In the Christian Church Calendar, we are currently in a season that is numbered according to the Holy Day of Pentecost, the day we celebrate the Holy Spirit falling on the apostles fifty days after Jesus’ death (hence the name Penta-cost).
Jesus had told the disciples to go out into the world ministering this Gospel to the world, but first, to wait. What would be so important as to put the brakes on the mission of God in the world?
Yesterday in the Christian church calendar was Ascension Day, the day we celebrate Christ ascending into heaven 40 days after his resurrection and now sits at “the right hand of God the Father.”
The Useless Ascension
The idea of “Ascension” doesn’t seem to get a lot of play nowadays in the Church. This, in spite of the fact that it is an essential part of all the Church’searliestdoctrinalformulations, and the subject of the most-quoted Old Testament verse in the New Testament:
The Lord says to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.”
Compared to other, non-creedal things like Hell, homosexuality, and “attacks on biblical authority”, the Ascension isn’t really talked about. Maybe this is because the Ascension isn’t really a “doctrine”–it’s an “event” and a “declaration”.
And we western Christians love our systematic “doctrines” that we can pick apart as nauseam and/or figure out how we can “apply it to our lives” in such a way that we can feel like we’re “good Christians.” But honestly, the Ascension doesn’t have many direct applications for today. Continue reading →
I really debated on writing this post. Those most intimate of place between my soul and my Creator are too often converted in my mind into sermon, blog, or conversational thoughts. I tend to be quite promiscuous with the details of my relating to God.
Yes, for many, it is helpful, valuable, and “authentic” to be let in to the inner sanctum of one’s spiritual processing. But it comes at great cost to my own vibrancy. I recall a critique I heard once of the great mystic monk Thomas Merton that he “never had an unpublished thought or experience”.
I can relate.
So what am I talking about? When you read this, I will be on a bus from Holland, Michigan to Kalamazoo. A monk will meet me there and will take me to St Gregory’s Abbey in Three Rivers for a week-long silent retreat where I will disconnect from all electronics and means of communication. I won’t read anything but prayer books, poetry, and my Bible. No phone, email, texting, kindle, news, podcasts, or anything. Continue reading →
I’m really looking forward to doing a happy sermon sometime soon. But alas, I find myself preaching on both Ash Wednesday and Good Friday this year–not the happiest of Church Holy Days.
And yet there is hope.
It’s fashionable to emphasize the narrative nature of God’s work in the world. And yes, it’s true–there is a progressive nature to Redemption, with a beginning, middle, and end.
But God’s work is also often cyclical, with certain rhythms and movements that return, repeat, and fold within one another.
I had this in mind as I went into this sermon. Yes, we ought to press into the darkness and doubt of the Cross without just quickly comforting ourselves with the Resurrection–we have to sit there for a bit–and yet the Church Calendar gets into our bones and souls to such an extent that it transforms the darkness. We can never sit in the Cross’ forsakenness without feeling the spiritual muscle memory of previous Easters gone by. And in that is hope.
This realization led me to largely do away with my notes (which you can find below) when giving this sermon and largely ad-lib, speaking from the heart as I wrestled with this stuff in real-time. The text selections came from Matthew 26-27, and here’s the sermon audio. Feel free to send me any thoughts, questions or concerns:
…fast falls the eventide; the darkness deepens; Lord with me abide…
Both viruses and people get themselves into us, infect us, surprise us, and change us–both for good and ill. And when they depart we are left with that most complex simplicities of emotions, asking simply: what was that? The story, the episode, that previously seemed to exist with such continuity now seems so disjointed from all others that “the purpose” seems our only thought.
…When other helpers fail, and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, abide with me…
We wonder, we wander, seeking our Home, our Rest, our Selves. We recast our history in the eyes of this present trial, this present pain, this present darkness, and feel the twitch and fear that comes whenever we seriously consider all we’ve done before and all it represents within us–all the trials caused, the pains committed, and the darknesses within us.
One of the smartest and funniest women at my church, Alyssa, has this great blog you should all follow. In it, her observations on life, cities, and spirituality are whip smart and hilarious. Several weeks ago, she put up a post asking “Is Trump America’s Lent?” She writes:
For the purposes of this argument, let’s call Lent an annual wake-up call, a reminder that we aren’t as good as we think we are….Trump’s success so far is a wake-up call in itself, like a large-scale Lent: maybe we aren’t as good as we think we are. Apparently, as a country we’re actually more racist and fearful than we thought we were just a few months ago, when people laughed at the thought of him actually standing a chance. The land of the free might just be okay with building that wall. The home of the brave is actually pretty scared of Muslims.
This is incredibly insightful, and I think it turns our national “Trump-versation” to a helpful place in the Lent season. Rather than trying to understand “the Trump voter” on a micro-individual level–a level full of misunderstanding, prejudice, and judgmentalism on all sides–we might turn our gaze inward to our nation as a whole. Looking at the bigger movements and structures of our society, we can ask the hard questions that you can’t really ask when staring another individual in the face.
Remember the beginning of Lent, when I said I wanted to lay out a vision for how Christian men can think about God, the Church, and Theology in a way that takes into account the concerns of feminists? I said that these thinkers had been exposing the very real damage that has been wrought by us treating “White Male Theology” as default, neutral, objective “Theology”.
Well, believe it or not, we never actually got to what I wanted to write about. Full disclosure: that whole series was conceived because I had written a paper on this topic that I was proud of–a paper I wanted to edit down and make into a series of blog posts. And yet, before we could get to what amounted to a term paper, I had to take the reader through a lot of the other ideas that were in the rest of the class. Continue reading →
I wish everyone I know and love could come to Holy Week. The service of the Twelve Gospel Readings is so rich. It is long and it is rigorous (3 hours) but that is the purpose of liturgy — to re-form us in the spirit of Christ, away from the World, and that takes work. A lot of it. After the reading of the 5th Gospel, the lights go nearly out. The Priest enters carrying the icon of Christ on the Cross (video can be seen here). It is a slow procession and he hymns: Continue reading →
**Disclaimer: the views here may not reflect those of the owner of this blog; Mr Paul Burkhart**
Orthodox Holy Week falls on a different schedule. To the best of my understanding, it is mostly because we never updated our lunar calendar circa the 16th century. Orthodox Pascha can fall as late as early May, I believe. Last year, I was a Catechumen. This year, I’m a full participant. It is vastly different. Lent is a long and arduous spiritual journey of fasting, forgiveness and repentance. Including the Triodion, the march to Pascha lasts 70 days. Lent begins with Forgiveness Vespers. It is one my favorite services of the whole year. At the end of the service, the priests come out and ask each parishoners forgiveness with a prostration and a hug and kiss. Each parishioner does the same to each other. It takes time, but it is worth every second. It is magnificently beautiful and helps show us the absolute need for forgiveness and reconciliation. The Church cannot exist without it. One cannot be saved without it. Continue reading →
The culmination of Lent is Holy Weekend, prefaced by Maundy Thursday and consisting of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. I realized that each year that I have been really intentional about my Lenten engagement, one of those four “Holy Days” seems to overshadow the the others and carry over into this Easter season (yes, it’s a season).
There are some years where the foreshadowing and ever-repeating Presence of Jesus in Communion makes Maundy Thursday the highlight (or lowlight?) of Lent. Some years, the utter darkness, weight, and drama of Good Friday overtake me and linger in my mind well into Easter season. And still others, no matter how I try to reflect and meditate on sinfulness and fallenness, I still can’t escape the lighted joy and horizon-cresting dawn of Easter, whose anticipation overshadows (or over-brightens?) my Lenten experience, making all the doom and gloom seem foreign to me.