Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? Psalm 50:13
I was recently asked the question, “Why does God want the sacrifice of animals, but then say that “I do not eat?” This is related to the more general, larger question, “Why does God want sacrifices at all when Jesus has already sacrificed himself for us?”
Great questions! To get to the root of the need for sacrifice we need to go all the way back to the beginning. In the Book of Genesis chapter 3, verse 3:21 states, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” This event took place after the Fall: the apple bite and cover-up fiasco. In this passage, we learn that the “cover” for sin was blood, or specifically, to provide modesty and (only necessary because of sin) blood had to be spilled (an animal had to die). In effect, God sacrificed God’s own creation (an animal) for the recovery of humankind. It is important to pause a moment here and realize how horrific this event would have been to Adam and Eve. The result of their sin had an immediate and irreversible effect on “the other,” beyond themselves.
Now we jump ahead to the Book of Leviticus where, in the 6th and 17th chapters, God instructs Moses in the way and why of animal sacrifices:
“The Lord said to Moses: If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the Lord…They must make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the owner on the day they present their guilt offering. 6 And as a penalty they must bring to the priest, that is, to the Lord, their guilt offering, a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value. 7 In this way the priest will make atonement for them before the Lord, and they will be forgiven for any of the things they did that made them guilty." Vs. 6:1-2, 5-7
“For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life.” 17:11
In this instruction and in God’s example in the Garden, God was teaching a lesson to another, not needing an action for the self. Sin was born out of deception: deception from outside (the serpent) and inside (the desire) and could not be irradicated, only treated. Sin led to death. It was serious. In order to avoid their own destruction because of their sin, the Israelites had to offer something innocent to die in their place—in this case, an animal without blemish. Unfortunately, no amount of animal blood could completely wash them clean. The practice of blood sacrifice would be corrupted even as the cause of the sacrifice was a corruption. The sacrifice of innocence was consumed in the sin it was designed to cover--to pay for, and death remained in practice and in spirit. Through sin, no amount of animal blood could change the hearts and minds of the people. While the blood served as a reminder of the people’s endless guilt, it also lost its meaning as a reminder of innocence and life.
God did not need the sacrifice; there was no sustenance or power that God received from this practice. God initiated this practice to teach and lead, as offensive as this may sound to some, as a symbol of the absolute necessity of personal awareness and personal responsibility. In a much simpler way, parents make their children relive the offense by having them “own it” in a personal apology and Mea Culpa before the injured party. Why do they do that? To teach how important it is to take responsibility and to not want to do it again. They may also be required to pay (sacrifice), in one form or another, as an atonement for the harm they did to the other.
St. Paul reflects in Romans 6:23 that “the wages of sin is death,” physical death, emotional death, spiritual death, and no amount of personal sacrifice would change that. Though the lesson was still being taught by God, it was still being corrupted by the people. Ultimately humankind could only be redeemed by the blood of a sacrifice that we could not corrupt; a sacrifice that transcended the individual, yet was offered for each person. God offered God-self as the sacrifice; not out of God’s need, but through love and compassion for our need.
So, God did/does not need our sacrifice then or now. WE need our sacrifice then and now. We sacrifice of ourselves, our time, energy, and focus as a response to the sacrifice that God made on our behalf, that we could never make. Animal sacrifice pointed the way to God offering His very own Son as the ultimate sacrifice. Still a covering for sin, it was a painful, horrifying slaughter of the Innocent on our behalf, but it was the ultimate lesson; the ultimate gift of a loving God that the sinner would be made innocent by the blood of a perfect Lamb.
Peace in Christ,
“On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread…After supper he took the cup of wine” BCP pg. 363
Several weeks ago, I was asked, “Is the Eucharist a Sacrament like the other Sacraments?” And “What exactly is a Sacrament?”
Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary defines a Sacrament as, “a Christian rite (such as baptism or the Eucharist) that is believed to have been ordained by Christ and that is held to be a means of divine grace or to be a sign or symbol of a spiritual reality.”
The section entitled, An Outline of the Faith, commonly called the Catechism, begins on pg. 845 in the BCP. On pg. 857 of the section The Sacraments, the first question and answer is:
Q.What are the sacraments?
A.The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.
As we covered Grace in my last post, I will not spend time on it here. It is important to note that the second Q + A of this section is the follow-up:
Q.What is grace?
A.Grace is God's favor towards us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.
The reason the Catechism moves directly from Sacrament to Grace is precisely because they are intimately connected. A Sacrament is the outward and physical action/expression which represents (is the symbol of) and facilitates the inward and spiritual reality of God. These two cannot be separated outwardly without hindering the inward spiritual revelation of God.
In the Episcopal Church, we observe two Sacraments ordained by Christ: Baptism and Holy Eucharist, which are required for full participation in the faith. There are five additional sacraments that evolved through devotion and worship and are affirmed as pathways of God’s grace but are not necessary as faith practices. They are:
The Articles of Religion, often referred to as the “39 Articles,” are
. . . a brief and condensed statement of what Anglican Christians believe and teach. These carefully summarized statements of biblical theology were compiled by the English Reformers (Thomas Cranmer and Joseph Ridley) as a means to guide and guard our identity in Christ. Adopted by the Church of England in 1571, the 39 Articles are designed to assist believers in thinking, discussing, applying, and sharing “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3). These theological principals remain relevant for our spiritual health and maturity as we follow Jesus Christ today. (Grace Northridge 39 Articles)
Article 25 states:
The sacraments instituted by Christ are not only badges or tokens of the profession of Christians but are also sure witnesses and effectual signs of God's grace and goodwill towards us. Through them he works invisibly within us, both bringing to life and also strengthening and confirming our faith in him. There are two sacraments instituted by Christ our Lord in the Gospel—Baptism and the Lord's Supper. The five that are commonly called sacraments (confirmation, penance, ordination, marriage, and extreme unction) are not to be regarded as Gospel sacraments. This is because they are either a corruption of apostolic practice or states of life as allowed in the Scriptures. They are not of the same nature as the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper since they do not have any visible sign or ceremony instituted by God. The sacraments were not instituted by Christ to be gazed at or carried about but to be used properly. It is only in those who receive them worthily that they have a beneficial effect or operation. As Paul the apostle says, those who receive them in an unworthy manner bring condemnation upon themselves.
The Christian faith has always recognized the participation in the Sacraments as a necessary part of our faith and worship, and the Anglican/Episcopal Church reflects the belief in the primacy of the Holy Eucharist as the “Principle act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day and other major Feasts…” BCP pg. 13
So, the Holy Eucharist is akin to Baptism but different from the following five. The most important components of our faith are growth in spirit and depth of relationship. These lifelong goals are reflected by the intimacy of Christ present in Communion, and growth in understanding and devotion to the Sacraments will both enable and enrich our spiritual life.
Peace in Christ,
Recently I was asked, “just what exactly is “grace?” And “why is it important?”
To start, Merriam-Webster defines grace in several ways:
1. Unmerited divine assistance granted to humans for their regeneration or sanctification
2. Approval, or Favor
3. A charming or attractive trait or characteristic
4. —used as a title of address or reference for a duke, a duchess, or an archbishop
5. A short prayer at a meal asking a blessing or giving thanks
6. Disposition to, or an act, or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency
We can narrow this down to two as we seek the answer to this question, #1 and #6.
Taking #1 first: John Stott+, Anglican Priest, theologian and author wrote, “Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues.” Paul Zahl+, Episcopal Priest, theologian and prior Dean and President of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry wrote, “Grace is unconditional love toward a person who does not deserve it.” And St. Paul wrote, God raised us up with Christ…For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:6a, 8-10
Our English word “grace,” as we refer to it in Holy Scripture, is a translation of two biblical words: Chesed and Charis. Chesed is Hebrew from the Old Testament; it means God’s provision which delivered the people from their enemies or afflictions. Charis is Greek from the New Testament; it refers to God’s caring for those who do not deserve God’s caring.
The Grace of God is the most beautiful and powerful thing we will ever encounter. Grace is God reaching downward to a people who are constantly pushing back against Him, who are in rebellion against Him. Grace is love to those who don’t deserve it, reject it, and deny it. Grace is assurance and peace and hope and joy unmerited, always there and always offered without reservation.
Tullian Tchividjian wrote in his book, One-Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World:
Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable…. The cliché definition of grace is “unconditional love.” It is a true cliché, for it is a good description of the thing.
Let’s go a little further, though. Grace is a love that has nothing to do with you, the beloved. It has everything and only to do with the lover. Grace is irrational in the sense that it has nothing to do with weights and measures. It has nothing to do with my intrinsic qualities or so-called “gifts” (whatever they may be). It reflects a decision on the part of the giver, the one who loves, in relation to the receiver, the one who is loved, that negates any qualifications the receiver may personally hold…. Grace is one-way love. Pg. 32-33
To be a Christian, to seek after God and know Jesus Christ, is to accept the Grace that only God can give. We are only who we are by the Grace of God, it is by God’s grace alone that we can participate in what God is doing in the world. Through God’s Grace, God calls us to be a part of His mission, we participate in the plan of redemption given to us by Jesus on the Cross. So, here we have the answer to the question by way of expanding definition #1: "Unmerited divine assistance granted to humans for their regeneration or sanctification." But what of #6?
The sixth definition in our list, "disposition to, or an act, or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency," refers to a different kind of grace; a grace that is derivative, born out of a manor life. As recipients of God’s Grace, we are privileged to serve as agents of Grace. We receive Grace (Acts 11:23), are encouraged to continue in Grace (Acts 13:43), and are called to testify to the Grace of God (Acts 20:24). Grace empowers us to go to the sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors of our days and love them with the love of Christ. We extend God’s Grace to all people because of the Grace God has shown to us, and in this, our manner of life is changed.
Living a “Grace-Filled Life” (def #1) we are able to live “grace-fully” (def #6) in the way we act, communicate, and interact. In Titus 2:11-12 Paul writes, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” Grace transforms our desires, behaviors, actions, and motivations.
Accepting God’s Grace is important because, from it, all Spiritual growth flows and in it, all spiritual awareness radiates. When we live in God’s Grace, we are transformed, and grace becomes us. Max Lacedo, Pastor and author wrote in his book, Grace: More Than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine: "Grace is God's best idea. His decision to ravage a people by love, to rescue passionately, and to restore justly - what rivals it? Of all his wondrous works, grace, in my estimation, is the magnum opus." Receiving God’s Grace, we live to pass it on.
A true understanding of Grace—of God’s unmerited favor—always provokes a life of grace, gratitude, and obedience.
Grace be unto you!
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures
The Nicene Creed, lines 20-21
At this glorious time of year where our emphasis is set squarely on the Resurrection of Christ, it is important to dig into questions of our faith that may otherwise go unattended. Many of the questions we should be asking, but don’t, can have the effect of undercutting our faith relationship with God precisely because they are unanswered.
In an effort to bolster our faith walk, I would love to hear what questions you might have so we can address them for everyone. For instance, I was asked last Sunday why, in the Nicene Creed, we say that Jesus was “raised again from the dead.”
The Nicene Creed, or more accurately The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, was adopted at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 and was amended with final revision at the First Council of Constantinople in 381. For brevity’s sake, we refer to the final form simply as the Nicene Creed.
The Nicene Creed is, perhaps, the influential creed of the Christian faith. It was formed by the whole body of the church at subsequent ecumenical councils and was the first creed to obtain universal authority in the church. It states the accepted understanding of the Trinity and, for the first time, emphasizes the union of the Holy Spirit. The Nicene Creed is the defining statement of belief for mainstream Christianity and is part of the profession of faith required at certain services of the church.
The Creed, found on page 358 of the Book of Common Prayer, states:
The Nicene Creed
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
The question I received was regarding lines 20 and 21 of the formatted version found on page 358 of the BCP,
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
And the question is specifically about the phrase, “rose again.”
This line was likely lifted whole clothe from the St. Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians 4:14, For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. To understand the theological significance of the line we don’t need to go much deeper than linguistic usage.
In our usage, again usually means “an additional time,” or “a second time,” but historically it has been used to mean “a continuation of a prior event.” Historically, again has also been used to denote “a return to” or “repeat a previous condition.” For example, in historic literature, from The Merchant of Venice, Portia speaks of one who “swore he would pay him again when he was able” (I:ii). This is not indicating that Portia had paid and would pay twice, but that Portia would pay “in return” for services rendered.
In the same way, “rose again” in the Nicene Creed does not mean “rose a second time,” but that Jesus rose anew to a previous condition—life. Jesus was alive before; then for a while He was dead; now He is once again alive.
So, the theological significance of this phrase is simply the proclaimed truth that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, who became flesh and dwelt among us, who was Crucified and died for us to pay for our sins, rose from the dead to live again to give us eternal life.
Peace in Him,
“Why seek ye the living among the dead?” Luke 24:5
This proclamation, given by the Angel on Easter Morning, has been echoed in the hearts of true believers for almost two millennia. As the church grew from the fledgling band of witnesses, the truth of the Risen Life of Christ has been explained and extolled to guide and encourage believers and seekers alike.
As you begin your new year in the Risen Lord, hear the witness of those who lived close to the first blessed morning.
"Yesterday I was crucified with Him; today I am glorified with Him; yesterday I died with Him; today I am quickened with Him; yesterday I was buried with Him; today I rise with Him. But let us offer to Him Who suffered and rose again for us— you will think perhaps that I am going to say gold, or silver, or woven work or transparent and costly stones, the mere passing material of earth, that remains here below, and is for the most part always possessed by bad men, slaves of the world and of the Prince of the world. Let us offer ourselves, the possession most precious to God, and most fitting; let us give back to the Image what is made after the Image. Let us recognize our Dignity; let us honour our Archetype; let us know the power of the Mystery, and for what Christ died."
St. Gregory the Theologian - Homily on Pascha
"By His Resurrection, Christ conquered sin and death, destroyed Satan's dark kingdom, freed the enslaved human race and broke the seal on the greatest mysteries of God and man."
St. Nikolai Velimirovic
"Now all things have been filled with light, both heaven and earth and those beneath the earth; so let all creation sing Christ’s rising, by which it is established."
St. John of Damascus - Paschal Canon
"But He who descended into the regions beneath the earth came up again; and Jesus, who was buried, truly rose again the third day. And if the Jews ever worry thee, meet them at once by asking thus: Did Jonah come forth from the whale on the third day, and hath not Christ then risen from the earth on the third day? Is a dead man raised to life on touching the bones of Elisha, and is it not much easier for the Maker of mankind to be raised by the power of the Father? Well then, He truly rose, and after He had risen was seen again of the disciples; and twelve disciples were witnesses of His Resurrection, who bare witness not in pleasing words, but contended even unto torture and death for the truth of the Resurrection. What then, shall every word be established at the mouth of two of three witnesses, according to the Scripture, and, though twelve bear witness to the Resurrection of Christ, art thou still incredulous in regard to His Resurrection?"
St. Cyril of Jerusalem - Excerpt on the Resurrection
"Let God's people then recognize that they are a new creation in Christ, and with all vigilance understand by Whom they have been adopted and Whom they have adopted. Let not the things, which have been made new, return to their ancient instability; and let not him who has 'put his hand to the plough' forsake his work, but rather attend to that which he sows than look back to that which he has left behind. Let no one fall back into that from which he has risen, but, even though from bodily weakness he still languishes under certain maladies, let him urgently desire to be healed and raised up. For this is the path of health through imitation of the Resurrection begun in Christ, whereby, notwithstanding the many accidents and falls to which in this slippery life the traveller is liable, his feet may be guided from the quagmire on to solid ground, for, as it is written, 'the steps of a man are directed by the Lord, and He will delight in his way. When the just man falls he shall not be overthrown, because the Lord will stretch out His hand'."
St. Leo the Great - "On the Lord's Resurrection"
"As, then, Jonah spent three days and as many nights in the whale's belly, and was delivered up sound again, so shall we all, who have passed through the three stages of our present life on earth -- I mean the beginning, the middle, and the end, of which all this present time consists -- rise again. For there are altogether three intervals of time, the past, the future, and the present. And for this reason the Lord spent so many days in the earth symbolically, thereby teaching clearly that when the fore-mentioned intervals of time have been fulfilled, then shall come our resurrection, which is the beginning of the future age, and the end of this."
St. Methodius of Olympus - "On the Resurrection"
"Having seen the Resurrection of Christ, let us worship the Holy Lord Jesus, the only sinless one. We worship your Cross, O Christ, and we hymn and glorify your holy Resurrection. For you are our God, we know no other but you, we name you by name. Come all the faithful, let us worship the holy Resurrection of Christ; for behold through the Cross, joy has come in all the world. Ever blessing the Lord, we hymn his Resurrection. For having endured the Cross for us, he has destroyed death by death." Anonymous, 5th-6th Century
"O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep."
St. John Chrysostom - Paschal Sermon
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26
Alleluia! Alleluia! He Is Risen!
Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?” Matthew 21:23
On Tuesday of our Holy Week, Jesus taught the disciples about faith (Matthew 21:19-22) and was later confronted in the Temple. “By what authority”, they ask Jesus, “Who gave you this authority?”, they inquired, but they already knew. Tuesday of Holy Week, for many of us, is just the day before the Wednesday in Holy Week, and if you are not planning on participating in the Stations of the Cross on Wednesday night, it is just the day two days before Maundy Thursday.
Each Day in Holy Week holds a significant opportunity for us to draw closer to Christ. By reading, reviewing, and contemplating the events which led up to the Crucifixion we are better able to understand and experience the Via Dolorosa—the Way of the Cross.
Monday is already a thing of the past, but I include it here in case you want to split up today and dedicate a portion to Monday’s readings.
Holy Week Observance
I am just beginning to realize how much you love me. Your son, Jesus was humble and obedient.
He fulfilled your will for him by becoming human and suffering with us. I ask you for the desire to become humbler so that my own life might also bear witness to you. I want to use the small sufferings I have in this world to give you glory.
Please, Lord, guide my mind with your truth. Strengthen my life by the example of Jesus.
Help me to be with Jesus in this week as he demonstrates again his total love for me. He died so that I would no longer be separated from you. Help me to feel how close you are and to live in union with you. Amen.
The Cleansing of the Temple: Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:12-19, Luke 19:45-48.
God of love,
My prayer is simple: Your son, Jesus, suffered and died for me. I know only that I cannot have real strength unless I rely on you. I cannot feel protected from my many weaknesses until I turn to you for forgiveness and your unalterable love. Help me to share this strength, protection, and love with others. Amen.
The Fig Tree: Matthew 21:19-22
The Temple Debates: Matthew 21:23-23:39.
Also: Mark 11:27-14:2, Luke 20:1-22:2, John 12:37-50.
God of such unwavering love,
How do I "celebrate" the passion and death of Jesus? I often want to look the other way and not watch, not stay with Jesus in his suffering. Give me the strength to see his love with honesty and compassion and to feel deeply your own forgiveness and mercy for me. Help me to understand how to "celebrate" this week. I want to be able to bring my weaknesses and imperfections with me as I journey with Jesus this week, so aware of his love. Amen.
The Betrayal of Jesus: Matthew 26:6-16, Mark 14:3-11, Luke 22:3-6.
Do you invite me to share in the glory of the resurrection? Please stay with me as I struggle to see how accepting the crosses of my life will free me from the power of the one who wants only to destroy my love and trust in you. Help me to be humble and accepting like your son, Jesus. I want to turn to you with the same trust he had in your love. Save me, Lord. Only you can save me. Amen.
The Last Supper: Matthew 26:17-35
Jesus Prays: Matthew 26:36-46
Also: Mark 14:12-72, Luke 22:7-71, John 13:1-18:27.
You gather me in this upper room with your son, to be fed by your love. At that supper, Jesus told us to "love one another" and I know that is the heart of his gift, his sacrifice for me. I ask that I might find the source of my own heart, the meaning for my own life, in that Eucharist. Guide me to the fullness of your love and life. Amen.
Arrested and Crucified: Matt 27:1-61, Mark 15:1-47, Luke 23:1-56, John 18:28-19:42
Your son has suffered so much, shed so much blood. I was born with so many faults, and my nature is so full of weakness, and yet your son Jesus has died on the cross. For me. I know your grace has the power to cleanse me of my many sins and to make me more like your Son. Thank you for your goodness and love for me. I ask you, Father, to watch over me - always. Amen
The lost day: Matthew 27:62-66
My Lord, today all is silent. You have given Your precious life for the salvation of the world. You died a horrific death, poured out all Mercy from Your wounded Heart, and now You rest in peace in the tomb as the soldiers keep vigil.
Lord, may I also keep vigil with You as You sleep. I know that this day ends with Your glorious triumph, Your victory over sin and death. But for now, I sit quietly mourning Your death.
Help me, dear Lord, to enter into the sorrow and the silence of this Holy Saturday. Today no Sacraments are celebrated. Today the world waits in mourning in anticipation of the glory of new life!
As I keep vigil, awaiting the celebration of Your Resurrection, fill me with hope. Help me to look forward to the celebration of Your Resurrection, but also to look forward to the hope of my own share in the new life You won for the world. I entrust my whole being to You, dear Lord, as You lay lifeless and still. May Your rest transform the brokenness of my own soul, my weaknesses, my sin, and my frailty. You are glorious and You bring the greatest good out of Your apparent defeat. I trust in Your power to do all things and I entrust my life to You. Jesus, I trust in You.
From the Byzantine Matins of Great & Holy Saturday:
“Today the one who holds all creation in his hand
is himself held in the tomb,
a rock covers the One who covered the heavens with beauty,
Life has fallen asleep,
Hades is seized with fear,
and Adam is freed from his bonds.
Glory to your work of salvation;
through it you have accomplished the eternal Sabbath rest,
and You grant us the gift of your holy resurrection. Amen.”
The eighth word of Jesus from the Cross was YOUR name.
Dear Creator Family,
Yesterday I knelt before a life-size Crucifix of Christ, not hanging high on a wall, distant and inaccessible, or cloistered in a niche, revered and hollowed for centuries, but just five feet in front of me above a small altar in a humble chapel.
During my prayer, I looked up at the bloodied, abused face of Christ, and my eyes fell to a centuries-old, "anonymous address to Christ," reproduced on a placard leaning against the wall, it read…
Lord Jesus, on this earth of ours, a land sprinkled with human sweat, a land bathed in blood, a land traversed by love and hatred, your Cross was planted, an instrument of violence that made you an image of pain.
Rejected by crowds, abandoned by friends, confused with criminals, stripped of your dignity, tortured in body and soul, you have descended to the bottom of the abyss of suffering and annihilation, where it seems that even God is far away.
Yet your arms, nailed to the cross, remain open to welcome everyone. Yet your mouth speaks only words of forgiveness and promises of happiness. Lord Jesus, and promises of happiness.
Lord Jesus, your story continues in the daily litany of betrayal, refusal, infidelity, of abuse, of revenge, of hatred, around the world.
Before your cross, which stands before the world, new, but in truth, the same stories unfold propelled by those who do not know you.
We feel more acutely the tragedy of the poor peoples of the world who bear the weight of sin and corruption, in them, your passion still continues.
The outrageous destructions, the daily crimes, the suffering inflicted on the weak and the helpless, lift high the Cross and bear you Crucified yet again.
After the last blow of the spear, after the last action of war, after the last gratuitous violence against the innocent, we implore you for all men and especially for those who use the power of weapons to offend, to humiliate, to impose their will upon others.
Let their eyes be opened to the evil committed, the devastating consequences of their actions, on those who mourn, on the ruined lives, and on the despair of the people.
Break through to their hearts that they may recognize your features in the disfigured faces of the oppressed. That the blood of each victim is your blood that fell from your Cross. Make them know that YOU are the brother of every creature that suffers.
Centuries ago, or today; the Guanche people, or the Ukrainians; there will always be those who will not accept the sacrifice of Christ and who choose the self over peace.
Perhaps if we are able to do more, someone may be saved.
Look into the abused, bloodied face of Christ and ask, "what last measure can I give to honor the sacrifice he gave to me?"
Et Crucifixus Christus,
Jesus instructs us, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6) Jesus included this instruction in the body of a discourse on “motivation and the secret heart.” Preaching the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is admonishing the people with regard to their inner life and the reason they do the things they do, “in order to be seen by men” (6:1b). The motivation and practice of prayer are linked in the heart as the mind forms and the body reacts. Private prayer is exactly that, private. It is a time to be naked and vulnerable before God in a special way and it should carry no pretense.
Let us pray,
These three words are so often anticipated in liturgy that the body moves even before they are spoken. Our worship on Sunday (and at all worship times) is a corporate gathering in which we pray together. Indeed, we are alone in our prayer with God, but we are alone with God even as we are gathered one to another as God’s chosen people. Our public prayer is edifying to God because of our gathering, we gather together to praise and petition for ourselves and each other—together.
Let us pray,
How do you hear these words when you are in worship? What does your spirit do, and your mind say? Our sacred time together in worship is as important as your time alone. Jesus tells us, “your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” He speaks here of the heart as well the body: our devotion to God is known only to us and originates in the secret places of our heart and spirit.
Let us pray,
Dear heavenly Father,
Thank You for the calling, privilege, and importance of worshiping together on the Lord’s Day and every time we gather in Your Holy Name. Because it’s a calling, we dare not dismiss it easily, or take it lightly. Because it’s You we get to meet with, may we come prepared, expectant, and evermore grateful.
According to the Scriptures, our gatherings will become increasingly important, as the Day of Jesus’ return grows closer and closer. Help us to take corporate worship more seriously and engage more whole-heartedly than ever.
Dear Lord Jesus, I love and worship You for all that You have done for us, and Lord I long to worship You in spirit and in truth, just as You told the woman at the well. Thank You for making me in Your own image, and for all the many blessings and benefits that You have bestowed on me. Lord, I want to surrender to You, completely; to present myself as a living sacrifice before You each day; to take up my cross daily and present myself to You as my spiritual act of worship, for You alone are worthy, You alone are the Lord.
Open my eyes to see You more. Open my ears to hear Your still small voice and open my heart to worship You more and more so that I may grow in grace and in knowledge of my Lord, Jesus Christ.
Father, may we, as your beloved children, give you, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit the worship of which you are alone worthy. Feed our minds with your Word; fill our hearts with your grace; empower our worship by your Spirit. May we gather, not as selfish consumers, looking to be pleased; but as true worshipers, longing to be consumed with your glory and grace.
We pray for those who lead us in your worship, and those who bring us your Word. Theirs is great stewardship and responsibility. May the gospel be powerful in their hearts and fresh on their lips. May they see and savor Jesus, that we might do the same. Free them to honor and glorify you and empower them to love and serve us.
Father, through our corporate worship, we pray you will be blessed, revealed, and magnified; and that we will be humbled, gladdened, and transformed. As we lift Jesus up, we trust you to take us low and draw the nations in. Amen! Amen! Amen! we pray. Let it be so in Jesus’ loving and worship-worthy name.
That we “may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and
forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord” (BCP 264)
Service for the Imposition of Ashes
To be truly forgiven we must be truly honest with ourselves and with God about what it is we are to be forgiven for.
This doesn’t sound quite right, does it? We believe that God already knows what we need and what to do for us as we cry out to God, but in matters of shame and regret, we often miss the point.
God already knows what I need. When we approach God in supplication and ask to be forgiven, we believe that we need forgiveness (and we do), but because of our pain, or shame, or guilt we believe that forgiveness is ALL we need. How many times have you gone to God in supplication and asked for forgiveness for the same thing? Ten, 100, 1000 times? Why hasn’t it worked? If forgiveness is all we need once would be enough, but there is something else we need as well. In order to truly receive forgiveness, we must first truly embrace the pain.
No doubt you have suffered the pain of shame and regret. When we suffer we look for an escape, to get away (or put away) from that which afflicts us. In contrast, God knows we need to embrace the pain, to be truly clear about the event, and be honest about our part in it. To be forgiven we must offer up to God everything that we are asking forgiveness for, most of all our clear and honest self. To go to God with a generic, “forgive me for hurting him/her” is not asking to be forgiven for the depth of your part in the hurt. Only when you are honest and clear with yourself can you be honest and clear with God. Only when you truly offer up the depth of your pain, enumerated and itemized, fully aware and fully responsible, will you be able to truly be forgiven?
In the Gospel of Luke (18:18-30) we witness an exchange between Jesus and a “certain ruler,” in which he affirms the self-knowledge of the man and his quest for eternal life. After a short exchange, Jesus tells him, “You still lack one thing”; that one thing will be and will always remain the source of the pain and longing of the man. It’s a lot like a splinter: leave even a little piece behind and the pain and festering will continue.
None of us wants to review or relive the horrors of our past, those “things we have done, or left undone.” Tragically, like the “certain ruler,” it is actually our familiarity with our pain and our desire for eternal life that keep us from addressing the core of our need. Jesus told the ruler to “Sell everything you have and give to the poor.” True, this was not pain of a past offense, but a manner of life. Still, the point Jesus was making was that the ruler had left this stone unturned and the attitude that lurked below was the splinter that would continue to fester. Jesus gave this advice to the ruler—to sell everything, to propel him to a place of realization and responsibility the effect of which was his freedom for eternity. The ruler’s eternal life, complete with a clear conscious and joyful soul, would start now.
Lent is our time, not the only time, but our liturgical time, to turn over that stone, reveal that truth, own that pain, articulate that suffering, and receive that forgiveness. Your eternal life of freedom and joy can start now, and well it should.
That we “may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and
forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord”
“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34
As Jesus hung dying on the Cross, he prayed aloud to the Father to forgive those who crucified him. As we draw closer to Good Friday, and the image of the Crucifixion gets clearer, these words grow louder and heavier; but are we hearing them right?
Our Lord was certainly praying for forgiveness for those directly responsible for his impending earthly death, but that was not all. His prayer extended beyond that moment, past those offenses, all the way to you and me. Jesus was praying for the ‘whole human condition’ (or ‘sub-human’ as we are not living up to the humanness that God intended) of self-focus, selfish determination, and perspective. They killed him because they couldn’t see beyond their fear and desire. The others only watched because they couldn’t stop looking inside their selves where there was only them. Father forgive them…
Jesus prayed this prayer as he died knowing that the conditions which fostered and promoted this event would not die with him but would live on in every generation yet to come. Jesus was letting go of the ministry and all that came with it and accepting the Father’s grace, mercy, and love to guide and cover all that would come next.
Jesus prayed this prayer even as the Holy Spirit was poised to intercede to help us rise above the world and find peace in the One who forgives us. He had already taught the people the lessons of prayer and forgiveness and given them/us the prayer that reminds us of how important it is and convicts us of our sloth: …forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
In the portrayals of the crucifixion, we hear Jesus pray from the Cross, not as a whisper—an afterthought breathed out almost unconsciously, but as a proclamation! His forgiveness prayer was effort-filled, an act of will and decision, and so must ours be. Forgiveness is an action we perform, not something that just happens to us. We must take part in, energetically pursue, and continuously focus on forgiving, in order to be set free. In his best-selling book, The Shack, Paul Young writes:
“Forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about letting go of another person’s throat [sometimes your own].…You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely. And then one day you will pray for wholeness…”
Young writes of the multiple times we attempt forgiveness, not because we aren’t asking, but perhaps because we aren’t letting go. We often think about letting go (if we actually ever think about it) as something that just happens: “he just let go.” In reality, it is an action at the end of deliberation and a thought process: “he let go because he knew this was the best chance he had.” It is the same when we are trying to forgive others or accept forgiveness ourselves; letting go requires investment and takes effort.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons we find it so hard to forgive or accept forgiveness; that the effort required to let go demands a level of introspection which opens doors we don’t want to be opened. I have known people who are defined by their pain, their anger, or their hurt. A real-life event, over time, becomes the ground that defines their life. No longer a single painful moment, it becomes the lens through which all life is viewed and in which they live. To undertake the process of forgiveness will require letting go of the way we have lived because it’s the best chance we have.
This will be a monumental undertaking and a frightening one; still, we are called to it as a foundation block of our faith. Jesus said, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15) As monumental and frightening as it may be, it is what we must do, and doing it will truly set us free.
Letting go of the hurts and disappointments, letting go of anger and resentment, letting go of the wrongs we have done to others, those done to us, and the wrongs we do to ourselves, letting go in a positive affirming way will fundamentally change the way we see the world and how we interact from that moment on.
Letting go is about feeding our compassion, our love for ourselves and each other. When we are letting go, we are actively facing our pain and actively choosing to let the Father take it from us. Perhaps a good visual image is one of an astronaut in the Space Station holding something, and when she lets it go, it drifts away. No violence, no crashing to the ground, just freedom, unencumbered freedom.
Letting go in this way is adopting an attitude of forgiveness which isn’t activated when we are wronged but is a deep abiding daily practice. Forgiveness is no longer a transactional event in response to a thing, it is how we live our lives.
Letting go of the burden of self and embracing the Holy Spirit, we are joined with Christ and receive the mercy of the Father. Accepting the Father’s forgiveness, we are able to forgive “…those who trespass against us.”
Letting go in Christ,
Father Bill Burk†