There have been a lot of powerful events that have happened the past two weeks in my life (and many more to come in the next two weeks: Ordination to the priesthood, daughters first birthday).
1- The Joint 9/11 Service - On the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks (some now refer to this day as ”Patriots Day”), myself and a couple of Evangelical pastors in Medina held a Christian prayer service. We read scripture, confessed our sins as a community, heard comforting words from pastors, and prayed for our community. I gave a challenging speech urging us to not only “reach for the flag” on the 12th of September, but to also “reach for the cross.” I wove these two images together in my story and how 9/11 was one means by which I reached for the flag and enlisted in the US Air Force. But what changed my life was reaching for the cross. My friend Tony Myles actually requested for a copy of the speech and published it in the local paper, you can read it online here.
2- Anna Rose’s Baptism into the Body of Christ – One week after 9/11, this past Sunday, Anna Rose was baptized at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Hudson, Oh.
Today is Shrove Tuesday, the day before the Ashes of Wednesday that inaugurate the 40 day season of longing, Lent. Dating back to as before 1000, Shrove Tuesday (‘Fat Tuseday’) is a time to prepare for the season of Lent. Shrove’s origin is from the English verb to shrive, which means to obtain absolution for one’s sins by the means of confession and penance. The origin of the celebratory aspect of “Shrove Tuesday” predates “Fat Tuesday”, “Carnival”, “Mardi Gras” and the Protestant Revolution. The idea was for people to release the “high spirits” before the “somber” season of Lent.
We have somehow translated “Shrovetide” or “Shrove Tuesday” into a variety of traditions that lack the bite of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What does eating pancakes have to do with preparing for lent? The rationale is that all the fatty ingredients that go into pancakes are often fasted during lent. Consider Mardi Gras or Carnival. What do the activities associated with these celebrations have to do with preparing for lent or even Christianity? Why does the church feel compelled to “celebrate sin” for a day before a season of fasting?
I want to suggest that we need to re-align our understanding of the Tuesday before Lent. We need to re-ground it in the narrative of Scripture. Specifically, we need to saturate it in the waters of our baptism into Christ. In yesterday’s post, I noted that it is immediately after Jesus’ baptism that the Holy Spirit sends him into the wilderness to fast and pray for 40 days and to be tempted by Satan. What better way to prepare for the fasting and temptation of Lent than to follow our Lord and remember our baptism into his promise.
It is often noted of the Reformer Martin Luther that when tempted by Satan he would reply, “I AM Baptized.” Notice this is not a past action according to Luther, but a present promise of the benefits of being in Christ. How much more fitting would it be for us to remember our Baptism into Christ the Tuesday before Lent than to celebrate in spite of it.
Yesterday was transfiguration Sunday which marks a peak of ascent in the Christian calendar and journey. It is from the vantage point of the mountain of transfiguration that we see behind us the season of Epiphany and before us the season of Easter. Behind us is Christ’s baptism and before us is his death and resurrection. It is from this vantage point that along with Peter and James, we see Christ transfigured before us and then from out of a cloud of unapproachable light, we hear the words, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” (Matthew 17:1-9).
These words spoken from God the Father act as a segue from Epiphany into the season of lent. From the action of Christ’s baptism (in Epiphany) to its meaning for us (Easter). The first phrase from the clouds of the Mountain of Transfiguration was first spoken at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel:
“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 3:16-17
After these words were spoken at Jesus’ baptism in Matthew 3, we find Jesus being, “led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights.” (Mat. 4:1) This brings us to the longing of lent:
To not live by bread alone, but by the words that come from the mouth of God. (Mat. 4:3-4)
To not put the LORD to the test (Mat. 4:5-7)
To dismiss Satan with our worship of “The LORD our God, serving him alone.” (Mat.4:8-10).
On the mountain of transfiguration where we stand in the Church calendar we are invited into this season of Longing, of Lent with the words, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” So we respond to the Epiphany of Jesus as God with obedience; listening and following Christ into a wilderness season of Lent that leads to the death and new life of Easter.
It’s always exciting when my physical birth date falls on the Lord’s Day (Sunday) as it did this year. In Sunday’s post I looked at the birth narratives in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew and how they revealed Jesus as God. In this morning’s post I will look at this “birth” motif from the perspective of the Gospels of John and Mark.
The Gospel of John begins immediately with the Word (logos gk.). The closest hint to the physical birth of Christ comes in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” The opening setting of John is in Bethany across the Jordan. John the Baptist is preparing the way of the Lord with his baptism of repentance. John explained his reason for baptism, “I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And Jesus came and was revealed as God in Baptism. This revelation of Jesus as God, theophany is celebrated during the season of Epiphany (I wrote a post about theophany a few weeks ago).
The narrative of Mark also starts with, “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ.” Like John it goes right into the ministry of John the Baptist as the path by which Jesus’ earthly ministry enters. John proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” And just like that, “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” Just like the baptism account in Mark, Jesus is revealed as God in his baptism.
Both John and Mark as opposed to Luke and Matthew stress the adult ministry of Jesus that begins with his baptism. They include no genealogies, birth narratives, or childhood accounts of Jesus. The emphasis of the beginning of Mark and John appear to be on John the Baptist’s ministry, Jesus’ baptism, and subsequent ministry. John Stott says, “Baptism with water is the sign and seal of baptism with the Spirit, as much as it is of the forgiveness of sins. Water-baptism is the initiatory Christian rite, because Spirit-baptism is the initiatory Christian experience.” If the labor of our physical birth is the human rite by which we all must become part of a human community, then water baptism is the Christian rite by which Christians are imparted with the Holy Spirit that cries out in our hearts as adopted Children to God, ”ABBA FATHER.”