Monday, June 13, 2011

Trinity Sunday: The truth in the Trinity, essay by Rev. Carl Scovel

Here is the essay "The truth in the Trinity: a re-examination of some cherished Unitarian views of God, with questions", by the Rev. Carl Scovel, minister emeritus of King's Chapel in Boston, receipient of the distinquished service award by the UUA and a Berry Street lecturer, originally printed in the Summer, 1973 issue of The UU Christian Journal.

At the end of the essay I will also provide links to a few of our contemporary discussions.

Here is the essay by Carl Scovel:

If God is Three
And three's a crowd,
Then only One
Can be allowed.
If God is One
and one's alone,
Then how can God
Come to his own?
If One is Three
Where's unity?
If three is One,
Then where's the fun?
But if God's free,
He might be three,
Or one, or four,
Or less, or more.
We keep on counting;
He keeps the score.

I suppose the question will arise: "Why discuss the Trinity anyway?" Who cares? Who is going to lose sleep over it? Does it make the slightest difference to the couples wandering in the park, to the bigwigs dickering in Moscow, or to the ballplayers on the athletic field? Does it really interest anyone who attends church nowadays--Unitarian or otherwise?

I asked myself this question a dozen times as I pored over Scripture and the church fathers. And the deeper I got into this doctrine, the more I read and scribbled, the more I encountered ideas and interpretations which ran headlong into each other, the more urgently did this question press itself upon me, until I realized that I was not looking for an answer, for a new doctrine or an old doctrine, but for a question. I was looking for the question which prompted four hundred years of profound and serious and sustained theological inquiry and debate, four centuries of history which have been summarily dismissed by many Christians and virtually all Unitarians as logic-chopping and vain speculation.

Yet we seek for the questions which will illuminate our faith. The issues which faced the church fathers during the first three centuries A.D. are here today, but they are badly put and badly argued. This is not surprising, for theology is hard and desperately unrewarding work. It is easier to spend one's time in committee meetings. But what the church--laity and clergy alike--needs today is clarity. We need to understand the promise that has been given to us. We need to know what is asked of us and what we have a right to ask. It is, therefore, not only proper but essential that we look at the church doctrines which we have so smoothly and arrogantly passed over before--and one of these is the doctrine of the Trinity. And if we need to go beyond the council of Nicea in 325 A.D. we need also to go beyond William Ellery Channing's 1819 Baltimore sermon on Unitarian Christianity.

The case for trinitarianism

In that sermon, Channing articulated the principal arguments against the Trinity which Unitarians have raised throughout Christian history. He said quite simply that the doctrine of the Trinity could not be found in the Bible. It was the same argument used by Michael Servetus three hundred years before and by Arius twelve hundred years before that. Channing wanted to go back to the simple religion of Jesus as he saw it in the Gospels and to bypass all the seemingly useless theological wrangling that followed.

And there's much to be said for Channing's side. The New Testament doesn't ever use the word "trinity." Tertullian coined it in the third century. Jesus refers to God as his father, says he must obey his father, return to his father, and so forth. He clearly subordinates himself to God. But what most Unitarians miss in the New Testament is the way in which Jesus identifies his work with God's work and his will with God's will (cf John 14:1-11). "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me." "He who has seen me has seen the Father." "Know you not," he says to Phillip, who has asked him for a big display of miracles, "know you not that I am in the Father and the Father in me?" This echoes the faith of the early church. "God was in Christ," says Paul, "reconciling the world to Himself." (2 Cor 5:19). And again: "For if there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Cor 8:6). The New Testament may not teach the Trinity, but it surely seems to pave the way for the idea of the Trinity. The texts just cited are simply ignored by most Unitarians when they talk about going back to that "simple religion of Jesus."

It is necessary to realize that Jesus' ministry per se did not make a tremendous impact on the world while he was alive. His impact came after he died, in the events which we call the Resurrection. He came alive in the remembering, in the reliving of his life, by those who felt his impact in a way that they did not seem to when he was alive and with them. In a sense, he was more alive after he died, alive to those who were so struck by him that now they did not quite know what to do with their traditional Father-God. Jesus now seemed more real to them. They knew Jesus had taught them of the Father-God, but he seemed so much more vital than the God of tradition--until it occurred to them that the reason he seemed so real was that it was this God who was with him and in him and through him, and through him was now with them. Emmanuel--God-with-us--came true in Jesus Christ. This, I submit, was the early Christian's experience of God.

The question which the early church was trying to answer was: How is God with us? And the church answered it by saying, "He is with us through Christ, God's spirit now moving and speaking in our church, among us, present in our hymns and prayers and preaching and in the breaking of bread." No, this in itself does not create a doctrine of the Trinity, but it is clear that the Christian experience was moving in that direction.

The Council of Nicaea

I will not attempt to describe here the two centuries of debate that preceded the council of Nicea. What the Council decided in 325 was that the Son of God was not an angel, nor a creature like other creatures, but was derived from the very essence of God Himself. Christ was "God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God; being of one substance (homo-ousios) with the Father."

Now of course the Council of Nicea was a highly politicized event. It was called by the emperor, Constantine, in order to bring about theological unity in his empire. He paid the expenses of the 318 bishops who attended, and it is likely that he neither understood nor really cared much about the arguments that filled the air. What he wanted was a unified statement of belief, and he got it. Only two of the bishops who attended the Council--one of them Arius, a proto-Unitarian--refused to sign it.

I am convinced that certain benefits resulted from this decision. The trinitarian style of thinking preserved both the majesty of God and his proximity to his children, asserting both his mystery and his love without compromising either. The trinitarian style of thinking kept a certain motion or dynamic in the center of God. There is a church in Constantinople (Istanbul) which has a mosaic depicting God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit dancing with each other hand in hand. Motion is essential to an understanding of God, unless you prefer to see God as a big clockmaker who winds up the clock and then goes to sleep.

But the political atmosphere of Nicaea and the harshly dogmatic debates turned Christianity into a religion of propositions which one either assents to or denies. I can appreciate the (small t) trinitarian style of thinking, but hardening this into the formula of (capital T) Trinity has hurt the Christian faith.

Servetus and afterwards

It was up to Michael Servetus 1206 years after Nicaea, to raise this question again when he published On the Errors of the Trinity in 1531. In this work, written in the midst of Protestant and Catholic inquisitions, Servetus affirmed that the Bible teaches the Father is supreme, the Son is coeternal with the Father but subordinate to him, and that the Son can save mankind without being equal to the Father. For these heresies Servetus was executed in 1553, but his ideass travelled across Europe and eventually reached England, where in 1714 a young minister named Samuel Clarke, rector of the church of St. James in Picadilly, wrote a book that might have come from the pen of Servetus himself. It was called On the Scriptural Doctrine of the Trinity, and with 1250 Scriptural citations attempted to prove exactly what Servetus had said. Just before his death, Samuel Clarke amended the Book of Common Prayer, removing the prayers to Christ and the Athanasian Creed, and substituting Scriptural doxologies for the Gloria Patri. It was this revision of the Service of Morning Prayer which 55 years later became the basis for James Freeman's revision of the prayerbook at King's Chapel. The prayerbook now used in King's Chapel, therefore, contains the classical Unitarian Christian theological position. The prayerbook protects this position and makes possible its enunciation every Sunday.

From Unitarian Christianity to Humanism

At one time Unitarian Christianity was the theological position of every American Unitarian church. Now it is the position of relatively few Unitarians, and those few are dwindling. There is a reason for this. Unitarian Christianity has sought simplicity. Simplicity is fine, but simplicity has its dangers. It tends to become a religion of that which is intellectually the easiest to grasp, and of what feels to be true at the moment. Furthermore, one God without dynamics and without a mediator becomes either the unmoved Never, utterly transcendent and remote from man, or else becomes solely the Father God, so anthropomorphic that he ceases to be believable as God. For example, the God whom Channing described in his Baltimore Sermon sounds for all the world like a benevolent New England merchant. Very anthropomorphic.

In this Unitarian Christianity, God becomes either too remote or too close, but in either case the same result ensues. Man takes God's place. Unchecked Unitarianism then leads to Humanism. As Robert Frost aptly stated it in a passage in his Masque of Mercy (describing a bookstore owner named Keeper):

Keeper's the kind of Unitarian
Who having by elimination got
From many gods to Three, and Three to One,
Thinks why not taper off to none at all,
Except as father putative to sort of
Legitimize the brotherhood of man,
So we can hang together in a strike.

Intellectual positions do have consequences: What has happened to American Unitarianism is no accident. And what is amazing is how much mysticism and God-talk and orthodox hymnology still remain in Unitarian churches--a witness to the spiritual hunger of the human heart.

The church in a godless world

If then, we are to go beyond Nicaea, we must also go beyond Channing. We cannot go back to what is called "the simple religion of Jesus." It is just not available to us, and, after all, Christian faith is the response to Jesus; it is in fact the religion about Jesus, and there is no escaping this.

But we must begin where we are--in an essentially godless world, a world that gets along by and large without a sense of God and probably will indefinitely. Yet we are a special community--we who call ourselves Christians. We have elected to stand within the promise that God is with us. By being members of the Christian church we assume that somehow this promise is true, although we do not understand how. In fact, our question is the same one the church fathers asked so many centuries ago: "How is God with us? What does it mean--to be in Christ? How can Christ be close to us and yet remain still God in all His, or Its, mystery?" I believe that if we have the courage to ask these questions, God in his time and in his ways will answer us.


[Here are some more links for more recent conversation and exploration. The first is the link to an archived blog discussion on Chris Walton's Philocrites blog stemming from a post on the anti-trinitarianism of Isaac Newton and the place of responses to the Trinity in the UU history and tradition and contemporary setting. of the newer reconstruction of the Trinity comes from both liberation theologians, and missional church theologians such as Jorgen Moltmann, and also process theologians. For a bibliography of how process theologians approach the Trinity go to have also had good discussions online of the Trinity and UUism in our UUCF-L and UUCF-bible email lists you can join through the site.

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Friday, December 3, 2010

Advent 2b: "The First Christmas": genealogy as destiny chapter

Excerpts for discussion from Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan:

"Most Christians and many non-Christians could tell you the basic story of the conception and birth of Jesus. But they would probably never mention the detailed genealogies given to him in Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38...Nowhere is it so clear as in these two genealogies that theological metaphor and symbolic parable rather than actual history and factual information create and dominate the Christmas stories of the conception and infancy of Jesus.

Different genealogies for the same Jesus:
Matthew comes at the very start of his Christmas story while Luke's genealogy comes at the start of Jesus' public life--after his baptism, in fact--and therefore outside his Christmas story. Matthew goes from Abraham to Jesus; Luke from Jesus to Adam. Matthew descends from David through Solomon, a king; Luke descends from David through Nathan, a prophet; Matthew names Jesus' grandfather as Jacob, but Luke names him as Heli. Both are heavily male-oriented, but Matthew names four women ancestors whereas Luke names none. Where have all the mothers gone?...They point to Josephus' own genealogy as an example, as Josephus includes especially how he has a royal and a priestly lineage, and they say "That combination is the highest Jewish pedigree for that time and place. Luke--but not Matthew--gives a similar double pedigree to Jesus. He is of priestly lineage through Mary and of royal lineage through Joseph. "

The importance of the women named in Matthew's genealogy:
Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, wife of Uriah (Bathsheeba), and Mary. Tamar played a prostitute and bore two sons by her father-in-law who had disowned her, in order to gain justice. Rahab was a Caanite prostitute from Jericho who helped the Israelis. Ruth was a Moabite woman married to an Israeli, a widow who did not desert her Israelite mother-in-law who also became widowed, she returns to Bethlehem with her and seduces Boaz whom marries her. Bathsheeba was the wife of the Hittite warrior Uriah whom David committed adultery with and bore sons, and after Uriah is killed in battle after being ordered to the front by David, David marries Bathsheeba.

The first four were all Gentiles and they say Matthew, who also includes the Gentiles,the Persian Magi, in his infancy story, might be stressing the inclusion of Gentiles in the broader story of Israel. They go on with other possibilities: "The second answer haas the advantage of connecting all five mothers together. In every case there was a marital abnormality, but it was precisely through these five somewhat surprising or irregular unions that God controlled the lineage of the Messiah. It has also been suggested that the women took the initiative and moved boldly to solve the irregularity. But, although that is certainly true for Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and maybe even Bathsheeba with regard to Solomon's royal ascendency, it is hardly true for Mary--as Matthew, rather than Luke, narrates the infancy of Jesus....Why did Matthew find it necessary to defend Mary by linking her to those other ancestral women?" That will be discussed in the next chapter, and the next post...

Luke's genealogy: it emphasizes Jesus' title as Son of God, which is also used at the baptism; Luke's ending the genealogy with Adam evokes Genesis, as does the baptism scene in Luke. His purpose is theological: "Jesus is a new Adam, a new "Son of God", the start of a new creation, the beginning of a transfigured earth."

But why evoke a genealogy at all? Descent from Abraham was true for all Jews; descending from David didn't make one a Messiah. At the time of Jesus, however, there was already a divine Son of God (Augustus), and one who claimed a genealogy back to the time of Troy and the goddess Venus and her child Aeneas who through his son Julus begins the Julian family line. Aeneas escpaes Troy taking his father on his shoulder (his father carrying the family idols) and his son by his hand, and flees to Italy. Artistic scenes of that story were ubiquitous in the Roman empire of Jesus time....Think of that imperical image, they write, when you read the biblical story of another fleeing family.

"...if you wanted to oppose and replace one Son of God born with a millenium-plus descent from the divinely born Aeneas,you would have to introduce an alternative Son of God with a better than millennium-plus descent from, say, the divinely born Isaac, as in Matthew, or, better, the divinely created Adam, as in Luke. But what is always clear is that ancient genealogy was not about history and poetry, but about prophecy and destiny, not about accuracy, but about advertising."

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Advent 2a: "The First Christmas" Discussion--context

Excerpts for discussion From Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan:

"What would you think of a book that started with the opener, I am going to discuss Mahatma Gandhi as a Hindu saint, but I'll skip all that distracting stuff about British imperial India.?..."

They rely on the concepts of text and context and matrix; they say it is clear you can't have context without a text, but not so clear that you can't have a text without a context; and matrix is the "necessary mutuality and reciprocity of text and context." So, for Christmas discussion, they say their context is to set out first the "clash between the kingdom of Rome and the kingdom of God" and the differences between the two. Then they discuss the "terrible brutality with which the kingdom of Rome struck Jesus' Galilean heartland around the very time of his birth."

The matrix fo the Christmas stories has three layers for them: 1. first that they were understood only within Christianity; 2. after WW II "especially forced ecumenical respect but historical accuracy between contemporary Christianity and Judaism, the contextual matrix was expanded to interpret the Christmas stories within Christianity within Judaism, especially for that traumatic first century c.e.; 3. especially at the end of the 20th and start of the 21st century,the "full context for those Christmas stories is to see them within Christianity within Judaism within the Roman Empire.

The context: their use of the term "kingdom" "emphasizes not so much territorial space, regional place, or ethnic identity, as much a mode of economic distribution, a type of human organization, and a style of world orderk social justice, and global peace....The infancy stories of Matthew and Luke "move, of course, within the kingdom of God over against the kingdom of Rome."

The kingdom of Rome: After Octavian's defeat of Antony and Cleoptra at the Battle of Actium in 31 bce, the "Augustus-to-be had saved the Roman Empire and brought peace to the Mediterranean...Was he not Savior of the World? And that almost instant upgrade from Son of God--son that is of the already divine Julius Caeser--to God in his own right was not just because of Augustine's personality or even character, but because of his program...the four successive elements of Roman imperial theology...religion, war, victory, peace. You worship the gods,you go to war with their assistance, you are victorious with their help, and you obtain peace from their generosity...always peace through victory, peace through war, peace through violence.

The kingdom of God: Drawing from the Book of Daniel, also written near the time of the beginning of the Roman Empire, they discuss how Daniel condemns all the other kingdoms besides God's, and God's kingdom has the same end for peace, but it is peace through justice and nonviolence. The question for Judaism in considering the vision of God's kingdom is what would God do to the Gentiles, and how?...In the bible, both Hebrew and Christian scriptures, there are two answers to the what: one is that there would be a final extermination in battle, the other that there would be a great conversion to the God of peace and a feast of all nations..."Which one, do you think, is announced by those Christmas stories? When Luke's angels announce "peace on earth" to those shepherds at Bethlehem, is it peace through victory or peace through justice?"

The answer to the how it would happen raises the question of a mediator to effect it: "Would God have some Messiah or Christ--that is, some Anointed One--as viceroy or administrator for the establishment on earth of the kingdom of God?" They give two examples of a pre-Christian Jewish expectation of such a Messiah: the first from the Psalms of Solomon, and names the one as Son of David, who does battle of sorts, but not militarily, against Rome; the other from the Dead Sea Scrolls, and names the one as Son of the Most High, with an eternal kingdom of peace.

Now they turn to the immediate context of Nazareth of Jesus' birth near the time of Herod the Great's death in 4 bce. Jewish uprisings after that death, and they carried messianic overtones. Putting down those uprisings was done with brutality. One of the uprisings happened at Sepphoris, capital of the Galilee, very near Nazareth. The Roman legions went to Sepphoris and burned it and enslaved its inhabitants. History doesn't record what happened to nearby villages, but later when it does record other Roman punishments for uprisings they did the same brutality to nearby villages.

"Jesus grew up in Nazareth after 4bce, so this is our claim. The major event in his village's life ws the day the Romans came. As he grew up toward Luke's coming of age at 12,he could not not have heard, again and again and again, about the day of the Romans--who had escaped and who had not, who had lived and who had died...This is our imagination to what his coming of age entailed:

"One day when he was old enough, Mary took Jesus up to the top of the Nazareth ridge. It was springtime, the breeze had cleared the air, and the wildflowers were already everywhere. Across the valley, Sepphoris gleamed white on its green hill. "We knew they were coming," Mary said, "but your father had not come home. So we waited after the others were gone. Then we heard the noise, and the earth trembled a little. We did too, but your father had still not come home. Finally, we saw the dust nd we had to flee, but your father never came home. I brought you up here today so you will always remember that day we lost him and what little else we had. We lived, yes, but with these questions. Why did God not defend those who defended God? Where was God that day the Romans came?"

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Advent: First Week Online Conversation of "The First Christmas": How To Approach The Nativity Stories

Advent and Christmas Conversation: excerpts from The First Christmas by Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan

Each week of Advent, we will post excerpts from this book and invite your reading, reflections, and your own response here; also post links for conversation that develop the themes of each week's posting.
First Week of Advent Discussion: How To Approach the Nativity Stories...

"Because of the importance of Christmas, how we understand the stories of Jesus' birth matters...They are : sentimentalized. And, of course, there is emotional power in them. They touch the deepest of human yearnings for light in the darkness, for the fulfillment of our hopes, for a different kind of world. Moreover, for many Christians, they are associated with their earliest memories of childhood. Christmas has emotional power. But the stories of Jesus' birth are more than sentimental. The stories of the first Christmas are both personal and political. They speak of personal and political transformation. Set in their first century context, they are comprehensive and passionate visions of another way of seeing life and of living our lives. They challenge the common life, the status quo, of most times and places. Even as they are tidings of comfort and joy, they are edgy and challenging. They confront "normalcy," what we call the "normalcy of civilization"--the way most societies, most human cultures, have been and are organized.

...Our task is twofold. The first is historical: to exposit these stories and their meanings in their first-century context. The second is contemporary: to treat their meanings for Christian understanding and commitment today...We think hearing their ancient and contemporary meanings matter particularly for American Christians today. To say the obvious, America is in the powerful and perilous position of being the empire of our day. As we will see, the stories of the first Christmas are pervasively anti-Imperial. In our setting, what does it mean to affirm with the Christmas stories that Jesus is the Son of God (and the emperor is not), that Jesus is the savior of the world (and the emperor is not), that Jesus is Lord (and the emperor is not). The repetition risks growing tiresome.

"There is a political meaning and challenge in these stories, both in their ancient writings and today. Of course, these stories are not "only" political--they are also deeply personal. They speak,and speak powerfully, about our deepest yearnings and about God's promises and passion. They are religious in the way the Bible as a whole is religious: life with the God of Israel, the God of Jesus, is both personal and political. The personal and political meanings can be distinguished but not separated without betraying one or the other. And because the political meaning of these stories has commonly been overlooked, we highlight it...Doing so involves no denial of the way these stories also speak to our lives as individuals. They are about light in our darkness, the fulfillment of our deepest yearnings, and the birth of Christ within us. They are about us--our hopes and fears. And they are about a different kind of world. God's dream for us is not simply peace of mind, but peace on earth."

[Borg and Crossan then spend a chapter discussing the stories as "pageantry" in the way many people have come to think and understand them, and how both Matthew and Luke present different pageants, how pageants can be done, but how important it is to make distinctions between the two versions so meaning is gained and not lost. They also say many Christians see the stories as fact and nothing more, while others see them as fable and nothing more. But they use a third way approach, seeing them mostly as parables, and also as overtures to the rest of the respective gospels. So Matthew's nativity stories carry seeds of themes that are seen again grown in the rest of Matthew--Jesus as the new Moses and Herod as the new Pharoah foreshadowing much of the way the Hebrew stories are recast as Christian stories in that gospel--and the same is true of Luke where the emphasis on the movement of the Holy Spirit and also on women and the poor and liberation can also be seen in its nativity stories with the focus on angels and Mary and shepherds.]

"Jesus told parables about God and the advent of God, the coming of God's kingdom. His followers told parables about Jesus and his advent, the coming of the bearer of God's kingdom. In this sense, we see the birth stories as parables about Jesus. We focus on their more than literal more than factual meanings. To see these stories as parabolic or metaphorical narratives does not require denying their factuality. It simply sets that question aside. A parabolic approach means "Believe whatever you want about whether the stories are factual--now, let's talk about what these stories mean. Meaning, not factuality, is emphasized....(they write how no one argues over the facts of Jesus' parables and whether their actions really happened and their characters were really true, but instead delve into the meanings; the same should be taken with the parables about Jesus.)

"A second feature of the parables of Jesus adds to our model of interpreting the birth stories...They subverted conventional ways of seeing life and God. They undermind a "world" meaning a taken for granted way of seeing "the way things are."...And just as Jesus told subversive stories about God, his followers told subversive stories about Jesus....Who is the King of the Jews? That was Herod the Great's title, but Matthew's story tells us Herod was more like Pharoah, the lord of Egypt, the lord of bondage and oppression, violence and brutality. And his son was no better. Rather, Jesus is the true King of the Jews. And the rulers of his world sought to destroy him. Who is the Son of God, the Lord, the savior of the world, and the one who brings peace on earth? Within Roman imperial theology, the emperor, Caesar was all of these. No, Luke's story says, that status and those titles belong to Jesus. He--not the Emperor--is the embodiment of God's will for the earth.

For the Second Week of Advent Discussion, we will take up the chapters "The Context of the Christmas Stories" and "Genealogy as Destiny." Third Week: "An Angel Comes To Mary" and "In David's City of Bethlehem". The Fourth Week of Advent: "Light Against the Darkness" and "Jesus as the Fulfillment of Prophecy". For Christmas: "Joy to the World."

You are welcome to comment on the quotes and points above, especially to share personal journeys along the road in your life of finding deeper meaning in how you yourself have learned to approach the nativity stories, both personal and political.

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Thursday, April 5, 2007


We begin with Frank O. Holmes' excerpt from his meditation manual for Lent, "My Heart Leaps Up" AUA, 1956.

Easter Day: God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. Gospel of Matthew. Prayer: O Thou who art Alpha and Omega, our Source and Home, Thy Power is sufficient, Thy Love is complete. Into Thy hands I commit my spirit, knowing that in thy victory is the assurance of my true good, and of the good of all souls, now and evermore. Amen.

Type rest of the post here

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Good Friday/Holy Saturday

From Frank O. Holmes' meditation manual "My Heart Leaps Ups" AUA 1956.

Good Friday: Jesus...who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross. Meditation: I am not asked to endure beyond my strength. My responsibility is to use, this day, those resources of courage which have been entrusted to me. Let me then show forth, without delay, the largeness, patience, and power of my mind. And let me have confidence that, when the harsher and more solemn crises of experience come, I may trust myself to the ample power and mercy of the Divine Spirit to which my human spirit is akin.

Holy Saturday: Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee. St. Augustine. Prayer: In the face of all that I cannot understand, and before the future which I cannot foresee, I would offer Thee the reverence, the trust, the confident hope of my heart. Help me to know that beyond all ugliness is beauty; beyond all wrong is forgiveness; beyond all separation are understanding and peace. Amen.

Type rest of the post here

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Maundy Thursday

from Wallace Robbins' "For Everything There Is A Season" :

There were many reasons for rejecting Jesus. His own brothers and his mother could not take his claims to a mission seriously and urged him to come home. His neighbors were annoyed by his presumption, for they knew that he was the son of a carpenter and that he had grown up in Nazareth. Who did he think he was!

The scholars pointed out that he was unschooled, without academic credentials. Those who were specialists in matters of the occult said that the remarkable cures he seemed to be able to effect were due to his familiarity with demons. The good decent people were shocked that he not only had no compunctions against it but actually sought out the company of grafters and prostitutes. It was doubtful to the pious whose dyspepsia wasted their flesh that a man who openly enjoyed eating and drinking was worth much spiritually. One of his closest followers watched him receive a luxurious present with disgust. He said aloud that it could have been sold and the proceeds given to charity. The man upon whom he chiefly depended for intuitive knowledge and ready loyalty chided him for taking his mission so seriously that he would willingly risk his life for it.

Near the end Jesus, who mostly appears to be positive and optimistic about men, grew discouraged about all of his own disciples. He was aware of their different motives for joining him, different from one another and different from his own. Some wanted honors in the coming kingdom; others, power over this world; others wanted to be given his affection, to lean on him; still others, to possess his spiritual strength and have the glory of going about casting out evil and doing good. He could give them none of their wishes in the quality and quantity they demanded and he became a man of sorrow even before a scourge was laid into his flesh or a nail was driven between his bones, for those who marched with him, waving the banners of victory one day, he knew would scatter on the day of danger. When darkness would cover the earth and the curtain which covered God would be rent from top to bottom, his followers would be far from him: betrayers, deceivers, run-aways.

The church, which in some distorted yet true way stands as a shelter and home to the spirit of Jesus, is subject to the ancient rejections of Christ himself. For the church is approached as was Jesus as a source of personal favor. What good can the church do me and my family? is the question. The answer is harsh, unwelcome. The church can only teach you to stop asking such selfish questions, perhaps to teach you to deny yourself and take up your own cross.

Happiness does not consist of avoiding life and all the mixture of good and bad people in it. Nor does it arise out of abstaining from food and drink, and insulting those who offer you the tokens of their love. All the goods of the earth are blessed and all the people are better than good, for they are forgiven. The world is good because the spirit of healing broods over it even in its groaning and travail. The worst of personal living has in it the gift of grace, and death has no victory over him who knows that it is not on this side of its shadow but through its darkness and on the other side that there is felicity. It is by losing our life that we find it, not just at the end of our years, but now.

There are still reasons for rejecting Jesus and his everlasting spirit which haunts the church which he founded, waiting for unselfish muscle to find animation, waiting for devoted spirits to affirm his purpose.

From Frank O. Holmes' meditation manual "My Heart Leaps Up" AUA, 1956.

Maundy Thursday: I believe in...the communion of saints. Apostles Creed. Prayer: For the wonder of all companionship: the exchange of word and thought, the achievement of work together, the sharing of joy, I give Thee thanks. In cheefulness, patience, fidelity, and good-will, may I be found worthy, this day, of the comradeship of good men and good women. Amen.

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