Monthly Archives: May 2014

My beloved: Where does the story begin?

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)

My beloved, with whom I am well pleased

The day before Matt Gunter’s ordination as the Bishop of Fond du Lac, he and the clergy of the diocese met with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

She began our time together by inviting us to reflect on this passage and on our own identity as God’s beloved.

I’ve written before about my own experience serving at the altar with my father, who called me his beloved and told me he was well pleased with me.

My own father said it plainly to me: I am his beloved. Still, I wonder why it seems so hard to believe I am God’s beloved.

Where do we begin the story?

As clergy, we had just gone through Holy Week and celebrated Easter with our parishes. We had just recounted Jesus’ crucifixion and were still pondering his resurrection.

Bishop Katharine asked the question of us: Where do we begin the story?

Do we begin with our sinfulness, for which Jesus paid the price? Do we begin with our identity as God’s beloved, for whom God would do anything, even die on a cross?

Sin is a crucial — crux is the Latin word for cross — part of the story. But is it the beginning of the story?

We reflected on the question, each of us answering it in our own heart.

But I still wonder, why is it easier to think the story starts with our sin than to think it starts with our being beloved?

You, my child

On Wednesday mornings we sing Canticle 16, the song of another father to his beloved child, John.

You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, *
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
To give his people knowledge of salvation *
by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God *
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the
shadow of death, *
and to guide our feet into the way of peace. (BCP 93)

May you know God’s tender compassion today and always, know yourself to be God’s beloved.

That’s where the story begins, and that’s where God wants it to end.

Advertisements

Undefended, humble, and alive to God

Christ our Passover

Alleluia. Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us; *
therefore let us keep the feast,
Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, *
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia.

Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; *
death no longer has dominion over him.
The death that he died, he died to sin, once for all; *
but the life he lives, he lives to God.
So also consider yourselves dead to sin, *
and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia.

Christ has been raised from the dead, *
the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
For since by a man came death, *
by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die, *
so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia. (BCP 83)

Victory through sacrifice

In early Christian art, Christ is often depicted as a Passover lamb, sometimes flanked by twelve other lambs representing the apostles.

By the Middle Ages, it was more common to show the lamb holding a banner or pennant symbolizing the resurrection. This is the image commonly known as the “Agnus Dei,” Latin for Lamb of God.

The Agnus Dei is a symbol of victory through sacrifice.

“Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us” we say when we break the bread at the Eucharist. “Christ being raised from the dead will never die again” we sing at Morning Prayer throughout Easter.

Surely trusting in God’s defense

In the Collect for Peace, which we pray on Tuesday mornings, we ask God to “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” (BCP 99).

We do not ask to be delivered from assaults; we ask to be defended in assaults.

And we pray that we may not fear any other power, because of the might — the sacrificial, self-offering mighty power — of Jesus Christ, the Lamb that was slain.

As we “consider ourselves dead to sin, and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord” we can embrace the same self-giving love that Jesus demonstrated.

Undefended, humble, and alive to God, we need not fear any adversaries. Alleluia!

Harden not your hearts

Let us then rise at length, since the Scripture arouseth us, saying: “It is now the hour for us to rise from sleep” (Rom. 13:11); and having opened our eyes to the deifying light, let us hear with awestruck ears what the divine voice, crying out daily, doth admonish us, saying: “Today, if you shall hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Ps. 95:8).    -Rule of Benedict, Prologue

St. Benedict begins his Rule by inviting his monks to listen for the voice of God and not to harden their hearts to what God is doing in their lives.

His wise advice has endured for the last 1500 years.

Our own Anglican/Episcopal spirituality has roots in the orderliness and balance of Benedict’s Rule, in the notion of a way of life that prescribes “nothing harsh, nothing burdensome” but which is also pursued as “a school of the Lord’s service.”

The pattern of our Daily Office definitely bears traces of Benedict’s hand, especially visible in our saying the Venite (Ps. 95:1-7) as an Invitatory Psalm nearly every day.

That’s just as Benedict prescribed in the way he laid out the 150 Psalms to be recited by his monks during the Daily Office every week.

Our Old Testament reading today tells the backstory to Psalm 95. The Israelites are groaning that Moses has brought them into the desert to die. “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” (Exod. 17:3).

After God has him strike the rock and causes water to flow, Moses calls the place Massah and Meribah (Test and Quarrel) because of the Israelites’ complaining.

The full text of Psalm 95, including the last few verses, is appointed to be read on Friday mornings during Lent as a special reminder of our tendency to grumble that the Lord is not giving us what we want — a complaint that flies in the face of the water flowing from the rock right in front of us.

“Today, if you shall hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

A goodly heritage

What if the “goodly heritage” (Psalm 16:6) that we have from Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria (d. 373), whose feast we celebrate today, is not a rule requiring intellectual assent but an approach inviting mystical contemplation?

For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be both God and Lord,
So are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion, to say, There be three Gods, or three Lords.
The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten.
The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten.
The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son, neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.
And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other; none is greater, or less than another;
But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal.
So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.
He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity. (BCP 864)

The Athanasian Creed, composed in the midst of swirling controversies about the nature of God, the person of Jesus, and the authority of the Church, certainly reads like a legal document, setting out terms and conditions for salvation.

“He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.”

But what if the focus here is more on the word “think” than on the word “thus”?

What if we let Athanasius’ bewildering, “incomprehensible” creed instead serve as an invitation to meditate on the God revealed in Scripture, on the life and ministry of Jesus, on the enduring power of the Spirit in our lives?

There is rich fruit for reflection here, solid food for the Christian life, a “goodly heritage” on which to build our own life of faith and seeking after God.

The St. Augustine Chapel at the Cathedral of St. Paul in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin

The St. Augustine Chapel at the Cathedral of St. Paul in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin

Not long after Athanasius’ time, another great thinker in the early Church, Augustine of Hippo (d. 430), wrote about “faith seeking understanding.”

Our goodly heritage is filled with examples of people not only placing their faith in God and their trust in Jesus’ saving power, but also using their minds to explore what relationship with God might mean for us and the world around us.