Tag Archives: Colossians

The password that opens the heavens

Yesterday, several members of our deanery went to the Chazen Museum of Art on the campus of the University of Wisconsin to see an exhibit of The Saint John’s Bible.

The Saint John’s Bible is the first handwritten and hand-illuminated Bible commissioned by a Benedictine abbey since the invention of the printing press. It represents 15 years of work by a team of calligraphers and artists under Donald Jackson in Wales and a Committee on Illumination and Text at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota.

The exhibit at the Chazen Museum includes actual pages from The Saint John’s Bible and a display of the calligraphers’ tools, including hand-cut quills and tools for applying gold leaf. There is a video documentary about the process of creating the Bible, and an example of a full-size “Heritage Edition” bound in oak boards and rich leather.

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One of the most arresting pages in The Saint John’s Bible is the frontispiece to the Gospel of John. I own the reproduction volume of the Gospels and Acts, so the featured image for this post is a closeup of that page.

Donald Jackson uses gold leaf to signify God, and the figure of the Word made flesh shines brightly from the cosmic background (based on images from the Hubble telescope) behind him. The art underscores the way John connects the coming of Christ to the account of creation in Genesis.

Verses from Paul’s hymn in the letter to the Colossians appear to the left of the figure:

He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn of all creation;
for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created,
things visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers —
all things have been created through him and for him (Col. 1:15-16)

The keyhole along the left edge of the image reminds me of the sermon I heard in Munich on December 26, St. Stephen’s Day. We attended the Eucharist with my wife’s Tante Barbara at her neighborhood church, Maria Trost.

Sermon at Maria Trost Kirche, Munich

Sermon at Maria Trost Kirche, Munich

The priest spoke of this opening passage of John’s gospel, describing Jesus as not just the “word” of God, but as the “password” whose coming opens the heavens to human beings.

Stephen, he went on to say, was one of the first who knew the password, who exclaimed as he was being stoned, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:56).

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In the introduction to his companion book Word and Image: The Hermeneutics of The Saint John’s Bible, Michael Patella OSB, chair of the Committee on Illumination and Text, writes:

Readers should not be surprised if they find that their engagement with The Saint John’s Bible opens their imaginations, hearts, souls, and intellects to new ways of conceiving God. In addition, they may also find themselves entering a deeper relationship with God (xiv).

The Saint John’s Bible is a beautiful, sacramental expression — in ink and gold leaf, vellum and leather, word and image — of the “immeasurable riches of [God’s] grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus,” as today’s Epistle reading suggests.

May meditating on its words and images, and on the Word made flesh whom it reveals, open the heavens to you, too.

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Following the way of the cross

From the Society of St. John the Evangelist -- www.ssje.org

From the Society of St. John the Evangelist — http://www.ssje.org

A Facebook friend whose opinion I respect, William Henry Benefield BSG, posted yesterday about reading the Passion Gospel during Holy Week:

“Perhaps one day, parishes throughout the world on Palm Sunday and Good Friday will have all of us present — the baptized Eucharistic assembly — saying or chanting the part of Christ during the Passion and not playing the ‘crowd’ as our liturgical tradition so often dictates. Our theology teaches us we are the Body of Christ … so it looks and sounds rather strange, not to mention theologically questionable, for us to be shouting ‘Crucify, Crucify’ and ‘Give us Jesus Barabbas.’ Maybe one day we the Church will finally realize who we actually are, break with the previous liturgical tradition when chanting the Passion on these two sacred days, and claim our true identity in the world.”

I’ll admit I had never heard of that being done before, as William said he had experienced at an Episcopal church in New York City.

His thoughtful post got me thinking, and I enjoyed figuring out why I disagree with him.

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It seems to me that while we are the Body of Christ, we are not Jesus. The tension in our lives of faith is between living “in Christ” or “following the crowd.”

I think playing the part of the crowd in the Passion is entirely appropriate as a way of realizing that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 4:8). It also helps us accomplish the movement Paul describes to the Colossians: “You have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator” (Col. 3:9b-10).

Our creator, “being found in human form … humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8).

In our old self, I think we are the crowd, preferring spectacle, resistant to change, and easily led. By the grace of God and through the self-offering of Jesus, we are given a new way.

Being the Body of Christ means stripping off the old self and following the way of the cross instead of following the crowd.

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While I completely agree with the ancient homily for Holy Saturday that William shared — “together [with Christ] we are now one undivided person” — I’m also conscious at this time in my life that I am not always the “one person” I want to be. Like Paul, I “find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand” (Romans 7:21).

Like AA members do when they share their stories of encouragement, hope, and strength, perhaps we in the Church use the Passion Gospel during Holy Week to remind ourselves “what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now.”

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The collect for today, Monday in Holy Week, is very familiar to us as the Collect for Fridays at Morning Prayer.

I hope it will remind you as you journey with Jesus during this Holy Week what you used to be like, what happened as a result of his obedience and death, and what you are like now.

May this Holy Week open the way to life and peace for you.

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. (BCP 99).

You serve the Lord Christ

Communion-of-Saints-Elise-Ritter

Communion of Saints by Elise Ritter

Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ (Colossians 3:23-24).

In a blog post from about a year ago, Rachel Held Evans, author of A Year of Biblical Womanhood, began a conversation on the Greco-Roman “household codes” reflected (and redirected) in several New Testament letters as well as in the passage from Colossians we read this morning.

One of the very interesting tensions in the Christian life is trying to decide what kind of a household we actually belong to. We are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9), and we are “no longer Jew or Greek … slave or free … male and female” (Galatians 3:28), and we are married (or not), and we are a church family, and we are a historical preservation society, and we are a company of friends, and we are a food pantry, and we are a monastic community, and we are a 501 (c) (3) corporation, and we are summer camp.

Whatever we are, though, there’s a fairly constant thread in the Christian tradition. Our apparently ordinary lives are shot through with new meaning.

My parents had a plaque in our home that read like this:

Christ is the head of this house;
the unseen guest at every meal;
the silent listener to every conversation.

We may seem like an ordinary family, or we may seem like a bunch of crackpots, or somewhere in between, but we are really living as members of Christ’s household.

It starts at baptism: “We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood” (BCP 308).

In the letter to the Colossians, Paul is urging his readers to live in the light of that belonging. Whatever your task — the same work you had yesterday, and perhaps the same work you will have tomorrow — put yourself into it as done for the Lord and not for your masters, wives, brothers, volunteers, board, counselors, managers, sisters, bosses.

You serve the Lord Christ.