A little MacKinnon for Lent

rembrandt-christ-before-caiaphas-c-1649-50

‘In every Eucharist the death of Christ is shown forth sacramentally, and we are made partakers of His merits and His life. But in the liturgical cycle of Lent and Passiontide, the rejection and the Passion of the Son of Man are presented to us, as it were, no longer as the ground of our access to the Father and the source of our reconciliation and sanctification, but as a series of historical events. In our approach to the Eucharist, though it is through the sacramental oblation of Christ’s sacrifice that we do honour to the Father, acknowledging His sovereign dominion, inevitably we think more of the substance of that offering than of the accidents of its historical (or sacramental) embodiment. Yet in Passiontide we are led by the sovereign wisdom of the Church to attend to the individual details of that supreme confrontation of the Light of God with the darkness of this world. We realize that in that moment, when the fallen natural order was so mightily invaded by the transcendent majesty of God, and the powers of darkness overthrown in the agony of Gethsemane and Calvary, it was through the action of particular historical individuals that the full strength of the kingdom of Satan assailed the kingdom that came in Jesus. Judas, Pilate, Caiaphas are concrete, historical individuals. They are not, as so many well-intentioned Holy Week addresses suggest, merely abstract types of pride, compromise, envy. For, if we treat them so, we lose altogether the insight that the Passion would afford us into the historical mission of the Body of Christ’.

– D. M. MacKinnon

Seeking descriptions of baptism in modern literature

Giovanni GuareschiMy friend Alison is compiling a set of 40 short readings for Lent (I’ve posted a few of my own over the years), each of which is about the experience of baptism. She is especially keen to find descriptions of baptism in modern literature. So far, she has readings from Wendell Berry, Sara Miles, Marilynne Robinson, Vincent Donovan, Stanley Hauerwas, Giovanni Guareschi, Martin Luther King, Jr., William Kloefkorn, and others, including some from Dr Luke’s Book of Acts. She is also considering readings from Annie Dillard, Barbara Taylor Brown, Annie Lamott, Langston Hughes and others.

Alison is looking for suggestions for additional readings, particularly those from Indigenous, Asian, or African writers.

So, any suggestions folks?

The Feast of the Annunciation

Johann Christian Schröder - The AnnunciationThis day in the church calendar marks The Feast of the Annunciation – the church’s answer to those who refute the humanity of God. It might strike one as a little odd that this ‘feast’ and its attendant Gospel reading (Luke 1.26–38) should appear in the final week of Lent. But there is, it seems to me, a deep connection at work here.

I was reminded of this in two ways yesterday. The first was reading a couple of brief reflections by Joan Chittister:

Mary was not used … Mary was asked a question to which she had the right to say no. Mary was made a participant in the initiatives of God … She was made an equal partner in the process. (In Search of Belief, 98).

The feast of the Annunciation [is] the moment when doing the will of God brought Mary into total solitude, outside the understanding of her society, beyond the support of her family. It is the practice of solitude that enables us to stand alone in life against the ruthless tide. Simone Weil wrote, ‘Absolute attention is prayer’. Have you known the solitude that brings absolute attention to the thought of God? Then you have known the Annunciation. (The Radical Christian Life: A Year with Saint Benedict, 32)

‘Absolute attention’. What a wonderful invitation to engage Lent!

It is possible, of course, as Chittister observes elsewhere, and as many artworks encourage, to allow the word ‘annunciation’ to conjure up less exhausting, less cataclysmic images. But ‘this, after all, was no routine summons. This was an earth-shattering, life-changing, revolutionary call. This was what happens when life is completely turned around, when the house burns down or the job disappears or the stock market crashes’. If most of the images of divine encounter that we carry are too passive, too gentle, too quiet, too lacking in interruption, too hyper-predestinarian, too naïve about the kinds of material which with God chooses to work, then the problem lies not with the word ‘annunciation’ but with us and our romanticized and sanitized – and let’s just name it, docetic or nestorian! – readings of the Gospel narrative.

And this leads me to the second gift that aided my seeing this week; namely, happening across Christina Rossetti’s poem ‘Weary in Well-doing’ (1864), words that bear witness to a different manner of gentleness, work, and rest:

I would have gone; God bade me stay:
I would have worked; God bade me rest.
He broke my will from day to day,
He read my yearnings unexpressed
And said them nay.

Now I would stay; God bids me go:
Now I would rest; God bids me work.
He breaks my heart tossed to and fro,
My soul is wrung with doubts that lurk
And vex it so.

I go, Lord, where thou sendest me;
Day after day I plod and moil:
But, Christ my God, when will it be
That I may let alone my toil
And rest with Thee?

I reflected more on these things as I put together a little video presentation of images depicting the Annunciation, set to J. S. Bach’s ‘Himmelskönig, sei willkommen’ (King of Heaven, welcome), BWV 182. The piece was first performed on The Feast of the Annunciation, 25 March 1714. I now share it with you.

Thinking Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday

 

A few people have contacted me today to ask about liturgical resources for Ash Wednesday. I haven’t got time today to write anything fresh, but here’s a few that I posted a number of years ago.

Some Ash Wednesday resources

Those hunting for some liturgical resources for Ash Wednesday services may like to check out a few poems, prayers and links that I posted here last year.

Ash Wednesday: poems and prayers

Lent darkness

Dragons lurk in desert spaces
Penetrating the mind with evil claw.
Serpent’s teeth seek out the chinks
insidiously, relentlessly, gnawing on the bone;
searching out the interstices of muscle and sinew.

Such is the pain of the wilderness.
Alone, alone, alone,
Christ sits
in the waste place of abandoned pleas and questions
until exhausted
finally
at last
the realisation
comes
that in the end
there is only
God.

In the night-time of our fears
in the present reality of abandonment
when family and friends
turn and run,
be present, ever present God.
Be present with those
camped out in the fields of hopelessness
with refugees and homeless,
those who live lives of quiet desperation.
Be present until the desert places
blossom like the rose
and hope is born again.

– Kathy Galloway (ed.), The Pattern of Our Days: Liturgies and Resources for Worship (Glasgow: Wild Goose Publications, 1996), 130.

◊◊◊

Ash Wednesday

I
Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

II
Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to sateity
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been contained
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live? And that which had been contained
In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:
Because of the goodness of this Lady
And because of her loveliness, and because
She honours the Virgin in meditation,
We shine with brightness. And I who am here dissembled
Proffer my deeds to oblivion, and my love
To the posterity of the desert and the fruit of the gourd.
It is this which recovers
My guts the strings of my eyes and the indigestible portions
Which the leopards reject. The Lady is withdrawn
In a white gown, to contemplation, in a white gown.
Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness.
There is no life in them. As I am forgotten
And would be forgotten, so I would forget
Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And God said
Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only
The wind will listen. And the bones sang chirping
With the burden of the grasshopper, saying

Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and life-giving
Worried reposeful
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end
Conclusion of all that
Is inconclusible
Speech without word and
Word of no speech
Grace to the Mother
For the Garden
Where all love ends.

Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining
We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each other,
Under a tree in the cool of day, with the blessing of sand,
Forgetting themselves and each other, united
In the quiet of the desert. This is the land which ye
Shall divide by lot. And neither division nor unity
Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance.

III
At the first turning of the second stair
I turned and saw below
The same shape twisted on the banister
Under the vapour in the fetid air
Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
The deceitul face of hope and of despair.

At the second turning of the second stair
I left them twisting, turning below;
There were no more faces and the stair was dark,
Damp, jaggèd, like an old man’s mouth drivelling, beyond repair,
Or the toothed gullet of an agèd shark.

At the first turning of the third stair
Was a slotted window bellied like the figs’s fruit
And beyond the hawthorn blossom and a pasture scene
The broadbacked figure drest in blue and green
Enchanted the maytime with an antique flute.
Blown hair is sweet, brown hair over the mouth blown,
Lilac and brown hair;
Distraction, music of the flute, stops and steps of the mind
over the third stair,
Fading, fading; strength beyond hope and despair
Climbing the third stair.

Lord, I am not worthy
Lord, I am not worthy

but speak the word only.

IV
Who walked between the violet and the violet
Who walked between
The various ranks of varied green
Going in white and blue, in Mary’s colour,
Talking of trivial things
In ignorance and knowledge of eternal dolour
Who moved among the others as they walked,
Who then made strong the fountains and made fresh the springs

Made cool the dry rock and made firm the sand
In blue of larkspur, blue of Mary’s colour,
Sovegna vos

Here are the years that walk between, bearing
Away the fiddles and the flutes, restoring
One who moves in the time between sleep and waking, wearing

White light folded, sheathing about her, folded.
The new years walk, restoring
Through a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoring
With a new verse the ancient rhyme. Redeem
The time. Redeem
The unread vision in the higher dream
While jewelled unicorns draw by the gilded hearse.

The silent sister veiled in white and blue
Between the yews, behind the garden god,
Whose flute is breathless, bent her head and signed but spoke no word

But the fountain sprang up and the bird sang down
Redeem the time, redeem the dream
The token of the word unheard, unspoken

Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew

And after this our exile

V
If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice

Will the veiled sister pray for
Those who walk in darkness, who chose thee and oppose thee,
Those who are torn on the horn between season and season, time and time, between
Hour and hour, word and word, power and power, those who wait
In darkness? Will the veiled sister pray
For children at the gate
Who will not go away and cannot pray:
Pray for those who chose and oppose

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Will the veiled sister between the slender
Yew trees pray for those who offend her
And are terrified and cannot surrender
And affirm before the world and deny between the rocks
In the last desert before the last blue rocks
The desert in the garden the garden in the desert
Of drouth, spitting from the mouth the withered apple-seed.

O my people.

VI
Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

– Thomas S. Eliot, ‘Ash Wednesday’ in The Waste Land and Other Poems (ed. Helen Hennessy Vendler; New York: Signet Classic, 1998), 66–76.

◊◊◊

A Prayer on Ash Wednesday

Most gracious and loving God, I seek this day to remember that I am dust and to dust I shall return.

God, why do I fear being mortal? Perhaps I think it diminishes me in your sight.

And yet …

the flower that is here today and gone tomorrow is no less precious to you simply because it is transitory.

the sparrow that falls to the ground is no less precious to you simply because of its frailty.

So with me. I am precious to you even though all too soon my body will be food for the worms.

Thank you, Lord, for assuring me of my infinite worth.

I can now face the real truth about myself – namely, that I am dust, and to dust I shall return. And after … the resurrection of the dead!

Amen.

– Richard Foster, Prayers from the Heart/Celebration of Discipline/Money, Sex & Power (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1995), 22.

◊◊◊

Vision and mirage

Lord Jesus, you have faced temptation;
you know how difficult it can be
to distinguish between vision and mirage,
between truth and falsehood.

Lord, help us when we are tempted:
And save us when we fall.

Help us in the church:
when we confuse absence of conflict with the peace of God;
when we equate the shaping of ecclesiastical structures with serving you in the world;
when we imagine that our task is to preserve rather than to put at risk;
when we behave as though your presence in life were a past event rather than a contemporary encounter.

Lord, help us when we are tempted:
And save us when we fall.

Help us in the world:
when we use meaningless chatter to avoid real dialogue;
when we allow the image presented by the media to blind us to the substance that lies behind it;
when we confuse privilege with responsibility, and claim rights when we should acknowledge duties;
when we allow high-sounding reasons to cover evil actions.

Lord, help us when we are tempted:
And save us when we fall.

We pray for all who have been brought to the edge of their endurance;
for those whose pain is unending;
for those for whom the earth is a cruel desert and existence a constant struggle against overwhelming odds;
for those who suffer through their own folly or through the malice or folly of others.

Lord, help us when we are tempted:
And save us when we fall.

Lord Jesus, you have passed through the test of suffering,
and are able to help those who are meeting their test now.

Lord, help us when we are tempted:
And be with us to the end.

– Terry C. Falla, ed., Be Our Freedom Lord: Responsive Prayers and Readings for Contemporary Worship (Adelaide: OpenBook Publishers, 1994), 306–7.

◊◊◊

Marked by Ashes

Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day …
This day – a gift from you.
This day – like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.
This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already halfway home
halfway back to committees and memos,
halfway back to calls and appointments,
halfway on to next Sunday,
halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant,
half turned toward you, half rather not.

This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes –
we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:
of failed hope and broken promises,
of forgotten children and frightened women,
we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.

We are able to ponder our ashness with
some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes
anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.
On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you –
you Easter parade of newness.
Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
mercy and justice and peace and generosity.
We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.

– Walter Brueggemann, Prayers for a Privileged People (Nashville: Abingdon, 2008), 27–8.

And, finally, because, like Luther, I’m exhausted from all the pious and sentimental and non-christologically-determined navel-gazing dribble that is so-often associated with Lent, here’s one of my favourite prayers. It comes from Stanley Hauerwas:

Free Us from Self-Fascination

Lord Almighty, we say we want to serve you, we say we want to help others less fortunate than ourselves, we say we want justice. But the truth is, we want power and status because we so desperately need to be loved. Free us from our self-fascination and the anxious activity it breeds, so that we might be what we say we want to be – loved by you and thus capable of unselfish service. Amen.

– Stanley Hauerwas, Prayers Plainly Spoken (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 49.

You may also like to check out some previous posts on Lent, there’s a great reflection on Ash Wednesday here, and Garry Deverell has a helpful post here too.

What we hear during Lent …

‘What we hear during Lent is the power and possibility of the paschal mystery, and that the way of the cross, the way to Easter, is through death. To appropriate the new life that is beyond the power of death means we must die with Christ who was raised for us. To live for Christ, we must die with him. New life requires a daily surrendering of the old life, letting go of the present order, so that we may embrace the new humanity. “I die every day!” asserts Paul (1 Corinthians 15:31). Resurrection necessitates death as a preceding act. The church’s peculiar Lenten claim is that in dying we live, that all who are baptized into Christ are baptized into his death. To be raised with Christ means one must also die with Christ. In order to embrace the resurrection, we must experience the passion of Jesus. The way of the cross, the way to Easter, is through death of the “old self.” In dying, we live.

Therefore, at the beginning of Lent, we are reminded that our possessions, our rulers, our empires, our projects, our families, and even our lives do not last forever. “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). The liturgies throughout Lent try to pry loose our fingers, one by one, from presumed securities and plunge us into unknown baptismal waters, waters that turn out to be not only our death tomb, but surprisingly our womb of life. Rather than falling back into nothingness, we fall back on everlasting arms. Death? How can we fear what we have already undergone in baptism?

It is the power of the resurrection on the horizon ahead that draws us into repentance toward the cross and tomb. Through the intervention of God’s gracious resurrection, lifelong changes in our values and behavior become possible. By turning from the end of the “old self” in us, Lenten repentance makes it possible for us to affirm joyfully, “Death is no more!” and to aim toward the landscape of the new age. Faithfully adhering to the Lenten journey of “prayer, fasting, and almsgiving” leads to the destination of Easter.

During the final week, Holy Week, we hear the fullness of Christ’s passion, his death, and resurrection. From Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and on to the Triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday), all of Holy Week focuses on the passion. As his followers, we travel Christ’s path of servanthood through the Lord’s Supper and the suffering of the cross toward the glory of Easter, all of which underscores the inseparable link between the death and resurrection of Jesus’. – Peter C. Bower, ed., Companion to the Book of Common Worship (Louisville: Geneva Press, 2003), 110–11.

40: Jesus in the Wilderness – A Lenten Reflection

Illustrations by Simon Smith (who blogs here). Music by Explosions in the Sky.

… and a little Leunig for Lent

‘Who shall unseal the years, the years!’: Around the traps

Picking up some Hauerwas for Lent

There’s one wee book of Hauerwas’ that I purchased during the past year and never got around to reading, namely Cross-Shattered Christ: Meditations on the Seven Last Words (Brazos Press, 2004). Lent seemed like the right time to dig in. So I found me a quiet moment tonight and read it. Here’s a few passages that I sat with for a while:

‘Everyday death always threatens the everyday, but we depend on our death-denying routines to return life to normality’. (p. 26)

On Luke 23:43: ‘What does it mean to say these are criminals?’ (p. 38)

Citing Rowan Williams: ‘God is in the connections we cannot make’. (p. 39)

‘Our attempt to speak confidently of God in the face of modern skepticism, a skepticism we suspect also grips our lives as Christians, betrays a certainty inappropriate for a people who worship a crucified God’. (p. 40)

‘Our salvation is no more or no less than being made part of God’s body, God’s enfleshed memory, so that the world may know that we are redeemed from our fevered and desperate desire to insure we will not be forgotten’. (p. 44)

‘In spite of the current presumption that Christianity is important for no other reasin than that Christians are pro-family people, it must be admitted that none of the Gospels portray Jesus as family-friendly’. (p. 50)

‘Jesus’s being handed over, Jesus’s obedience even to the point of death, Jesus’s cry of abandonment makes no sense if this is not the outworking of the mystery called Trinity. This is not God becoming what God was not, but rather here we witness what God has always been … The cross, this cry of abandonment, is not God becoming something other than God, is not an act of divine self-alienation; instead this is the very character of God’s kenosis – complete self-emptying made possible by perfect love’. (pp. 62–3)

‘This is not a dumb show that some abstract idea of god appears to go through to demonstrate that he or she really has our best interest at heart. No, this is the Father’s deliberately giving his Christ over to a deadly destiny so that our destiny would not be determined by death’. (p. 63)

‘We try … to compliment God by saying that God is transcendent, but ironically our very notion of transcendence can make God a creature after our own hearts. Our idea of God, our assumption that God must possess the sovereign power to make everything turn out all right for us, at least in the long run, is revealed by Jesus’s cry of abandonment to be the idolatry it is … In truth we stand with Pilate. We do not want to give up our understanding of God. We do not want Jesus to be abandoned because we do not want to acknowledge that the one who abandons and is abandoned is God. We seek to “explain” these words of dereliction, to save and protect God from making a fool out of being God, but our attempts to protect God reveal how frightening we find a God who refuses to save us by violence’. (pp. 64–5)

‘If God is not in Mary’s belly, we are not saved’. (p. 76)

‘”It is finished” is not a death gurgle. “It is finished” is not “I am done for.” “It is finished” will not be, as we know from the tradition of the ordering of these words from the cross, the last words of Jesus. “It is finished is a cry of victory. “It is finished” is the triumphant cry that what I came to do has been done. All is accomplished, completed, fulfilled work. The work that is finished, moreover, is the cross. He will be and is resurrected, but the resurrected One remains the One crucified. Rowan Williams reminds us of Pascal’s stark remark that “Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world.” This is a remark that makes unavoidable the recognition that we live in the time between the times – the kingdom is begun in Christ but will not be consummated or perfected until the end of the world. Williams observes that Pascal’s comment on Jesus’s on-going agony is not an observation about the deplorable state of unbelievers; it is instead an exhortation to us, those who believe in Christ. It is an exhortation not to become nostalgic for a supposedly lets compromised past or take refuge in some imagined purified future, but to dwell in the tension-filled time between times, to remain awake to our inability “to stay in the almost unbearable present moment where Jesus is.”‘ (pp. 83–4)

‘We are told in John 1:18 that without the Son no one can see the Father. Von Balthasar, therefore, reminds us “when the Son, the Word of the Father is dead, then no one can see God, hear of him or attain him. And this day exists, when the Son is dead, and the Father, accordingly, inaccessible.” This is the terror, the silence of the Father, to which Jesus has committed himself, this is why he cried the cry of abandonment. He has commended himself to the Father so he might for us undergo the dark night of death. Jesus commends himself to the Father, becoming for us all that is contrary to God. Christ suffers by becoming the “No” that the salvation wrought by his life creates. Without Christ there could be no hell – no abandonment by God – but the very hell created by Christ cannot overwhelm the love he has for us’. (p. 97)

‘Christ had no Christ to imitate’. (p. 99)

Lenten Resources

Lent has begun. Those seeking Lenten resources might wish to visit the following places:

    Richard Lischer’s Open Secrets: Part VII, On the Church Calendar

    ‘The Protestant church was already in the process of discarding the named Sundays of Lent and Easter even as we blessed and planted the seeds. Now they bear the evocative names “The First Sunday in Lent,” “the Second Sunday in Lent,” and so on. The fourth Sunday in Lent was once named Laetare, which means “rejoice.” It was known in the church as Refreshment Sunday. On this Sunday rose paraments replaced the traditional purple of Lent, and, psychologically and spiritually, we breathed a little easier. The color rose seemed to say, There’s light at the end of the tunnel. Even at the dead center of Lent, Christ is risen.

    The Protestant church got rid of Laetare as well as Rogate and many of the other days for reasons I have never fully understood. It created a bland church calendar and liturgies du jour in the image of people who have been abstracted from place and history, who have no feel for the symbols and no memory of the stories. They live, work, and worship in climate-controlled buildings. They have largely adopted a digitalized language. Their daily routines override the natural rhythms and longings of life.

    I can only say that the Latin words were not too much for my high school dropouts. The simple outline of church history didn’t overtax their imaginations. The liturgy and church year made sense to the farmers in New Cana, for who better than a farmer understands the circularities of life? The church year had a rhythm, and so did their lives.

    Some would argue that the observance of Rogate arose in an agricultural world and is, therefore, irrelevant to all but the 1.7 percent of Americans who still live on farms. But my congregation understood the metaphor that underlay Rogate, which is this: When we do any kind of useful work, we join the act of creation in progress and help God keep the universe humming’. – Richard Lischer, Open Secrets: A Memoir of Faith and Discovery, 144–5.

    Archbishop’s Lectures in Holy Week

    rowan-williams-3

     

    Rowan Williams is in the midst of a series of Holy Week Lectures on the theme, ‘Growing in Prayer: what the saints tell us about the spiritual journey’:

    6 April        Lecture 1: ‘The Early Church’

    7 April        Lecture 2: ‘Reformers, Catholic & Protestant’

    8 April        Lecture 3: ‘The Quest for God in the Modern Age’

    The Stations of the Cross

    Here’s a wee doument that I prepared for Lent:

    Anyone interested in a copy in MS Word format can contact me and I’ll be happy to send.

    Lent Reflection 6: ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’

    Luke 23:46

     

    ‘It was not to man’s future, but to a present holy God that Christ Himself poured out His dying soul. It was into God’s hands He committed His Spirit, not to a future that would do Him justice’. – PT Forsyth, ‘Missions the Soul of Civilisation’. Christian World Pulpit, 4 May 1910, 275.

    Lent Reflection 5: Hans Urs von Balthasar on the three decisive hours

    crucifixion-2‘”Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.” It was as if the cosmos sensed that something decisive was going on here, as if it were participating in the darkness invading the soul of Christ. For our part, we do not need to experience this darkening, for we are already estranged and dark enough. It would suffice if we held onto our faith in a world that has become dark all around us; it would be enough for us to be convinced that all inner light, all inner joy and security, all trust in life owes its existence to the darkness of Golgotha and never to forget to give God thanks for it’. – Hans Urs von Balthasar, You Crown the Year With Your Goodness: Sermons Through the Liturgical Year (trans. Graham Harrison; San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), 85-6.

    I have posted previously von Balthasar’s entire sermon – The Scapegoat and the Trinity – from which this portion is lifted.

    Lent Reflection 4: TF Torrance on power

    Hercules‘[The] movement of God’s holy love into the heart of the world’s evil and agony is not to be understood as a direct act of sheer almighty power, for it is not God’s purpose to shatter and annihilate the agents and embodiments of evil in the world, but rather to pierce into the innermost center of evil power where it is entrenched in the piled-up and self-compounding guilt of humanity in order to vanquish it from within and below, by depriving it of the lying structures of half-truth on which it thrives and of the twisted forms of legality behind which it embattles itself and from which it fraudulently gains its power. Here we have an entirely different kind and quality of power, for which we have no analogies in our experience to help us understand it, since it transcends every kind of moral and material power we know, the power which the Bible calls grace …’. – Thomas F. Torrance, Divine and Contingent Order (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2005), 136.

    Lent Reflection 3: Gerhard Forde on Jesus’ cry of desolation

    emil-nolde-crucifixion-1912‘Most everyone – conservative, orthodox, or liberal – seems to have trouble thinking the cry [of desolation] could be real. It seems as though having dispatched him to a humiliating, cruel, and agonizing death, we are surprised and shocked that he should find it all that bad. We just can not give up on making him our religious hero, desperately seeking in him the last spark of divinity, the courage, the faith, that will somehow see him through and thus enable us to avoid facing the end. There must be some way for him to transcend the fate to which we have dispatched him. It is as though by crucifying him we had merely provided the occasion for him to exercise his divinity, or as though as his murderers we hope that our crime was all a bad dream. For if he goes into the blackness of death forsaken even by God, what chance do we have?

    But that is, of course, precisely the point. We have no chance. He comes to die for us, to enter into the blackness, the nothingness of death alone. Thus he goes the road of being human to the end. But it is even more than that. He took our place. He took our nature, being born under the law. He was made a curse for us, and he followed the course to death on the cross. In the end he cries out in an agony that Mark concentrates into the totally human question, “Why?” And there is no answer. Beyond the “Why?” there is only God. We are, once again, simply brought up against God. God is done to us. The true human can only wait on God here. “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” The human Jesus brings us to that end. This is his self-emptying (kenosis). Not that he divests himself temporarily of some divine prerogatives, but that he pours himself out into that last desolate cry.

    Only by so pouring himself out can he finally be for us. Were he to hold something back or somehow to be protected from the stark reality of the death, he would be our lawgiver but not our Savior. His dying words to us would be some sort of admonition to stop our perfidy, shape up, and perhaps take him down from the cross before it all goes too far. His dying would be perhaps just the supreme example of how to die, and so the most strenuous law of all. That, one might say, is the theological way of taking him down from the cross. Only by truly dying does he put an end to us as old beings so that we can be made new. Only so do we come up against the one who calls into being that which is from that which is not’. – Gerhard O. Forde, Theology is for Proclamation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), 112-3.

    Lent Reflection 2

    Pontius Pilate‘To the picture of the free but divinely ordained determination of the existence of Jesus to this outcome there must also be added everything that is said in the Gospels about the world around, in which the “wicked husbandmen” are given particular prominence as the decisive agents. We are not set at an indeterminate point in world history. The passion of the Son of Man is, of course, the work of the Gentiles, of Pilate and his race, but only secondarily and indirectly. Pilate has to be there, In more than one respect, especially as the responsible (although not really responsible) representative of government, he is one of the central figures in the Gospel story. Unwillingly and unwittingly he is the executor Novi Testamenti (Bengel). For by delivering Jesus to him, Israel unwittingly accomplishes-“they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34)-His handing over to humanity outside Israel, and the Messiah of Israel becomes the Saviour of the world. Again, as Pilate delivers him to his men for execution, he is the man by whose will and work the divine act of redemption is accomplished. It is not the case however, as in some schematic presentations, that Israel and the Gentiles, Church and state, co-operated equally in accusing and condemning Jesus and destroying Him as a criminal. It is not for nothing that the one who initiates this action is the apostle Judas, and in his person the elect tribe of Judah to which Christ Himself also belonged, and in Judah (the Jews, as they are summarily described in John) the chosen and called people of Israel. It is in this sphere that we find ourselves in the passion story. We are not really in the main theatre of world history, but in the vineyard of the Lord. It is Israel, represented by its spiritual and ecclesiastical and theological leaders, but also by its vox populi, that refuses and rejects and condemns Jesus and finally delivers Him up as a blasphemer to the Gentiles, to be executed by them as a political criminal, although Pilate is quite unable and unwilling to pronounce Him guilty as such, and only causes Him to be put to death unjustly and against His better judgment. It was to this delivering up by this Israel which rejected and condemned Him, to death at the hands of this people, to this conclusion of His history that Jesus gave up Himself, and was given up by God. This is what we must always keep before us in our understanding of His passion’. – Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV.2 (ed. G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance; trans. G.W. Bromiley; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1958), 260.