A Poem for Easter Day from John Updike

Seven Stanzas at Easter
John Updike

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body.
If the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules reknit, the
amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
eleven apostles;
it was as his flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that – pierced – died, withered, paused, and then regathered out of
enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a thing painted in the faded credulity
of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier mache,
not stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of time will
eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in the
dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not make it less monstrous,
for in our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour,
we are embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

A Prayer for Good Friday from George Matheson

O my Father, I have moments of deep unrest – moments when I know not what to ask by reason of the very excess of my wants. I have in these hours no words for Thee, no conscious prayers for Thee. Yet all the time Thou hast accepted my unrest as a prayer. I know not what I ask. But Thou knowest what I ask, O my God. Thou knowest that because I am made in Thine image, I can find rest only in what gives rest to Thee; therefore Thou hast counted my unrest for righteousness and hast called my groaning Thy Spirit’s prayer. Amen.

Words For Good Friday from Francois Fenelon

Let me first say a big thank you to Susan and Louis Sutton for helping me discover Fenelon’s writings. They have been helpful in my spiritual journey more than they will ever know.

We are tempted to believe that we are no longer praying to God, when we stop finding joy in prayer. To undeceive ourselves, we must realize that perfect prayer and love of God are the same thing. Prayer then is neither a sweet sensation, nor the enchantment of an excitement imagination, nor the light of the mind which easily discovers sublime truths in God, nor even a certain comfort in th sight of God. All these things are exterior gifts …

We must remind ourselves again of Jesus Christ , whom his Father abandoned on the Cross,. God withdraws all feeling and all reflection to hid Himself from Jesus Christ. That was the last blow from the hand of God which smote the Man of Sorrows. That was the consummation of the sacrifice. We never so need to abandon ourselves to God as when He seems to abandon us. So let us take light and consolation when He gives them, but without becoming attached to them. When He plunges us into the dark night of pure faith, then let us go into this night, and let us lovingly suffer this agony. One moment is worth a thousand in this tribulation. We are troubled, yet we are at peace. Not only God hides Himself, but He hides us from ourselves, so that all may be of faith. Blessed be God, who has done such great things for us in spite of our unworthiness.

More words for Thursday of Holy Week from my own heart

 … the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread,  and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (1Co 11:23-24 ESV)

Over the years as I have had the privilege to administering the Lord’s Supper I have often found myself trembling when I get to the words “on the night in which he was betrayed”. A few times I have had to get control of myself as I found tears welling up with in me. Many times I had to simply stop and explain to the believers gathered around this table why these words impacted me the way they did and why they should impact us all in the same way.

My trembling and sometimes tear do not result from sorrow at the reality of Jesus’ betrayal. There is of course sorrow over that and one of the reasons we celebrate Lent is to seek to understand in a deeper, spiritual way the true nature of the suffering, pain and sorrow of our Lord’s passion. My tears and tremblings come, however, out of a renewed understanding and amazement at the love of Jesus for his Church. Perhaps more than an others words in all of Scripture there words:  “the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread”, bring me to a place of awe, bring me to a place of wonder, bring me, when I know I am standing in the presence of the one who was betrayed, administering his covenant meal (what Jack Miller often called “God’s kiss”), to that place where Peter was when he said  – “Depart from me for I am a sinful man, o Lord”

“The night in which he was betrayed” as we read the accounts of that night in the gospels it seems clear that that night was the most challenging of our Lord’s life. This is where the real battle was fought, this is where he faced his greatest temptation, wrestled the greatest with his fear of what was damnation on the cross would really mean. Jesus states that his heart was so full of sorrow that it was just about killing him. On this, the most demanding night of his life, it would seem that on this occasion Jesus could have said to the disciple: “OK guys, I really need for you guys to give me some “Me time”. This is a really, really bad day and I need to think about me and I need you to think about me”. But Jesus did not do that, he never did that. The reason is that Jesus was the least self-reliant person who ever lived (as my friend Paul Miller recently reminded me). The reason the night was so dark, the reason his sorrow was so great was that he knew an hour was coming when he would no longer be able to rely on the One he totally relied on. Jesus constantly tells us in the gospels that he does not rely on himself or his own judgment but on that of his Father:  John 5:19 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. (Joh 5:19 ESV). In a time and culture that tells us that the really great people are those who are self-reliant, Jesus invites us to be counter-cultural and follow him and rely on on ourselves but on the Father. He totally relies on the Father and now Jesus knows an hour is coming when the Father will forsake him and it fills him with dread.

During this time, however, he is not thinking about himself he is thinking about his people, his sheep, his Church. I believe that he is not just thinking of them as a mass of humanity but as individuals scattered throughout the millennia who will put their faith in him. That night I believe he asks himself two questions: 1) What can I show these people to let them know what it really means to be my disciple; 2) What can I give them that will remind them in a powerful way that all of this is true, something that will preach my gospel to their entire being in those times when they silently or not so silently ask “how do I know this story is true? how do I know God really became man? how do I know he really did die? How do I really know he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven”.

For the first one he decides that we all need to fully understand that the life of a Christian is basically a life of being s servant so he does the job that only the lowliest of servants would do: wash feet. He washes the feet of his disciples to say to them this is they way of greatness the was of the servant to all.

As for the second he decided to give them a meal like the Passover meal that will remind them that this glorious story is true. He decides to give us a “sermon” that appeals to all our senses -touch, taste, sight sound and smell. He gives us a great gift that will be more than just a memorial because of the promise that  “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? (1Co 10:16 ESV)

So on the night in which he was betrayed Jesus rather than thinking of himself looks down the long corridor of time and says: “What will Martin need in Germany to remind him that this story is ture? What will that man Jonathan in America need? What will that blind woman Fanny need to remind her in times of doubt that I really did do all my book says I did? What will Vernon in Georgia, Dan over in England, Jennifer over in Kenya need to remind them over and over again “, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (Joh 13:1 ESV)”. What will be the best gift I can give my brothers and sister throughout the ages of the church to preach my gospel to their whole person? I will give them this sacramental feast and when joined with my gospel it will be the great reminder, it will be the great bringer of joy, it will be my small feast that is the promise for the great feast I am preparing for them even now.

As glorious as this is I find myself trembling with awe and wonder when I remember that he did this on the night he was betrayed.

Words for Thursday of Holy Week from Francis Schaeffer

“(True Spirituality) will never be once for all, but, like all things in our life, a moment by moment process. There must be moment-by-moment teaching, there must be moment by moment example, of the present meaning (and value) of the work of Christ, and a conscious choice on the individual… to lay hold of these things.  There must be faith, moment by moment, in God’s promises, to lay hold of these things–first in instruction, and then in example.”

Words for Wednesday of Holy Week from the Hymn of the Welch Revival

Here is love, vast as the ocean,
Lovingkindness as the flood,
When the Prince of Life, our Ransom,
Shed for us His precious blood.
Who His love will not remember?
Who can cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten,
Throughout Heav’n’s eternal days.

On the mount of crucifixion,
Fountains opened deep and wide;
Through the floodgates of God’s mercy
Flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
Poured incessant from above,
And Heav’n’s peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love.

Let me all Thy love accepting,
Love Thee, ever all my days;
Let me seek Thy kingdom only
And my life be to Thy praise;
Thou alone shalt be my glory,
Nothing in the world I see.
Thou hast cleansed and sanctified me,
Thou Thyself hast set me free.

In Thy truth Thou dost direct me
By Thy Spirit through Thy Word;
And Thy grace my need is meeting,
As I trust in Thee, my Lord.
Of Thy fullness Thou art pouring
Thy great love and power on me,
Without measure, full and boundless,
Drawing out my heart to Thee.

Are You Part of a Cult?

Are you a member of a secret society of some sort? Ever since I moved to Tennessee nine years ago, those are the sorts of questions people ask me when the notice a medium sized symbol on the back windshield of my car. I get the same questions when I travel to places like Alabama, Missouri, Florida or the like (so it is not just a question Southerns ask). This is the emblem that raises all the questions:

In the past two years the questions have become even more frequent because now I have two of these symbols, this orange one and a blue one. The people who ask me usually say that they have noticed these on many cars and trucks and were wondering if it was the sign of a cult or some sort of secret society like the Masons or the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.

I usually ask if they have noticed than when they see folks with this decoration in their back window (the palmetto tree and crescent not the Elk lodge) that the people look unusually attractive, intelligent, thoughtful, kind and friendly. Sometimes people respond by saying: “No, I really didn’t notice that but I really was only next to them at a light for just a few seconds”. Other times, however, people will respond by saying: “Now that you mention it that is true. When I notice people with that insignia on their car and I have a chance to speak to them I notice they area almost always friendly. Then seem to be the ones who let others into traffic when traffic is hard and I have even noticed them feeding parking meters for people whose meters have expired.”

When this happens I usually ask them if they have ever

noticed a car with one of “our pink insignias” on it and I ask them if they noticed that the women with these emblems on their cars are particularly attractive, unusually beautiful. Almost always, both men and women, will comment on the extraordinary beauty of women and any children riding in cars driven by women with this pink symbol on the back window. Well I told him that we were pretty careful about those women who were allowed to be part of this particular society. After all they were known as “…. girls, best in the world”.

One of my friends at this point said that he saw one, one time that looked like it was a cross between these symbols and a Confederate Battle Flag and that it was in the back of a pickup truck with a gun rack and that the driver was throwing beer cans out the window the whole time he was behind in on Highway  96 from Franklin to Murfreesboro. Well I looked at him a bit sheepishly and said that that was likely true and even with the toughest of screenings sometimes a bad egg got in – or out.

Well when folks ask me these question I tell them that it is really a family thing, it is a group that you are born into, you might say it is the group that chooses you, you don’t choose it unless at some point in your life you make the decision to give up on your old life and are willing to relocate to a new place. Then you might be able to display one of these after 5 or 6 or maybe 10 years. In fact I know this PCA pastor from Philadelphia who now pastors in Alabama who says that the years he was allowed to be part of this particular fraternal order were some of the best of his life and he has lived all around the world. I had a college roommate who renounced his former way of life of 18 years just to be able to display such an emblem in the back windshield of his car.

So about all I can tell these folks (most of whom I can tell really, really wish they could be part of this remarkable group) is that it is all a question of geography.

Should have said something back on St. Patrick’s Day

….but for those of you who have wondered

Yes I still wear it and it still helps me remember St. Patrick’s Breastplate

bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever.
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom.

I bind unto myself today.

Words for Walter Wangerin Jr. on Tuesday of Holy Week

Maybe none shall see with more terrible clarity the sorrow of our Lord that the apostle Paul: “For our sake.” he writes, “God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He does not write: “To bear our guilt,” as though a good man became better by substituting himself for our punishment. Severely, Paul writes, “God made him to be sin.” Jesus has become a bad man, the worst of all men, the badness, in fact, of all men and all women together. Paul does not write, “To bear our sin,” as though Jesus and sin are essentially separate things, the one a weight upon the other for a while. No, but “to be sin”: Jesus is sin! Jesus is the thing itself!

And yet, and yet: this same Jesus is also the Holy One of God, now as much as ever before – because he is completely obedient to the Father. Holy, he must hate sin with an unyielding hatred. Behold then, and see a sorrow unlike any other sorrow in the universe: that right now Jesus hates himself with an unyielding hatred.

This is, perhaps, the second bitterest swallow in the cup of suffering which he drinks

Words from Martin Luther on Monday of Holy Week

The cross teaches us to believe in hope even when there is no hope. The wisdom of the cross is deeply hidden in a profound mystery. In fact, there is no other way to heaven than taking up the cross of Christ. On account of this we must beware that the active life with its good works, and the contemplative life with its speculations, do not lead us astray. Both are most attractive and yield peace of mind, but for that very reason they hide real dangers, unless they are tempered by the cross and disturbed by adversaries. The cross is the surest path of all. Blessed is the man who understands this truth.

It is a matter of necessity that we be destroyed and rendered formless, so that Christ may be formed within us, and Christ alone be in us … Real mortification does not happen in lonely places away from the society of other human beings. No! They happen in the home, in the market place, in secular life … “Being conformed to Christ” is not within our powers to achieve. It is God’s gift, not our own work.

He who is not crucianus, if I may coin a word, is not Christianus: in other words, he who does not bear his cross in no Christian, for he is not like his Master, Jesus Christ.