Archive for April, 2011
“And we behold you living.” With John of Damascus in the eighth century, his translator John Mason Neale in the nineteenth century, and the whole creation, we too sing.
“Come, you faithful, raise the strain of triumphant gladness!
God has brought forth Israel into joy from sadness,
loosed from Pharaohs’s bitter yoke Jacob’s sons and daughters;
led them with unmoistened foot through the Red Sea waters.
Neither could the gates of death, nor the tomb’s dark portal,
nor the watchers, nor the seal, hold you as a mortal: but today, among your own,
you appear, bestowing your deep peace, which evermore
passes human knowing.
Alleluia! now we cry to our Lord immortal,
who triumphant burst the bars of the tomb’s dark portal;
Alleluia! with the Son God the Father praising;
Alleluia! yet again to the Spirit raising.
– John of Damascus, “Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain,” ELW 363
“This is the night! This is our Passover with Christ from darkness to light, from bondage to freedom, from death to life. Tonight is the heart of our celebration of the Three Days and the pinnacle of the church’s year. The resurrection of Christ is proclaimed in word and sign, and we gather around a pillar of fire, hear ancient stories of our faith, welcome new sisters and brothers at the font, and share the food and drink of the promised land. Raised with Christ, we go forth into the world, aflame with the good news of the resurrection.”
– Sundays and Seasons
“Rejoice, now, all heavenly powers … Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor … Rejoice, O holy church! Exult in glory! … This is the night in which, breaking the chains of death, Christ arises from hell in triumph.”
– The Easter Proclamation
“You are despised, rejected.” “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep before its shearers is silent…” (Isaiah 53:7). And so the church laments.
“A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth to save a world of sinners. He bears the burden all alone, dies shorn of all his honors. He goes to slaughter, weak and faint, is led to die without complaint; his spotless life he offers.
– Paul Gerhardt, “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth,” ELW 340
But, mystery of mysteries, the church also voices the beauty of the paradox.
“Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle; tell the triumph far and wide; of the cross, the Crucified; tell how Christ, the world’s redeemer, vanquished death the day he died.
– Venantius Honorius Fortunatus, “Sing My Tongue,” ELW 356
“You show your love by dying.” George Herbert begins “The Agonie” like this:
“Philosophers have measur’d mountains, Fathom’d the depths of seas, of states, and kings, Walk’d with a staffe to heav’n, and traced fountains: But there are two vast, spacious things, The which to measure it doth more behoove: Yet few there are that sound them: Sinne and Love”
After describing sin, he says this of love:
Who knows not Love, let him assay And taste that juice, which on the cross a pike Did set again abroach; then let him say If ever he did taste the like. Love is that liquor sweet and most divine, Which my God feels as bloud, but I, as wine.
– “The Poems of George Herbert” (London: Oxford University Press, 1961)
“You bend to us in weakness.” John reports that “…Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, ‘Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me’” (John 13:21). Then, after Judas, the betrayer, had gone out to do the betraying, “…Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him’” (John 13:31). Bending to us in obedient weakness, even to being betrayed, Jesus says he is glorified and God is glorified in him. This is a strange glory. If you keep reading what John reports, it gets stranger. Jesus’ glorification entails being separated from his disciples and giving them “…a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another” (John 13:34). Glory is usually associated with the power of honor, renown or fame. Here it, and its power, are hidden, bending toward the other in weakness and service.
“You choose the way of folly.” “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart’” (I Corinthians 1:18-19). The result of this message is a prayer that I may “…never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14). Or, in the words of Isaac Watts,
When I survey the wondrous cross on which the prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride.
– Isaac Watts, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” ELW 803
“You come as one among us.” William Stringfellow reminded us that yesterday, sometimes called Palm Sunday, tempts the church, as it tempted Christ, to seek political triumph. Palm Sunday, the Sunday of the Passion, however, is no day of triumph. That does not counsel apathy.
“Quite the contrary, it is the example of utter and radical involvement in the existence of the world …which does not retreat even in the face of the awful power of death. … The world will think you an idiot for trusting God more than men or idols. And you will be tempted. But remember on the day of temptation, which is always today … [to] look then to him who suffered
and was tempted, for he is able to help those who are tempted.”
– William Stringfellow, “Free in Obedience” (New York, Seabury Press, 1964)
“Christ, to you be glory.” Holy Week begins with the Passion according to St. Matthew. Heinrich Schütz set it in 1666 for Dresden’s Lenten observance. His final chorus was a meditative summary with a long history of Christian use in various forms. The ancient Latin Laus tibi, Christe (“Praise to you, Christ”) was turned into German as part of a medieval hymn and then shaped into the last stanza of the 16th century chorale Schütz used. The concluding Greek (“Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy”) reaches back to the New Testament. Here is a form of the hymn for meditation.
Christ, to you be glory, for you gave your breath on the cross, to suffer for us a bitter death and live with God Creator for all time to come. Help us weary sinners to your blessed home.
Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison.
“Lord Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me,” the blind beggar cried. Imagine you are blind, homeless and hungry. You have been so since birth. Now the chance for life and healing is within your grasp. How would you pray this prayer? Would you mumble it? Would you politely pose it? No. You would do as anyone would do in such a circumstance. You would bowl over people and scream at the top of your lungs, “Lord, Jesus, have mercy on me!” The disciples were embarrassed. Jesus was not. He answers the prayer. He is not afraid of this man’s desperate plea. Neither is he afraid of ours. We can come to him—in any circumstance.
Lord Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me. Amen.
Can you imagine a world without love? Have you ever wondered how long our society would last without it? Of course there are times when love seems distant, lacking or completely gone. But look again. Love is in there and it’s at work. Love will bring healing and new life. Love is under every sound business deal, in every good marriage, at work in classrooms where teachers teach and students learn. Has anyone ever let you merge in heavy traffic? That’s love in action. Sometimes we see best what we seek most earnestly. Look for love. It’s there.
Lord, we thank you for your steadfast love, which endures forever. Amen.