Tag Archives: Holy Week

Rehearsing the whole of the faith

Jesus said to his disciples, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you– that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:48).

Picture the scene in Jerusalem in the late fourth century:

“Immediately a throne is placed for the bishop in the major church, the Matryrium …. The bishop [teaches them the law] in this way: beginning with Genesis and going through the whole of Scripture during these forty days, expounding first its literal meaning and then explaining the spiritual meaning. In the course of these days everything is taught not only about the Resurrection but concerning the body of the faith. This is called catechetics” (134*).

These are the words of Egeria, a Spanish woman who spent a year in Jerusalem on pilgrimage and wrote letters home about everything she saw and how the Church in Jerusalem worshiped.

It’s entirely possible that the bishop she saw on the throne teaching the catechumens (those who were preparing for baptism at the Great Vigil of Easter) was Cyril himself.

Cyril taught his fellow-Christians about living in the way of the cross, about repentance and forgiveness, dying and rising, and he helped develop the doctrines that became the Nicene Creed.

Cyril wrote about the way of the cross in his Catechetical Instructions, saying that “Jesus never sinned; yet he was crucified for you. Will you refuse to be crucified for him, who for your sake was nailed to the cross? You are not the one who gives the favor; you have received one first. For your sake he was crucified on Golgotha. Now you are returning his favor; you are fulfilling your debt to him” (136).

Christians then and now walk in the way of the cross during Holy Week, putting ourselves imaginatively in the places where Jesus himself was arrested, carried his cross, stumbled and fell, and was crucified. We will observe Stations of the Cross in Solidarity with the Persecuted Church at St. Thomas on Palm Sunday and three times on Good Friday.

The pattern of dying and rising that we rehearse through Holy Week and Easter is the pattern of the Gospel and of life in Christ.

We learn through experience that repentance and forgiveness are the way forward in relationships, that falling and rising again move us toward deeper union with God and each other, that our failing and falling lead us into greater dependence on God “who so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son to the end that none should perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Sometimes it’s the Church that teaches us this pattern, but often it’s a mentor or support group or teacher or 12-Step program.

Jesus himself not only teaches but embodies this pattern. “Then he opened [the disciples’] minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things’” (Luke 24:45-48).

Cyril and the believers in Jerusalem kept Holy Week by walking the Way of the Cross from place to place in Jerusalem, from the Martyrium to Golgotha, from the Mount of Olives to the Holy Sepulchre, and Cyril spent his time and energy with catechumens, “opening their minds to understand the scriptures.”

He taught them that “in learning and professing the faith, you must accept and retain only the Church’s present tradition, confirmed as it is by the Scriptures. Although not everyone is able to read the Scriptures … we have gathered together the whole of the faith in a few concise articles … this summary of the faith was not composed at any human whim; the most important sections were chosen from the whole Scripture to consitute and complete a comprehensive statement of the faith” (447).

So as we prepare ourselves to walk the Way of the Cross during Holy Week …

As we reflect on the falling and failing in our lives and see God at work to redeem and raise us …

As we open each other’s minds to understand the Scriptures …

Let’s follow Cyril’s example “in learning and professing the faith,” and let’s also join Cyril and Egeria and our fellow pilgrims in rehearsing “the whole of the faith in a few concise articles.”

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The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen. (BCP 358)

* Page numbers for the passages from Cyril and Egeria refer to J. Robert Wright’s Readings for the Daily Office From the Early Church (Church Publishing, 1991, 2013).

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Not “Black” but “Good”

I have said to the LORD, “You are my God; *
listen, O LORD, to my supplication.
O Lord GOD, the strength of my salvation, *
you have covered my head in the day of battle. (Psalm 140:6-7)

Days of Special Devotion

“Good Friday, and all Fridays of the year, in commemoration of the Lord’s crucifixion, except for Fridays in the Christmas and Easter seasons …” are days of special devotion for Christians, according to the Book of Common Prayer (BCP 17).

Fridays, which Christians have observed as fast days since about 60 AD, are to be observed with “special acts of discipline and self-denial.”

For generations of Roman Catholics this has meant not eating meat on Fridays, for example. Here in Wisconsin, we all enjoy “Fish Fry Fridays” because so many of our neighbors do not eat meat when they go out for dinner.

Fridays for Christians are about doing without, sacrificing even a little something in imitation of our Lord, who sacrificed everything for our sake.

Blessed is the King

Today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke recounts Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as he heads toward his final confrontation with the religious authorities.

We commemorate the last week of Jesus’ life each year during Holy Week, and we often reenact this scene as we process into church on Palm Sunday, carrying palm, branches and singing “All glory, laud, and honor / to thee, redeemer King.”

Three of the Gospels — Matthew, Mark, and Luke — tell the story of Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers in the courts of the Temple, a deliberately provocative act as the feast of Passover approaches that effectively sets him on “the way of the cross.”

Throughout the rest of Holy Week the tension mounts as Jesus says farewell to his disciples, prays that he be spared from the trial, determines to do God’s will, and faces arrest, beatings, and denunciations from soldiers and from the crowd that was with him just days before.

“My kingdom is not from this world,” he replies in response to Pilate’s questioning. The Roman governor can do nothing but send him off to be crucified.

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

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

Not “Black” but “Good”

The prayers in the Daily Office remind us that every Friday is for us a commemoration of that “Good” Friday, just as every Saturday we rest and remember God’s goodness in creation, and every Sunday we rejoice in the power of the resurrection.

Though that Friday was a dark and terrible day, we call it “Good” because in it we see the first act in a three-day drama of salvation.

Every Friday — this Friday after Thanksgiving Day just like all the rest — the Church invites us to live a cross-shaped life, imitating our Lord, “who stretched out [his] arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that the whole world might come within the reach of [his] saving embrace” (BCP 101).

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 your Son our Lord. Amen.

The sufferings of the present time

And I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.

I would flee to a far-off place
and make my lodging in the wilderness.

I would hasten to escape
from the stormy wind and tempest.
(Psalm 55:7-9)

The Hermit’s Song

I wish, O Son of the living God, O ancient, eternal king
For a hidden little hut in the wilderness that it may be my dwelling.

An all-grey little lake to be by its side.
A clear pool to wash away sins by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Quite near, a beautiful wood around it on every side,
To nurse many-voiced birds, hiding it with its shelter.

From A Celtic Primer, Brendan O’Malley

How often this kind of lovely picture comes to my mind — especially on days like today when I am conscious of my difficulties and frustrations.

“If only I could just escape, if only I could just get away, if only I didn’t have to face it, if only ….”

That sort of fantasizing, however, really leads nowhere. Even if I could flee to a hermit’s “little hidden hut,” it would still be me sitting inside it, stewing and agitated.

While going to a quiet place, physically apart from other people, is sometimes important, the more important separation here is called detachment.

I must learn to separate myself from the anxiety and circular worries, center myself in God’s presence, and renew my trust in his goodness.

That’s a habit of mind more than a physical location. That’s probably what Jesus meant when he talked about “going into your interior room to pray.”

When we cannot “fly away” physically, we must find a place of quiet inside and there “be at rest.”

Even Jesus himself struggled for that inner peace as Thursday night turned into Friday morning and he prayed that the trouble building around him could pass from him.

His sense of the Father’s presence gave him the confidence to face into the storm.

I wish, O Son of the living God, for a measure of that same confidence.

Collect for Wednesday in Holy Week

Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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).

Confident of the glory

The psalmist captures perfectly how we feel when we discover we are not in agreement on a particular issue, or that we are even working at cross purposes. We feel betrayed and deceived.

For had it been an adversary who taunted me,
then I could have borne it;
or had it been an enemy who vaunted himself against me,
then I could have hidden from him.

But it was you, a man after my own heart,
my companion, my own familiar friend.

We took sweet counsel together,
and walked with the throng in the house of God.
(Psalm 55:13-15)

How can someone I thought I knew think so differently from me? If we don’t share these attitudes or opinions, what do we actually have in common?

Holy Week teaches us exactly what we have in common — the passion, death, and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ which opens to us the way of everlasting life.

Like us, Jesus had men and women after his own heart, companions, familiar friends. One betrayed him, one denied him, most of them abandoned him, and they all hid in fear when they heard he had died.

Like the disciples, forgiven for their failings by the Risen Lord, we now share in Christ’s reconciling mission and are clothed by the Holy Spirit to reach forth our hands in love and to bring those who do not know Christ into the knowledge and love of Christ (see BCP 101).

Like the disciples and Christians ever since, we “take sweet counsel together” but disagree on what we’re supposed to do next. Share the good news with Jews only, or with Gentiles, too? Require circumcision or not? Men only as teachers and leaders, or women, too? Keep the kosher food laws or not? Couch the gospel in Jewish terms or translate it into Greek philosophical terms? Become the state religion or keep being persecuted? For 2,000 years we have taken sweet counsel together and disagreed on what to do next.

Paul writes to the Philippians to encourage them not to “worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (4:6).

When we take sweet counsel with God and with one another, we are reminded what we share in common. We are reminded that our disagreements and our partial understanding and our personal agendas pale in the face of the glory that is revealed through Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection.

We do not have to worry — Christ is our confidence. It’s not a zero-sum game; we can embrace “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, and if there is anything worthy of praise” (Phil. 4:8).

When we take sweet counsel together, we may come to understand a surprising truth. Through Christ, God is continually working a new thing. Not with the power of the state, but through weakness. Not with military might or the rule of law, but by the will of the Father. Not angry over our betrayal, but forgiving even his torturers. Not condemning the weak, but giving us the Holy Spirit and sending us out in his Name.

Collect for Wednesday in Holy Week

Lord God, whose blessed Son gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 220)