The Book of Psalms and Starting Over

This morning I saw something which refreshed my heart and filled me with hope.  I had seen this particular sight countless times–literally.  I cannot begin to count how many times I have seen this sight.  This morning, as I started to pray the office of Morning Prayer, the Psalm readings for the day began with verse 1 of Psalm 1.

Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, *
nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats of the scornful!

It’s not my favorite verse, nor even my favorite Psalm, but I am relieved and refreshed every time I read Psalm 1 in the Daily Office.  It means that we are doing something that is incredibly important and thoroughly Christian: we are starting over.

The Daily Office is ancient means of praying and reading Holy Scripture which, in the form that I use, cycles through the entire Book of Psalms every seven weeks, as well as the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the rest of the New Testament at different intervals throughout a two-year cycle.  It may come as a shock to some, but I do not always manage to pray the Daily Office like I am suppose to.  Generally, I pray Morning Prayer when I get up in the morning and Evening Prayer before I leave the church office and head home, but sometimes stuff happens.  Occasionally, important ministry opportunities interrupt and I am praying with someone in crisis, but at other times I have really bad reasons like… I just don’t want to.  Sometimes I feel guilty about missing my prayer time and the readings that go with it. That is why I love it when I see Psalm 1 in the Daily Office readings.  It’s the time to start over!

In the 3rd chapter of the Book of Lamentations, we hear that the mercies of The LORD are new every morning and that His compassions never fail.  I know that I need that and love being reminded that today, this morning, here is an opportunity to start over and do it again better.  God gives each of us that opportunity and it’s more than just checking off boxes when saying our prayers.  Sometimes we really mess up.  Sometimes we spend years of our lives living in sin and leaving a path of destruction and broken lives behind us as wide as any hurricane.  Sometimes our actions our deliberate, intentional, thought out, and even evil.  Nevertheless, God’s mercies are still there for us whatever morning we realize depth of our wrong, repent and turn to Him.  His compassions have always been there for us.  God love the world so much that while we were yet sinners God sent His Son to die for us. (Romans 5:8)

This is what our 21st century secular world completely fails to realize.  Perhaps it stubbornly refuses to admit the possibility that people can be forgiven and change because it means that they would have to channel their anger elsewhere.  Every Sunday I stand in front of the Altar of God and administer the Body and Blood of Christ to fallen and broken sinners like myself who have been redeemed and washed clean by the Blood of the Lamb.  I remind myself that none of us are judged by the worst thing we have ever done but by the righteousness of Christ Jesus.  I hope that, if I am ever judged by society, it will be long after I am dead and for the sum total of my life’s contribution, not for a single tweet or a series of mistakes.  Today too many seem all too keen to make a judgement and condemn someone so that they are permanently removed from society’s dialogues.  In some cases this manifests in “cancel culture,” in others it’s through the tearing down of statues, in others it’s through the changing of the history and literature books.  As Christians,  we must reject this.

We know that we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory.  (Romans 3:23)  We know that David was an adulterer who doomed the husband of his mistress to death.  We know that St. Peter denied knowing Our Lord three time.  We know that St. Paul hunted down and murdered Christians for their faith.  Knowing all this, we acknowledge that David was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22) and that Saints Peter and Paul were the pillars upon which Our Lord built His Church.  We, too, are not limited by our mistakes but empowered by the redemptive glory of the God who raised the dead and overcame Death and the Grave.  If He could accomplish all that, He can overcome all of your sins and make a saint out of even me or you.

This morning, as I began the office of Morning Prayer and read the first verse of Psalm 1, I remembered God’s mercies again and again.  May God give each of us the grace to start over and the grace to allow others to do the same.

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Spoiling a Legacy Just When We Could Have Used It

Mark Hamill is not a fan of his recent roles in the last two Star Wars movies and he has not been keeping that opinion to himself.  Finding actor an who criticizes his own character and the studio producing his films, while his role in the franchise is still 0n-going, is a rarity, but this is especially unique considering that Hamill has brought to life one of the most iconic science-fiction characters of the last forty year, the Jedi Luke Skywalker.

A quick search of YouTube will find countless videos of Hamill  expressing his dissatisfaction that iconic “Legacy Characters” were never reunited on screen before their deaths.  He laments, along with the fans, that his character had only the briefest of scenes, barely a cameo, in the franchise re-igniting The Force Awakens.  Most of all, it seems to me, he is disappointed that the character that made it onto the big screen in The Last Jedi was nothing like he envisioned for the character he made iconic over the last four decades.  I wholeheartedly agree.

One of my very first cinematic memories is that of my great-grandparents (God rest their souls) taking me to see Return of the Jedi when it was in the theaters in 1983.  I was six.  I remember that Grandpa Looker was grumpy because the movie, by today’s standards a meager two hours and 16 minutes, was long enough back then that he had to go add more change to the parking meter!  I remember Luke Skywalker embodying both heroism and mystery as he strode, hooded and cloaked, dressed all in black, into the crime lord’s palace to rescue his friends.  Even after he fell into the trap, he displayed resolute confidence, standing on the scaffolding, hands bound, moments from being pushed to his doom, as he warns Jabba the Hutt that there was still time for the crime-lord to “free us or die.”  I can feel the incredible John Williams’ soundtrack resound in my mind as I relive the fight that followed.  In hindsight, the scene is not without its flaws; but as a six-year old boy, it was the greatest scene ever put on film.

Towards the end of the movie, Hamill’s Luke Skywalker turns himself into the Emperor and Darth Vader to protect his friend, fights to rescue his father from the Dark Side, and finally throws down his lightsaber, refusing to choose the path hatred and fear.  That was some mighty zen stuff for my little six-year old brain!  You could fight, but not be angry?  You could win by not fighting?  Ultimately, it was Luke’s suffering that brought his tormented father back from the Dark Side and defeated the Emperor.  That was profound cinema for some popcorn sci-fi!

Confession time: I was not raised in the Church.  I grew up in the Middle-East and Christianity was not really part of my upbringing.  I did not have a prolonged experience of Church until I was sixteen years old.  It was very new to me.  Around Christmas of my senior year in high school, I first visited the congregation where I am now the senior pastor.  That congregation was and remains a part of a denomination that is both Evangelical, Charismatic, and Sacramental.  It was the first time I ever really encountered a priest.  Even more, these priests (and many others in the congregation) had the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Had I grown up in the Church, I probably would have had many historical and literary examples of godly and saintly living.  If you go to any Christian book store you can find “Lives of the Saints for Kids” or biographies of famous evangelists and preachers throughout history.  I did not read those books growing up.  When I received my call to the priesthood in the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college, my role-models for priestly ministry were the brothers in Christ who became my peers and colleagues.

If I am really being honest, Hamill’s Luke Skywalker largely informed how I think about my walk of faith as a priest.  Yes, as silly as it seems, it is true.  To a small extent, it still is.  Those memories from childhood still form a foundation from which college, seminary, and two decades of ministry have built upon.  I still think about the faith of that man dressed all in black who walked into the enemy’s palace with total calm and total confidence.  In Star Wars they called it “trusting in the Force.”  We just call it Faith.   I think of that man in black throwing down his lightsaber and rejecting evil.  It made an impact.

I can totally understand why Hamill would be disgruntled at what’s become of that hero in recent days.  When Disney bought Lucasfilm, including all the rights to Star Wars, and Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford all agreed to be in the new trilogy of movies, fans were ecstatic!  I remember watching the trailer for The Force Awakens over and over again because it looked so good.    Initially, fans were thrilled with The Force Awakens when it premiered in 2015.  It was the first time we had seen these characters together in 32 years… except they were not together again.  Luke did not appear until the very final scene and, spoiler of spoilers, they killed off Harrison Ford’s Han Solo.  Still fans were generally forgiving of that.  Skywalker’s final scene left an incredible cliffhanger and Ford had been begging for his character to die for 35 years.  Most likely, it was the only way he agreed to come back.

Then came The Last Jedi and, to make an ugly story short, fans were divided.  Some loved it and some hated it.  Social media went berserk.   One actress left social media altogether because of the sheer amount of negativity which she received.  Russian trolls were blamed for the movies bad reviews.  Ugliness abounded.  From a certain point of view, some of that ugliness was justified.  The movie reveals that Luke Skywalker, one of the greatest and most iconic science-fiction heroes of all time was scared of the power of his nephew so he attempted to murder him in his sleep.  Having ignited his blade, he realized, “this is the worst idea EVER!” and paused.  At that moment, his nephew, Leia and Han’s son, fought Luke off and then proceeded to kill all of the other apprentices and join the totally-not-the-Empire First Order.  In penitence for trying to murder his nephew/apprentice in his sleep, getting all of his other apprentices murdered, losing his nephew to the Dark Side, Luke disappeared to an ancient Jedi hermitage where he can hide out for years and years, growing a surly beard, and guzzling green milk straight from a sea monster’s teat.  It’s horrible.  Skywalker does return in the end to confront his nephew in an impressive fight scene, but that scene culminates with Skywalker’s death.

As an English teacher for over fifteen years, I taught students to read between the lines and look for messages.  The message in The Last Jedi is terrible.  The hero becomes a would-be child murderer, responsible for the slaughter of all those under him, and then, rather than dealing with the consequences of his actions, he runs and hides.  Now this may well be realistic.  People fail.  They fail catastrophically.  They blame others or just run away.  That’s reality.  But we don’t to go movies to see reality.  We don’t even watch “Reality TV” to see reality.  When we go to movies we want to see heroes achieve the impossible and succeed over insurmountable obstacles, even overcoming death itself at times.

What Disney and The Last Jedi did to Luke Skywalker is tragic.  They took one of the most iconic, heroic figures of science fiction, a figure who had endured in the hearts and minds of fans for over forty years, and they spoiled him.  Theories abound about why they did it and what their motives could have been, but it’s clear that the Luke Skywalker, at the end of The Last Jedi, is no mentor and no role-model.  Mark Hamill is right to be disgruntled about how they’ve treated this character which he brought to life and made famous.  I’m disgruntled with him.  The forty year-old me would have liked another role-model like the six year-old me had back in the day.

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A New Day

Time has a funny way on sneaking on past you when you are not looking.  Just yesterday I said I needed to take a break from writing The Hilltop Shepherd’s Watch in order to focus on some other elements of my life for a while.  That was five years ago.  Nothing ever really slowed down.  I never found time to go back to writing.  I have time now.  I’m going to make getting ideas out of my head  and “in print” a priority for a season.  We will see how it goes.  I haven’t looked to see if I still have any subscribers from half a decade ago.  If I do, hopefully, they’ll be glad to see me again.  If not, I’ll be picking up some more very soon.


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Catalog of Entries on the Apostles

For a recent assignment in one of my Bible classes I invited my students to review some of my writings regarding the Apostles before realizing the web-site lacked a search engine.  So I added this site to help them find the Apostles relevant to their research.  Of course, Judas Iscariot has no feast day.  Then I realized that I somehow managed to forget to write an entry on St. James the brother of St. John.  So here are articles on ten of the Apostles…  Should anyone be concerned, I invited the students; I am not insisting they read my blog.  Their grades do not depend upon favorable comments listed below!


St. Peter has two main feasts that concern him.  The first is The Confession of St. Peter (celebrated on January 17th) and the second is The Feast of Saints Peter and Paul (celebrated on June 29th).

St. James (the Brother of John)–Whoops.  Somehow I missed St. James.

St. John celebrated on December 27th

St. Andrew celebrated on November 30th

St. Phillip celebrated on May 1st

St. Bartholomew celebrated on August 24th

St. Matthew celebrated on September 21st

St. Thomas celebrated on December 21st

St. James the Less celebrated on May 1st

St. Jude (aka Thaddeus) celebrated on October 28th

St. Simon celebrated on October 28th

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St. Crispin Revisited

“This day is call’d the Feast of Crispian.”  So spoke Henry V in Act IV, scene iii of Shakespeare’s immortal play and so it is today.  Saints Crispin and Crispinian, his brother, were shoemakers of Roman decent, who fled persecution for their faith and ended up in the city of Soissons.  There they worked as shoemakers, cobblers and leatherworkers while preaching the Gospel to the Gallic Franks.  On October 25th, 286, the two brothers were tortured and beheaded for their faith.  In 1415, on October 25th, King Henry V faced absolutely insurmountable odds when staring down the French army.  Of course, we know that through God all things are possible (especially when aided by Welsh longbows and French pride).  Before going into battle, King Henry gave a rousing speech that Shakespeare rendered as one of the most famous speeches in all literature.

This feast has come into the CEC Calendar, I think, primarily due to its association with the St. Crispin’s Day Speech prior to the Battle of Agincourt.  For years we thought of ourselves as “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”  We had a mentality that we were viciously outnumbered but, by God’s grace, we could bring down the strongholds of the Devil.  Perhaps it would be a good thing today to recall that mentality.  We are certainly fewer than we were a handful of years ago.  Whether or not we are happier is highly subjective.  The enemy still remains and we still have a call on our lives and on our denomination.  I do believe that, in days to come, our spiritual descendants will look back on days like these and look with admiration on men and women who served and planted churches with men like Adler and Bates;  Holloway, Jones, Epps, and Simpson; Hines, Davidson and Kessler.  People will one day ask us what they were like.  Our children will say, “I heard him preach once.  It was amazing!”  And we, old men by then, “will strip our sleeves and show our scars” and say I was there.  We need to not look at the work we do with the eyes of today.  We must look to the work we do with the eyes of our sons and daughters, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  We do not sow into the kingdom for our sakes.  We labor in the fields for theirs.  Psalm 128 says, “He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing in his sheaves with him.”

We may look with envy on the other parishes in other denomination and covet their building, or lust after their endowment, or just wish we had one-tenth of their parishioners.  We should, in those moments, remember the words of Westmoreland, whose statement prompts good King Henry’s speech.

WESTMORELAND. O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!

KING. What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

The Martyrdom of Ss. Crispin and Crispinian
The Martyrdom of Ss. Crispin and Crispinian

Note: I originally drafted this in October of 2009 and yesterday, thanks to Fr. Reid Wightman, remembered what day it was, revised it ever so slightly, and decided to publish it once more.


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On Eucharistic Adoration

A colleague of mine, Canon Glenn Davis, recently posted an article on his blog entitled “The Error of Eucharistic Adoration.”  A few of his statements piqued my interest and prompted me to respond.  The good canon concludes his article by stating, “Eucharistic adoration as a belief and practice is erroneous: it does not reflect the teaching of the Bible or life of worship found in the Ancient Church. The practice is not promoted in the Orthodox East and is not consistent with full and complete participation in the Holy Eucharist.”  I fear his conclusion overreaches his premises.  Here is why:

As his article begins, Canon Davis gives a clear and concise explanation of the Roman-Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation and correctly attributes the language of the doctrine to Aristotle rather than the Bible.  As clear and concise as it may be, it is a bit of a red herring.  The veracity or erroneousness of the Roman-Catholic doctrine is merely tangential to the Biblical teaching.  In each of the Synoptic Gospels, Our Lord, at the Last Supper, declares, “This is My body.” (St. Matthew 26:26; St. Mark 14:22; and St. Luke 22:19)   Furthermore, St. Paul reiterates those words in his discussion of the significance of the Eucharist to the Corinthians (I Corinthians 11).  While St. John omits the precise wording of the Synoptic Gospels, the Evangelist chooses instead to include a lengthy discourse from Our Lord on the necessity of partaking of His body.  Some of the most challenging statements in that chapter include Our Lord proclaiming, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world,” (v. 51) and “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” (v. 53)  Note that in none of these passage do the words “symbolically,” “metaphorically,” or “allegorically” appear.  Along those same lines, those disciples who had followed Jesus and seen His miraculous works did not turn away and walk with Him no longer over a misconstrued metaphor. (v. 66)

These Scriptures form the basis for the doctrine of the Real Presence.  This doctrine teaches that Our Lord is really and truly present in the Holy Eucharist.  This is a doctrine which he Charismatic Episcopal Church affirms when it states: “At the center of worship is the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist (Holy Communion) in which we believe is the real presence of Christ.”  Transubstantiation is a Roman-Catholic attempt to rationalize and explain a miracle.  Whether their explanation is right or wrong makes no bearing on the miracle itself.  The miracle remains whether they explain it accurately or not.

To be certain, Canon Davis is correct when he asserts that the modern practice we see in many churches today began in the High Middle Ages.  He then leans upon the Vincentian Canon to assert that since Eucharistic Adoration cannot pass the Vincentian litmus test it lack “Genuine Catholicity” and thus is at least heterodox in not fully heretical and even idolatrous.  Let us examine this claim more carefully.  The Vincentian Canon is a name given to a test of Catholic orthodoxy derived from writings of St. Vincent of Lerins.  In his work the Comonitoria, St. Vincent wrote, “Care must especially be had that that be held which was believed everywhere (ubique), always (semper), and by all (ab omnibus).”

This is a preposterously high standard by which nothing may really stand under scrutiny.  Everywhere?  Always?  By everyone?  That excludes even the Nicene Creed?  It was not written until 323 and not finished until 381.  Even at that, Eastern and Western Christians proclaim significantly different versions of the Creed.  If one holds the Vincentian Canon as the be all and end all of Catholicity, then nothing stands and those who proclaim the Nicene Creed are themselves heterodox!

Do the Eastern Orthodox practice Eucharistic Adoration?  No, they do not.  However, they do believe in the doctrine of the Real Presence.  At the Synod of Jerusalem (1672), a great gathering of Eastern Orthodox prelates assembled to consecrate the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  While there assembled, they took the opportunity to refute several points of Calvinism and specifically declared,

“We believe the Lord Jesus Christ to be present, not typically, nor figuratively, nor by superabundant grace, as in the other Mysteries, … but truly and really, so that after the consecration of the bread and of the wine, the bread is transmuted, transubstantiated, converted and transformed into the true Body Itself of the Lord, Which was born in Bethlehem of the ever-Virgin Mary, was baptised in the Jordan, suffered, was buried, rose again, was received up, sitteth at the right hand of the God and Father, and is to come again in the clouds of Heaven; and the wine is converted and transubstantiated into the true Blood Itself of the Lord, Which, as He hung upon the Cross, was poured out for the life of the world.”  (Canon XVII)

As the Protestant reformers specifically rejected the doctrine of the Real Presence–a doctrine found in Holy Scripture and held by both the Roman-Catholic in the West and Eastern Orthodox int he East–according to the Vincentian Canon, one might allege that it was the reformers who were teaching something apart from the Faith Catholic.

Eucharistic Adoration is a pious practice which springs directly from the entirely orthodox doctrine of the Real Presence.  When the priest stands at the altar and prays the epiclesis he holds his hands over the bread and wine and asks the Lord to “Sanctify them by Your Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son, the holy food and drink of new and unending life in Him.”  This is why, when presenting the Eucharist to the people of God, we proclaim and declare, “This is the Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven” and “This is the Blood of Christ, the Cup of Salvation.”  No fingers are crossed.  There are neither winks nor nods regarding symbols or metaphors.  This is why, at the aforementioned Marburg Colloquy (1529), Martin Luther pounded his fist on the table in defiance of Zwingli and proclaimed, “Hoc est enim corpus meum!” (“This is My body!”)

This is also why the priest and other servers go to such care with the Sacraments after Holy Communion has been served.  “Leftovers” are not simply tossed in the trash like stale Doritos; they are fully consumed.  The Sacred Vessels are not washed in a normal sink that drains into the sewer, but in a special sink that drains into a garden.   Why is this if not for the acknowledgement that it is not fitting for Our Lord to be in the trash and sewer?  He may descend there on His own to rescue a sinner, but far be it from us to send Him their on our own!

Treating the Blessed Sacrament with its due respect is not idolatry.  Quite the contrary, it is an acknowledgement of not one but two miracles!  First, the Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist acknowledges the Mystery of the Incarnation wherein, as St. John tells us, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (1:14)  Secondly, venerating the Blessed Sacrament acknowledges that Our Lord not only became flesh, but gave us His flesh perpetually through the Holy Eucharist.  We are not, like some, left to live our lives with one experience with the Divine.  We have the opportunity to partake our our God’s very Body and Blood on a daily basis.  This is not idolatry.  Rather, the farthest thing from it, accepting the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, is celebrating, yes, even reveling in the glorious deeds of Christ wrought on our behalf!

What of the Christian who is unable to partake of the Sacrament on a given day?  What if they are prevented from finding him against whom they hold aught and repenting, as Our Lord suggests? (St. Matthew 5:23-25)  Should they leave their church lest they behold the Blessed Sacrament without consuming Him?  Do they gain nothing from being there at the consecration when they do not receive?  Of course, they most certainly do, whether they consume the Body and Blood of Jesus or not!  There is a grace of being present among the believers and among the Real Presence in recalling the saving work God did for us.

Most certainly, there are Christian who abuse this gift.  Some, no doubt, begin to think of the wafer not as the presence of God, but as God Himself.  Surely this is “putting God in a box,” or a monstrance, as the case may be.  But this is not what the faithful are taught.  They are taught to behold the presence of God and marvel at the inconceivable love required that God who is universally powerful would condescend to inhabit some miniscule wafer on our behalf.  They are taught to sit in awe and contemplate a Divinity who would give His own flesh to be consumed by those who despised Him at His death.   They are taught that when face to face with the humility of the God who would do all this for us, the only proper response is… Adoration.


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The Ascension of Jesus Christ: Dwelling in the Clouds

I confess that I have always dreaded preaching on the Ascension.  I have always felt that something about the feast eluded me, that there was something I should understand which I clearly did not.  It has seemed to me that there was some greater theological implication which I simply missed.  Maybe I was out sick that day in seminary and dozed off in the sermon that day every year since.

Here is what I do know about the Ascension: forty days after His Resurrection, Jesus Christ led His disciples away from Jerusalem and gave them some final instructions.  St. Luke tells us, “Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” (Acts of the Apostles 1:9)  The Apostles, awestruck, continue staring heavenward (likely because they have not thought of anything better to do quite yet) when two men in white apparel appear next to them.  These “men” ask the observers, “why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” (v. 11)  Ten days later, while praying in Jerusalem as they had been instructed, the Apostolic company received the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, exactly as Jesus had promised.

Still, I feel like I am missing something.  It is as if there was some cloud surrounding me that prevents me from really fathoming the significance of the feast.  I recognize that He was taken up into Heaven and will one day return in the same manner.  I know that the Ascension prevented Him from facing corruption of old age, decay, and death, except that He already had dealt with and conquered those foes on the Cross.  I know that, just as He came down from Heaven to save us, He was taken back up into Heaven to watch over us.  Nevertheless, I feel like I am missing something.

Yet, in meditating on the Glorious Mysteries, I believe I came to an epiphany about the feast.  My newfound understanding is this: it is alright to be confused and in the dark every now and then.

Jesus was taken up into a cloud; that cloud obscured Him from the sight of the Apostles.  He was lost to them, or so they felt until Pentecost.  In that capacity, we think of the cloud as a bad thing.  It keeps us from being with Our Lord in the ways which we have become accustomed.  We cannot see Him; we cannot touch Him.  That challenges us.  We do not like obscurity.  We do not like the dark.  We hate not being able to see.  We have an almost primal fear of the dark.  Children, who have never known any real reason to be afraid in their lives will wake up screaming in terror because they are alone in the dark.  What is the first thing that moms and dads do when they enter those bedrooms?  They turn on the lights.  Darkness, fog, and clouds all inhibit us in the same way.  They prevent us from using our most dominant sense, our sight.  Without our sight we feel completely lost.

Yet this is not the attitude the Bible seems to have about darkness, fog, and clouds.  You see, our God, who is in all places at all times, also dwells in the darkness and clouds.  Before Creation, when “darkness was over the face of the deep,” (Genesis 1:2) the LORD was there hovering in the darkness.  After the Exodus, when the children of Israel came to the Wilderness of Sin and complained about their lack of food, as Aaron was relaying the Word of the LORD to the people, “behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.” (Exodus 16:10)  Later on, at Mount Sinai, the people were terrified by the Glory of the LORD and begged Moses to speak with the LORD on their behalf.  “So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.”  (Exodus 20:21)  The amount of light in any given place is irrelevant to the LORD.  In Psalm 139, King David declares,

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,”
Even the night shall be light about me;
Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You. (vv. 11-12)

The darkness makes no difference to Him, but it makes a great deal of difference to us.  We are an easily-distracted people.  We can find ourselves chasing after every glittery, shiny piece of confetti that flitters across our path.  Even as adults, we often avoid the dark and we hate silence.  At those times we are without distraction and without shelter.  There is no one else except the scared and lonely self and the God who can make the darkness light. (II Samuel 22:29)

The darkness and the clouds may be uncomfortable, but God dwells there.  When we who are confused and dealing with the unknown feel as though we are in a great fog, we must remember that God dwells in the clouds.  When we feel as though we were alone and that the darkness is our only companion, we must remember that not only does the LORD hover over the darkness, but that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5)  When we fail to understand the world around us, may God give us the grace to sit in the clouds of darkness and wait until He reveals Himself.

Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into heaven, so we may also in heart and mind there ascend, and with him continually dwell; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.


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The Patriarch’s Easter Message

As I write this it is Tuesday of Holy Week. It is one day before we at Intercessor begin the special liturgies of Holy Week culminating in the Great Feast of the Resurrection. It has been said many times that the events we recall this Holy Week are the central aspects of the Christian faith. Without the cross and the resurrection there is in fact no Christianity. But more importantly the historic and factual crucifixion and resurrection are the key events of all of human history. It is the moment in time when God has brought all of creation unto himself. It is the fullest and complete revelation of the love, mercy, and forgiveness of God.

Several years ago, after many years of longing, I traveled to Krakow, Poland to visit the tomb of St. Stanislaw of Szczepanowski the patron Saint of Krakow. St. Stanislaw was Bishop of Krakow in the early eleventh century. He was known for preaching, spiritual wisdom, and as a leader in reforming efforts in the Church. He eventually incurred the enmity of King Bolesluas the Bold and denounced the King for cruelties and injustice. Eventually St. Stanislaw excommunicated the King and stopped a Mass in the chapel when the King entered. Boleslaus himself killed St. Stanislaw while the Bishop was saying Mass in a chapel outside the city on April 11, 1079.

Not growing up Roman Catholic, I had little knowledge of this famous saint and my interest grew in him after reading a biography of John Paul II. As many know John Paul II came to the papacy from his episcopate in Krakow. The early life of John Paul II is fascinating. Like many great men of God he was one familiar with human suffering, his own and that of others. He grew up under the Nazi regime and then served in the Church of Poland at the time of communist reign. His words of faith and hope in the Risen Christ inspired many who led the non-violent overthrow of communism in Poland. The life of St. Stanislaw had a tremendous influence on John Paul II and on the lives of many in the resistance movement to both Nazism and Communism. It was these experiences and John Paul’s faith in the Risen Christ to proclaim over and over again to the people – Be not afraid.

Of course all of must recognize the great spiritual, theological and social leadership of John Paul II. He leadership is especially important to many in the Pro Life movement. Not only did he remain steadfast in his opposition to abortion but also was a voice for the sanctity of the family. His work “The Theology of the Body” will perhaps be recorded as one of the best theological works of the 20th century. John Paul II will be remembered as one of the great spiritual leaders of the century. And, we can expect that Rome will canonize this great man from Krakow.

We arrived in Krakow in the late fall and during the first evening of our visit it snowed slightly. Our hotel was right across from the old city not far from the Cathedral and the residence of the Cardinal. Looking out the window early in the morning and gazing at the new fallen snow is a memory that I cherish. Since Krakow was not bombed during World War II many of the buildings were old. There was an operational trolley car just below our window. Across the street was a Church – an old medieval building. It was early in the morning and yet the streets were filled with people heading off to work and school (a university is nearby). We had a brief Polish breakfast and headed off to Mass. It was midweek and when we entered the Church I was shocked to discover that it was filled with worshippers. This experience occurred over and over again in every Church we entered. No matter what time of day the Churches were filled. But filled not with elderly women saying prayers, but filled with young men and women caught up in prayer or in the Eucharist. Poland unlike other nations of Europe had a faith that was alive.

The second day of our journey we traveled to Auschwitz Concentration Camp. This is a place where the Nazi’s exterminated over one million Jews –men, women, and children. It was a key center for the Nazi’s plan called the Final Solution. There are not words to describe the horror of Auschwitz. And, when one goes through the camp and views the various exhibits describing the holocaust there is a sorrow that I have never felt before in my life.

There is not a question that the Nazi Final Solution, indeed the whole holocaust, was aimed at the extermination of the Jews. Nothing should distract us from remembering this fact. Yet, there were millions of others – disabled children and adults, the elderly with dementia, gypsies, political dissents, and homosexuals who died in the extermination camps. It should be remembered that the first group to suffer or die at Auschwitz were Poles. On the day it opened there were 728 Polish prisoners. For the first two years of the camps existence, the majority of the inmates were Polish. By the time the camp was liberated the largest group to die in the camp where Jews and the second largest group were Polish. Hitler swore, “All Poles will disappear from the world.” One week before the invasion of Poland, Hitler gave these instructions, “Kill without pity or mercy all men, women, and children of Polish descent or language…be merciless. Be brutal. It is necessary to proceed with maximum severity. The war is to be a war of annihilation.”

Over six million Poles -22% of the population – died in World War II. Of this group 5,384,000 died in prison, death camps, raids, executions, the obliteration of ghettoes, epidemics, starvation, overwork, or ill treatment.

The Nazi’s went after the Catholic Church in Poland, in particular, but also the Protestant community. By 1939, 80 percent of the Catholic clergy including five bishops were sent to concentration camps. In Wroclaw, 49% of the clergy were dead; in Chelmno, 47%; in Lodz, 36%; in Poznan, 31%. In the Warsaw Diocese, the future Diocese of John Paul II, 212 priests were executed. Through the Nazi Empire thousands of Bishops, Priests, and Nuns faced incarceration in Concentration Camps. In Dachau Concentration Camp of the 2,720 priests held 1,034 did not survive. Of that group the majority were Polish priests – 868.

With the so-called liberation of Poland by the Communists the persecution of Jews and Christians continued.

Such suffering had occurred in Poland. Such darkness covered the country for decades. This was not a suffering of hundreds of years ago but a suffering that happened in the lifetime of my parents and of my early life. Here I was standing in a country soaked in the blood of innocent people – Jews, Christians and others. A country where to have faith in God was a crime punishable by death. Yet it was the very Church that suffered so much under the hands of Hitler and Stalin that was to rise up and in a few short decades be free from tyranny. This country is a center of Christian renewal that gave us the spiritual giant of John Paul II.

Today around the world there are still groups of people facing horrific evil expressed in genocide. The fall of the Nazis and the Communists has not been the end of evil. We can’t forget the Killing Fields of Cambodia or the Genocide in Rwanda. Our hearts must be awakened to hear the cries of those who still face genocide in the Sudan or wholesale murder in parts of the Congo.

But the Holocaust of Nazi Germany, particularly in Poland, is a reminder that the Church is victorious because Christ conquered death, defeated Satan, and has freed us from sin. The Christian is a resurrected person. Scripture says, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you walked…But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2.1-6) The fact that Jesus has been resurrected and that we who have believed in Him and come to Him in baptism have not only shared in His death but also in His resurrection. This is our hope – a hope that can allow us to sing “Alleluia” even at the grave.

What the purveyors of evil and the culture of death don’t understand is that Christianity is not a philosophy like National Socialism or Communism. What they can’t comprehend is that Christianity is about a living relationship with the Risen and victorious Christ Jesus.

This victory is experienced every time a person comes to Christ by faith. Whether it be a young drug addict or prisoner who meets Christ in a prison chapel, or a man or women who answer an “altar call in Church”, or married couple who make Jesus the center of their marriage, or a Masai warrior who turns his life to Christ, or a business man who tried to find “joy in money” but has now found the joy of the Lord – this is the victory of the Risen Christ. This is the fulfillment of the mission of Christ that all who believe in Him and call upon his name shall not perish but have eternal life beginning now. This is the testimony of the martyrs not that they would eventually see Jesus – though that be truth – but that they already knew and participated in eternal life with the Risen Christ NOW. The resurrection faith proclaims that we have been “raised…up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”

This year is the 20th anniversary of the International Communion of the Charismatic Episcopal Church. From the small beginnings at St. Michael’s Church in San Clemente we now have churches around the world – United States, Canada, Bermuda, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Philippines, DR Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Nigeria, Kenya, Sudan, Pakistan, Germany, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, France, Belgium, Tanzania, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. Soon we will have Churches in India, Ghana, Southeast Asia, and Argentina.

Many of these Churches function with little or no resources and under terrible conditions – some under fear of persecution. Yet, we move forward because the Risen Christ is with us. No matter how dark it gets or hard it becomes we are already risen with Christ and nothing will every separate us from His love.

I pray as many as possible will find a way to come to Madrid, Spain July 10-12, 2012. We will celebrate the presence of Christ in our midst. We will hear from Archbishop Hines who for over three decades has ministered in Asia sometimes under extreme difficulty with no resources and only his faith as a weapon. We will hear from Bishop Bernard Njoroge, who was one of the authors of the Kenyan Constitution and remains a leader in the Kenya government while at the same time planting a Church in the largest slum in East Africa. And we will hear from Abp. Charles Jones who God has used in a mighty way to bring healing to thousands of people and now speaks prophetically to the nations. These are men who have one thing in common- a living relationship with the Risen Christ. We will gather and we will go to the streets of Madrid with the message of life and our young adults will lead us. The same adults that I believe will bring an end to the holocaust of abortion and euthanasia. But most importantly we will gather every day for the Eucharist where will stand in the heavenly courts in the presence of the Risen Lord Jesus and be empowered by Him and Him alone to be life for the world.

Alleluia Christ is Risen. Yes, Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death-by-death and giving life to those in the tomb.

Under His mercy,

The Most Rev. Craig W. Bates,
Patriarch, ICCEC

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The Year in Review: Most Popular Articles

Just in case you missed any of them, here are the most popular articles of 2011.  Just click the link to catch up with any you might have missed.

#10–“St. Nicholas: No Jolly Old Elf”

#9–“Holy Saturday and the Harrowing of Hell”

#8–“The Blessed Virgin Mary and the Ark of the New Covenant”

#7–“St. Dominic: Setting the World on Fire”

#6–“Saint David’s Day”

#5–“The Nativity of St. John the Baptist and the Ministry of the Pre-Born”

#4–“St. Mark and a Legacy of Failures”

#3–“St. Joseph: The Role-Model of All Men”

#2–“The Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas”

#1–“Why Did Jesus Curse the Fig Tree?”

Thanks for a great year!  Happy New Year to all!

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The Feast of the Circumcision and What is, in Fact, in a Name

December 31st is a night of celebration around the world.  People gather together and celebrate the passing away of the old and the coming of the new.  They hope that they can learn from their mistakes of the past and improve themselves in the coming year.  And, of course, they do so while attending the Holy Eucharist that night.

Perhaps that last part was not accurate, but it really should be.  What the world refers to as New Year’s Day the Church calls the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus and that feast is a big one.  The Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus is a Dominical Feast, or a Feast of the Lord.  It commemorates the event depicted in the second chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel.  The Evangelist tells us, “And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called JESUS, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.” (v. 21)  Now why in the world would the Church choose to celebrate a momentous occasion like Our Lord’s circumcision on a day when everyone else is either partying or taking a nation-wide hangover day?  That is simple.

In the seventeenth chapter of the Book Genesis, the Lord God forms an eternal covenant with Abram (not Abraham—not yet—that is important).  That covenant has a sign that goes along with it.  In the case of this covenant, the Lord declares,

“As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.  This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised;  and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.  He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant.  He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.  And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.” (vv. 9-14)

In the twelfth chapter of Leviticus, the Lord reaffirmed this instruction to Moses, mandating that every male child be circumcised on the eighth day. (12:3)  This was also the day on which children were named.  Infant mortality rates were very high in the Ancient Near East and it was common for parents to withhold naming a child until they were more comfortable that a child would survive.  Providentially, newborns begin producing Vitamin K around eight days after birth.  As such, the eighth day is the earliest time on which a circumcision would be successful since Vitamin K is required for clotting.  (Nowadays they give newborns a shot of Vitamin K right away, just in case.)

So, eight days after Christmas, what we commemorate on January 1, is more than just an ancient barbarous ritual of genital mutilation, as some have called it.  The Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus or, for the less squeamish, the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus Christ is a feast with a two-fold purpose.  In the feast we recollect our ancient heritage and we celebrate that God has a plan for each and every one of us.

There is little in this world that is more inherently Jewish than circumcision.  There are some scholars who believe that the Jewish ritual of circumcision, along with the Kosher dietary laws, kept the Hebrews as a distinct people group during the Babylonian Captivity.  While other exiles inter-married and lost their cultural identity, the Jews were still a cohesive people group more than a full generation after their captivity began.  When someone asked “why do we do this?” the Jews would reply beginning with the covenant with Abram and continuing through Isaac and Jacob, through the captivity in Egypt, the Exodus and down to Moses.  It was a distinctive cultural identifier that gave them an identity amidst thousands of exiles who were rapidly losing theirs.  In his Epistle to the Galatians, St. Paul tells us that circumcision is no longer necessary for the Gentiles, yet some parents still perform this ritual today.  They do so, not to bind themselves under the Law of Moses, but rather to show their acknowledgement that the Christians are heirs to Abraham and Moses by faith, if not by flesh.  It is a sign of our cultural heritage because Our Lord and King was a Jew and He has called us all sons and daughters.

The other vital aspect of the feast has to do with the name Jesus.  Shakespeare’s Juliet once quipped, “What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” (Act II, Scene ii)  Such an argument may work with a teenager in love, but, Biblically speaking, it is patently false.  Biblically speaking, a name defined a child.  It gave them definite characteristics.  A name defined who someone would be and, every now and then, the Lord would change someone’s name.  These were momentous events.  There is a big difference between Abram and Abraham.  There is a huge difference between Jacob and Israel.  There was a truly remarkable difference between a Galilean fisherman name Simon and the Apostle named Peter.  Names meant and continue to mean something.  We chose the names of our children very carefully.  They are not all Biblical names, but they are all prophetic names.  So it was with Jesus.  The name “Jesus” was surprisingly common in first century Judea.  It was a Greek form of the ancient Hebrew name Joshua.  Two thousand years ago, the Hebrew name Joshua was more properly pronounced along the lines of Yehoshua, which means “The Lord Saves.”  Jesus was also referred to as Emmanuel, meaning “The Lord with Us.”  These two names, taken either on their own or together, describe exactly who Jesus is and was.  Jesus is and was the Lord with us and he did and continues to save us to this day.  His name was perfect, just as everything about Him was perfect.  The Lord God Almighty, from before time, had a plan and Jesus, as known by that name, was a part of it.

The Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus is an important day in the life of the Church.  Much like the world sees it, the Church should take it as an opportunity to re-evaluate itself.  Every member ought to look at who they are and who they have been called to be.  I know that I have not fully lived up to my name or what God has called me to do.  I wager most people would say the same.  The Church is called to be different than the world.  We are the “strangers in a land not our own” which were prophesied to Abram.  (Genesis 15:13)  We are called to be different than those around us.  Maybe instead of wearing paper hats and watching crystal balls drop, we should be in Church, receiving the Most Precious Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ and hearing about the name which He received, the Name which is above all names, and how He lived up to that Name.  Maybe we should be considering our own names, what God calls us, and how we might better live up to what we have been called.

Eternal Father, who gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation: Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.


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