Friday, March 25, 2005

Good Friday 2005

1 Corinthians 1:20-25

20 Where is the smart stuff of this world? Where are the world's heavy thinkers?...21 Since in God's wisdom the world did not know God through their worldly kinds of smarts, it pleased God through foolish proclamation to save anyone who trusts Him. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks crave wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ the crucified one, a scandal to the Jews and moronic nonsense to the gentiles: 24 But to those called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ – God's living dynamic power and God's kind of wisdom. 25 Because God's foolishness is wiser than humanity's intellectual cleverness, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength!
Not long ago we celebrated Christmas, God's startling birth among us as one of us; now, since we've again begun the season of Lent, the weeks leading up to the Feast of Resurrection, Paul the theologian explains another dimension of God's paradoxical self-revelation to First Church at Corinth. God chooses what humanity, with its incessant sensation-seeking and credential-questing never could imagine: God chooses the cross supremely to show God's judgment, mercy and love for all creation!

Our scriptures – and Jesus! – are about the unmediated, unqualified presence of God absolutely everywhere, absolutely all the time, even in darkness, despair, pain, death and loss. Because of this, Paul of Tarsus endeavored to preach only Christ crucified, to proclaim the outrage of the fullness of God's power, sovereignty and glory most completely revealed in the scandal of the human, Jesus of Nazareth, dying defenseless on a cross of shame.

From Calvary Hill, Jesus reigns as sovereign Lord in vulnerability, brokenness and embrace—the ruler whose throne is a cross of judgment, but also a cross of mercy and forgiveness. And yes, the cross of Christ is one of the signs the Church displays to the world of the One who freely offers himself to the world despite betrayal and desertion…

We Christians live under the cross; we live under the judgment, mercy and grace of God taking upon Himself in Christ Jesus the world's sin, brokenness and burdens, and without the dis-grace and horror of the cross of the One crucified on Good Friday, there could be no Eastered, Risen One! The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and inspires us, the Church of Jesus Christ, to be a people both crucified and risen, a people of the cross and of the power of God to new life! May we see; may we be!
As one of the participants in the online discussion of Reinhard Hütter's Bound to Be Free observed (paraphrased), "When the Church gets drunk on anything other than Christ crucified, the Church has fallen off the wagon!"
On second or third thought, that probably was before we started discussing Bound to Be Free, but it definitely was on the Yahoo! Confessing Christ discussion forum. Here's the Confessing Christ site.

Time of Singing: almost Easter!

Song of Songs 2:

11 For lo, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone.
12 The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of singing has come,
And the voice of the turtledove
Is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree puts forth her green figs,
And the vines with the tender grapes
Give a good smell. ...

Today's, Good Friday's date is March 25, 2005; last Sunday, March 20, marked the vernal equinox; Easter is almost here!

"lo, the winter is past"... here in paradise San Diego the monsoon season with this year's horrifically destructive record-breaking deluges still hasn't quite departed, so the rain isn't quite over and gone, but this morning above the smell of fresh-turned turf I heard soft birdsongs and felt the hope of fresh wine from tender grapes...but isn't wine country somewhat north of here?

Like almost everything in the Scriptures, this text from Song of Songs is substantial and experiential; Easter is almost here! Easter received its name from the Goddess of Fertility, and we calendar Easter according to the full moon and the spring equinox. Easter and spring bring to us the sight and the smell of fresh grass, rising again to visible life; in the ancient symbol of Easter eggs we find the paradox of a world hidden within a world; we have the power of grain gathered from all the ends of the earth, planted, harvested, shaped, baked and risen into leavened Easter loaves, coming to the Table of Living Bread to which Jesus Christ welcomes us, arriving at the communion Table as a whole loaf and then sacramentally broken in response to Jesus' command to us, finally distributed, shared among us and transforming us, as in the Name of the One both Crucified and Risen we become salt, leaven and bread for the world, as with our living we claim both the cross of Good Friday and the empty tomb of Easter dawn!

During the late Middle Ages, the festival of Resurrection from the dead, Easter, as German- and English-speaking countries call it, received its name from the Anglo-Saxon Goddess of Spring, the Fertility Goddess, the Goddess of the Dawn, whose name is the almost identical-sounding Eostre, and Easter gets calendared according to the full moon and the vernal equinox. The eastern sky, where the sun of the new day rises, also takes the designation of its direction – east – from that very same Eostre, the goddess whose name comes from the Babylonian Ishtar or Astarte, from the Hebrew Esther! And at this season of new beginnings we can see the constellation Lepus, The Hare, closely associated with the moon, sitting in the sky at the feet of the hunter Orion. All of this is tangible and sensible and historical; in addition, it doesn't sound remotely religious or other-worldly!

In times before ours, people knew the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox as the fullness of the goddess Eostre's being pregnant with new life; into our world the Easter moon visibly approaches, rising to its pregnant fullness, but we know it again will disappear into the death-instilling yet strangely enough life-kindling darkness. And then, less than two calendar days from this Good Friday morning, will come the resurrection dawn of Jesus, once crucified, dead and buried, but now become the Christ, the glorious Anointed of God; now we meet Jesus Christ in power and glory, rising in fullness, then disappearing for a while from our sight, and returning again as first one and then another of us recognize him and in obedience proclaim him in word and sacrament and service and community, making a quiet blaze of Easter light and Eastered hope in our once-despairing world.

Here comes the sun! Here comes the sun, at the vernal equinox returning to reign in natural splendor over creation while the earth grows bountiful, verdant and fragrant. So, too, in the same manner comes the Easter of Christ Jesus, who despite seeming defeat on the cross of death returns reborn, freely to bestow new growth to the entire world of this earth, bringing a new and renewed season of fruitfulness, not only to our faith in the God Who surprises us with joy as His Word evokes new life from death, but also bringing the gracious gift of another fruitful season to the striving, yearning and hoping of all creation! Sometimes when we celebrate the presence of the crucified and risen Christ in the eucharist we sing:

Let us Talents and Tongues Employ

Let us talents and tongues employ,
reaching out with a shout of joy:
bread is broken, the wine is poured,
Christ is spoken and seen and heard.
Jesus lives again, earth can breathe again,
pass the Word around: loaves abound!

Christ is able to make us one,
at his table he sets the tone,
teaching people to live to bless,
love in word and in deed express.
Jesus lives again, earth can breathe again,
pass the Word around: loaves abound!

Jesus calls us in, sends us out
bearing fruit in a world of doubt,
gives us love to tell, bread to share:
God, Immanuel, everywhere!
Jesus lives again, earth can breathe again,
pass the Word around: loaves abound!

© Fred Kaan 1975

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit

Sauntering through a few ideas again!

Currently there's a traveling exhibit of the actual physical Dead Sea Scrolls. From Mobile, Alabama, Barbara emailed me:
I was so overwhelmed ... I'm a very emotional person. . . I went through the DSS exhibit with the tears flowing. I have never felt closer to God than I did while viewing his Word. I'm struggling for words here to try to convey to you how I felt. I risked the wrath of the security guards when I reached out and touched the frame surrounding Psalms. I felt like I touched the hand of God.
Touching "the hand of God!" In 2 Corinthians 4:7 Paul explains, "We have this treasure in earthen vessels…" During the Coronation ceremony the British monarch receives a Bible, given with the words: "to keep your Majesty ever mindful of the law and the Gospel of God as the rule for the whole of life and government of Christian Princes, we present you with this Book, the most valuable thing this world affords. Here is wisdom; this is the royal law; these are the lively oracles of God." Touching the pages of scripture with our own hands, actually feeling the pages of God's grace-filled rule for covenantal living, together with the Gospeled Good News, in a hint of the way God’s incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth's birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension fully realized the Old Covenant scriptures; we can look at Divine history, wiseness, prophecies and apocalyptic visions in the same way we'd read a current book or magazine, in the manner we might surf and search the internet, and in a way concretely related to our actual everyday world.

On the San Diego Ecumenical Council's Faith, Order and Witness committee, our current discussion document is A Treasure in Earthen Vessels: An Instrument for an Ecumenical Reflection on Hermeneutics (Faith and Order Paper, No. 182).

Here's a free paraphrase of ideas I found on a site I sometimes visit:
The Church is in fragments; the contemporary situation of the church reminds me of our faithful predecessors in biblical times who carried their earthly treasures of essentials for daily life – water, wine, grain – in earthen vessels, clay jars. Sometimes one of those vessels would break, rendering it no longer useful for containing anything. Under similar circumstances, we would throw away the shards, but they found a use for them: with paper not yet invented, and papyrus expensive, they used the fragments as writing material! We call those fragments ostraca, and they still exist until this very day. We might say: "The jar is broken, long live the pieces!"
God chooses the Earthen Vessels of Church, Scripture and Sacraments to proclaim His presence in our midst, and within the physical pages of a book we find a living witness of God's past activity at the same time we discover hope for our future together: a Word of resurrection from death, a Word of Life! In the Reformation tradition an objective sign, the means of grace – Word and Sacrament — is enough for the presence of the Church, and the Holy Spirit acts on us – as in the relationship between Potter and clay – by our living in communities formed by Word and Sacrament.

In seminary I took a semester-long course on the Dead Sea Scrolls; our main texts were The Dead Sea Scrolls in English and The Dead Sea Scrolls: Qumran in Perspective [Fortress Press], which is out of print, but replaced by An Introduction to the Complete Dead Sea Scrolls.

Paul truly understood the Bible's proclamation: during the historical eras to which the Bible witnesses, a lot of people – just like many of us – had the basic and fundamentally incorrect belief being God-pleasingly religious meant doing esoteric rituals and chastising their bodies in extremely pain-filled ways, or they imagined religion and God were about spectacular demonstrations of the paranormal and out-of-the-everyday; they were more into the denial of life and the sensational than about the sacramental celebration of life. In the Bible's witness and in our own lives God performs many miraculous feats, but more than anything, our God, the God who in Christ Jesus continues fully giving Himself to us, is a God of constant, unmediated and unsummoned presence. Dietrich Bonhoeffer speaks of "God's unfathomable condescension!"

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

King of Glory, King of Peace

King of Glory, King of PeaceKing of glory, King of peace,
I will love thee;
and that love may never cease,
I will move thee.
Thou hast granted my request,
thou hast heard me;
thou didst note my working breast,
thou hast spared me.

Wherefore with my utmost art
I will sing thee,
and the cream of all my heart
I will bring thee.
Though my sins against me cried,
thou didst clear me;
and alone, when they replied,
thou didst hear me.

Seven whole days, not one in seven,
I will praise thee;
in my heart, though not in heaven,
I can raise thee.
Small it is, in this poor sort
to enroll thee:
e'en eternity's too short
to extol thee.

George Herbert, published posthumously in The Temple, 1633

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Church Prayer Rug

free ramble

In my mailbox this week I found what may become an Lenten annual: another blatant example of idolatry, another human attempt to create a god in its image, another slot-machine divinity of jumbo payoffs, a deity completely congruent with one of contemporary American society's most brazenly unsubtle gods—consumerism. From a skinny envelope I unpacked purportedly a face of Jesus, sketchily represented crowned with a thorny tiara; four-color printing is the graphics industry standard, but this is a two-color likeness! In addition, nowhere in the mailing could I find either a web address nor an email address—in this year 2005?!?!?!

Next Sunday, continuing its journey through the liturgical year, the church reaches Palm Sunday, with Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, city of prophets and in ages past, home to the Temple that for the Jews formed the axis mundi between earth and heaven—Jerusalem, the biblical City of God. Following the Revised Common Lectionary, the gospel chronicles the church reads during Lent consistently focus on Jesus' going to Jerusalem and to the cross (lest you imagine I haven't read the Bible, Crucifixion Friday gradually turns into Resurrection Sunday, with its astonishing empty grave: in God's system you cannot have Easter unless Friday precedes it).

Returning to the Church Prayer Rug! Conceptually, it is closely related to the common contemporary practice of consumer-driven and marketing-modeled churches, as in let's study the location, the demographics, traffic flow, in-migration and even out-migration (likely I've missed a slew of necessary statistical assessments), and then decide what the people will be clamoring for and what consumer options they'll be needing so our church can offer the right menu to meet their needs. Is that biblical?! Most likely Martin Luther (among others) would call it an example of that humanly always-popular Theology of Glory! The designation Church Prayer Rug (contrasted with simply Prayer Rug, or other possibilities, such as Tribal Meditation Rug, Rya Prayer Rug, Dhurrie Prayer Rag, Acrylic Broadloom Whatever…) reveals a lot, too!

Jesus: friend of sinners, companion of outcasts, Son of God, Son of Humanity, liberator of women, freer of slaves, lifter-up of underdogs, putter-down of overdogs, political upstart and rouser of the rabble, challenger of the religious establishment, yet Servant, Lord of all creation, Pantocratur…but…talk about a domesticated god, idolatry?! This one is offset printed, not even engraved, flattened onto a flimsy 11" x 16" sheet of not non-acid-free paper; due to the paper's quality (not!) I doubt it would qualify as a kitchen god, since exposed to any light for any length of time, it would crumble and fade; not surprisingly, the legend on the B-side is phenomenally unbiblical:
"This Prayer Rug is soaked with the Power of Prayer for you. Use it immediately, then please return it with your Prayer Needs Checked on our letter to you."
Here the quotes end, but the centered paragraph continues with: It must be mailed to a second home that needs a blessing after you use it. Prayer works. Expect God's blessing.

Tucked into the envelope with the rug itself (how much wear and tear could a paper rug withstand, anyway? Huh? Tell me, please!), there's a list of testimonials citing Rugged Benefits. They include, "Blessed with $46,000.00 after using prayer rug…;" "God blessed me with over $5,000.00"; "Received $10,000 in a financial blessing…"; "I've gotten a new car and a job,…"; "…17 acres of land…;" "Big 6 room house..." To assuage doubters, the *they* who sent me the Church Prayer Rug even threw in a spiritual boon, "Praise God! it is so wonderful to know that my husband is saved…"

A pair of scripture verses justifies the Prayer Rug endeavor:
  • Evening, and morning, and at noon, I will pray and he shall hear my voice. ~Psalm 55:17
  • God can do anything. ~Mark 10:27
My current email signature includes this site's address and pleading lines from the hymn, Make Our Church One Joyful Choir; I haven't posted it on this blog, so I'll quote the entire hymn:
  1. Make our church one joyful choir on this glad and festive day
    and by song invoke the fire that invites our hearts to pray:
    Shape us, Christ, to live and claim all it means to bear your name.
  2. Bend us low by song and prayer, low enough to lift the cross
    and to take the weight and bear love's uncounted final cost:
    Shape us, Christ, to live and claim all it means to bear your name.
  3. Lift us up by song and prayer till the way we deal with loss
    and our acts and words of care trace the pattern of your cross:
    Shape us, Christ, to bear your name.
  4. Bend us, lift us, make us strong, send us out with wind and fire,
    so the world may hear the song that we offer as your choir:
    Shape us, Christ, to live and claim all it means to bear your name.
    Amen, amen, amen!
Thomas H. Troeger
© 1994 Oxford University Press, Inc.

Shape us, Christ, to live and claim all it means to bear your name!
Bend us low by song and prayer, low enough to lift the cross
And to take the weight and bear love's uncounted final cost…
…and our acts and words of care trace the pattern of your cross:
Shape us, Christ, to live and claim all it means to bear your name!
To bear the name of Jesus Christ! One of the greatest theologians of the cross insisted,

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." ~Galatians 2:20a

(Oh, by the way, that's from Paul of Tarsus' collected writings; I found it in the Bible!) For Jews in Jesus' time, the Jerusalem temple formed a gathering place and holy space connecting earth and heaven; for us Christians, the cross of Jesus Christ is the axis mundi between humanity and divinity! Our baptism into the cross affirms our creation and re-creation in God's image—that particular part of our Imago Dei is one of certified cross-bearers! Living and claiming all it means to bear the name of Jesus Christ means in us, the Church, Jesus still is friend of sinners, comforter of the sorrowful, liberator of the oppressed, companion along the way, forgiver of offenses; because of us, Jesus still is in this world, still carrying the cross. The Holy Spirit calls all of us who – in the words of the Apostle Paul – are "in Christ," to become and to be cross-carriers; for everyone our lives touch, God calls us to span what often seems to be a very far distance between heaven and earth.