Finding Joy In Shattered Expectations

Emmaus Road

Emmaus Road

We are accustomed to think of Easter as the most joyous of festivals, and certainly all the texts of today’s liturgy, and all the Easter hymns, fill our mouths with words of rejoicing:

Sunday, I discussed the first Easter. It was a distressing day for Jesus disciples. When you read the Gospel accounts, you see the immediate response of the disciples was fear and despair, rather than joy.

Consider the account of the two walking sorrowfully along the Emmaus road. A stranger joined them as they walked and asked them what it was that they were talking about so sadly. They told him about Jesus’ death and the empty tomb. “But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, to day is the third day since these things were done (Jn 24:21).” They were blinded by their grieving, and did not recognize that the stranger who walked with them was the Risen Lord. “O slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken (Lk 24:25)!”

Does their blindness surprise you? Consider what had happened. The death of Jesus upon the cross spelled the end of his followers’ hopes. The triumphant entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday the prior week The triumphant procession into the Holy City only a week before where Jesus was hailed as the Messiah by the crowds must have seemed like a farce following his death on Calvary. A week after this apparent triumph, Jesus was executed, dead, and buried. How could this be the Messiah? Even worse, the body was now gone.

This made no sense to the disciples, so they were disappointed, afraid, and they ran away and hid. They were unable to see beyond their own broken dreams and expectations. “But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel (Lk 24:21).” The disciples followed and heard Jesus. They heard him speak of his dying, and rising again. They heard him speak of his kingdom, a kingdom quite unlike earthly kingdoms. Despite this, it was impossible for the disciples to see beyond their own hopes, ambitions and expectations, even when Jesus was still with them. In Jesus, they were sure, they had found the leader who would restore Israel to its ancient glory.

They could not comprehend that God’s redemption could be something greater than their own hopes. They experienced the loss of their hopes, the pains of travail. It took the ruination of their expectations to open their eyes to God’s new way of living. It was only by sharing in Jesus’ death that they could share in his new life.

God does not support us in our own limited expectations. God makes all things new. Jesus says there is no new birth without the pains of travail (Mt 24:8).

All of us have make plans, and we own our ambitions. Each of us expects certain things out of life and each other. We feel frustration when our expectations go unfulfilled. “But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel (Lk 24:21).” We make plans and we expect God to support us in those plans. Who knows better than we what God ought and ought not to do? We are disappointed when things do not go our own way, and sometimes we worry and despair.

That is wrong-headed. The truth is that if we are to live, we must first die.
St. Paul said, “For you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God (Col 3:3).” “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die…” says Jesus, “it abideth by itself alone; but if it die, it beareth much fruit (Jn 12:24).” God brings resurrection out of death.

When we gain freedom from the bondage of our empty vain ambitions, we become heirs to God’s new kingdom. Bread becomes the bread of life after it is broken. Wine outpoured becomes for us the cup of blessings. God makes the world out of nothing. Before God made the world it was “Tohu wa bohu,” formless and void (Gn 1:2). God created the world from nothing and so he makes life from death. That transformations is painful and simultaneously awesome.

So when we come to God, we do not come to him asking for support in our own little things. No, we come to God for resurrection. As the passage from Revelation states, God makes all things new.

So now, during this Eastertide, we must sing our praises to God; to Jesus who died, and now lives together with the Father and the Holy Spirit. To God the Holy Trinity be all honour, praise and dominion, now, henceforth and for ever. Amen.

Origins of Lent and Ash Wednesday

Ash WednesdayThe origins of Lent go back to the second century and can be traced to the fasts undertaken by candidates for Baptism at Easter. The ancient pre-Easter fast was only a couple days. St. Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, gives the first reference to the forty day fast in Pastoral Epistles he wrote on preparation for Easter. The Roman Church established the current six week period of Lent by the end of the fourth century. As the tradition of Easter Baptisms fell into disuse, the emphasis of the forty-day fast developed into a forty-day penitential season.

Biblical Precedent for Lent:
According to the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke; Jesus Christ spent 40 days fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation by Satan. Lent mirrors this 40 days of fasting as preparation for Easter. Sundays are days of feasting since every Sunday is a celebration of Christ’s Resurrection. They do not “count” in the calculation of the forty-day period, so the Lenten period of fasting began on a Wednesday. Accordingly, Christians fasted from Monday to Saturday (6 days) during 6 weeks and from Wednesday to Saturday (4 days) in the preceding week, thus making up the number of 40 days.

Ash Wednesday as the first day of Lent developed by the sixth century in an effort to keep Lent a forty-day period. It occurs 46 days (as before; 40 fasting days and 6 Sundays, which are not days of fast, are thus excluded) before Easter.

The name “Ash Wednesday” developed from rites practiced by the Church in France during the Middle Ages. Penitents seeking restoration to Holy Communion at Easter presented themselves at the Church the First Day of Lent. They were garbed on sackcloth and they cast the ashes of palms that had been blessed the preceding Palm Sunday upon their heads. The Church adopted this tradition and began the practice of marking the foreheads of all Christians on Ash Wednesday as a symbol of the penitential character of the Lenten season.

The Ashes:
The ashes used on Ash Wednesday are made from the blessed palms used in the Palm Sunday celebration of the previous year. The ashes are christened with Holy Water and are scented by exposure to incense. The ashes were so blessed at the 7:30AM service. While the ashes symbolize penance and contrition, they are also a reminder that God is gracious and merciful to those who call on Him with repentant hearts. His Divine mercy is of utmost importance during the season of Lent. During Lent, we are called to seek God’s mercy during the entire season with reflection, prayer and penance.

May you be blessed with a Holy Lenten Season.

Christians Must Learn to Listen

Jesus heals blind Bartimaeus Mark 10:46-52

Jesus heals blind Bartimaeus Mark 10:46-52

I recently read the, “The Outsider Interviews: A New Generation Speaks Out on Christianity” a book by Craig Spinks, Jim Henderson, and Todd Hunter that explores the thoughts of men and women in their 20’s and 30’s about Christianity. The book gives examples of Christians who effectively connect with the millennial generation and lead them to a life in Christ. One of those discussed is Kirk Wullf of Christ Church Anglican in Kansas City, Missouri.

Kirk loves Starbucks. He also loves connecting with people outside the Church. He spends a quarter of his day at the local Starbucks, just “hanging out.” He goes there, reads the paper, works on his computer and, notices people.

People trust Kirk, and he loves them back. Kirk is a connector. While traditional evangelists have specialized oratory skills, Kirk listens. A traditional evangelist may win people to Christ at revivals, “connectors” like Kirk listen, love, build relationships, and woo people to Christ. The most important question Kirk has to ask is, “How are you?” Kirk does the same things that all of us do. He starts conversations, listens to people, and builds relationships. The difference is that Kirk does it intentionally.

Today face-to-face dialogue occurs less frequently as people become isolated by technology. The more technologically connected people are, the lonelier they become. People long for personal connection. Christians should take advantage of this deficit of personal connection and build relationships with people outside Christ’s community.

Every Christian is a minister to the Gospel. When Jesus gave the command to, “…go and make disciples of all nations,” he spoke to all Christians. It is the job of every Christian to aid in the spread of the Gospel, and building relationships is something everyone can do. Connecting with people requires no special knowledge, unusual intelligence, or specialized skills.

Culture is undergoing a significant shift. One of the occurring shifts is that we live in a world that is skeptical about everything. People are tired of spin-doctors. They are tired of being lied to and manipulated. They wonder, “What is the truth?” Christians understand that Jesus Christ is, “the truth,” and must lead people to that “truth.”

Christians must ask, “How do people find sources of truth they believe to be dependable?” People find and pass along truth in a variety of different ways, and one of those ways is through community. Presently relationships, community, and conversation are prized over empiricism and rationalism. By intentionally taking interest in people outside the Church and building relationships with them, Kirk Wullf becomes a dependable source of truth for non-Christians. Christian, you too can build relationships and become a dependable source of truth.

Jesus is the greatest example of a relationship builder. In Jesus, God Almighty converses with human beings. Through Jesus, God listens. Through Jesus, God has human ears, a human heart, and a human brain. Through Jesus, God listened to people in first century Palestine and heard them, just as you and I do today. It is remarkable that God cares about what people have to say. In listening to people, and caring for what they say, God gains nothing. God doesn’t need anything from us. God is complete in and of Himself, and yet in Jesus, the Word of God become flesh, God listens.

Even after the Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, He still listens to us. Christian prayer is directed to Jesus. We often end our prayers, “…through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.” He hears us and responds to us. In His response, we learn something about Him and about ourselves. Jesus loves us, and develops a relationship with us through the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is the exemplar of evangelism. Engage in conversation as He did, and don’t just talk, listen. Take a genuine interest in other people. Take an interest in people with whom you may not normally associate. The Word of God was in Heaven, perfectly fine in His association within the Holy Trinity. Nothing was added to Him by coming and living as one of us, amongst us. Yet He did so because He loves us and wants to have a relationship with us. He redeemed us by His work on the cross. That redemption is for everyone who will enter into a relationship with Him, a relationship where Jesus is Lord and Savior.

Christians, be a connector. Be like Jesus by associating with people who offer you nothing. Converse with them, but most importantly, hear them. Take an interest in them. Listen to them and to what they say. Love them, build a relationship with them and become a trusted source of truth for them, then introduce them to the source of all truth, Jesus Christ the Lord.

Contemplating Worship

I received an email from a friend concerning worship.  I found it to be most inciteful and helpful.  I asked him if I could republish the information in the email and he told me that I could, but not to cite him.  Ok, well, I wanted to at least say that much.  The blog below is not my original work, however, I recommend it to you:

Suggestions on How to Contemplate Worship

1. It is a good thing to pay attention to the Liturgy. But, no one does a perfect job. Our thoughts move here and there in the Divine Hour– here in the present but also into our past and into our future. While singing a hymn we might recall a kindness done to us by a stranger, or we may remember a thoughtless act that hurt someone; we may wonder what we will eat this afternoon or we might worry over an unfinished project at work. The bells call us back to worship. We are always here and out there. It is best not to be too hard on yourself when you become aware of your distraction. Simply, gently redirect your attention to the liturgy. Don’t fret over the distraction. Don’t be mean to yourself. Gently, even tenderly, bring your attention back to the moment, back to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

2. The sermon is important, but so are the Hymns, the Anthems, the Propers and the Minor Propers. The Propers are the pieces of the Liturgy that change weekly – they are “proper” to the day: the Epistle, the Gospel, and the Collect. We are blessed to have a choir and cantors that sing the Minor Propers: the Introit, the Gradual and the Communion Proper. These also change weekly. They are called “minor” to distinguish them from the Propers that are always required in our Liturgy. The Minor Propers enrich the celebration of the Mass by recalling the principle themes and images of the liturgical day.

I personally appreciate the piety of taking notes during the sermon for the purpose of reflecting upon them during the week. This is just the sort of activity that may be part of your personal rule. But so as not to deconstruct the Liturgy or the sermon, remember that the Liturgy is a whole sacred event that has a total effect upon the Faithful. By total effect I mean that the Liturgy is a whole itself (not just one piece of it) and that it may shape our whole life and turn us repeatedly, weekly, daily towards God. Think of the kind of windup toy we used to play with as children. A tin soldier may march across the coffee table when wound up, but we always have to move it over and over again in the direction we want it to go to get it to the goal. Or if you don’t like that image, think of a mother who repeatedly helps her daughter think about her relationships, her goals and desires in life – but also reminds her of her father’s birthday and her grandmother’s need to hear from granddaughter. It is needful that the Liturgy (a gentle providence exuding a sweet, holy aroma) redirects our steps towards God.

Once more, it is the whole Liturgy that shapes us, not just the sermon. And by “whole” I mean the whole Liturgy and our whole person, all our senses responding to the sensual details of the Mass and not just our minds. So, if you are going to reflect upon the sermon during the week, keep your bulletin and take a hymnal home with you. Recall the Propers and Minor Propers. Sing the hymns if it is possible as you ponder and research the points you noted in the sermon. Recall the music – literally the sounds. Try to chant the Minor Propers on one note – it isn’t that hard. Do not just engage your mind, but all your senses. Recall the color of the vestments and the flowers.Taste and smell the wine. Feel the Host upon your tongue or in the palm of your hand. Christianity is corporeal, profuse, rich, exuberant and intelligent! To take only the sermon or any other part of the Liturgy, in isolation from the whole, as your contemplation will deconstruct Common Prayer and potentially deconstruct your life.

You will have to come back next Sunday (or during the week) to worship God in the Mass. Private piety will never take the place of the Common Prayer and Public Worship. But it is most beneficial to cooperate with the Holy Spirit and “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” the whole Liturgy during the week. May God the Father bless us in our adoration of God the Son, as God the Holy Spirit shapes us into the Father’s Liturgical Children in playful worship.