“My Lord and my God!”

Sermon Notes – Easter 2 – Year B

“My Lord and my God!”

Thesis

We are concluding Bright Week with the words of St. Thomas when he proclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” These words are significant to believers, but why? What does it mean for Jesus to be Lord and God? My hunch for this week’s sermon is that the lessons flesh out what it means when Jesus is understood as Lord and God. Give people Jesus this week!

 

Analysis

Collect

“Show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith.” The Collect launches us into radical discipleship very quickly. Our walk needs to match our talk (don’t you just hate that phrase?!). Or, to put it in the vernacular, we need to be “smoking what we’re selling.” I don’t mean to be crass, but that is a good image. Are we really living out in the here and now what we claim to believe on a Sunday morning? Do our lives match that which we proclaim in the Creed, the prayers of the people or the Eucharist?

Our faith is based on the Paschal Mystery. That is, our faith is based on the combination of Cross and Empty Tomb. I heard N. T. Wright put it this way in a lecture last year, “The resurrection of the Crucified One gives meaning to the crucifixion of the Resurrected One.” Our faith is based on the intersection of this two events; no, it is actually the interweaving of these two events into a holistic whole.

Because Jesus is both crucified and risen can we profess and show forth as agents of reconciliation.

First Lesson – Acts 4:32-35

We’ve gotten a bit ahead of ourselves in this lesson. It’s important to bear in mind that between Easter Sunday and Acts 4 is Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit to the church. Acts 4:32-35 makes little sense without the empowering ministry of the Spirit.

The young, little church is growing daily. What sets the church apart from competing narratives and groups is her common lifestyle. (The Resurrection of the Son of God also sets the church apart…!) Acts 4:32-35 is a dynamic picture of the church fulfilling that which her Lord called her to on Maundy Thursday: love one another, and they will know you by your love. The church was in the business of caring for one another and for those around them.

At the center of this life of overflowing love was the apostle’s testimony to the resurrection of Jesus. Without the resurrection these actions would simply be like welfare, or a non-profit organization, or any other modern group that does “good” for others. No, these actions only gain meaning because they stem forth from the Risen One. A church that has faith without actions is dead, but a church that has works without faith isn’t a church at all.

Psalm 133

The concept of fellowship is continued in the selection from the Psalter. Psalm 133 is one of the Psalms of Ascent; indeed it is the second to last Psalm of Ascent and was part of the crescendo of liturgical proclamation for Israel as she sojourned to Jerusalem three times a year for festivals. This is both a present aspiration and eschatological image. Fellowship such as this, true koinonia, is possible in the here and now through the power of the Holy Spirit. However, this fellowship will only fully and eternally be known when God is all and all and we are praising and reigning with the triune God. May we strive toward such unity in our churches and in the Church, and may we know that this side of eternity we will only see as through a glass dimly lit.

Epistle – 1 John 1:1-2:2

1 John continues the trend of fellowship and the call to discipleship. Before we can unpack the message of 1 John 1:1-2:2 we need to understand who is writing. John is writing and he is doing so in harmony with others who have experienced the Paschal Mystery with the five senses. Paul may have been a Jew of Jews, but John and the disciples could boast something greater: they heard the voice of Jesus for three years, they tasted the bread and wine offered by the Lord, they smelled the fragrant oil that Mary used to anoint Jesus’ feet, they saw his tears as he wept over his friend Lazarus, they saw him hanging on the cross; they touched the scars on this hands and wound on his side. In short, the true Apostles of the church are able to claim authority of teaching because they received it firsthand from the Lord himself. You’ll notice that Paul claims the same authority in 1 Corinthians and elsewhere; they all claim that they are passing along what they have received (paralambano) because they can trace it to the source. That’s John’s point: trust me, I know what I’m talking about because I know from whom I received this.

For God is light and in him there is no darkness. Fellowship is first and foremost with the Father and the Son (and the Holy Spirit). It is out of the overflow of koinonia amongst the Trinity that human koinonia has substance. Again, a church that has unity within itself but is not unified with the Godhead is not a church at all.

We lie against the light if we claim to be the light and/or if we have darkness. Sin has no place in the Christian life. That does not mean that we are sinless. Far from it! We are still sinful but we are no longer slavers to sin because Jesus is our Advocate. We have been changed from sinners to saints but we still sin regularly. But what would it look like if our sins were truly upsetting to us? In the early church there was a belief that postbaptismal sin was unacceptable and that you could be absolved only once for sin after baptism. I’m not suggest this to be true in the least, but think about the severity with which they viewed sin. Does our sin grieve us? Do we strive toward holiness or would we rather toe the line of sinfulness without actually touching it? I want light! I want holiness!

Therefore, our fellowship with each other is made real because we have been cleansed by the blood of our Advocate. We can have right relationship with each other only because of the right relationship we’ve been given through and by and with Jesus. Fellowship is a call to discipleship. Again, our actions and our words need to match up.

Gospel – John 20:19-31

The Gospel lesson picks up right where we left off last week: we’re still on Easter Sunday. Mary has just run from the Garden to the disciples and announced, “I have seen the Lord.”

The disciples are still gathered together (expect Thomas and Judas) and Jesus appears. What does he speak to them? He speaks peace. He is peace. He breathes his Holy Spirit over them. Just as YHWH breathed life into humanity (ruach) in Genesis 2, so too does Jesus give new life to his followers. And this new life is empowering. The Holy Spirit gives them the ability to forgive sins, to lose and to bind. To receive the Holy Spirit and the true shalom of God is to be commissioned for ministry.

Thomas isn’t present. We don’t know where Thomas was but we do know that he had doubts. Friends, doubts are ok! Thomas isn’t rebuked for his doubts by his brothers or our Lord. Thomas isn’t told to suck it up and believe because questions or the need for proof is wrong. No! Thomas is given the opportunity by our Lord to touch his wounds and to worship. Thomas worships on the spot with his proclamation: My Lord and my God. In touching the Lord’s hands and side, Thomas knew that he was encountering the crucified and risen Lord. He know that Jesus wasn’t appearing as some sort of ghost or aberration but in the flesh, in the present, in reality. That is the God we worship. That is the Lord of all creation. But are you worshipping him? Jesus is a big boy, he can handle your feelings of doubt, but when you encounter the risen Lord what is your response?

Liturgical Considerations

The Second Sunday of Easter (the Sunday of Thomas) is the conclusion of Easter Week (Anglican and Catholic) or Bright Week (Orthodox). In the patristic church, and still in the Orthodox Church, Bright Week was a weeklong celebration for the newly baptized. Indeed those who had been baptized on Easter were to wear their white garments for the entirety of Bright Week. During Bright Week the newly baptized went through mystagogy; that is, they were instructed in the Holy Mysteries of the Church and were therefore illuminated (i.e. made bright).

Such a historical reality could factor into your sermon this week because at the end of Bright Week shouldn’t we all be able to properly proclaim, “My Lord and my God” like St. Thomas? What would it look like for you to offer some real catechesis and instruction during Bright Week, or at least to have your people reaffirm their baptismal covenant if you didn’t do this via Easter Vigil? To be discipled is to grow in wisdom, stature, understanding and most importantly: more and more into the likeness of Christ. Inviting people into the mysteries of the church—both through participation and instruction—is a form of spiritual formation and liturgical catechesis.

 

Synthesis

If you haven’t noticed it already, one of my favorite approaches for sermons is to use phrases from the lessons as points in my “So what” section at the end. These lessons are no exception. I’m not going to put the meat on these points because I’d rather you receive inspiration from the Spirit and use some sanctified imagination as you know your context better than I do. Here they are:

  1. “We have seen the Lord.”
  2. “Show forth in their lives what they profess by faith.”
  3. “Peace be with you.”
  4. “My Lord and my God!”

Remember, this is the conclusion of Bright Week and the Sunday of Thomas has been part of the liturgical calendar of the church for many hundreds of years: do something about it. His words are offered to Jesus as reverent worship; may we worship at the Lord’s feet like Thomas. May we see the Lord and profess him with lips and lives. May we offer the world the shalom of God.

He Is Risen Indeed, Alleluia

Sermon Notes – Easter Sunday – Year B

He Is Risen

Thesis

 Choices abound on this blessed morning. Preachers can choose between 3 Collects 7 lessons. It’s a good Sunday when the only lesson without a choice is the Psalm! The most important thing to remember in the midst of all the decision-making is the reality that has changed history: He is risen!!

I am putting these lessons together as if I were to be preaching on Easter Sunday. I may offer a passing comment randomly about the other lessons but basically I am going to cut 3 and 7 down to 1 and 4.

Analysis

Collect

My desire would be to use the second option because it is the Collect that goes with Easter Vigil. It reminds us that an Easter faith is one maintained and strengthened through the Baptismal covenant. However, as not all churches have a Vigil but all will celebrate Easter, I would select the first option because I like its cadence better. Honestly, the first and third options have the same message: Christ has died, Christ is risen, he is victorious, and we are called to die in him and find life in him. Simple message but that’s the point. Easter is simple: he who was dead is no longer dead; he is among the living! The ramifications of the Resurrection are also simple: victory, new creation, salvation, and the call to discipleship.

First Reading

I would include Isaiah 25:6-9 as my first reading. It reads like the eschatological vision of the heavenly city in Revelation. Death has been swallowed up. There are no more tears. The LORD has saved his people and is all in all. Isaiah gives an eschatological vision that is echoed by Jesus, the New Testament writers, and John. It is a vision of the eschatological banquet table that has been set up by YHWH. The table is heavy-laden with rich food and drinks. Who is present? All peoples! Who presides? The LORD!

This has been accomplished through death. The idea of a mountain should immediately bring a plethora of biblical images to mind: Mt. Moriah with Abraham and Isaac, Mt. Carmel with Elijah, Mt. Sinai with Moses, Mt. Tabor with the Transfiguration, and Jerusalem as the City on a Hill. God has been relating to this people through mountain-top experiences and this mountain-top experience will literally change the course and meaning of human history.

God will finally be all in all for his people. He has always been all in all but they (read: we) didn’t know it. He will be their God and they will be his people. His shalom will be known throughout all the earth. Only the victory of Almighty God will be known and it will be celebrated. This passage preaches itself.

Psalm

As I mentioned above, there are no options for the Psalm. This is a song of exultation (v. 15) because the Lord has acted (v. 24)! He has acted through the cornerstone once rejected (v. 22) and won for his people salvation (v. 14 and 21). The Lord is the one who has accomplished this (v. 23).

Written in a format similar to the great songs of the Bible: Moses, Miriam, Hannah, Zechariah, Mary, etc. this Psalm is to be read with great joy and passion on Easter morning. God has acted definitively and decisively on behalf of his people. His actions have opened the gates of righteousness (see Collect #3). This is a song of victory, of thanks, and of joy.

There is a response from the one who enters through the gates: thanksgiving. Entrance is not merely enough. Think of Jesus’ parable about the wedding banquet and garment. It was not enough for the man to attend the party. No, he needed to have on the right garment and participate. It is also not enough for us to “walk through the gate” only to remain the same. We are called to respond and that response is thanksgiving—it is eucharisteo.

Second Reading

Now I would select Acts 10:34-43 because it has more of a creedal dimension to it than the passage from 1 Corinthians 15. Actually, the passage from 1 Corinthians 15 that I would have included would have been later in the same chapter when Paul remarks on the necessity of the resurrection because without it we are to be pitied more than all men. Moving right along…

Peter is in the house of Cornelius and has received his vision of the sheet, the animals, and God’s voice telling him to kill and eat. That is, Peter is realizing that in the Kingdom of God all are invited and the world has been changed. He is now relating to Cornelius’ household that which has taken place in Jesus. Peter is speaking to gentiles. This is massive! The gospel of Jesus Christ is now beginning as a grassroots effort and it will one day make its way to Rome and then the ends of the earth. Peter is putting into practice that which he has learned from his heavenly vision just verses before. This is the work with which the Lord commissioned his disciples: Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth!

Even in the English translation there is a good cadence to this passage; Peter’s words are expertly chosen and none are out of place. It is very creedal. Remember that the books of the Bible were written many years after these events took place; my point is that Peter’s homily on the action and work of Jesus is part of an oral tradition that has been passed along from the time that Acts 10 took place in real life to the time it was put on paper by Luke. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul talks about passing along that which he has received (paralambano) and this is such an example.

The story is simple: God sent Jesus, John announced Jesus, Jesus healed and taught, he was put to death, God raised him from the dead, and he appeared to the disciples and others. It is not as poetic as the Apostles’ Creed but it matches the Creed’s simplicity. This is the story to be told over and over and over again; it is the story of victory, of action, and it is a story that literally transforms lives.

Think about what happens to Cornelius’ household after this: they believe and are baptized. The response of belief was followed up by baptism into the covenant and therefore discipleship.

Notice also how Peter makes reference to being a witness. A witness is not merely someone who sees an event—it is much more than an “eye-witness” like we are used to. No, Peter is a witness by testifying and proclaiming the truth. That is how you demonstrate your witness: through action, not vision.

Gospel

This is the toughest choice you’ll face: John’s poetic and powerful version of the resurrection or Mark’s abrupt end. I actually enjoy Mark’s ending as much as I do John, but because John 18-19 was used for Good Friday and is fresher in the minds of the people I would select John 20 for Easter Sunday.

John begins with the phrase “on the first day of the week.” This is a very important concept for Johannine theology and the early church. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI Emeritus) highlights this in The Spirit of the Liturgy. The first Easter has three different yet intertwined meanings: it is the first day, the third day and the eighth day. As the first day it is the day after Sabbath, it is the day of creation. As the third day it is the third day from the Crucifixion. As the eighth day it is the first day of a new week and is therefore the day of new creation. John has been piecing his gospel together in such a way that this day in chapter 20 is both first and eighth day. Baptismal fonts tend to be eight-sided as a reminder that you are being baptized into new creation. Baptism and Easter go hand in hand. File this bit of “Eighth Day theology” away because you’ll want to come back to it throughout your ministry.

Mary is the first to the tomb on this day and she sees the stone is rolled away. She fetches Peter and John who race to the tomb; John is faster! They both go in and see the tomb empty, the linens rolled up and the story says that John (the author) believed. They didn’t understand but he believed.

Meanwhile, Mary is still in the garden. She is weeping. Her Lord has been taken away. Two angels visit her and inquire about her crying and she tells them why. She turns and sees Jesus only she doesn’t see Jesus. Anecdotally, I proposed to Rebecca in Paris and did so by arriving unannounced. Rebecca was completely unaware that I was coming to Paris from Atlanta, GA. I stood against a light pole in Place Vendome and read a newspaper while Rebecca and her family made their way toward me. Rebecca looked up and saw me, only she did’t see me. She looked back down and then did a double take when it registered that I was right in front of her. I was out of place, out of context in Paris and she had no category for that. Mary sees Jesus but this is also out of place, out of context because he is supposed to be dead. Instead he is living, he is standing, he is breathing and he is calling to her. She needs a moment before she can realize what is happening.

I love what John does her: Mary thinks Jesus is the gardener. But isn’t he? I mean, the original vision in the Garden of Eden was for Adam and Eve to be the stewards of all creation and to care for the garden. Jesus is the Second Adam, the New Adam so isn’t it fitting that he is mistaken for being a gardener? He IS the gardener!

Jesus calls Mary by name and that is how he is revealed. She knows that voice, she knows that name, she knows the one who is speaking to her and so she turns to embrace him. Oh that we would embrace our Lord like that! Jesus commissions Mary to be the first bearer of Good News and to announce to his followers that he is alive.

Let’s think once more about being a witness. In 1st century Jerusalem it was unthinkable for a woman to be a witness. (If you believe any of the early beliefs that Mary was a harlot—and I am not endorsing those here—then you would have a doubly unfit witness). Jesus reveals himself as Risen Lord first to a woman and has her go and spread the news. The Good News of Jesus is ushered forth from Gethsemane by the wrong person because God’s kingdom is full of all the wrong people. What does she announce? “I have seen the Lord.” It is always simple with John. “Come and see.” “We would see Jesus.” “I have seen the Lord.” And yet, and yet, isn’t that just perfect: our rationalizations and mental constructions of evangelism and controlling the Spirit are nothing compared to the simplicity of Jesus’ call.

Liturgical Considerations

The principal service of Easter is at it’s absolute best when it is celebrated in conjunction with the great Easter Vigil on Saturday night. Look at the second collect; it references “this holy night” which only makes sense when you are saying/hearing that prayer during Vigil. It is one of the few Collects that takes anamnesis seriously and suggests that this holy night is actually the holy night. I a sense it transports believers to the Upper Room with the disciples who are in mourning and waiting only to be greeted by the Risen One.

The beauty of following the Light of Christ (Paschal Candle) into the sanctuary, of hearing the Exultet, of reading 10 lessons covering the salvation history of the Old Testament and in welcoming others into the baptismal covenant—meanwhile reaffirming your own faith—places a particular meaning on Easter that is lost without keeping Vigil. I’m sure it is far too late to consider keeping a Vigil this year but I would encourage you to do two things immediately: 1) set up a meeting with your worship arts team (or whomever is responsible for liturgical services in your church) during Eastertide and begin planning for Vigil 2016. 2) Find a local church that is offering a Vigil this year and join them. The historicity and beauty of this service is wonderful. Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Ill has a Vigil that is top-notch.

Don’t forget about those “Alleluias”! You have hopefully hidden the “alleluias” (unless your Orthodox) for all of Lent and are finally able to use them in their proper context: greeting our Risen and Living Lord.

Synthesis

What does all of this mean? It means that Jesus is risen from the dead! He has trampled down death by death and has returned to his followers; he does not return as a ghost but as the Risen Lord with a glorified body.

Resurrection was a widely held belief by Jews of the day but no one anticipated a resurrection before the Resurrection on the Last Day. Peter, John, Mary, etc. had no category for the beginning of new creation as seen in Jesus. But John believed and Mary announced.

The first day is the third day is the eighth day and it is the day on which Jesus begins putting the world to rights. New creation is being ushered in one bit at a time, awaiting the return of the King that all may be made new. This is the work to which you have been called: to witness, to announce, and to embody.

Peter witnessed the events of Jesus first hand and shared them with Cornelius’ household and countless others. Mary was the first to embrace the Risen Lord and she was sent away with a mission: to announce his resurrection. Are you about the work of building for God’s kingdom? Are you looking forward to the eschatological banquet by making Jesus known in the present? Remember, Easter and baptism go hand in hand. Baptism is not a silver spoon, it is an invitation into the very life of the triune God and it is an invitation to radical discipleship. Will you answer? Will you follow? Will you announce?

Ecce Homo – Here Is The Man

Sermon Notes – Good Friday – Year B

Ecce homo – Here is the man

Thesis

We have arrived at Good Friday. Last night we had our feet washed, we shared the Lord’s Supper and our altars were stripped and washed. Tonight we arrive in solemnity. The “Hosannas” of Palm Sunday still ring in our ears and the “Alleluias” of Easter—those that have been hidden (unless your Orthodox) for Lent—are welling up inside our hearts. But. But we have to deal with the Cross. Actually, we have to deal with the man upon the cross—the one who gives the cross meaning.

Borrowing from Pilate’s phrase—ecce homo—this post will focus primarily on the person (both human and divine) of Jesus. When we read, “Here is the man” we should immediately begin asking, “Who is the man?” Indeed he is the Suffering Son of Man, the King of the Jews, our Great High Priest, and the Crucified One. And remember: God is glorified in Christ crucified!

 

Analysis

 

Collect

Today’s Collect sets the stage for us, per usual, by emphasizing the actions of Jesus. I don’t often desire to change any of the language in the collects but this one could use a minor tweak. That Jesus was willing to be betrayed is excellent, as is the statement that he suffered death upon the cross. The second statement is the one with which I taken issue: it is too passive. Jesus, as the Orthodox (yes, I’m quoting the Divine Liturgy AGAIN!) powerfully remind us, was not given into the hand of sinners but rather gave himself voluntarily into the hand of sinners. This is a far more powerful, active and accurate description.

Either way, the Collect makes it abundantly clear that the focus of Good Friday’s lessons is the person and work and Jesus. And if Good Friday is bad news to anyone, particularly people who have not yet heard the story, the final clause of the Collect (the clause that is always included) reminds us amidst our grief that Jesus lives and reigns with God. Even in the darkest hour there is hope and light because we live on the other side of the Empty Tomb.

I only reference the Collect this much to suggest that the three actions of Jesus are further highlighted by John’s Passion narrative (Chapters 18 and 19) and could therefore form part of your homiletic structure.

 

Old Testament

This is one of the Servant Songs of Isaiah, and it is certainly the most famous. Isaiah is writing words about God’s servant who will suffer at the hands of his enemies. It was a common belief amongst Jews that the servant was a metaphor for Israel because they had no category for a suffering Messiah. Indeed the Son of Man as depicted in Daniel 7 is more what Israel had in mind for her Messiah and therefore needed to reflect upon her troubled history to make sense of Isaiah.

However, the Gospel writers knew that Jesus was the Suffering Son of Man and that Daniel 7 could not be properly understood without reading it alongside Isaiah 52-53. This is what Richard Hays has argued in both Reading Backwards and “The Canonical Matrix of the Gospels.” Jesus and the New Testament writers were firmly planted within the Jewish story and therefore used the Old Testament as the interpretive matrix for that which had taken place. Suddenly Isaiah 52-53 is referring prophetically and directly to Jesus as the Faithful Israelite rather than Israel as a whole.

The imagery in this song ties directly into the Passion Narrative of John as we see that Jesus’ clothes were divided by lots, that he was bruised and beaten, his interaction with Pilate, and ultimately his death and burial. The correlations here are endless. The Good News is contained within: “The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” Through and in Jesus many are made righteous. His stripes and bruises heal us of our sins!

Look at the second to last verse: “He poured out himself unto death.” That’s not a passive comment in the least; this does not give the impression that Jesus happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. No! Jesus put himself in the right place and the right time because his journey was always toward the Cross, toward death, and toward victory. The Servant has to Suffer in order that all might be redeemed!

 

Psalm

N. T. Wright has suggested—and I agree with him—that the Psalms were the prayer book for Jesus. Being a (good) Jew, Jesus would have known the Psalms through and through as they formed the basis of Jewish prayer life. It is possible, even likely, that upon the cross Jesus recited the entirety of Psalm 22.

Notice the opening verse, it is indeed the same line that we read from Jesus during Palm Sunday when he cries out to God in Mark’s Gospel, “Eloi, eloi…” My God, my God why have your forsaken me?

I’ve heard a lot of preachers focus on this one line and come to the conclusion that this is simply a Psalm of lament on the lips of Jesus. Unfortunately to suggest that is to not read far enough. Let’s assume that Jesus did indeed recite the whole Psalm. Let’s assume again that Jesus did so not because the Psalm was about him but because the Psalms had formed him. We arrive at a much different picture! Psalm 22 ends up being a Psalm of praise! That which begins in lament ends in worship.

Jesus is therefore offering himself upon the cross as an act of worship. This is oblation. This is worship. Verses 1-21 are full of lament and they are followed up by verses 22-30 which can be considered praise in the face of lament. It is NOT that lament is wrong or that we need to stuff our negative feelings. This could not be further from the truth. Rather, it is that Jesus (and the Psalmist) is able to praise YHWH-who-reigns-over-all even in the midst of trials, tribulations, and death.

Coincidentally, that is what the liturgical use of the Psalms helps form within each individual: a repertoire of feelings, emotions, images and phrases all for the glory of God given in worship.

 

Epistle

There are two choices here but they focus on one main theme: Jesus as High Priest. Hebrews 4 was used a few weeks ago and should be fresh in your memory if you elect to preach from it on Good Friday. I’ll point you here for my thoughts on Hebrews 4-5 and reverent submission.

Hebrews 10 mirrors the description of the Tabernacle in the Old Testament. The parallels between the sacrifices offered in the Holy of Holies and the work of Jesus are numerous and significant (approaching, sprinkling, pure water). The author of Hebrews will also share elsewhere in the epistle that Jesus is now sitting down as our Great High Priest because his work has been accomplished. The sacrifices of the Old Testament, particularly Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), were insufficient. Israel would annually make ritual atonement for her sins and she would need to do so the next year and the year after that, etc. Jesus sacrifice was full, complete, and sufficient and it was literally once for all.

The point here, and for all of Hebrews, is that Jesus is the Great High Priest unlike any other. He is like Moses but greater than Moses. He is like Melchizedek but greater than Melchizedek. In short, Jesus is the true High Priest and has offered a sacrifice—his self-sacrifice—on our behalf and Almighty God accepted it.

The veil has therefore been torn. We have an Advocate and Mediator in Jesus, giving us access to the triune God, and we are to approach with a humble confidence. Think of the Tabernacle—and the Temple—when reading this. Also remember that both Tabernacle/Temple were considered to be the meeting place of heaven and earth. Jesus is now that meeting place.

 

Gospel

We encounter another mammoth passage, but this time it is from John’s perspective rather than Mark’s. John’s “Book of Glory” gives us far more detail about Jesus’ interaction with Pilate and the reemergence of Nicodemus among other things. The story is the story is the story and rather than working through it bit by bit right now, I’d like to share a few tidbits that leap out to me. I’ll add some more work in the “Synthesis” section but honestly this is the central story of Christianity and shouldn’t require too much work to “bring to life.”

  1. Not of this world

 Have you seen the t-shirts and other Christian paraphernalia in the last 5 years or so that read “NotW” or “Not of this World”? This is a quote taken from John 18 and yet it seems to have been misappropriated. The suggestion of this logo seems to be that we are not of this world and neither is Jesus. It seems to coincide with a belief—subconscious, I’m sure—that this world is passing away and we’ll be united with Jesus in the sky, in some heaven somewhere else.

N. T. Wright is quick to remind us that the Greek here can certainly be translated as “of” but it can also be translated as “from.” In fact, it should be translated as “from” in this instance. Jesus tells Pilate that his kingdom is not from this world. Please hear: unlike NotW or any other claim on Jesus, his kingdom is utterly for this world. There is no Docetism whatsoever in the Jesus’ Kingdom. We are not escaping this world. No, Jesus’ Kingdom is the promise of new creation, of a new heaven and a new earth that will be the same and yet radically different.

  1. Peter and Charcoal 

John tells us that a charcoal fire is present in the courtyard when Peter denies the Lord three times. This is a random observation to include but we learn at the end of John’s Gospel: Peter’s reinstatement. Jesus and his disciples share a meal of grilled fish cooked over a charcoal fire, “When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught,’” (John 21:9-10). The parallels continue when Peter is asked three times by Jesus if he loves him—three times to mirror the three denials. In short, that which was used for ill is now transformed, redeemed and used for good.

  1. Ecce homo – here is the man

John shares more of Jesus’ conversation with Pilate than the Synoptics. In this conversation we see that Jesus’ kingdom is not from this world, that Pilate only has power over Jesus that has been given him from above, and that Pilate is caught between a rock and a hard place.

Pilate presents Jesus before his people by saying, “Here is the man.” “Ecce homo,” and I think it’s extremely important that we keep Jesus’ humanity in full-scope. In The Purple Headed MountainMartin Thornton is keen to remind believers that Jesus was fully man. It would be easy to read John 18-19 by only highlighting Jesus’ divinity and therefore assuming that this caused him no pain, nor that he had to submit himself, nor that he would have felt hungry, tired, angry, saddened, humiliated, defeated, worshipful or anything else. But to strip Jesus of his humanity—however inadvertent such stripping may be—would be to rob the story of its central meaning: Jesus redeemed humanity by taking on human flesh; Jesus demonstrates to all of mankind what redeemed humanity looks like and calls us to follow; Jesus is indeed the man presented by Pilate and we should take his words literally.

  1. We have no king but the Emperor

The ruling powers of the Jewish people have sold themselves to Rome. Sure, they are already under foreign (Roman) occupation and are not free in the least, but they have now sold themselves completely from God to man by saying, “we have no king but the emperor.”

Your ears should be ringing with the words in 1 Samuel when Israel cried out that she wanted a king like all of the other nations. God knew that he was their one and true king but he allowed them to be ruled by men nonetheless. This was the beginning of the end of Israel because after the disaster of Saul we encounter David, Solomon and a long, long list of evil kings with only a few bright spots in between. The words in John 18-19 are no longer the beginning of the end but the end of the end and the beginning of a new dawn. For God is their true King and he will prove his kingship through the Cross and Empty Tomb, ultimately the Exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of God will be the final demonstration of his reign over all creation. God is King but do we recognize it?

  1. The re-emergence of Nic at Nite

Nicodemus makes his second appearance in John’s gospel. You’ll remember him from John 3 when he came to Jesus by cover of night and was given a mind-puzzle about being reborn. For 16 chapters we learn nothing more of Nic at Nite nor do we hear from him again. And then, when the hour is darkest and Jesus the Great Teacher is dead, Nicodemus emerges with Joseph of Arimathea and helps to bury him. We don’t know what happened to Nic in between John 3 and John 19, nor do we know what happened after, but I have to believe there was a transformation inside of him to enable him to help bury Jesus. Call it prevenient grace, call it discipleship, call it a response…I don’t care! Any way you cut it, Nicodemus was no longer approaching Jesus by night and was indeed helping to bury the man that his fellow Pharisees had handed to the Romans for execution. That’ll preach.

  1. The Mercy Seat?

Is John juxtaposing the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies—hidden by the veil—with the judgment seat of Pilate? Pilate sits on a stone seat to render judgment on Jesus and then (according to other sources) he washes his hands. The mercy (or bema seat) was the place on the Ark of the Covenant between the almost touching wings of the Seraphim where God would “sit” to judge his people on the Day of Atonement. A fascinating angle perhaps…

 

Liturgical Considerations

In the Anglican tradition, Good Friday is accompanied by the Solemn Collects. The Collects take up 3 ½ pages in the Book of Common Prayer and are prayed in place of the Eucharist. Here is a link to the Collects. Weaving some of these lines into your sermon would be wise.

 

Synthesis

Jesus is the Suffering Servant and the Son of Man; he is the King of the Jews and the King of all creation; he is both fully divine and fully man. So, when Pilate says, “Here is the man,” we need to understand who it is that stands before us. We need to see what Luther was talking about when he described Jesus on the cross as the deus absconditus, the God who is hidden. The disciples and crowd didn’t look at the cross and see God; they saw a man. They saw their lives change before their eyes. They saw their friend, son, brother, mentor, teacher, and leader hang lifeless from a Roman murder tool. And yet…and hallelujah, and yet…it is on the cross that Jesus glorifies God. It is through the willing and intentional sacrifice of the cross that Jesus makes an offering of himself unto God for the life of the world. Remember from the Eucharist: this is for the life of the world.

Jesus was fully in control. Power had been given to Pilate but Caesar didn’t give it to him. No, God the Father had empowered Pilate and therefore Jesus was utterly in control. Jesus went to Gethsemane of his own accord. He gave himself up to the betrayers and sinners. He suffered death on the cross. Why? He did this that we might become sons and daughters of God; that through his wounds we would be healed; that we would become inheritors of his kingdom.

The way of the Cross is the way of death but it is in death that we have victory for Jesus “trampled down death by death.” Good Friday should be solemn because we are pat of the crowd shouting “Crucify him!” We are part of the crowd screaming, “We have no king but the emperor!” We are the ones denying Jesus three times. And yet he loved his own unto the end and gave himself up for them…for us.

For the Life of the World

For The Life Of The World

Sermon Notes for Maundy Thursday, Year B 

Hypothesis

The lessons appointed for Year B, along with the Collect for the Day, compose a beautiful harmony of biblical imagery brought together in one event: the night before Jesus died. We see the Passover, the Eucharist, the washing of the disciples’ feet, and Jesus’ command to love one another all in the same scene. All discipleship and Christian ministry should be eucharistic and loving in nature.

 

Analysis

Collect

The Collect immediately identifies this night as the night before Jesus’ death and the night on which he instituted the Eucharist. One cannot separate the Eucharist from the Crucifixion; to do so would be to rob one of interpretive meaning and the other of a sacrificial nature. We are to receive the meal in two ways: thankfully and in remembrance.

To receive thankfully is to understand the nature of the Eucharist. From eucharisteo it literally means, “the giving of thanks.” Every story in the New Testament with reference to the Last Supper (and John 6) always includes Jesus (or someone else) giving thanks for the elements. The call is not merely to give thanks for the bread and wine but to live lives that are thankful to Almighty God.

Remembrance is a word that muddies the water in Eucharistic theology. For some the idea of remembrance is merely the ability to bring an image or thought to mind. It is a memory. However, many others and I are of the opinion that it is a dangerous memory. It is the act of dragging into the present something from the past in order to make it real, to make it present. This type of remembering is what the Jews did (and still do) annually in keeping Passover. They remember the Exodus as if they were actually there. The word for this is anamnesis and Jesus says to “to do this in anamnesis of me.” It is an active, volatile, efficacious and dynamic memory.

These are the two appropriate responses to the Eucharist as outlined in the Collect. We should bear that in mind…

 

Old Testament

Speaking of Passover, the Old Testament reading recounts this great event. The last verse gives us a clue about the meaning of the Passover, “This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.” This is to become the festival of festivals for Jews and then for Christians; it is to be the center of the calendar and liturgical life of the people as they remember annually the mighty acts of their saving God.

This isn’t just a meal. No, it is a meal tied to a historic event that is retold, reenacted and re-presented on an annual basis. The Exodus wasn’t simply a saving moment but rather the key event in the history of Israel when YHWH kept his covenant, made a people for himself, and gave his people a land, a hope and a future. All of this is tied up in a single meal. This is extremely important for our understanding of Paul in 1 Corinthians.

For now it will suffice for you to remember the story: Israel has been in slavery for 400 years because a Pharaoh arose who did not know Joseph. God’s people had become too numerous for the Egyptians and they were oppressed and enslaved. Moses heeds YHWH’s call from the burning bush and is sent to deliver Israel from the hands of Pharaoh. Why? That God’s people might worship him. Pharaoh’s heart is continually hardened throughout the plagues until finally the tenth and worse plague, that of the death of all firstborns, is sent upon all Egypt. God provides a way for his people to be safe: to mark their doorposts with the blood of a pure lamb that God might literally pass over their house. This is also bound up in the meal.

 

Psalm

This is a Psalm of praise. As I am neither a scholar of the Psalms or a Hebrew linguist there are only two images that I want to highlight: “the cup of salvation” and the “sacrifice of thanksgiving.” The context for both these images is the might and redeeming works of God. God has done x, y and z and therefore I will respond thus. Our two images are therefore responses to what God has already accomplished. Neither is the cup raised or thanksgiving sacrificed as a means to an end but rather as a response. Remember why God redeemed his people? That they might worship him!! The call of all creation from the beginning of creation has been to worship God in the majesty of his splendor…that has not changed! Our response to God’s goodness, grace, love, and mercy should be WORSHIP.

 

Epistle

We have now arrived at a central text for the Pauline understanding of the Eucharist and indeed for Maundy Thursday.

To jog your memories, Paul has been writing to the Corinthians for several chapters about different issues hindering or affecting the community. One such issue was the eating of meat sacrificed to idols. Another issue was a misunderstanding of misappropriation of the agape feast during which the rich were marginalizing the poor. Neither of these were acceptable in the new community formed by Christ.

Paul then goes on to the tradition of the Eucharist and relates it to the Corinthians. You can read this alongside the Institution narratives in the Synoptic Gospels to see the similarities.

First, this is a tradition that Paul has received and passed along. The word here is paralambano and it is much like an Olympic runner who passes the baton to the next relay runner on his/her team. Indeed this is much the basis for the idea that Apostolic Succession is not to be understood in terms of the office of Apostle (or bishop) but in the passing on of teaching and tradition going back to Christ. (I am not going to wade into any conversation regarding Succession at this point.) Paul received this tradition, likely from Peter and the disciples during a trip to Jerusalem, and has found it significant enough to share with one of his churches.

Second, this event took place on the night before Jesus’ death. This is important because as I’ve already mentioned the Eucharist and the Crucifixion cannot be separated—the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist is only understood within the context of the Crucifixion.

Third, the four actions are present: “took…given thanks…broke…gave.” These are the same actions we see in the Synoptic Gospels, in John 6, and at the end of Acts when Paul is shipwrecked. Paul also relates Jesus’ words—and they are words that we should take literally—“this is my body…this is my blood.”

Fourth, they (we) are to do it in remembrance anamnesis of Jesus. This is that active remembering that I wrote about above.

Fifth and finally, to celebrate this meal is to proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. That is, it is to proclaim the Lord’s victory. Passover recounts God’s victory over Pharaoh just as the Crucifixion and Resurrection prove God’s victory over sin, evil and death as Jesus “trampled down death by death.” To celebrate this meal is to rejoice victoriously and to hope for the completion of that which has already been inaugurated in Jesus.

That is a lot of meaning for 4 short verses and as I’ll argue below, such robust meaning needs to be read into John 13 and Maundy Thursday…

 

Gospel

The first thing to notice here is that the gospel lesson does not record the Lord’s Supper. Very interesting on a night when we celebrate the washing of feet and the Eucharist. Just look at the Collect: “Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.” You would certainly assume that the institution narrative would be read, but it isn’t. In fact, John’s Gospel is the only one of the four to exclude the traditional story of the Last Supper and instead John has opted to give an extensive look into the Great Commandment and the washing of the disciple’s feet.

Furthermore, most Johannine scholars point to the feeding of the crowd in John 6 as the eucharistic story of this gospel. Jesus performs the same actions of taking, thanking, breaking and giving. Jesus gives us the foundation of most eucharistic theologies in his words about being the bread of life, the bread of heaven, the manna that the Israelites ate. Paul Bradshaw has argued as to whether or not John 6 should be considered the earliest eucharistic text (chronologically). Either way, John 6 has to be read into John 13 given the words written by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11: “on the night before he was betrayed our Lord took bread…”

John’s choice to relate the washing of feet and new commandment instead of the Eucharist is important. Jesus is about to move into four chapters of his High Priestly Prayer before his betrayal—these prayers demonstrate the nature of Jesus’ relationship with God, his relationship with his people, and the call to embrace the Holy Spirit. In short, Jesus’ prayers have as much to say about discipleship as any other words recorded in the Gospels. Jesus sets the stage of “love in action” by commanding his disciples to love one another.

He first demonstrates this love on a very realistic and common level by washing their feet. I would HIGHLY encourage you to have a full feet washing as part of your liturgy. I do not think it is sufficient for only the clergy to wash each others feet or to have some sort of symbolic or representative (read: vicarious) washing ceremony. Jesus did this for his followers that he might call them to love one another.

You can get creative and talk about how stinky, crusty, and nasty the disciples’ feet must have been or illustrate just how out of place it would have been for Jesus’ to do this. You can pick on Peter—don’t we all love to do that!—and comment on his words of pride and then zeal. You can certainly do all of this but I think that painting the picture of love in action and then moving into the Liturgy of the Feet Washing and the Liturgy of the Table is more than sufficient.

Jesus will then follow up this ritual of love by demonstrating the fullness of his love on the cross.

 

Synthesis

This is the Passover meal that Jesus is sharing with his disciples and so it already has an anamnesis factor to it. The Jews around Jerusalem were celebrating the mighty acts of God that night and Jesus changes the meal by giving his disciples a new command and a new meal.

Maundy Thursday—maundy coming from the Latin for mandate—is really about two commands we’ve been given as disciples: love one another and do this for the remembrance of me.

I am yet again reminded of the beautiful line from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom with reference to Jesus’ betrayal. It reads, ““On the night He was betrayed, or rather gave Himself up for the life of the world.” This is what Fr. Alexander Schmemann explored in his book For the Life of the World. It was no mistake that Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane, as if he forgot that he was to be betrayed. No, Jesus went to the Garden with the same face-set-as-flint with which he turned toward Jerusalem earlier in the gospels. Why? That he might offer himself as the cup of salvation, the perfect sacrifice, for the life of the whole world.

That is why we love, that is why we worship, and that is why we make Eucharist: for the life of the whole word. This is where discipleship gets serious. It’s all fun and games when we’re checking boxes off our “Piety Chart” for personal growth but it is an entirely different subject when we realize that in our love, worship and making of Eucharist we are bringing the world before Almighty God. We are bringing our neighbors, our family members, strangers, and all who do not yet know Christ (literally the whole of creation) before God that they might experience the riches of his goodness and mercy. Think about that as you’re having your feet washed and you’re partaking of the Elements.

So, what does it look like for you to live a life of thanksgiving? Of remembrance? Of love? Of discipleship? What does it mean for us to drink the Cup of Salvation—of Jesus’ oblation—for the life of the whole world? Remember, Israel was blessed to be blessed! Are you blessing or are you sitting on your blessed assurance?

 

 

Will They Remember?

This is written from the thoughts of Rahab as she awaits the return of Joshua’s spies. She just wants to be remembered by the spies, little does she know that she will be remembered forever in the royal line of David.

Will They Remember?

Will they remember?
Will they keep their word?

I’ve risked everything helping these men,
I’ve given myself over to them in trust
I don’t know if they are worthy,
But I am hopeful that they are different

The men that I am used to are not kind,
They are selfish and needy
They take advantage of what I offer

And I let it happen, I allow it

My livelihood is less than reputable
But someone has to put food on the table
My heart is callous and closed,
My trust in the world is non-existent
Quiet desperation consumes my days
Things aren’t supposed to be like this

Yearning and forlorn I hope for a change
Ashamed and embarrassed, I am in need
A radical reversal of reality is my desire,
I cannot explain why I have hope
Other than the character of my recent visitors

The king and his men know that I’ve lied
They searched my property top to bottom
If they discover what I’ve done,
There will be no saving me

Alas, I wait with anxiety and unfulfilled expectation
The future is unknown, but I look forward to it
I want a change, a transformation
Of my life and surroundings

I’ve kept my word…
But will I be remembered?

– Porter C. Taylor
March 2, 2012

Joshua the Successor

Today is my son’s third birthday. Hard to believe that he’s already three! His name is Joshua and this poem was written a few weeks before he was born. My prayer for him is that he too would stand strong and courageous before the LORD and that he would be able to say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!” Happy birthday sweet boy!

Joshua

How do you take over for a giant?
How do you replace the prophet who led the people out?
The task before me is great, perhaps too great
It was one thing to enter into the land of the giants
Quite another to step the giant’s spotlight

I am but a servant to YHWH, to the deliverer and redeemer
His will, way and reign are my call to action
My heart is full of his words, my thoughts of his glory
The covenant He has made is my very existence
No matter the cost, no matter the call
I will obey. I choose, today, to be faithful

For years Moses has been my leader, my mentor
I scaled the slopes of Sinai as he met with the Lord
I heard the children of Israel dancing before the calf
I knew that there was something wrong
I’ve walked with Moses and seen how YHWH walked with him
YHWH would never leave him nor forsake him
Will it be the same with me?
Will the anointing stay or go?
Will the LORD walk with us or abandon?

I know in my heart of hearts that the LORD will stay
I know that the LORD is faithful to his people,
To those with whom he has made covenant
But the fear and terror that sets in cannot be ignored
It is not all-powerful, but it is full of power
I need the LORD to give me strength
I need him to give me courage
I need him to go with me wherever I go

Watch over me, O God, and guide my steps
Lead me God of my forefathers and keep me in your covenant
Use me as your anointed one and bring me into the land
Be with me as you were with him
Stand next to me and show me your glory

– Porter C. Taylor
March 7, 2012

From “Hosanna” to “Crucify Him”: The Journey of Palm Sunday

Sermon Notes – Palm Sunday (Passion Sunday) – Year B

I would say that these notes will be shorter than normal because there are other services to prepare for this week, but I’m a bit verbose and hate cutting down on a word count. I apologize in advance if this takes a while to read!

Peace,

Porter

Liturgy of the Palms

Hosanna, hosanna. Hosanna in the highest. The Sanctus should be ringing in your ears as you listen to these lessons. The Lord has come to Jerusalem. His face has been turned toward the city like flint since coming down Mt. Tabor after the Transfiguration. The story has been moving toward this moment, yea this week, for months. The journey to Jerusalem is not the journey to the “hosannas” but to the cross. However, we cannot yet come to “crucify him!” without the triumph of, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of LORD.”

Either lesson can be used here: Jesus is yet again deconstructing our understanding of power; he is turning Roman imperialism on its head. Caesar, or any conquering general, would ride back into Rome on a chariot and/or warhorse as evidence of their successful military ventures—as proof that they had won. Often prisoners or war or foreign captives would be paraded as well. The people would cheer and the sing the praises of almighty Rome. Now, however, we have the one who is to be King (he already IS King!) entering not on a warhorse or chariot but on a donkey. What?

The crowds are absolutely correct with their sung praises of Jesus, even their ascription of a title, but their image of a King is way off. Jesus is indeed the One who is coming in the name of the Lord. He is blessed! He is the King of Israel! Their words come from Psalm 118 and are full of the promise that God will radically reverse the reality of his people; that God will uphold his covenant-promise through his steadfast, covenant love (hesed). N. T. Wright is so good on this point: though back in her land Israel is still living in exile. Rome is the ruler of Jerusalem, the Temple is empty of the Presence, and God’s people are waiting. They are waiting for their King and they think he has entered, but…

But he is not a militaristic king nor he is about to overthrow the political regime of Rome. His Kingdom is different. His Reign is humble—all powerful, yes!—but humble and founded on love. Power is not to be lorded over the gentiles (), it is instead demonstrated through the willing and voluntary death of Christ, through his humble entry into the city that he will weep over, in the helpless babe and crucified One.

In fact, if you want a good resource for Passion Week and Eastertide then go out and purchase N. T. Wright’s How God Became King. This is one of my favorite books by Bishop Wright and it gives a wonderful overview of kingship throughout the Old Testament and culminating in the incarnation, ministry, crucifixion, resurrection and exaltation of the Faithful Israelite. Any good Kingdom Theology will have this book as a resource.

The last verse in John’s account is important. The mystery of Christ is maintained until after the resurrection. The disciples did not, no they could not, understand what was in front of them (Jesus) until after his death and resurrection.

Liturgy of the Passion

Having entered the city we now turn our attention to the events of the following days. The task of the preacher on this Sunday is great. Sure, the imagery and texts may be rich and the possibilities endless, but how do you possibly cover such a vast story in 20-25 minutes? This is the beauty of Palm Sunday…while the entire Passion narrative may be read; one does not have to cover such ground in the same message. The whole Passion narrative was included in the lectionary in order to combat low church attendance on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday (not to mention the other days of Holy Week). It would be extremely confusing for someone to arrive at church on Palm Sunday and hear about the Triumphal Entry only to return the following Sunday to hear about the Resurrection: what happens in between is extremely important and to see the story as a complete story rather than individual pericopes is important.

The Triumphal Entry is behind us and we are now able to turn our attention to more important matters. No, that would be to miss the point entirely! We need to drag the humble procession of Christ into this long narrative. To really dig into the meaning of these scenes we must juxtapose the image of the crowds crying “Hosanna” with that of Jesus standing before Pilate and the crowds chanting “crucify him!” I’m about to go from preaching to meddling very quickly. It is not enough to feel anger toward Judas or toward the disciples over even toward the fickle crowd. Actually, that’s letting everyone off the hook easy. No, the really work is to recognize that I (and therefore YOU) am the one shouting “Hosanna” one minute and “Crucify him!” the next. 

Much of the “meat” of these lessons will be unpacked throughout the week. On Maundy Thursday you can really dig into the Passover meal that Jesus shared and transformed with his disciples, how he instituted the Eucharist with his words and actions. You can dig into the idea of taking him at his literal word when he says, “This is my body” and “this is my blood” or you can focus on the acts of taking, thanking, breaking and giving as acts that we should live out in our lives eucharistically (I will post on this soon).

On Good Friday you can really cover the nature and meaning of the Cross. You can get into Atonement theory to your heart’s content. You can draw parallels between Psalm 22 and the words of Jesus on the cross. You can look at the forgiveness Jesus bestows even while being murdered. You can show the picture of humiliation only to then show the picture of victory on Sunday.

All of this is good, it is very good in fact. But none of this is really the point of Palm Sunday. No, the point of Palm Sunday is to demonstrate-in my opinion—how quickly Palms can turn to Passion.

So who was it that was on the cross? Well, it was the Servant of Isaiah 50 who was a good teacher and yet became the victim of hatred. It was the one in Philippians 2 who emptied himself (kenosis) and took on the nature of a man, who was obedient unto death. It was the one who had a woman anoint his feet with expensive oil, who cleared the temple, who shared a meal with his disciples, and who willingly went to the cross. In short, is the was Suffering Son of Man; it was the King of Israel who had been cheered only to be jeered; it was Jesus of Nazareth who would prophetically become King of the Jews as a label of scorn. It was the turning upside down of power. It was the victory of love. It was God drinking the cup to the dregs. It was Jesus’ self-offering, his oblation as an act of worship.

The Orthodox have a beautiful line in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom during the Eucharistic prayer. It reads: “On the night He was betrayed, or rather gave Himself up for the life of the world.” The oblation of our Lord was no accident, nor was it done against his will. Jesus’ self-emptying was purely voluntary—in fact it is the very picture of power, of being in control. Preach on that!

To me these lessons really hone in on what it means to have the mind of Christ, what it looks like to embrace true humility, and yet they also demonstrate that our hearts are fickle. We are the victors of Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday and we are also the crucifying crowd on Good Friday—I’d even suggest that we are the betrayer on Maundy Thursday but that would get me into trouble!

Try preaching from the Liturgy of the Palms and juxtapose the scenes of the crowd crying, “We have no King but Caesar…Crucify him!” It’ll be a tough pillow to swallow on such a High Sunday but I think it’s a good practice.

Leave people with hope. We hope in the cross because we worship the Triumphant and Risen Lord. We are looking at this story from the side of Christ’s glory and can allow ourselves entrance into his narrative but always with the end in mind.

The Golden Calf

A poem that I wrote back in 2012 from the perspective of the Golden Calf in Exodus 32.

The Golden Calf

Shimmering, sparkling, gleaming, beaming,
My light for eyes to see
Dancing, singing, shouting, praising
Israel in front of me
Swirling, twirling, whirling, hurling,
Joyous revelry at my feet
Clapping, jumping, crying, praying
In rhythm with the beat

My self-awareness is little and my history short
I’ve not been around long, and am on my way out
I was created by man out of God’s gifts
I was forged in the fire with holy metal

The leader was not to be seen
He had disappeared for over a month
The people grew desperate, they were longing
For someone or something to praise
For someone or something to lead
The leader’s brother knew not what to do
He collected God’s gold in a frenzy
He set to work and formed me in flame
I was the beauty that erupted
The dazzling display for all to see

The people were full of joy, they had hope
Not in their God but in their god
Deep down they knew their efforts were folly
But their feelings were irrational
I knew that this was wrong, that I was an idol
All creatures of our God and King
Lift up our voices and hear us sing

My eyes were pointing heavenward, my heart crying
Even as the people used and abused me
The leader came down the mountain, his anger ablaze
I could feel his furor vibrating through the valley
How glad I was that he rebuked the people
How glad I was to be returned to my purpose
I am the gift of God to the people of God
I am the gold given in release from Egypt
I am not worthy of praise, indeed I am praise
May the Maker forgive me and the people
May the Creator still consider me blessed
I want to dazzle and gleam for his holy name

Dancing, singing, shouting, praising,
That’s what is due the King
Melting, molding, burning, purifying,
I am but a thing

– Porter C Taylor
March 2, 2012

Over All

I enjoy reading poetry–duh, I’m a liturgy need! I’ve also made an attempt or two at composing some poems myself. Here is a poem titled “Over All.”

This is not the way it was supposed to be.
Things were intended to be different.
Death and darkness, storm and shadow
Chaos and chronic dissatisfaction whirling around us
Running, ruling, reigning our lives.

Or are they?

You are LORD over all things
You are the one, the only

Creativity and grace, beauty and mercy
Your will and your way
You are truly our shield, our protection
Though the waters rise and the fires rage,
Your love cannot be quenched.

The world will be put to rights.
All things are to be reconciled
You will make all things new
You reign. You restore. You satisfy.

– Porter C. Taylor
January 15, 2012

Re-post: “The Discipline of Fearlessness”

I am in the process of moving some of my favorites posts from porterctaylor@wordpress.com over here to my new blog. This is another Lenten reflection from three years ago (February 27, 2012). Enjoy!

I deal with fear.  I would not say that I am a fearful person, per se, but I definitely struggle with a type of fear.  I am not afraid of death or eternity (though I used to be!), and I am not afraid of spiders, clowns or the number 13.

I am afraid of living as a new creation.

Before you write this off as a silly idea, let me explain.  Lent is a season of self-reflection and examination.  During this period we discover the areas of our lives which miss the mark completely and those that are misdirected or misinformed.  I have been thinking about fear for the past few days and I think I’ve been given an insight:

I am not afraid of what I am as much as I am afraid of what I could be.

I am afraid of what the Lord can do in and through me. 

I see my sin and know the areas which need to change, but when push comes to shove I am afraid of what that change might look like.  I prayed several weeks ago for the gift of creativity.  Since that prayer I have had the itch to write poetry, continue this blog, and to begin painting.  I want desperately to do so, but what happens if I am actually good at it?  What happens if I had a gift of creativity?  Can I accept the fact that change and transformation are good?

The title of this post exhorts us to the discipline of fearlessness.  The goal of this discipline is not to become a type-T personality with the need for an adrenaline rush, nor is the goal to move through life unafraid.  Instead, the goal is to hold in tension the reality of our sinfulness in one hand and the hope of new creation in the other.  The goal is to live without fear of what God is calling you to be and of the ongoing work his Holy Spirit is doing to transform you.

My commitment is to continue working on this blog, my poetry and any other creative endeavor that the Lord puts in front of me.  I will not allow the fear of new creation and unknown transformation to cause me to live as the old man.  He has called and I will follow.

That’s the goal.  What’s the discipline?

Fix your gaze upon Christ. 

When Peter began to walk on water and it was only when his eyes were off of his master that he began to sink.  Peter was afraid of what he was doing and it had a detrimental effect.  Fix your gaze firmly on Christ and ask him to continue in you the works he has planned and started.  Pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit to be manifest in your life and for an anointing in Kingdom work.  Seek the Lord in everything you do and know that in him you are a new creation – the old has gone and the new has come.

Living as a new creation should be cause for rejoicing, not for fear.  We are not trying to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps or celebrate our own ability, but rather we are celebrating the diverse gifts of our creative God.  We are acknowledging that he is the Creator and we are his creatures…(it’s almost as if we are admitting that we are dust and that to dust we shall return…)

Our challenge this Lent is to take on the discipline of fearlessness with the knowledge that the Risen Lord is calling and drawing us to himself.

Fear not, He has redeemed you and called you by name.

Child, you are His.