, crawl the rest of the way. The tens of thousands of worshipers who came into Jerusalem on that original Palm Sunday, none of them rode except this one who was fulfilling the promise of Zechariah, declaring himself to be the promised Son of David, the righteous one bringing salvation with him.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. So Christ comes, not breaking down doors, but not milquetoast either. Just the King, that’s all. Just the King who comes in the name of the LORD. “I tell you the truth,” he said, “everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. If the Son sets you free, then you will be free indeed.”

At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus deals with the Syrophoenician woman up there in Tyre and Sidon. He begins, as all the conquerors of Israel did, up in the north. One heart after another is won to him, then he sets his face like a flint to Jerusalem, heading with every step closer to the place where he will finally defeat his enemy. If you didn’t know better you’d think it doesn’t look like much, this conquest. But here’s what Jesus knows. Here’s what Jesus says. “Now is the time for judgement on this world. Now the prince of this world will be driven out! But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” Amen.

March 10th, 2014

Author of “A Burnable Book” Bruce Holsinger interviews Simon Vance, the narrator of his audiobook.

The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the “happy ending.” The Christian has still to work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed.
— J. R. R. Tolkien