Friday, March 29, 2013

The Death of Our Lord

At noon today, we gathered in the parking lot of Queen of Angels Catholic Church with about a hundred other Christians to walk The Way of the Cross. Catholics and Protestants came together from various churches in Alpine for the Ecumenical Stations of the Cross, something we've participated in for the past seven years. At each of the fourteen white crosses along the western fence of the asphalt lot, pastors from the various churches took turns in reading a passage of Scripture from the Gospels, starting with Jesus Praying on the Mount of Olives to Jesus Is Buried.

After each Scripture reading, the large group of Christians walked to the next cross, Jonathan and Father Acker playing a verse of "Were You There?" which everyone sung quietly until the next reading. Unfortunately, this year I couldn't walk the Stations as usual; I sat along the sidelines watching everyone else walk; fortunately, the microphones allowed me to hear the readings and sing along with the verses. It was a slow, meditative journey through Christ's last human hours as He gave up His life for us. After the fourteenth cross, everyone left in contemplative silence, the mood somber, as it should be.

Throughout Lent, I've been reading through and writing prayers for each day to the Lenten Devotional created by The High Calling. They have also arrived in my e-mail box each day, but I preferred printing them out and writing my own prayer responses on the blank page opposite in the binder I placed the printed pages into. Today's devotional may be read here: The Death of Jesus.

This is my written response, finished at 3:00 PM, traditionally the time of Jesus' death on the cross:

Dear Father,
Today--along ago Friday that we remember and re-live and re-experience each year--Jesus died. In the garden, He struggled for a moment against death, against the burden of the world's sins--past, present, and future--that He was taking upon Himself, against the separation from His disciples and from You. 
Praying with such earnestness that He perspired blood, He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, "Not my will but Yours be done." 
He watched the desertion of most of His disciples; He was confronted by the Jewish and Roman leaders yet spoke barely a word in His defense. He was mocked, ridiculed, spat upon, scourged with whips embedded with glass that ripped the skin from His body. 
Jesus was beaten past recognition.
And He accepted it all without a word. 
Even when the mockery of a crown of thorns was thrust upon His head, blood running into His eyes, down His face, soaking His hair. 
After a beating that would have killed many men, He was forced to carry His own cross through the city to the Place of the Skull, the rough wood leaving huge splinters in his scourged back and arms. After collapsing three times (according to tradition), Simon of Cyrene was forced to help Jesus carry the heavy cross to place where public executions were held outside the city gates. The road was uphill almost the whole way. 
His clothing removed, Jesus was nailed to the rough wooden cross, the symbol of ultimate shame. The nails were six inches long and half an inch in diameter--nails driven through his wrists and a third through his crossed ankles which would bear the weight of his entire body. 
The cross was raised then, and for six hours, Jesus suffered unendurable agony for six hours, from nine in the morning to three in the afternoon: the physical agony of the crucifixion plus the spiritual agony of the world's sins plus the emotional pain of the desertion of His disciples and His Father. He cried out for His Father, "Why have You forsaken Me?"   
His lungs slowly filled with fluid as Jesus drowned in water from His own body. Then at noon the sky darkened for three hours. He forgave those who crucified Him, claiming their ignorance. He forgave those who deserted Him. He gave His beloved mother into Saint John's keeping. He promised paradise to the thief who asked for Jesus' remembrance in heaven.
When Jesus surrendered His Spirit, the earth shook, graves opened, and the dead walked again. The Roman guards trembled and fled in abject fear as the Roman centurion spoke Truth: "Surely this was the Son of God!" 

Tonight I'll attend the second of the Triduum services at Victoria House with Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity. Last night we remembered Maundy Thursday, and Father Acker washed our feet. On his knees, his washed our feet, dried them, kissed them, and thanked us for our service to our Lord. It's uncomfortable to have our pastor on his knees before us, doing what seems to be such a demeaning yet intimate act, for washing the feet of guests to a home was reserved for the lowest servant in the household. I can see why Peter freaked out and refused to let Jesus wash his feet at first; it's my first reaction to pull back my foot and not let Father Acker demean himself by washing my foot, sweaty from a day's activities (and with green-painted toenails too!). But through our pastor's act, we see Jesus doing the same for His disciples, commanding them to "love one another."

Tonight we will read the crucifixion from the Gospels, each of us taking the part of the crowd,  demanding "Crucify him! Crucify him!" It brings me to the brink of tears every Good Friday. And then we venerate the cross, taking a moment before a rough wooden crucifix, touching the wooden figure representing Jesus as we remember what He did for us on that Friday nearly two thousand years ago.

Tomorrow night is my favorite service of the whole year: Holy Saturday Vigil. I'll write more about that tomorrow--the most ancient service practiced in the Anglican Church.

Wishing you all a contemplative and Holy Good Friday,

Monday, March 25, 2013

Solemnity of the Annunciation

Today, while also our eldest son's 18th birthday, is the Feast of the Annunciation, now called the Solemnity of the Annunciation. Nine months before Christmas when the Christ Child was born, this  day commemorates the word of the Angel Gabriel to a young Hebrew girl:

We read in the first chapter of the Gospel According to Saint Luke:

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

From the Saint of the Day e-mails from
The feast of the Annunciation, now recognized as a solemnity, goes back to the fourth or fifth century. Its central focus is the Incarnation: God has become one of us. From all eternity God had decided that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity should become human. Now, as Luke 1:26-38 tells us, the decision is being realized. The God-Man embraces all humanity, indeed all creation, to bring it to God in one great act of love. Because human beings have rejected God, Jesus will accept a life of suffering and an agonizing death: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
Mary has an important role to play in God’s plan. From all eternity God destined her to be the mother of Jesus and closely related to him in the creation and redemption of the world. We could say that God’s decrees of creation and redemption are joined in the decree of Incarnation. Because Mary is God’s instrument in the Incarnation, she has a role to play with Jesus in creation and redemption. It is a God-given role. It is God’s grace from beginning to end. Mary becomes the eminent figure she is only by God’s grace. She is the empty space where God could act. Everything she is she owes to the Trinity.

She is the virgin-mother who fulfills Isaiah 7:14 in a way that Isaiah could not have imagined. She is united with her son in carrying out the will of God (Psalm 40:8-9; Hebrews 10:7-9; Luke 1:38). 
Together with Jesus, the privileged and graced Mary is the link between heaven and earth. She is the human being who best, after Jesus, exemplifies the possibilities of human existence. She received into her lowliness the infinite love of God. She shows how an ordinary human being can reflect God in the ordinary circumstances of life. She exemplifies what the Church and every member of the Church is meant to become. She is the ultimate product of the creative and redemptive power of God. She manifests what the Incarnation is meant to accomplish for all of us. 
Comment:Sometimes spiritual writers are accused of putting Mary on a pedestal and thereby discouraging ordinary humans from imitating her. Perhaps such an observation is misguided. God did put Mary on a pedestal and has put all human beings on a pedestal. We have scarcely begun to realize the magnificence of divine grace, the wonder of God’s freely given love. The marvel of Mary—even in the midst of her very ordinary life—is God’s shout to us to wake up to the marvelous creatures that we all are by divine design.

So this day, the second day of this Holy Week in which we remember the last week of Jesus' earthly life, His sacrificial death on the cross, and His glorious resurrection from the dead, we also recall the manner of the entrance of our Saviour into the world. The Son of God willingly entered this world as a human infant, living a completely human yet completely divine life, a life without sin. Yet Jesus also experienced what humanity was all about: hunger and thirst, pain and alienation, and also joy and friendship, love and acceptance. He experienced what it is to be truly human; thus, He understands us after walking for thirty-three years upon this earth. I draw comfort from Jesus' earthly life, knowing that He fully understands the trials and tribulations as well as the happiness and joy of our lives. He is not a God far removed from His Creation, but One Who chose to become like His Creation in order to fully understand us...and to save us from ourselves.

Wishing you a blessed Holy Week as we walk in the footsteps of Christ during the last days of His earthly life,

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Fountain Pen...and Quotations of the Week

I was thrilled this week when the lovely Waterman fountain pen (a Hemisphere Stainless Steel) that Keith gave me for my birthday arrived. I was immediately opening my journals so that I could start writing with it, and I just love the gentle flow and excellent control that comes with writing with such an amazing instrument.

My Quotation Journal, which I started in August of 2001, is rather ravaged and very nearly full, but I thumbed through it this afternoon to find a couple of inspirational quotations to spur us onward through the midpoint of this Lenten season.

And these are the two quotations that drew me in:

"Waiting the foundation of the spiritual life."
~Simone Weil

"One is not a saint all of a sudden."
~Brother LawrenceThe Practice of the Presence of God

So patience is the theme for this week...which is very helpful for me as I'm not a very patient person. But as "good things come to those who wait," I'm trying to learn patience, not to obtain material "good things" but those "good things" of the Spirit: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5.22-23).

I pray that all of you who practice Lent are being greatly blessed, drawn closer to our loving Father through sacrifice and hearts prepared to listen to His still, quiet voice. May we hear His whispers because our minds and hearts are stilled, waiting for His voice to pierce the everyday noise in the midst of the storms of our busy lives.

I wish you all a blessed and holy Lent!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Praying Daily

Thanks to some lovely Christmas presents, I have some new additions to my prayer corner. It's a simple little place, really--just my bedside table (thus the clocks, tissues, etc.). Elizabeth gave me the small olive wood crucifix on the right wall, and my former neighbor, Sheri, who now lives in the Philippines, sent me a lovely wooden rosary from her new country.

My Anglican prayer beads (made of polished stones) hang from the bedpost, and my two icons are on the wall between the rosary and the gold cross that Benjamin gave me two Christmases ago. A framed Old Masters print that I use for All Saints' Day hangs beside my bed, and various candles illuminate the corner when I pray in the evenings.

This morning I knelt here after my Lenten devotions downstairs and prayed from one of my favorite prayer books, John Baillie's classic A Diary of Private Prayer (available used for under a dollar at this link to Amazon). Baillie was the chaplain to the Queen of Scotland and wrote this devotional classic in 1936. Baillie's note at the beginning of the book informs us:
Here are prayers for all of the mornings and evenings of the months; and at the end of the book two prayers which, when any day falls on a Sunday, may be substituted for the others or else added to them. These prayers are to be regarded as aids; they are not intended to form the whole of a morning's or evening's devotions or to take the place of more individual prayers for oneself and others.... 

As today is the 6th of the month, the Morning Prayers for the Sixth Day are given here:
O God, who hast proven Thy Love for mankind by sending us Jesus Christ our Lord, and hast illumined our human life by the radiance of His presence, I give Thee thanks for this Thy greatest gift. 

For my Lord's days upon earth:For the record of His deeds of love:For the words He spoke for my guidance and help:For His obedience unto death:For His triumph over death:For the presence of His Holy Spirit with me now:I thank Thee, O God. 

Grant that the remembrance of the blessed Life that was once lived out on this common earth under these ordinary skies may remain with me in all the tasks and duties of this day. Let me remember --His eagerness, not to be ministered unto but to minister:His sympathy with suffering of every kind:His bravery in the face of His own suffering:His meekness of bearing, so that, when reviled, He reviled not again:His steadiness of purpose in keeping to His appointed task:His simplicity:His self-discipline:His serenity of spirit:His complete reliance on Thee. His Father in Heaven.And in each of these ways give me grace to follow in His footsteps. 

Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, I commit all my ways unto Thee. I make over my soul to Thy keeping. I pledge my life to Thy service. May this day be for me a day of obedience and of charity, a day of happiness and of peace. May all my walk and conversation be such as becometh the Gospel of Christ. Amen.
Prayer in the peace and silence of my prayer corner this morning lifted my spirits and brought me closer to the Spirit of the One who loves us all with an everlasting love, thanks be to God!

Wishing you all a blessed and holy Lent,



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