"Love! Do you know the meaning of the word?" 'How should I not?' said the Lady, 'I am in love...in Love Himself.'
~C.S. Lewis
The Great Divorce

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Reason for the Switch

Dear readers,

Hopefully, the change in blog name and appearance hasn't thrown you off terribly. I wanted to give an explanation both theological and personal for the changes you see to this blog.

First, during this Holy Triduum, we rememeber God's love for his people. The sermon I heard last night on this subject was so good. The deacon at St. Mary's preached on "Why like this" as he pointed to the crucifix in the sanctuary. He gave the theological reasons for redemption from sin. But why not another way? His answer was that Jesus wanted to reveal something about himself. So much does God long for us to walk in communion with him that he is willing to the take the utter nastiness and ugliness of human corruption on himself. The crucifixion's severity is directly proportianate to the desire of God that we would again walk with him peacefully in the garden.

To say we are in love with God and God with us has, on the one hand, the sound of flaring teenage hormones. But it isn't that. We are actually in Love; United with the One who embodies love, because he united matter, a body, to his Deity. The Incarnation makes it possible for us to have a true, organic relationship with Jesus. We are grafted into him in a way that cannot be severed as long as we follow him in obedience. We are in Love and Love is in us. Holy Thursday and Good Friday, particularly, drive home the forging of this relationship and God's longing for it to be lasting.

Personally, I've changed the blog name and appearance for several reasons. First and foremost, I hated the layout and coloring of enchantingrelish. I just hadn't had time to change it. Furthermore, I was no longer thrilled with the name. Some of you may have read the post sometime back explaining why I had chosen such a title. But the truth is, while the friend who first introduced me to this quotation from Shakespeare will always be a friend, we are not close. Additionally, I've never been an avid reader of Shakespeare, nor is drama, Medieval English or otherwise, the theme of this blog. The new name reflects better the desire of this blog to help evangelize the web, explore theological, political, and cultural issues, and to provide a stage for conversation about the same.

The name change is also a reminder to myself. Of all the sins that I know afflict me (Lord have mercy) self-pity ranks fairly high. In the Great Divorce, as well as other classics, pity is seen to have two sides. Pity as a weapon and pity as a redemptive force. It was pity to drove Christ to the events we have celebrated and will celebrate in the coming days. It is what should drive Christians to evangelism and social justice. However, the sick beings that we are, we corrupted even this good gift. By "we", in this case, certainly I refer to myself cheifly. We use pity, as C.S. Lewis says, to blackmail the world. We present our own situations as so pitiful that we drag everyone else down to our level. Indeed, we want others to be miserable with us. In a word, we desire Hell and for the world to join us. Too forceful? I don't think so.

I've been particularly upset for a little over a week now (I have gotten over it, by God's grace) about something in my family life. I've not told anyone what-and I won't here. But I felt sympathy and then pity for myself and have refused to let anyone else make me happy. This refusal is participation in what Lewis termed the "passion of pity."

But as Lewis quite ably explains in his book, pity as a weapon can't touch the joy of God's people. "Hell cannot veto Heaven." And so the simple choice is before you and me: either shrink within yourself, wallowing in pity. Or, accept love on God's terms and find true happiness abiding there.

In these holy days, where we are reminded just how great God's love is for us, my choice is to be in love...in Love himself.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Drop, Drop, Slow Tears

Drop, Drop, slow tears
and bathe the beautous feet.
Which brought from heaven the news
and Prince of Peace.

Cease not wet eyes
his mercies to entreat.
To cry for vengeance
sin doth never cease.

In your deep floods
drown all my faults and fears.
Nor let his eye see sin,
but through my tears.

This hymn for years confused me. Does verse one say that beautous feet brought the Prince of Peace to earth? Whose eye is referred to in verse three and how is that person's eye covered with my tears? It takes a bit of reflection to understand what Phinneas Fletcher, the hymn's author, had in mind.

First of all, in verse one, we are to understand the "which" at the beginning of line three not to reference the "beautous feet", but the "tears". The gospel or the "news" and the one who personified the gospel are brought down from heaven because the world is broken and in tears. It needs the healing of a spiritual physician. Precisely, what Jesus called himself.

Why is the world broken? Why does it need to be healed? Because of the infection of sin. That is what we find attested in verse two. "To cry for vengeance sin doth never cease." While worded strangely, the simple truth conveyed in these words is that sin cries out for the wrath of God. It must be avenged. The only recourse the sinner has is "his mercies to entreat."

Finally, in the last verse, Fletcher really seizes on the idea of water. In order to be healed, we must be cleaned. There is no better agent in the world than water for this task. Spiritually speaking, Christ ordained water for the washing of sins, and the regeneration of souls. We ask for the water Jesus offered the Samaritan woman at the well, to drown all those things wrong with us. And, as we come up out of this water, to be made new.
Nevertheless, we all still sin after our Baptisms, sometimes gravely. Thus, the verse concludes, "Nor let his eye see sin but through my tears." In other words, so great should be our guilt and remorse for continually offending the one who came to save us, that our tears should create a pool of water around us. When the Savior looks at us, his piercing and loving gaze will still see sin, but blurred by the tears surrounding the penitent. For all who ask his forgiveness, the briny liquid of our eyes will be replaced by the purest water of Christ, springing up to eternal life.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Holy Week Hymns

I expect this week to do some commentary on the great hymns of Passiontide, Holy Week, and beginning next week, Easter. If there are any hymns, dear readers, that you would like to see appear on this list, do let me know.

Today's hymn, by the writer Redhead, is called Go To Dark Gethsemane. The title itself is confusing for those who may not remember what Gethsemane is. It is the garden where Jesus went to pray after he instituted the Eucharist. This is critical to understand. Adam and Even, and all we who sinned in them, impugned the goodness of creation with their act of disobedience in Eden. On the night of his betrayal, Christ was healing the world in the same place it had been wounded-a garden. By his act of obedience, "Nevertheless, not as I will but as thou wilt," (Mt. 26:39) the curse of sin begins to unravel.

The text of the first verse:
Go to dark Gethsemane, ye who feel the tempter's power
Your Redeemer's conflict see, watch with him one bitter hour.
Turn not from his griefs away, learn of Jesus Christ to pray.

The rest of verse one teaches us how to deal with temptation, suffering and a point of doctrine. First, if you are tempted to sin, your best recourse is always prayer. God makes an escape from every temptation. Pray for him to show it to you. In the case of Christ, and this should really move us, the Father showed Jesus the way of escape as he prayed. I'm not saying the Father presented forsaking the cross as a real option. While Jesus may have bulked slightly knowing the amount of suffering that was coming, he knew what he had to do. But undoubtedly, the Father showed him the glory that would come from his crucifixion. And so, suffering is presented to us, not as something to be avoided, but to be embraced. For truly, on this side of heaven, suffering will always accompany the truest acts of love. But those who suffer, in the frailty of our human condition, need compassion. While Adam and Eve represented humanity in Eden, Peter, James, and John represented us in Gethsemane. They did as we would have done. Instead of watching and praying with Jesus, they fell asleep. We are implored by the hymn, not to sleep, but to consider the suffering of others and walk in their shoes with them.
The doctrinal point I mentioned above, is the emphasis on the fact that Christ was indeed human and as such could feel conflict and grief. But this last truth, is illustrated far more clearly in verses two and three.

Follow to the judgement hall, view the Lord of Life arraigned.
O the wormwood and the gall, o the pangs his soul sustained.
Shun not suffering shame or loss, learn from him to bear the cross.

We are beckoned to make the next step of the journey with Christ. From the garden to the praetorium, we watch as the Lord is found guilty of blasphemy and eventually sentenced to brutal flogging and crucifixion. Two things stand out in this verse. First Jesus had a soul-a soul up until now completely devoid of sin. As he begins to feel the weight of the world's sins upon him, what anguish his soul must have endured. The pain we take for granted that we cause ourselves, was all thrust on him at once. It's far from only his body which is hurting.
The last line calls us more poignantly to embrace suffering. Take up your cross and follow Christ carrying his. It is the path of discipleship and it's the way of salvation. Whatever suffering the Lord has given you-it hurts. But it's an opportunity to be united with the suffering Christ. And we are promised, that if we suffer with him, we will also reign with him. (II Tim. 2:12)

Finally, the last verse:

Calvary's mournful mountain climb, there adoring at his feet.
Mark the miracle of time, God's own sacrifice complete.
"It is finished" hear the cry! Learn of Jesus Christ to die.

For the pain and agony he endured, Christ deserves our endless adoration. True, as God, he merited our praise anyway. But now, looking at not only who he is, but what he has done, how can any tongue be silent? How do we do anything less but fall to our knees and thank him for his mercy? For this event, I would argue along with the Incarnation, is the great miracle. Thousands of years of pain and violence wash over the person of Jesus. He takes it all on himself and lets it kill him, for the sake of our salvation. It's an odd thing to say, we must "learn to die". After all, it is something that happens regardless of what we learn. But the point is that we carry our crosses, we are called to crucify our old man and completely to forsake sin. It is death to our old Self and the birth of what we were created to be. Christ endured and embraced death to attain a resurrected body. So too, we must die to ourselves and live for Christ. In so doing, we are united to him and will also at the last day attain resurrected bodies for ourselves, by his mercy.

Today, let us remember suffering is a good thing because it accompanies what St. Paul called the greatest thing: love.

Friday, April 15, 2011

What Does It Take to Get Into the Kingdom?

Today's Gospel reading begs the afore mentioned question. From the twelfth chapter of Mark's Gospel comes the account of a lawyer who asked of the Lord a question about which commandment in the law was greatest. We all know the answer was "Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, mind and strength. And love thy neighbor as thyself." The lawyer then affirms with his own mouth that Jesus had rightly answered his question. (Kind of makes you wonder why he bothered asking...) Than Jesus says the following: "You are not far from the Kingdom of God." I have to believe this man asked why he didn't make the cut-but Mark doesn't record anymore of the conversation.

A couple of thoughts come to mind when reading this verse. First, while ultimately you are either inside the Kingdom or you are not, there are some who are genuiely closer to entering. Their hearts are likely in the right place, though they are just short of something which they need. I wonder if this what Christ would say to those faithful followers of other monotheistic religions-particularly, Judaism and Islam.

The second thought has to do with what is lacking. What did this scribe need? I think the answer is probably fairly simple. It is not enough to know the will and plan of God. It must be done. We can know all the truth in the world, have an enlightened understanding of who God is and what he has done for humanity, and still not respond to this reality. The grace of the Lord is necessary to prepare us and turn our wills in such a way that we seek to not only hear Christ's words, but do them. As St. James charged us, "be not hearers of the word only, but doers." Did this lawyer wholly lack grace? There is no way of telling. I'd be inclined to say that Christ had already begun working in his heart if he possessed the knowledge of the greatest law. But more grace was needed in order for him to live out this great commandment.

How does one attain this grace? It's a tricky question, since grace by defintion is something given, not earned. However, the Scriptures do point out that the recipient of grace clothes himself in humility.

"God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." (I Pet. 5:5)

Applying this passage to the Gospel for today, I believe we can piece together the answer to the question "What does it take to get into the Kingdom?" A realization that we are unable to fully keep the Great Commandment must be first. Humbly recognizing this prepares our hearts to receive grace. Once this grace is received and Christ himself makes his home within us, the commandments, while still difficult to keep, are quite possible. For, as St. Paul wrote, "I can do all things through Christ who strenthens me." (Phil. 4:13) This man seems to come to Jesus with a know-it-all mentality, as noted before. His pride was blocking out the grace necessary to keep the law he knew and probably loved. Our place in the Kingdom is dependant on grace. We do well to remember that it is a danger to participate in any kind of sin that separates us from God's grace.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Penitential Themes

I found myself yesterday mentally hearkening back to a conversation from a few weeks ago on the appointed Gospel for the first Sunday in Advent. In the Anglican tradition, the account of Palm Sunday is read. On first reading, and for me, many subsequent readings over the years, it's confusing. It's Advent! Not Holy Week. What's going on here?

Well, aside from the fact that the Palm Sunday reading is the Triumphal entry of Christ-associated with the resurrection of his dear friend Lazarus, (which lines up well with the themes of Christ returning in glory to raise the dead for judgement), there is another important reason for reading this Gospel. Its ending tells the story of Christ casting out the money-changers from the Temple, saying "My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves." (Lk. 19:46) This matches the collect for the day which reads in part,

"Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, now in the time of this mortal life in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility."

You see the season of Advent is much like the our current liturgical season, Lent. They are both penitential times of the year. It is a time for reflection on where we stand in relationship to Christ. What is getting in our way of full communion with the Lord?

The temple was to be the place where people could come and meet God. His presence abided there. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church that their bodies were now also Temples, temples of the Holy Spirit. Thus, if Jesus on his first triumphal entry in Jerusalem saw fit to clean out the garbage from his holy Temple, so too should we. In preparation for his second coming during Advent, and in this holy season of Lent as we prepare to remember and celebrate the week that changed the world, we have to cast out the money changers that are in our souls. Whatever sin, whatever obstacle may be, by God's grace it must be removed in order for our joy to be full in the coming weeks.

Lsatly, we can be confident in this grace being available to us. Christ needed to sanctify his Temple, he calls us to be Temples, but he also likened himself to one. "Destroy this Temple and I will raise it up in three days." (Jn. 2:19) The Jews laughed him to scorn for such a ridiculous statement. They inquired jestingly and mockingly if Jesus knew how long it had taken to build the temple he saw before him. The point is, that as the temple of the Hebrews had been ravaged by the sins of the money changers, so too would Christ's body. Scourged and crucified the wounds of his body, the temple, make it possible for us to keep temples undefiled by sin.

So while I know this is a reflection based on an Advent reading, I think you can see that both Advent and Lent share common themes of repentance enabled by God's grace in Christ.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Are Funerals for the Living or the Dead?

A friend of mine once said that funerals are only for the living-the implication being that the status of the deceased is fixed. Either they are in heaven, hell, or their soul is sleeping. (This latter option being the theoretical response of a non-Christian.)

Now this, of course, is the position largely of Evangelicals and Protestants. A person has their time on earth to make their decisions and once dead, nothing can be done for them. Roman Catholics believe in the doctrine of Purgatory which says that believers must, and will desire to, endure a period of purification before entering heaven. Because this is the case, in a Roman Requiem, the focus of the mass to pray for the deceased instead of honoring the person's life and legacy. From a Catholic perspective, the verdict is in-at least officially. (Many Catholics would prefer a service at which endless eulogies can be made, much like other Christian churches.)

As an Anglican, what should the response to this be? For whom is the funeral? I want to make two observations. First, the Prayer for the Whole State of Christ's Church-that long prayer that opens the "communion" part of the service and finds its basis in the Didache's example of praying for the whole of Christ's body. In the prayer is written these words: "And we also bless thy Name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear; beseeching thee to grant them continual growth in thy love and service and to give us grace to follow their good example."
While the 39 Articles forbid the doctrine of Purgatory to be taught, at the least the 16th century Roman one, clearly the Liturgy upholds that their is still maturing to be done by the dead in Christ. With that in mind, it would seem that Anglicans should stand with traditional Catholicism and say that funerals are indeed for the dead.

Furthermore, I would make a point from experience. I recently made a somewhat sarcastic remark to my bishop (an Anglican) about some of the service music that was picked for a funeral we both attended. He mentioned that "it was what brought the "insert name" comfort in this life." (this is not a direct quotation, only the sense of what he said.) In addition, at that same funeral there were some upset that certain hymns were added to the service which were not requested by the deceased. If the funeral is for the living, why should either of these items matter?

My overall view, in line with the Liturgy and luminaries such as C.S. Lewis and Jeremy Taylor, is that the Funeral is an ideal time to pray for all of the dead in Christ, that they would come to full maturity in the Kingdom of God. But I would also say, that within reason, I see no reason that good words made not be said about the person who has died. The Lord shines in his saints. If that be the case, remembering their good example does not distract from Christ but points to him.