Saturday, March 24, 2018

Hosanna in the Highest! It's Palm Sunday!!

Revised and updated from the Archives...

I always enjoy Palm Sunday greatly as the opening of my favorite time of the liturgical year: Holy Week. During this week, I try to focus on Jesus' final teachings to His disciples, on His humility in washing the disciples' feet, on His institution of the Lord's Supper during Passover, on His agony in Gethsemane, on His trial before the authorities, on His suffering as He was beaten and scourged almost to the point of death, on the brutal mockery He endured for our sakes, upon the sorrow and passion of His crucifixion, and finally on the joy of His miraculous and glorious Resurrection. 

The fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures always strikes me strongly during this week--so many details foretold hundreds of years before this final week of Jesus' earthly life come true in the New Testament Gospel accounts of this holy week, this last week of Jesus' human life.

In the 21st chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, we read first a quotation from the Old Testament:

This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet [Zechariah], saying,
Say to the daughter of Zion, "Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden" [Zechariah 9:9].
The disciples ... brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and He sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before Him and that followed Him were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" (Matthew 21:4-9, ESV).

By the way, the Book of Zechariah was written between 520-518 BC, more than half a millennium before the time of Jesus' Incarnation.  

The Collect for the Sixth Sunday in Lent: Palm Sunday from The Book of Common Prayer 2011 reads:

ALMIGHTY and eternal Father, who in your tender love for humanity, sent your Son Jesus Christ as a man to dwell among us and in mortal flesh to suffer death upon the cross, so that all people might learn true humility; In your mercy, grant that we may follow him in his sufferings and share in his resurrection; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (References: Philippians 2.4-8; 3.9-10; Hebrews 12.3)

In liturgical churches, the palms distributed in Palm Sunday's services are often bent and folded into crosses and then saved by being put behind icons or framed pictures of Jesus until the Sunday before the next Ash Wednesday when they are burned. The palm ashesare then used to anoint the foreheads of those attending the Ash Wednesday services as a new Lenten season begins. I love how the palms come full circle: the Holy Week from one year coming into the beginning of the next year's Lent. As Benedict states in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, "There's a double meaning in that." 

Usually I miss the liturgy of the Palm Sunday service at Pine Valley Community Church; often no one even mentions that it's Palm Sunday. But this year was different in such a great way!! The worship leader, Keith, opened the service by reading the Triumphal Entry from the Gospel of John, and we sang a praise song with the chorus: "Hosanna, Hosanna/ You are the God who saves us/ Worthy of all our praises." So we got to sing our Hosannas!! Pastor Noble extended the Palm Sunday theme by opening the sermon with Palm Sunday and the expectations the Jews had for the Messiah which he then tied into his sermon on Mark 2:1-12. I would have loved to have seen at least one palm somewhere, but today's service was a huge leap forward in celebrating Palm Sunday!! We also sang two hymns (often we're only singing praise songs): "Come Thou Font" and "All Creatures of our God and King." I texted Father Acker of Blessed Trinity to save me some palms that I keep on the shelf above my desk until the Sunday before the next Lent. 

In past years at Lake Murray Community Church in La Mesa, our church home for twenty years, we often entered the sanctuary on Palm Sunday to see huge palm fronds strewn along the front of the auditorium (and sometimes down the center aisle), and we always sang several praise songs that include the all-important word for this day: "Hosanna!!" And frequently one of the pastors or elders read of Jesus' Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem from one of the Gospels.

At Blessed Trinity Anglican Church, which meets on Sundays at the SCAIR Center in downtown El Cajon, they had a Blessing of the Palms as well as a Passion Theater in which various congregants take the parts of narrator, Jesus, and Pilate, and the rest of the congregation will be The People...the People who demanded over and over, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" mere days after welcoming Jesus with enthusiastic cries of "Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!"  

Side note: I looked up "Hosanna" to find its precise meaning. The best definition that I found came from John H. Stek on the site Bible Study Tools in which he defines "Hosanna" with the sentence: In Christ, "the age-old cry, 'Lord, save us,' has become the glad doxology, 'Hosanna,' which equals: 'Praise God and his Messiah, we are saved.'" 

I have to of course include perhaps the most common Palm Sunday hymn, "All Glory, Laud, and Honor," the lyrics of which were originally written by Theodulf of Orleans who lived c. 750-821: 

All glory, laud, and honor
To Thee, Redeemer, King,
To whom the lips of children
Made sweet hosannas ring:
Thou art the King of Israel,
Thou David's royal Son,
Who in the Lord's name comest, 
The King and blessed One!

The company of angels
Are praising Thee on high,
And mortal men and all things
Created made reply:
The people of the Hebrews
With palms before Thee went;
Our praise and prayer and anthems
Before Thee we present.

To Thee, before Thy passion,
They sang their hymns of praise;
To Thee, now high exalted,
Our melody we raise:
Thou didst accept their praises--
Accept the praise we bring.
Who in all good delightest,
Thou good and gracious King!

My week will be very busy with Holy Week services: a Messianic Seder with Blessed Trinity Anglican Church at Pepperwood Park in El Cajon on Tuesday evening at 6:15, Maundy Thursday evening services including footwashing also at the SCAIR Center at 6:30, the Good Friday liturgy again with the Blessed Trinity Anglican at the Larkspur Drive rectory in Alpine at 5:30 in the evening, and the Holy Saturday Vigil, my favorite liturgy of the entire Christian Year, also on Larkspur Drive in Alpine a little later in the evening (7:30 PM) so that the rectory is darkened as we bring in the Paschal Light, lighting our candles from the huge beeswax candle with the red "Alpha" and "Omega" Greek letters on the side and with five small nails pressed into the beeswax to represent the five wounds of Christ. 

Then we'll celebrate Resurrection Sunday with our first sunrise service since we've attended Pine Valley Community Church (four years this Easter!) then a community Easter breakfast, both held at the Pine Valley Bible Conference Center. Then we'll meet back at Pine Valley Community Church at 9:00 for one all-church Easter service. I am hoping for a joyful and exuberant celebration of the Resurrection, preferably with the singing of my favorite Easter hymn, "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today." (One can only hope!!)

Today is also the Annunciation, the day in which we remember and celebrate the Angel Gabriel announcing God's will to Mary who replied with the words that we all should say to God each day, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38 ESV). So today is a double-feast day of the solemnity of the Annunciation and the celebration of Palm Sunday which marks the beginning of Holy Week. (It's also Timothy's 23rd birthday--so today is a real party for us!)

I wish a blessed Holy Week to you and yours, dear readers. May we all experience the sorrow of Christ's sacrifical death for us and the joy of His glorious Resurrection by which He saved all people, past, present, and future, from all of their sins, past, present, and future.

Following in His footsteps this Holy Week,

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Passiontide Begins....

Crucifixion with Saints by Fra Angelico (Guido di Pietro) c. 1441-42

Updated from the Archives...
Today is Passion Sunday, the Sunday before Palm Sunday. Most of us are familiar with Palm Sunday, but what is Passion Sunday? Well, it's the beginning of Passiontide. 

But what is Passiontide? 

The Catholic Encylopedia states that the season of Passiontide encompasses the last two weeks of Lent, from Passion Sunday, the fifth Sunday in Lent, to the end of Holy Saturday Vigil. The second week of Passiontide is referred to as Holy Week, which we are far more familiar with than Passiontide itself. During this time, liturgical churches cover all crosses, crucifixes, and images of Christ and His Saints with an unornamented cloth of deep purple or black. There was one year when I did cover all of my icons, crosses, and other Christian images with black cloth, but it's not a practice that I felt was particularly helpful for me.

But I have adopted the above image of the fresco Crucifixion with Saints by my favorite artist, the medieval genius known best by his nickname, Fra Angelico (real name: Guido di Pietro), as the wallpaper on my laptop during Passiontide as a reminder of Christ's human sufferings, which He, the sinless Son of God, bore for our sake.

However, The Catholic Encyclopedia continues, "The crosses are veiled because Christ during this time no longer walked openly among the people, but hid himself. Hence in the papal chapel, the veiling formerly took place at the words of the Gospel: 'Jesus autem abscondebat se.' Another reason is added by Durandus, namely that Christ's divinity was hidden when he arrived at the time of His suffering and death. The images of the saints also are covered because it would seem improper for the servants to appear when the Master himself is hidden."

My prayer corner during Passiontide, with images/icons veiled

In addition to the veiling of crosses and images, the Gloria Patri is omitted from the liturgy, and fasting is intensified. The focus of prayer is on the sufferings of Christ: upon the humiliations, He, the King of Kings, endured on our behalf. The lessons (our daily Scripture readings) focus on His sufferings as well. Passiontide reminds us of the humanity of Christ and the extreme physical as well as spiritual agony that He willingly endured the consequences of every single sin committed by every single person who has ever lived in the past, is now living in the present, and will ever live in the future. This is the "cup" about which He prayed to the Lord, asking His Father if this suffering beyond measure could "pass by" Him, but Jesus concluded His prayer with these amazing words: "Not my will but Yours be done."

The Collect for Passion Sunday from the Book of Common Prayer 2011 reads:

ALMIGHTY God, your Son Jesus Christ appeared as a High Priest of the good things to come and entered once for all into the holy places, securing us an eternal redemption; Mercifully look upon your people, so that by your great goodness we may be governed and protected forever, in body and spirit, by the Blood of Christ; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and rules with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. (References: Hebrews 9.11-12; 1 Peter 2.9-10; 1 Thessalonians 5.23.)

May Christ's prayer, as well as the Collect for this week, resonate within all of us during Passiontide as we prepare our hearts for the sorrows and joys of Holy Week.

"Not my will but Yours be done."

In His grace,

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Saints Perpetua and Felicity

Mary and the Child Jesus (center) with Saints Felicity (left) and Perpetua (right)

Since my early teens, I have been fascinated by saints' stories. Not just with Catholic saints, but with the people of God who experienced persecution and even martyrdom. When the kids were school-age, one year I read aloud daily from a book called Jesus Freaks, a collection of stories of martyrdom compiled by Voice of the Martyrs and the Christian music group dc Talk. This anthology was filled with stories of those who suffered for Christ, many in the 20th century, and also those who were persecuted and martyred in the early centuries of the church.

As a young mother, I was especially taken by the story of Saints Perpetua and Felicity, mothers of infants who gave their children to family members and faced martyrdom in Carthage rather than renounce their Christian faith.

Thanks to Franciscan Media's Saint of the Day e-mails, today I revisited the story of these two remarkable and inspiring women who love Jesus more than anything in this world--even including their children. The friendship between these two women also struck me, as Perpetua was a young noblewoman, well-educated and well-off financially, while Felicity was a slave woman. But both went bravely to their deaths. We know so much about these women because Perpetua chronicled their days of imprisonment in writing, a work that has been passed down through the centuries and can be read here as a PDF: Perpetua's Journal.

Here is the Saint of the Day entry for today, courtesy of Franciscan Media:

Saints Perpetua and Felicity
Saint of the Day for March 7
died in the year of our Lord 203

Saints Perpetua and Felicity’s Story

“When my father in his affection for me was trying to turn me from my purpose by arguments and thus weaken my faith, I said to him, ‘Do you see this vessel—waterpot or whatever it may be? Can it be called by any other name than what it is?’ ‘No,’ he replied. ‘So also I cannot call myself by any other name than what I am—a Christian.’”
So writes Perpetua: young, beautiful, well-educated, a noblewoman of Carthage in North Africa, mother of an infant son and chronicler of the persecution of the Christians by Emperor Septimius Severus.
Perpetua’s mother was a Christian and her father a pagan. He continually pleaded with her to deny her faith. She refused and was imprisoned at 22.
In her diary, Perpetua describes her period of captivity: “What a day of horror! Terrible heat, owing to the crowds! Rough treatment by the soldiers! To crown all, I was tormented with anxiety for my baby…. Such anxieties I suffered for many days, but I obtained leave for my baby to remain in the prison with me, and being relieved of my trouble and anxiety for him, I at once recovered my health, and my prison became a palace to me and I would rather have been there than anywhere else.”
Despite threats of persecution and death, Perpetua, Felicity–a slavewoman and expectant mother–and three companions, Revocatus, Secundulus, and Saturninus, refused to renounce their Christian faith. For their unwillingness, all were sent to the public games in the amphitheater. There Perpetua and Felicity were beheaded, and the others killed by beasts.
Felicity gave birth to a girl a few days before the games commenced.
Perpetua’s record of her trial and imprisonment ends the day before the games. “Of what was done in the games themselves, let him write who will.” The diary was finished by an eyewitness.


Persecution for religious beliefs is not confined to Christians in ancient times. Consider Anne Frank, the Jewish girl who with her family, was forced into hiding and later died in Bergen-Belsen, one of Hitler’s death camps during World War II. Anne, like Perpetua and Felicity, endured hardship and suffering and finally death because she committed herself to God. In her diary, Anne writes, “It’s twice as hard for us young ones to hold our ground, and maintain our opinions, in a time when all ideals are being shattered and destroyed, when people are showing their worst side, and do not know whether to believe in truth and right and God.”
* * * * *
As we approach the halfway mark of Lent tomorrow (Day 20), it helps me to focus on those who gave their lives rather than renounce their faith in Christ. Their stories put the troubles of my life into perspective. And isn't perspective something that we all need so desperately? I know that I do!! 
"The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." ~Tertullian (c.155 -- c.240 AD)
"More Christians have died for their faith in this current [20th] century than all other centuries of church history combined." ~Dan Wooding, "Modern Persecution,"
Wishing you a blessed Lenten journey,

Monday, March 5, 2018

Review of a Favorite Lenten Devotional

Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups by Richard J. Foster
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has been perhaps the most influential book, aside from the Scriptures, that I have ever read. The selections opened my eyes to so many of the great thinkers and mystic believers of the Christian faith--most of whom I had never heard of before.

I read this book as my Lenten devotion first in 2003 when I was first exploring the idea of the catholic (small "c" catholic, as in universal) church, and again for Lent 2007.

In this large paperback, now completely dog-eared and with copious underlinings throughout the text (in two different colors from my two different readings) and even occasional notes in the margins, I met John of the Cross, Bernard of Clairvaux, Brother Lawrence, Saint Benedict, John Chrysostom, Thomas a' Kempis, Julian of Norwich, Thomas Merton, Teresa of Avila, Watchman Nee, and so many others. And I also became reacquainted with C.S. Lewis, John Bunyan, Saint Augustine, Kierkegaard, Martin Luther, John Wesley, and many more people of faith whose works I had read at Point Loma Nazarene University or since in my evangelical faith.

Each short reading (generally two to five pages) is followed by reflection questions and suggested exercises, taking these works of the Christian faith beyond the theological into the practical.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough for every Christian, whether Catholic, Eastern Orthodox (even though it rests almost exclusively in Western Christianity), or Protestant, and especially to evangelicals who may not be aware of the depth and breadth of Christian thought through the two millennia of the Church.

A brilliant book. If I could give it ten stars, I would. Truly.

View all my reviews

With Lenten blessings,


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