Holy Week

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: 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.