Monthly Archives: October 2013

Hail, hail! Lion of Judah!

Icon by Robert Lentz, OFM from Trinity Stores -- https://www.trinitystores.com

Icon of the Lion of Judah by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals; and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” (Revelation 5:1-5)

It’s got to be at least 25 years ago now.

A group of Episcopal campus ministers from around Illinois were gathered at Brent House, the campus ministry at the University of Chicago, for a weekend planning session of some kind.

At Eucharist one evening we sang Victory Chant (Hail Jesus) by Donnie McClurkin, and I remember being powerfully moved by the refrain:

Hail, hail Lion of Judah!
How wonderful You are!
Hail, hail Lion of Judah!
How powerful You are!

Hail Jesus! You’re my King!
Your life frees me to sing
I will praise You all my days
You’re perfect in all Your ways

At the time, I think it was the music that impressed me most — the joyous, rhythmic chant sung by friends who were all excellent singers.

I’ve written before about how I ran across this icon of the Lion of Judah by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM, but today it really cements in my mind the powerful “otherness” of Jesus.

That is to say, it helps me understand that the Risen Jesus is always more than we think, always other than we think.

He is both Lion and Lamb. He is not only Jewish, but Gentile. He is not only Mediterranean, but Indian and Chinese and African (and even English and Scottish, Irish and Welsh). He is both Judge and Lover, both King and Suffering Servant.

Part of Jesus’ “otherness,” to my mind, is his power.

“Who is worthy to open the scroll?” asks the terrible angel. “The Lion of Judah,” says the elder, “because he has conquered.”

Jesus has conquered death, we proclaim every Sunday, trampled down death by death. His power, though, is not just for himself but for us. His life — his conquering life — overcomes even our powerlessness and frees us to sing.

Hail, hail! Lion of Judah!

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Visions of peace

Four Evangelists cross from the Printery House

Four Evangelists cross from the Printery House

Therefore we praise you,
joining our voices with Angels and Archangels
and with all the company of heaven,
who forever sing this hymn
to proclaim the glory of your Name:

Holy, holy, holy Lord; God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest. (BCP 362)

Today the assigned readings and the canticles appointed for the day line up perfectly to create a single unifying image for Morning Prayer.

In the Book of Ezra, we read about the rebuilding of the Temple following the return of the Israelites from exile in Babylon. They are restoring the site of their worship, and with them we picture their prayers once more ascending to God, with incense surrounding the golden cherubim atop the Ark of the Covenant.

Glory to you, Lord God of our fathers;
you are worthy of praise; glory to you ….
Glory to you, seated between the Cherubim;
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.
(Canticle 13, BCP 90)

In the Revelation to John, we similarly see a vision of restoration, of worship to God in the heavenly City, the new Jerusalem. John describes his vision of a throne surrounded by 24 thrones, on which are seated 24 elders, in front of whom are seven torches and a sea of glass, and around whom are the “four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind.”

Christian tradition has long associated the four living creatures — “at his feet the six-winged seraph; cherubim with sleepless eye” (Hymn 324) — with the four Evangelists: Matthew like a lion, Mark like a man, Luke like an ox, and John like an eagle.

In Canticle 18, we respond to the reading with the same song the angels and elders are singing around the throne:

And so, to him who sits upon the throne,
and to Christ the Lamb,
Be worship and praise, dominion and splendor,
for ever and for evermore.
(BCP 94)

Now, if that were the whole story, that would be enough — a nice symmetry making Morning Prayer extra lovely. Fine.

But there’s even more.

These visions of a restored Temple, of a City with the Lamb at its center, were recorded in order to give comfort to God’s people in hard times. The exiles were struggling to recover their sense of self, and it seemed like the grinding bureaucracy of the Babylonian empire might slow down or stop their building project. The early Christian communities of John’s time were beginning to be thrown out of the synagogues where they had been worshiping and to experience persecution by the Roman empire.

These are not just lovely songs, but visions of peace meant to sustain God’s people in times of trouble.

How will you imagine peace in your life today? What images will help you get through your struggles?

A Collect for Peace

O God, the author of peace and lover of concord, to know you is eternal life and to serve you is perfect freedom: Defend us, your humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in your defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 99)

To unity, knowledge, and maturity

Ss_Simon_and_Jude

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13).

Unity

We often hear in the Church the old saw that “unity does not mean uniformity.” What we are trying to express, I think, is that we don’t have to march in lockstep, we don’t all have to be believers in the same exact way.

The Church is gifted — not only with those who guard the faith (apostles) but also with those who upbraid the faithful (prophets); not only with traveling preachers (evangelists) but also with local leaders (pastors and teachers). We all have the same purpose, though: to equip the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ.

You may serve in the food kitchen, you may lead youth group, you may knit prayer shawls, you may provide pastoral care, you may give generously, you may go on mission trips, you may host a fellowship group in your home, you may advocate for political change, you may lead a Bible study. As David Allen says, “you can do anything, but you can’t do everything.”

Whatever you do, then, do it in order to equip the saints and to build up the body.

Knowledge

My own particular interests are in teaching the Bible and the practice of the Daily Office.

Isaiah has harsh words in today’s Old Testament lesson for religious leaders who teach nothing more than “precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little” (Isa. 28:10).

That is to say, teaching only Bible facts without teaching saving wisdom is no help in equipping the saints. It puffs up the teacher (as Miracle Max would say, “hoo hoo hoo, look who knows so much!”), but it does not build up the learner.

How do the words of Scripture become “living and active” in our lives? How do they soak into us until they are there when we need them?

One reason I teach about the Daily Office is that it is a method for reading Scripture in the context of worship that has helped Christians throughout the centuries to “inwardly digest” the Scriptures even as they “read, mark, and learn” (BCP 236) them in Bible studies and other forums. Again, no one method is complete or self-sufficient; each has a particular purpose.

Maturity

The gifts given to the Church are “for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”

“Equipping the saints” ultimately means enabling them to stand on their own two feet — to help learners become believers, and to help believers become ministers themselves.

Another program I’m involved in is Education for Ministry, a program of theological education for lay people created by the School of Theology of the University of the South. This year there are 11 students in my group at St. Thomas Church.

Along with the study we pursue in the four-year curriculum — Old Testament, New Testament, Church history, and theology — we also engage in a process of theological reflection, learning to identify where our beliefs and positions come from and how to turn our insights into action.

As we share our “spiritual autobiographies” with one another, we start to trace how God has acted in our lives. As we study the Scriptures, we learn about how God has acted in the life of Israel and of the Church. Reading church history is a humbling exercise in seeing how we keep getting it wrong, over and over again. And our study of theology is no academic exercise, but an attempt to go from “milk” to “solid food” (1 Cor 3:2) as we serve in our various ministries.

Being “lifelong learners” is wonderful, but as St. Benedict puts it, “the Lord waits for us daily to translate into action, as we should, his holy teachings” (RB Prologue).

Collect of the Day

O God, we thank you for the glorious company of the apostles, and especially on this day for Simon and Jude; and we pray that, as they were faithful and zealous in their mission, so we may with ardent devotion make known the love and mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 245)

 

Daily build the home I seek

building-second-temple-events

Today’s reading from the Book of Ezra features the laying of the cornerstone for the Second Temple.

The people’s joy and shouting is tempered by weeping as some of the older exiles remember the beauty of the First Temple. Those days are gone now, even though there is promise for the future.

That feeling reminds me of a poem I wrote on retreat many years ago about building a spiritual home.

Matthew 7:7 (Commentary)

Asking is not enough,
            says Bede
            the venerable
We must diligently seek

 Read the blueprint
           heart’s desire
Lay the first stone

 On stone and stone
           the house
           reveals itself
Plan becomes a home

I must lay my heart
           (rejected stone)
           firmly in place
Daily build the home I seek

Mepkin Abbey + July 1998

What animated Ezra and the returning exiles was a vision of restoration — a new Temple rising in the place of the old. Similarly, our Christian hope looks toward a new Jerusalem, the City of God which needs no Temple.

Getting there — arriving at home — will involve loss and rebuilding, weeping and joy, celebration and hard work.

A Collect for Fridays

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Continual prayer and reconciliation

Seven times a day do I praise you, *
because of your righteous judgments. 
Great peace have they who love your law; *
for them there is no stumbling block. 
I have hoped for your salvation, O LORD, *
and have fulfilled your commandments. 
I have kept your decrees *
and I have loved them deeply. 
I have kept your commandments and decrees, *
for all my ways are before you.
(Psalm 119:164-168)

James of Jerusalem, the brother of Jesus, is called the Just because of his decision not to place restrictions on Gentile converts (Acts 15:19).

He was an early leader of the movement Jesus started, even though he wasn’t a believer until after his brother died. After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to Peter and the 12 apostles, then to about 500 followers, then to James, and then to all of the apostles (1 Cor. 15:7).

Imagine being a leader in a movement your brother started, a bishop in the new church, and remaining faithful to that cause for nearly 30 years after he died.

Imagine being a faithful, prayerful, traditional person — and discovering that your new understanding of God meant relaxing some of the restrictions of your faith in order to welcome more people into relationship with God.

Imagine being such an enduring witness to inclusion that your fellow parishioners throw you off the church roof for your trouble.

How does the example of James invite you to continual prayer?

With whom do you need to be reconciled?

What witness are you called to bear?

Collect of the Day

Grant, O God, that, following the example of your servant James the Just, brother of our Lord, your Church may give itself continually to prayer and to the reconciliation of all who are at variance and enmity; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP 245)

The roads to Zion mourn

Twin Towers 9-11 by William Wray -- http://williamwray.blogspot.com

Twin Towers 9-11 by William Wray — http://williamwray.blogspot.com

How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal. She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies. Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude; she lives now among the nations, and finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress. The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan; her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter. Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper, because the LORD has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe. (Lamentations 1:1-5)

+ + + + +

In his course this fall at Seabury titled “This Dangerous Book: Strategies for Teaching the Bible,” John Dally suggests that the Bible is organized around two 9-11’s.

The Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament, was compiled into its final form after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE and the exile of the Jews into Babylon.

The New Testament is the record of the Church’s attempt to understand the disaster of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Notes from the first session of John Dally's "This Dangerous Book: Strategies for Teaching the Bible" at Seabury.

Notes from the first session of John Dally’s “This Dangerous Book: Strategies for Teaching the Bible.”

The passage this morning from the Book of Lamentations captures the despair of the people of Judah over the destruction of the Temple. In the juxtaposition of this lesson and the canticle appointed for today (Canticle 13), we can see the seeds of Israel’s judgment on itself — “God is worthy of praise; this disaster must be our fault.” An empire has crushed the hope of God’s people.

The story that becomes clear throughout the Hebrew scriptures is the story of God seeking the people of Israel and their turning away from him again and again. In the New Testament, we see the same story written in small letters, but on a cosmic scale.

The New Testament story concerns Jesus of Nazareth — “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21).

Not only did God come into the world he had created, but once again we turned away from him. Even when some came to accept him and place their hope in him, they had their hopes terribly dashed when he was killed by the Romans. Yet again, an empire crushed the hopes of God’s people.

In both cases, however, as John Dally observes, the people of God had their belief shattered and kept on believing.

Paul sums up the Christian understanding beautifully: “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, so will we bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Cor. 15:49).

Though the Bible is organized around two disasters, they are not the point of the story. The point of the Biblical story is the unswerving love of God for the people he made. Just as the Jews in exile came to understand that God was with them in Torah rather than Temple, the early Church came to realize that not even death could separate them from the love of God or stop the plan of salvation that Jesus had set into motion.

Come to a sober and right mind

A friend spoke to me earlier this week about sobriety. He said, “What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.”

I now know that he was quoting from the Big Blue Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, but those words spoke volumes to me about the difference between duty and grace.

The duty of “maintaining our spiritual condition” is at the heart of programs like AA — and I’m beginning to understand how hard and serious that work is in every life.

The gift, the grace of a daily reprieve, is what sobriety represents.

I have often thought of my struggles to maintain a regular discipline of prayer — or any discipline of any kind, for that matter.  Like Paul, “I do not understand my own actions. I do not do what I want, but the very thing I hate” (1 Cor. 7:15).

My friend has me thinking differently today.

What if the daily prayer, the day without drinking, the day without shopping (or whatever else it may be), is not a burdensome duty to fail at yet again — but is actually the gift of rest for a moment?

The work is hard enough without making grace and rest a duty, too.

“Come unto me, all who travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you,” says our Lord (Matt. 11:28).

Come to a sober and right mind as you maintain your spiritual condition.

Come to a daily reprieve.