Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ash Wednesday

My journey through the church calendar has been slow. That is, I took quite a break. That's too bad, too, because I missed much of the Epiphany season and the beginning of the Lenten season. Well, I'm back now.

Ash Wednesday was actually more than a week ago now. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, which is the season in which Christians prepare their hearts for Holy Week, which includes Good Friday and Easter. Lent is to Easter as Advent is to Christmas. The difference is that Advent is a time of joyous preparation and anticipation, whereas Lent is a time of more solemn meditation as we contemplate the agonizing sacrifice that Jesus made by allowing Himself to be crucified for us.

This is a prayer that many people pray on Ash Wednesday:

Almighty and ever-living God, you hate nothing you have made and you forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and honest hearts, so that, truly repenting of our sins, we may obtain from you, the God of all mercy, full pardon and forgiveness; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Suggested readings:
Psalm 51:1-13
Joel 2:12-19
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:2
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Sunday, January 6, 2008


O Christ, our true and only light,
Illumine those who sit in night;
Let those afar now hear Thy voice,
And in Thy fold with us rejoice.

Fill with the radiance of Thy grace
The souls now lost in error's maze,
And all whom in their secret minds
Some dark delusion haunts and blinds.

And all who else have strayed from Thee,
O gently seek! Thy healing be
To every wounded conscience given,
And let them also share Thy heaven.

O make the dear to hear Thy word,
And teach the dumb to speak, dear Lord,
Who dare not yet the faith avow,
Though secretly they hold it now.

Shine on the darkened and the cold,
Recall the wanderers from Thy fold,
Unite all those who walk apart,
Confirm the weak and doubting heart.

So they with us may evermore
Such grace with wondering thanks adore,
And endless praise to Thee be given
By all Thy Church in earth and heaven.

--J. Heermann, 1630.

A word about Epiphany

Epiphany celebrates the light of God given to the world through Jesus. There is some variation in the way the date is scheduled. Many celebrate it on January 6, twelve days after Christmas, while others observe it on the first Sunday after New Year's. This year those two methods coincided. Some Christians observe Epiphany as a day to commemorate Jesus' visit from the Magi, while still other Christians choose to reflect on Jesus' baptism.

The church calendar is not Scripturally mandated; it is a man-made, man-conceived tool purposed to strengthen the Church body. Keeping that in mind, it is obvious that there is not a right or wrong way to reflect on Scripture during any given season. Observing the church calendar is not an obligation of being a Christian. It's just a tool. If you find it to be a helpful tool, great. If not, don't follow it. That's what I think anyway.

You can read more about Epiphany here.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve

Holy night! Peaceful night!
Through the darkness beams a light,
Yonder, where they sweet vigils keep
O'er the Babe who, in silent sleep,
Rests in heavenly peace.
Rests in heavenly peace.

Silent night! Holiest night!
Darkness flies, and all is light!
Shepherds hear the angels sing:
"Hallelujah! Hail the King!
Jesus the Savior is here!"
Jesus the Savior is here!

Silent night! Holiest night!
Guiding Star, O lend they light!
See the eastern wise men bring
Gifts and homage to our King!
Jesus the Savior is here!
Jesus the Savior is here!

Silent night! Holiest night!
Wondrous Star, O lend thy light!
With the angels let us sing
Hallelujah to our King
Jesus our Savior is here!
Jesus our Savior is here!

--J. Mohr, 1818.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Fourth Sunday in Advent

When Jesus enters meek and lowly,
To fill the home with sweetest peace;
When hearts have felt His blessing holy,
And found from sins complete release,
Then light and calm within shall reign,
And hearts divided love again.
--M.B. Landstad, 1863.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Mourning and other electives

I just read Lauren Winner's Mudhouse Sabbath. Winner converted from Judaism to Christianity a decade ago, and this book sums up her observations of the differences in similarities of the two religions. That is, she talks about some of the practices that are common to both religions - prayer, fasting, weddings, burials, hospitality, etc. - and explains why she thinks Judaism does those things better than Christianity. That sounds presumptuous and judgmental, but Winner explains it all quite nicely, despite the fact that she seems to use the book as a venue to show off her vocabulary. She really just says that Christians have belief down (I would hope she thinks that, since she is now a Christian), but that we're lacking in the action department. She talks about the strong and ancient Jewish traditions that provide the Jewish community with a continuity, a faithfulness, and a sense of identity.

Winner goes on to recognize that Christians are not meant to practice the same disciplines - or at least, not the same intricacies of the disciplines - that are required of Jews. Not only are we not bound by Levitical law, but we also owe no allegiance to rabbinical rules, the huge list of detailed "clarification" of the Law. There is great freedom in following Jesus, in abiding by the new covenant. Perhaps, though, Winner seems to suggest, we have thrown the baby out with the bath water by abandoning the actual practice of so many disciplines. We still talk about them and preach them, but they are not always lived out, in solitude or community.

For example, Winner talks about burials. Both Christianity and Judaism have rituals associated with death (there are many variations among Christian denominations). We both have a service of some kind, we both bring food and flowers and comfort to the bereaved. But in the Jewish community, the process of mourning is not only allowed - it is required. There is a seven-day period of mourning, a month long period of mourning, a year long period of mourning (each period requiring different actions), and thereafter the dead are intentionally remembered each year on the anniversary of their death. Rigorous? Yes. Healthy? I think so. Christianity has, in recent years at least, brushed over mourning. We can grieve on our own, in private, for as long as we'd like, but it is uncouth to mourn publicly for more than a few weeks after a loved one's death. Why is that? The closest thing we have to an extended period of public mourning is a support group. Support groups are great, but they should not replace the church.

I don't think this cavalier attitude towards mourning has always been prevalent in the church. Until recent decades, it was common for mourners to wear black clothing for a period of time and to disengage from social activities. There were wakes and graveside services and plaques attached to the pews where the loved ones used to sit. And those things still happen in some Christian communities - I don't mean to make a blanket statement covering all of Christianity - but they are not as commonplace as they used to be. I wonder what happened? I think that it is important for Christians to realize that we do have the assurance of seeing our fellow believers again; death is not the end. But somehow we have turned that hope into a Pollyanna attitude of nothing but sunshine all the time; we have taken away our own privilege of mourning. And I think we are worse off for it. There is no opportunity for God to turn mourning into dancing if we insist on dancing from the beginning.

This isn't a great Advent post; it would be better reserved for Lent. But it is on my mind today, having just finished the book, and so I share it with you.

Third Sunday in Advent

(Please forgive the tardiness of this post.)

The only Son from heaven,
Foretold by ancient seers,
By God, the Father, given,
In human shape appears;
No sphere His light confining,
No star so brightly shining
As He, our Morning Star.

O time of God appointed,
O bright and holy morn!
He comes, the King anointed,
The Christ, the virgin-born;
His home on earth He maketh,
And man of heaven partaketh,
Of life again an heir.

O Lord, our hearts awaken,
To know and love Thee more,
In faith to stand unshaken,
In Spirit to adore,
That we still heavenward hasting,
Yet here Thy joy foretasting,
May reap its fulness there.

--Elisabeth Cruciger, 1524.