Saturday, March 30

Three Days and a Harrowing

Holy Saturday is the day between the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross and His glorious resurrection. On Holy Saturday we celebrate the Harrowing of Hell--the mystery of Christ’s descent into Hades to lead the captives in a great parade of triumph (Ephesians 4:8-10). This is therefore a day of watchful expectation, in which mourning is being transformed into joy. He who brought all things into being in creation, now makes all things new in re-creation. Christ has broken the power of death and therefore has given us life eternal.

Some might object that a death on Friday afternoon and a resurrection on Sunday morning is hardly accounts for three days. According the the Jewish method of calendar reckoning, the "three days and three nights" Christ prophesied He would be “in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40) was in fact fulfilled--and the traditional accounting of Good Friday to Easter Sunday with the harrowing between on Saturday, is altogether Biblical. The Hebrews always reckoned any part of a 24-hour cycle as a full day and night: yom. Remember, they were not Moderns like us, driven by the mathematical and mechanical structures of reductionistic rationalism.

And so it was: "On the third day, He arose."

Friday, March 29

The Seven Last Words

1. Forgiveness: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:26-35 

2. Redemption: “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:35-43 

3. Covenant: “Behold, your son; behold, your mother.” John 19:23-27 

4. Substitution: “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani.” Matthew 27:45-54

5. Suffering: “I thirst.” John 19:28

6. Triumph: “It is finished.”  John 19:30

7. Resolution: “Into Your hands I commend my spirit.” Luke 23:44-49 

Saturday, March 23

Painted Repentance

In the striking painting, The Raising of the Cross, Rembrandt was not so much creating an illustration of a Bible scene as he was making a very personal confession of sin and a profession of faith.

Rembrandt places himself in the painting twice: the first of his alter egos is the man who cruelly thrusts the cross upwards and into place; the second alter ego, is the overseer, who coolly supervises the crucifixion. Rembrandt even dresses the images of himself in anachronistically contemporary clothing, while the rest of the painting is rendered more historically—just so that his point is not missed.

Rembrandt is confessing, not only that Christ was delivered up for his iniquities; but that he was among those lawless men by whose hands Christ was killed and crucified.

As the renowned art critic Hans Rookmaaker asserted, “Taken as a general rule, the great masters rarely ever illustrated, instead they created visual metaphors or depicted poems.”

Rembrandt grasped the essence of the Gospel. And, in this 
visual metaphor or depicted poem, he painted his repentance.

Friday, March 22

A Prayer in Spring

The iconic American poet, Robert Frost, had a beautiful answer for what Sociologists and Psychologists often call either "Mindset 
Scarcity" or "Foreboding Joy." He called it "A Prayer in Spring."

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfill.

Monday, March 18

Why Palm Fronds?

The palm tree and palm leaves appear again and again throughout the Bible as symbols of integrity, honor, righteousness, holiness, godly authority, and royal glory. The palm was used in the carved decorations of the temple, usually associated with the Cherubim, but also with the regal lion and the flower in full bloom. Indeed, the association of the palm with these ideas recurs more than three dozen times. The blessing of the Lord is often portrayed as “Like palm groves that stretch afar, like gardens beside a river, like aloes that the Lord has planted, like cedar trees beside the waters” (Numbers 24:6).

In addition though, throughout the entire ancient Near East the palm also had the common cultural connotation of refreshment and restoration. Waving palm tops along the horizon heralded the location of a desert oasis, a welcome stop for both camel and traveler. Palms provided weary travelers food and shade; the oasis, water. So palm branches become the symbol of welcome, public homage, and journey’s end. It was the sign of completion, fulfillment, and satisfaction.

For both the Romans and the Jews the palm was carried in joyful or triumphant processions. In 293 BC victorious Roman soldiers bore palm branches when parading in Rome; and the palm was given as a victory emblem at public games. Palm branches were the conventional symbol of public approval and welcome by all the eastern peoples to conquering heroes, and were strewn and carried in triumphal processions. The palm tree was embossed on ancient Hebrew coins. Later, the Romans celebrated the conquest of Judea by issuing new currency, retaining the palm tree, but with an added inscription celebrating their crushing victory.

All the Gospels report that people gave Jesus the kingly honor of strewing palm branches along the path during His triumphal entry. In the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) we are told that they also laid down their garments with cut palm rushes on the street; John more specifically mentions the full palm fronds. The joyous Hosannas that the people were singing (Psalm 118) were actually from the benediction song for the Passover meal, and thus foreshadowed passion Jesus would suffer during the week ahead. In addition, the whole scene was a fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies of the coming King (Zechariah 9:9-10).

Not surprisingly, as early as the late first century the palm was connected with martyrdom (Revelation 7:9) and was used to decorate grave markers and tombs in the Roman catacombs as a sign of the triumphant death of the martyr. On mosaics and on sarcophagi it usually stands for paradise, and Christ is frequently portrayed amid palms in heaven. So also in the earliest Christian art, the Lamb of God and the Apostles are depicted amid palms. In addition, the use of the palm became an almost universal worship convention on Palm Sunday by the end of the second or the beginning of the third century.

On this Sunday, Christians will once again observe this venerable and ancient practice during our worship services, as we again sing Hosannas to our King, waving these old Biblical symbols of royal pomp and joyous celebration.

Sunday, March 17

St. Pat­rick’s Lor­i­ca (Breastplate)

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this today to me forever
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan river,
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Saturday, March 9

Chesterton's "Gloria in Profundis"

There has fallen on earth for a token
A god too great for the sky.
He has burst out of all things and broken
The bounds of eternity:
Into time and the terminal land
He has strayed like a thief or a lover,
For the wine of the world brims over,
Its splendour is spilt on the sand.

Who is proud when the heavens are humble,
Who mounts if the mountains fall,
If the fixed stars topple and tumble
And a deluge of love drowns all--
Who rears up his head for a crown,
Who holds up his will for a warrant,
Who strives with the starry torrent,
When all that is good goes down?

For in dread of such falling and failing
The fallen angels fell
Inverted in insolence, scaling
The hanging mountain of hell:
But unmeasured of plummet and rod
Too deep for their sight to scan, 
Outrushing the fall of man
Is the height of the fall of God.

Glory to God in the Lowest
The spout of the stars in spate--
Where thunderbolt thinks to be slowest
And the lightning fears to be late:
As men dive for sunken gem
Pursuing, we hunt and hound it,
The fallen star has found it
In the cavern of Bethlehem.
--Gilbert Keith Chesterton

Friday, March 1

Happy Saint David's Day

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant Hapus! 

Today is the Feast of Saint David, the Patron of Wales. During a battle against the Saxons, David suggested to King Cadwallader that the Britons wear leeks in their hats to distinguish them from their enemies. They won the battle, and to this day, Welshman celebrate the victory by affixing leeks to their hats. 

"I wear it for a memorable honour; For I am Welsh, you know, good countryman." Shakespeare "Henry V," Act 4 Scene 7