Χριστος ανεστι εκ νεκρων, θανατω θανατον πατησας, και τοις εν τοις μνηηασι ζωην χαρισαμενος.
Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and giving life to those in the tombs.
If there are devout and God-loving people here,
let them enjoy this beautiful, radiant festival.
If there are prudent servants,
enter joyously into the Lord’s joy.
Whoever may be spent from fasting,
enjoy now your reward.
Whoever has toiled from the first hour,
receive today your just settlement.
If any came after the third hour,
If any of you arrived after the sixth,
have no misgivings, you have lost nothing.
If some have been as late as the ninth,
come forward, do not be at a loss.
If any of you have arrived only at the eleventh hour,
do not be dismayed for being late.
The Master is gracious;
He accepts the last even as the first;
He gives rest to those of the eleventh as well as to
those who have labored from the first;
He is lenient with the last while looking after the first;
to the one He gives, to the other He gives freely;
He accepts the labors and welcomes the effort;
honors the deed, but commends the intent.
So, all of you, enter into the joy of our Lord:
first and second, share the bounty.
Rich and poor alike, celebrate together.
Sober or heedless, honor the day.
Those who fasted, and those who did not, rejoice today.
The table is full, let everyone fare sumptuously.
The calf is fatted, let no one go away hungry.
Everyone, savor the banquet of faith;
relish the riches of His goodness.
No one need lament poverty,
for the kingdom is seen as universal.
No one need grieve over sins;
forgiveness has dawned from the tomb.
No one need fear death;
the Savior’s death has freed us from it.
While He was its captive He stifled it.
He despoiled Hell as He descended into it;
it was angered when it tasted His flesh.
Foreseeing this, Isaiah proclaimed: “Hell,” he
said, “was angered when he met You below.”
It was angered because it was abolished
It was angered because it was mocked
It was angered because it was slain.
It was angered because it was shackled.
It received a body and encountered God.
It took earth and came face-to-face with heaven.
It took what it saw and fell by what it could not see.
Death, where is your sting?
Hell, where is your victory?
Christ is risen and you are overthrown.
Christ is risen and demons have fallen.
Christ is risen and angels rejoice.
Christ is risen and life rules.
Christ is risen and not one dead remains in the tomb.
For Christ, having risen from the dead,
has become the firstfruits of those that slept.
To Him be the glory and the dominion, forever. Amen.
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.
My friend Joshua (www.trinitarianmission.com) first showed me this image on my front porch from his iPad. Joshua revealed to me the multiple layers of meaning in this mosaic.
Layer 1 – Acceptable Old Testament Sacrifices (from left to right): Abel offering his perfect lamb sacrifice to Yahweh (Lord God represented by the hand)(see Genesis 4:1-5), next the High Priest Melchizedek offering his acceptable sacrifice of Bread and Wine to the Most High God (Genesis 14:17-20), next Abraham offering his son Isaac as an acceptable sacrifice to God (Genesis 21:1-19). All of these three scenes are positioned towards what is occurring in the designated space below the altar, the sacrifice of Christ on the cross… where we now have a place at the table.
Layer 2: The Self-Sacrificial Offering of Christ (from left to right): Christ offering himself as the Lamb of God to God the Father, next Christ the High Priest offering himself to the Church as bread and wine at the altar, next God the Father offering his Son.
Layer 3: The Worship Space: Hearing my friend explain these different layers of meaning to me was really cool and then I looked up where this mosaic is from. It is on a side wall of the 6th-century basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, Italy. The mosaic is from the 7th century and is positioned above where the Eucharist is celebrated.
So imagine coming up to take Holy Communion and there before you is this huge mosaic depicting these multiple meanings of sacrifice. The mosaic transports the OT narrative and the passion of Christ to our present consciousness … defining the reality of the sacred space before us at the table of the Eucharist. The square space below the altar (in the mosaic) is our place at the table, where Christ has made room for us.
The season of Epiphany, when the Church explicitly remembers how Jesus is revealed as God in the Gospels is now coming to a end. In this season we have followed the Magi, remembered Christ’s baptism, and witnessed the Kingdom of God. Yet before we look too far down the path of Epiphany, to the palms of Sunday and the ashes of Wednesday, let us consider Jesus’ revelation as God in Worship.
The synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) all mention the account of Jesus teaching at the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. In the Luke account we find that during this Sabbath worship service it was Jesus’ turn to read the scroll, which happened to have been from the Prophet Isaiah. SO as was the custom, Jesus takes the scroll of Isaiah, stands up and gives the reading:
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
This verse is drawn from Isaiah 61:1-2 and 58:6. What was Jesus’ interpretation of these verses from the Prophet for those in attendance? ”Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Lk4:21). There was amazement at the grace of his words and then the questions and challenges came, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” Jesus then begins to unpack his amplified interpretation of these verses from Isaiah in Luke 4:24-30 as the hearers with rage try to lay hands on him. To think that God would extend his grace and blessing outside of “clean & chosen” Israel to lepers, widows, the poor, and Gentiles!
The people of Nazareth missed Jesus as God in the reading and failed to glorify God, acknowledging him for who he is. Today I sometimes wonder if the church fails in this respect to acknowledge God for who he is in worship. Three benchmarks for worship as a response to God’s glory (that I have adapted from Simon Chan’s Liturgical Theology) are:
- Worship is not something we do for God - “Praise” does not bring down the glory of God. “Waiting” does not bring down the glory of God. “Playing Louder Music” does not bring down the glory of God. The glory of God is a self-giving gift and thus, everything we are and have to offer is a gift from God.
- Worship is its own end. In the pragmatic context in which we find ourselves in history, everything including worship has to have and end or purpose (mostly for us). What do you mean Jesus this reading is fulfilled in our hearing? Aren’t you Joseph’s boy? What’s in it for us? As William Willimon writes, “Worship loses is integrity when it is regarded instrumentally as a means of something else-even as a means of achieving the most noble of human purposes”
- Worship is a response to God’s total character. True worship must reflect the reality of who the triune God is. I agree with John Wesley’s observation of the verse that Jesus reads above, “The Spirit of Lord is upon me” as a reference to the Holy Trinity. Do we worship a triune God today in American Christianity?
Today is the Lord’s Day. Today is Epiphany. Today is also … my 28th birthday!
Whether we know our exact date of birth or not, all people have a day in which they were revealed to the world through their birth. My day came 28 years ago on a cold morning in northern Ohio. During the season of Epiphany we reflect on how Jesus Christ is revealed in the Gospels as LORD. What do the Gospels have to tell us about the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth as his revelation to the world? What does Jesus’ birth narrative(s) tell us about our own birth?
The Gospels of Luke and Matthew tell us about the revelation of Jesus the Messiah from the onset of their narratives. After a genealogy of Jesus’ ancestry, Matthew 1:18 explicitly states, , “Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.” In Matthew chapter 1 we are told how the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth and in Matthew chapter 2 of the wise men traveling from the east as a result of a rising star of the newly born King of the Jews. Their response to King Herod for their coming, that “they may worship him.”
In the Gospel of Luke we have a more detailed account of Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, and the accounts of the angels with the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna the prophet. These two Gospel accounts testify that the birth of Jesus was somehow different than my birth 28 years ago. And still, the birth is scandalously common: Jesus was born as an infant, from a woman, in a zip code, to parents. Unlike my birthday visitors of grandparents, relatives, and family friends, Jesus had angels, shepherds, wise men (kings?), and prophets testifying that the Messiah,called Emmanuel, “God With US” has been born. They testified with Simeon in Luke 2 that they, ”Have seen [God's] salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
But there is another birth that the Gospels attest to and which I am born (along with the great cloud of witnesses). This birth is revealed to the world through the sacrament of baptism which Christ initiated. In tomorrow’s post I will look at this birth from the Gospels of John and Mark.
In yesterday’s post, I began to describe what it was like to have a cross four feet in front of me during the first Spring chapel service at Asbury Theological Seminary. Later in the service JD Walt led us in a litany that blended the response of the three wise men to King Herod concerning the Messiah, “We have come to worship him” with the “mind of Christ” passage of Philippians 2:5-11 It is one thing to speak a litany in the absence of the cross and another thing to speak it at the foot of one.
Living in the reality of the cross should cause us to ponder what or who we are living for. The poignant quote from Leonard Ravenhill comes to mind, “Is what you are living for worth Christ dying for?” Do we live in a separate reality that is absent of the cross? Why do we think it is easier for us to live under a less offensive symbol? Perhaps, one with pretty colors and shapes that looks more like a corporate icon than a religious symbol? Without a physical cross present in worship, do we not nourish the memory that Christ despised shame on the cross (Hebrews 12:2), bore our sins in his body on the cross (I Pet 2:24), canceled our debt on the cross (Col 2:14), and by his wounds afflicted on the cross we are healed. Are we reminded to carry our own cross and follow Christ (Luke 14:27) or are we allowed to become ashamed of the cross and live as its enemy? Therefore,
“Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” - Hebrews 12:1-3
Yesterday kicked off the Spring chapel season at Asbury Theological Seminary. I was sitting in the first row of Estes Chapel with some of the other members of the Worship Design Team when the processional entered in with the first song. First came the light and then came the Cross. Unlike my perspective in other services, during this service the cross was placed directly in front of me, about 4 feet away.
The cross became a glorious distraction the entire service. I could not do anything (singing, praying, reading, listening, etc.) without being at the foot of the Cross and under its shadow. When the second song’s chorus began the reality of the cross was ever before me:
“Christ is risen from the dead,
trampling over death by death,
come awake, come awake
Come and rise up from the grave
Christ is risen from the dead,
We are one with him again
Come awake, come awake
Come and rise up from the grave.”
- Christ is Risen
What does it mean to come awake and rise up from the grave? Or what does it mean to live my life in the shadow of the cross?
By: Robert E. Webber
Article written by: rm Kocak
“Why would I, the son of a Baptist minister, become an Episcopalian? Why would I , a graduate of Bob Jones University, walk the Canterbury Trail? Why would I, an ordained minister of the Reformed Presbyterian denomination, forsake my orders? Why would I, a professor at a main-line evangelical college, risk misunderstanding and put my career in a possible jeopardy to follow my heart?”
- Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail - page 11.
In Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail, Robert Webber (and friends) seek to answer the question of “Why.” He tells his personal testimony of the journey into liturgical worship in a way that doesn’t suggest a superiority of the Anglican tradition over any others. The entire book is highly personal in its tone and invites the reader to join with the author on his liturgical journey.
The Book is broken up into three distinct parts:
- Why the Anglican Tradition?
- Six Pilgrims Share Their Stories
- The Church of the Future.
During the first part of the book, Webber takes you on his own sacramental journey and what attracted him to liturgical worship. To that end Webber gives six themes or motifs in his journey: a return to mystery, a longing for the experience of Worship, a desire of sacramental reality, the search for spiritual identity, embracing the whole church, and growing into a holistic spirituality. In the second portion Webber invites six other evangelicals who have made similar pilgrimages to share their story. Finally, Webber concludes in a brief chapter in Part 3 with the renewal movement within liturgical worship. Webber stresses that evangelicals can bring a lot of beneficial elements into the liturgical tradition and not forsake an “evangelical identity” for a “liturgical identity.”
The BIG Idea
“It amazes me that I went through seminary without a course in worship, without any professor asking me to address the question: What is worship all about … My longing for more satisfying worship grew as each route I took in worship led me to a dead-end street.”
- pg. 36.
The desire for an experiential, mysterious, and sacramental reality in worship drips from the beginning chapters, as Webber reflects on mystery, experience, and sacramental reality in liturgical worship. This journey is rooted for Weber in a visit to a Roman Catholic worship service before Easter, the worship of the early church fathers, and hosting “Agape meals” with students and friends.
Discovering A Spiritual Identity
“I was introduced to the “Trail of Blood” theory. True Christians, it was argued, always stood outside the established church.”
Webber comments on how he felt divorced from the greater Christian body of believers. Webber was indoctrinated to believe that a true Christian was to stand outside the organized religions of Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox, and mainline Protestant denominations. Webber boldly discusses how he was rooted in the pride of the Puritans against Anglicans and Lutherans for what they perceive to be “rags of popery” and against Anabaptists for their pacifism. He said all these biases were good and fine until he would actually meet an Arminian, Lutheran, Anabaptist, or Roman Catholic who was devout in the Christian faith.
“Eucharistic Spirituality is the experience of being spiritually nourished and strengthened by eating the bread and drinking the wine… The mystery of what Christ did for me on the cross reaches into my inner person in a way that I cannot describe.”
- Pg. 83.
Webber has a chapter on “Growing into a Holistic Spirituality” that really captures the essence of having a spirituality of experience; namely, to be in Christ. Both justification and sanctification are communicated at the Lord’s Supper in a tangible, physical way. Webber also shows the spirituality of experience in following the church year as a personal devotion.
Listen to this typology that Augustine gives about the baptized being made into one body:
In this loaf of bread you are given clearly to understand how much you should love unity. I mean, was that loaf made form one grain? weren’t’ there many grains of wheat? But before they came into the loaf they were all separate; they were joined together by means of water after a certain amount of pounding and crushing. Unless wheat is ground, after all, and moistened with water, it can’t possibly get into this shape which is called bread.
In the same way you too were being ground and pounded, as it were, by the humiliation of fasting and the sacrament of exorcism. Then came baptism and you were, in a manner of speaking, moistened with water in order to be shaped into bread. But its not yet without fire to bake it.
So what does fire represent? That’s the chrism, the anointing. Oil, the fire-feeder, you see, is the sacrament of the Holy Spirit.