Holy Saturday

Welcome to Holy Saturday. Today, I'm going to leave you with an ancient homily for holy Saturday written by St. Epiphanius. The image of Christ going to search for Adam and Eve gets me every time. The whole homily is beautiful: Jesus brings them and all the dead up with him on his ascent back to the living and eventually all the way up to the right hand of God. But first he has to go all the way down. As Paul writes in 1Cor15: "O Death, Where is your victory? Where is your sting?" It's restorative and hopeful and a favorite practice for Holy Saturday. Find a favorite line and meditate on it today.   

St. Epiphanius, Bishop of Cyprus (403 A.D.)

Something strange is happening - there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and He has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and Hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, He has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, He who is both God and the Son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the Cross, the weapon that had won Him the victory. At the sight of Him Adam, the first man He had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone, “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him, “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying, “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.

“I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by My own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in Hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the Life of the dead. Rise up, work of My hands, you who were created in My image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in Me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

“For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

“See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in My image. On My back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See My hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

“I slept on the Cross and a sword pierced My side for you who slept in Paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in Hell. The sword that pierced Me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

“Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly Paradise. I will not restore you to that Paradise, but I will enthrone you in Heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am Life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The Bridal Chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The Kingdom of Heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity."

Holy Week Meditations: Good Friday - The Upside Down

Welcome to Good Friday. If you've been reading along thus far, we've been looking at some of the details and "secondary" characters in Matthew's passion narrative. Today, Jesus, "stretched out his arms on the hard wood of the cross so that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace..." (BCP, 101). We'll look at one more little detail in the narrative: The Jerusalem Zombies.

You're like whaaaaat? There's no zombies in this story! Let's look again: 

Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
— Matthew 27:50-54

Yeah. Pre-resurrection resurrections? Matthew is the only one to include the bit about the earthquake and its power opens graves and their occupants start coming out and appearing to folks in Jerusalem "after his (Jesus') resurrection."  It would appear that at the quake, the tombs were opened and where the earth's crust is split some bodies, caskets, etc start protruding from the ground. THEN after Sunday morning, these dead - who were left exactly where they were on Friday because Jews don't exactly like touching dead bodies (see: Good Samaritan parable) - were also raised with Jesus. 

"Are you the gatekeeper? ...wait for the sign, then all the prisoners will be released."

"Are you the gatekeeper? ...wait for the sign, then all the prisoners will be released."

So many questions about this. Did the power of the resurrection spill out a little bit and because of Jesus' proximity to other graves, a few of them get up and walk around? Were they ghosts and it was like a scene from Ghostbusters where the apocalypse is happening? Were these the folks who, as we'll learn tomorrow during Holy Saturday, when Jesus goes down to the dead/hell, on his way back up he draws up everyone with him - having destroyed death? As much as I like the first question, it was probably something closer to that last one.

Upside down. Sorry Barb.

Upside down. Sorry Barb.

As I mentioned in the last post, people are riddled with fear at this seismic and cosmic event. People had good reason to be: 1. The temple curtain was torn in two thus the veil between the holy of holies and the inner temple was lifted. It was a glimpse into the divine - nothing separating God and us. 2. The earthquake shook it all up. If you've ever experienced one you know it rattles you as much as it does your china. 3. Tombs were open and bodies came out. Icing on the cake of terror if you ask me. Things have been turned upside down. The Roman centurion assigned to Jesus' crucifixion, as his soldiers were shaking in their armor, confirms and captures the fear and awe from the Good Friday upside-down: "Truly this man was God's Son."  

Can we pause and meditate on the magnitude of quake that shakes grave clothes off not only for those Jerusalem dead but also for us? 

Helpful hints for today: Walk a stations of the cross to remember Christ's suffering. Attend a Good Friday service. Take communion from reserved sacrament. Print the passion narrative or grab a bible and take a walk to a favorite spot outside, sit, and read it again. Pray. 

Holy Week Meditations: Maundy Thursday

Welcome to Maundy Thursday! "Maundy" is a fancy way of saying "Mandate" and contrary to bro-theology does not come from the fact that Jesus' final words to his disciples were during a man-date with his bro's in the upper room. It does, however, come from the instructions he gives them - a new commandment, "Love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34-35). John's Gospel includes Jesus washing his disciple's feet and giving them this commandment. Matthew does not include this but emphasizes Jesus telling the disciples, male and female, he is going ahead of them to Galilee (the place where Jesus chose to focus his ministry). This connects the thread to what the angel says at the empty tomb and what Jesus says when he meets the two Mary's on Easter morning.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. What struck me this Maundy Thursday is the male disciple's absence after this point in the narrative. They celebrate the Passover dinner with him, Jesus washes their feet, have a love feast where he tells them "Love one another like I have loved you" and then they live into Jesus' warning and abandon him. As Presiding Bishop Michael Curry says in Crazy Christians, "Let's call the roll of those Jesus asked to follow him, let's take attendance of the apostles at the crucifixion of their Lord. Simon Peter? Absent. (The other 11 disciples?) Absent. Mary Magdalene? Present and accounted for!" (p4). Today, let's look at some PRIMARY characters in the narrative who, unfortunately, are often overlooked and treated as secondary. 

Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
— Matthew 27:55-56
Pieta by Michelangelo

Pieta by Michelangelo

Matthew includes Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of James and Joseph, and Mrs. Zebedee. Mark includes Salome. John includes Jesus' mother, Mary and Mary the wife of Clopas. There are many commentaries on why this is, including the idea that the women had a kind of immunity to be present at the cross as mourners. But really these guys were scared out of their wits. They were concerned for and terrified for their lives. 

Mary Magdalene and the first Easter egg. (According to tradition, after the resurrection, Mary traveled to Rome and presented the Emperor with an egg and exclaimed, "Christ is Risen!" The emperor replied, "Christ is no more risen than that egg is red." And immediately the egg turned red and thus we have the tradition of dyeing eggs at Easter.)

Mary Magdalene and the first Easter egg. (According to tradition, after the resurrection, Mary traveled to Rome and presented the Emperor with an egg and exclaimed, "Christ is Risen!" The emperor replied, "Christ is no more risen than that egg is red." And immediately the egg turned red and thus we have the tradition of dyeing eggs at Easter.)

Nevertheless, the women persisted. Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Mrs. Zebedee were courageous and bold DISCIPLES. They too were present in the upper room, they bank rolled the male disciple's ministry in Galilee, and when the male disciples fell asleep in the garden, the women held vigil at the tomb on the Sabbath into the wee hours of the third day. (Spoiler Alert:) on the first day of the week, the women disciples are there at the tomb. In Matthew's Gospel, they don't have spices or embalming (presumably they've already done it before they sealed the tomb of Friday night). They are going because THEY LISTENED to Jesus! He repeatedly told folks that he would be raised on the third day - so here they are, going to see! They trusted and had faith. As I heard Bishop Curry preach at the Festival of Homiletics in 2014, "If not for Mary Magdalene and the other women, we may not have known about the brother (Jesus)!"

Peter, James, and John (Jesus' inner circle) are nowhere to be found. Did they not hear him? Even Pilate and the chief priests heard Jesus' proclamation and were concerned about it - they had extra guards posted and they had the rock sealed for fear that disciples would steal the body and claim Jesus was raised from the dead. Or maybe they feared the real resurrection itself? Either way, every. single. person in the narrative is riddled with fear...except the women. Praise God for the faithful witness of Mary Magdalene. 

Pondering's for us: (From Sam Wells' Power and Passion)

  • I wonder what it is like to feel you cannot love as much as you are loved.
  • I wonder what it is like to hope like Mary Magdalene and trust in Christ wholeheartedly.
  • I wonder what it is like to run towards death instead of away from it. 
  • I wonder what it is like to not fear. I wonder especially these days, and especially as a woman, POC, or person with a disability or any marginalized person, what it would feel and look like to live without fear like Mary Magdalene? 
  • I wonder what it feels like to have joy and awe that drowns out fear and anxiety. 

Holy Week Meditations: Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Happy Holy Wednesday!! We're moving through Holy Week to the cross and the tomb and today we're looking at another minor character in the passion narrative, Pilate's wife - let's call her, Claudia

The Message of Pilate's Wife by James Tissot

The Message of Pilate's Wife by James Tissot

Though Claudia appears in only one sentence of the narrative, I think it an interesting detail worth exploring! In Matthew 27:19 we find Pilate examining Jesus and ready to make his decision when he gets word from his wife. Some artists have taken liberty and depicted Claudia herself running to tell him although it seems like a messenger is the one who brings word. Either way, she's had a dream about Jesus, which is rather odd considering who she is and where she is from: she is a Roman citizen; probably a member of the equestrian class (not horses, but a step down from senate and ruling class); and the wife of the Governor. Let's have a look at the text:  

While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.
— Matthew 27:19 (NRSV)

So perhaps it was a handwritten note that he receives. I wonder if it gave him pause. The next verse says that the chief priests and elders were growing impatient pressing him for a decision. I wonder if his ego shoved it aside - disregarded it - because Mrs. Pilate was unhappy with this post in po-dunk nowhere Judea. I wonder he wrote her off because she started having visions and dreams and his inflated sense of self thought it was not her place to influence his decisions. I wonder how she bore those private sufferings (after seeing into the heart of God's plans and Jesus' transforming love) as a loving wife, a dutiful Roman, and therefore a hopelessly trapped woman because of all of this.

Have you ever suffered a great deal because of dream? Many throughout scripture "suffered" or were bothered or had their lives interrupted because of dreams: Jacob dreams of a ladder; Joseph dreams and interprets Pharaoh's dreams in Egypt; Daniel dreams and interprets for the Babylonian King; Joseph dreams about danger from Herod and the holy family flees to Egypt; the wise men/magi dream and return home by a safer route; but these are just some highlights. The point is, God speaks to them (and us, I believe!) through dreams. I've heard it said that a reoccurring dream is the Holy Spirit telling us something but the message is not going through. After my father's death, I suffered a great deal because of reoccurring dreams - but I see them now as God comforting me and I am grateful for them. 

But back to the text and the narrative and Jesus who awaits verdict: given the nature of dreams in scripture, this is another instance of God breaking in and the veil between us being torn like the temple curtain later that day. Sam Wells points out that Claudia's use of the word "innocent" is worth noting. It spells grave consequences, morally, for Pilate that to condemn the wrong/innocent/righteous person could potentially weigh on his soul. It also gives power to Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. His sinlessness, purity, and willingness to be a sacrificial lamb are affirmed through a gentile - an unlikely character (which, is par for the course with how God chooses to operate as often he speaks and uses the outsider, the seedy character, the seemingly unworthy to reveal his kingdom and will.)  

Questions for us today:

  • Recall a time when you were unable to trust someone close to you: how did it feel?
  • Have you ever been silenced? How did it feel? 
  • What is it like to sometimes NOT be able to talk about your faith, openly, publicly? 
  • When you first met Christ, who did you tell? How did they react? 
  • Do you remember dreams? If so, how might God be speaking through them? What message is not going through?  

 

Holy Week Meditations: Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Welcome to Holy Tuesday! So in full disclosure, when I was a senior at UNC Chapel Hill I attended Holy Family Episcopal and for Lent that year, the Rev. Dr. Sam Wells (then dean of Duke Chapel) led a five week series on his book, Power & Passion and I simultaneously developed a renewed interest in pondering the scriptures as well developed a huge man-crush. But I digress. 

Today, in the spirit of that book, as eye-opening and life-changing as it was for me, we'll look at one character in our passion narrative from Matthew. Why? In Wells' words, "I am assuming that every single character mentioned in the narrative is there for a reason. No detail is trivial" (p.19). (I'm paraphrasing a lot of Sam Wells' work here - please do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.)

Cozy up. Grab a coffee. Ans lets look at Jesus Barabbas. Particularly, Matthew 27:15-23 where Jesus is brought before Pilate, the Roman Governor, and we learn about another character named "Jesus Barabbas." We learn he's a "notorious prisoner" and that Pilate probably wants both of them killed as they both pose a threat. But as the text says, he doesn't want a riot so he bows to the wishes of the crowd. One thing Wells points out and the thing I find most interesting is the meaning behind "Barabbas'" name. Seriously, the guy's name is Jesus Bar ("son") Abbas ("of the father"). Pilate gives the crowd a choice: Jesus son-of-the-father, or Jesus...wait for it...son of God the Father. Mind blown the first time I heard this. Still think secondary characters/details aren't important?

The crowd chooses Barabbas and we are meant to find ourselves among those ranks shouting, "We want Barabbas!" Barabbas was a zealot and he believed that Rome could be overthrown by violence. Jesus of Nazareth cannot even be reduced to the word "zealot" because his overthrowing will not only be of Rome but of DEATH ITSELF. It will be the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. Barabbas' followers just wanted Rome, out. Barabbas wasn't even a very good rebel - the guy was caught! But we and the crowd chose Barabbas. Jesus, it appeared to zealous followers of Judaism who were tired with the Jewish leaders in cahoots with the Romans, was also not a very good zealot. The change of which he spoke was to be an "inner, spiritual change" (p68). The ironic thing is, the change Jesus brings is not with violence (remember we just read that Jesus tells a disciple, "put away your sword...am I leading a rebellion?") but through willingly dying a violent death on an instrument of torture he makes the cross and resurrection the center of the universe (p81). 

Questions to ponder today: 

  • When have we chosen Rome's way (i.e. the way of the world/idolatry/our own desires) and not God's? 
  • Given the choice between violence and risking compassion, forgiveness, and reconciliation, which will we choose?  
  • Do you believe that Jesus died for something bigger than a free Jerusalem? 
  • Do you believe that Jesus' death was instead for love, all of humanity, and us? 
  • If yes, will you be open to receiving that love? 
  • Despite the condemnation and our choosing the easy, violent path, do we believe we are worthy of Jesus' love?
  • Do we believe that we are all imperfect, broken and make terrible choices contrary to the work of the cross? And in spite of that, do you believe that in choosing the cross and death that Jesus makes us all (in all our imperfection and brokenness) worthy?

Holy Week Meditations: Monday, April 10, 2017

Welcome to Monday in Holy Week! Today, offer a pause, a chance to recover from the drama of Palm Sunday before we plunge into looking at the secondary characters in the story that travel with Jesus to the cross.

1. ASK God to be revealed to you through this passage; express your desire to experience God and ask that the Holy Spirit move within you and inspire you.

2. (RE)READ: Matthew 26:14- 27:66. Read it twice! (it’s long, I know, but totally worth it – this is THE STORY! This is our framing text for the whole week!). First time through: just read it at a normal pace. Second time: as you read through NOTICE which details make you scratch your head; NOTICE which parts draw your eyes and attention. You know that saying, "The devil is in the details"? Not true here. For this week especially, and in this passage, GOD is in the details. 

3. DO: Carve out some time today to meditate on these questions and on this passage. IMAGINE that you are one of the characters the scene. WONDER why is God bringing this to your attention? Be alert because God is speaking to us through this, through the people we meet, through beauty, through the mess, through tough situations facing us today, and through the unexpected. We may just meet one of these character-types from the story today.

**BONUS action: CLEAN something today (inbox, dorm room, closet, office, cabinet, etc). If we’re talking about making room this week for Jesus, perhaps cleaning out some physical cobwebs will, in the debris of our souls, make space for our imagination and let us hear/see the theophany through the cacophany. 

Holy Resistance: Why I oppose the ban.

Mark 12:31: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

Leviticus 19:34: “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

Beloveds,

I am writing this letter because my own understanding of what it means to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, my study and understanding of scripture, and my hope and dream of becoming beloved community tells me that the most recent Executive Order on Jan. 27: “PROTECTING THE NATION FROM FOREIGN TERRORIST ENTRY INTO THE UNITED STATES” is directly opposed to our Christian responsibility to welcome the stranger, show hospitality, and love one another as Christ loves us.

Forget politics. This is policy and I am opposed to it. This goes beyond partisan divide. If it was coming from any administration, Republican or Democrat, I would oppose and resist it. It is less of an “Executive Order” and more a fear-based reaction making safety a false virtue. Furthermore, the root of politics and policy comes from the word “polis” or “city.” Policy is how best to serve the city or community. Christ tells us to be a “city on a hill” or in other words, “a light to enlighten the nations.” The best way to serve our city and its people? (Hint: it’s not to clam-up, close borders and look inward.) The answer comes from the lips of Jesus telling us “Love your neighbor as yourself” - the Christian virtues of charity and love.

Constitutional law aside, blocking refugee resettlement is unnecessary, anti-gospel, and amoral. Refugees are some of the most vulnerable in our society - having been uprooted, displaced, and forced to flee from violence to find a new home. Abraham, in the book of Genesis, welcomed three strangers, fed them, and showed them hospitality. In return they blessed Abraham and his wife Sarah and it serves as a reminder that when we welcome the stranger we may be entertaining angels.

I realize that within Episcopal Student Fellowship we have a beautiful and diverse group of people with varied political views. I know I risk alienating some of you. My intent is to be your pastor and leader and speak the truth in love. This is a time for conversation, prayer, and action. I invite you to participate in HOLY RESISTANCE through: petition and prayer; questioning your elected officials with civility; and acts of counter-cultural, Christ-like love. In the coming weeks, I and other Christian leaders on campus will respond and I ask you to stand with me in solidarity with our Muslim Students on Campus and with refugee families in the Winston Salem area. Below is a list of resources and actions you and I can take.

Your Brother in Christ,

The Rev. James D Franklin III

Campus and Young Adult Missioner

The Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina

Resources and Links

Note: This list is by no means extensive. I invite you, in the comments below to share helpful links for education and action.

Read the EO here: (with commentary from NPR journalists)

The NC Religious Coalition for Justice for Immigrants – steps and actions you can take.

Statements from Episcopal Migration Services and other Episcopal Leaders

Donate to World Relief (Local office in High Point)

Start a discussion and action group on campus. (Email James if you're interested)