Tag Archives: Easter

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.

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!

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.

To be further clothed

All is in order for the ordination and consecration of Matthew Gunter as the Eighth Bishop of Fond du Lac.

At the rehearsal yesterday afternoon, we practiced helping Matt put on his new vestments. Some are familiar to him already — stole and chasuble — but some will feel awkward and uncomfortable at first.

Which way round does the miter go?

We wish not to be unclothed, but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up in life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (1 Cor. 5:4b-5)

Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of your faithful people is governed and sanctified: Receive our supplications and prayers which we offer before you for all members of your holy Church, that in their vocation and ministry they may truly and devoutly serve you; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. (BCP 100)

We will all be changed

Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (1 Cor. 15:51-54)

Lay claim to Jesus

Br. James Koester offers this reflection today for Brother, Give Us a Word:

It is our time to lay claim, not just to the message of the Cross but of the Empty Tomb as well. Now is the time for us to lay claim to hope and health and life. Now is our time to lay claim to Jesus.

We will all be changed

“Hope and health and life” all describe change.

We hope for something better, something as yet unseen but witnessed by others. Like the apostles, we worry that it might be “an idle tale,” too good to be true, but over time the undeniable change in others builds hope in us.

Health is more than the absence of illness; it’s the embrace of wholeness. Where in Lent we often practice giving up things that are bad for us, perhaps in Easter we can embrace the One who is good for us — Jesus, the Son who “has life in himself” (John 5:26).

Living in Jesus is like being invited to step through a doorway with him. It’s as if we have been in the tomb, too, and we see the light shining brighter as we duck through the opening, as we are reborn, into larger life.

 

Bearing witness to victory

The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Cor. 15:26-28)

Flying our flag

At the parish I serve, St. Thomas Church in Menasha, WI, our rector’s sermon on Easter Day urged us, in the face of other people’s grief and loss, not to tell them what they should believe about the resurrection, but instead simply to “fly your own flag” of witness.

This is wisdom for so many situations.

People struggling with substance abuse, dealing with issues of mental illness, in despair at the loss of a job, or grieving at the death of a loved one, may not be able to look to God directly and may resent being told what to believe.

But perhaps seeing our flag, hearing our simple witness, will “give them courage and hope in their troubles” (BCP 389).

Like Mary Magdalene, whose banner might simply read “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18), we bring hope into other people’s lives by bearing witness to the possibility of victory.

Victory

Br. David Vryhof, whose meditation is shared today at Brother, Give Us a Word, reflects on the healing power of looking to God:

Jesus embodies that death-defeating, life-giving power, and even an evil force bent on destruction and death cannot overcome his strength to save and heal. Do not give in to despair. Look to God and believe.

In the picture Resurrection by Pierro della Francesca, the central image my rector used in his sermon, we see Christ rising from the tomb and planting his flag of victory over death and the grave.

Perhaps our own flags of witness — “I have seen the Lord” — are what the people around us need to see in order for them to believe that victory can be theirs, too.

Making all things new

Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you — unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Cor. 15:1-8)

Of first importance

“Christ died for our sins … he was buried … he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.”

Paul makes this simple statement here just a few years after the founding of the church in Corinth in 50 or 51 AD, and Christians repeat it to this day in the words of the Nicene Creed (BCP 358).

Paul goes on to say Christ appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve, then to more than 500, then to James, then to all the apostles, then to Paul himself.

These things happened.

They connect with the record of God’s saving acts recorded in scripture.

Real people, known to the first witnesses of the resurrection, also experienced Christ’s appearing.

Not just all people, but all things

In his Easter week meditation for Brother, Give Us a Word, Br. Mark Brown of the Society of St. John the Evangelist reflects that:

Something that pertains to the whole cosmos is happening in the death and resurrection of Christ. From the depths of the inner worlds to the furthest reaches of outer space. “Behold, I am making all things new” — not just all people, but all things.

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Life is being renewed in Christ, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still have to work at driving away “wrong desires” or “keeping God’s law” or  following “the way of peace.”

We also still have to use the plunger on clogged toilets, as Lovely Wife and I discovered this morning.

Even the “things” sometimes resist this new creation in Christ, but as witnesses ourselves to the resurrection, we can see now that they are shot through with new promise — that even our struggles fit somehow into a larger pattern of new life at work in the world around us.