Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Patriarch’s Easter Message

The Most Reverend Craig Bates is the Patriarch (leading cleric) in the International Communion of the Charismatic Episcopal Church. Below is his annual Easter Address.

The liturgies of Holy Week and the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ are the cornerstone of our faith. Because of the significance and depth of these holy events, I find that preparation for an Easter message is one of the hardest tasks I face each year. This year my reflections have centered on the message of hope.

It seems so often that the culture of death is expanding its reach. What was un-thinkable among civilized people – abortion, euthanasia, and infanticide – is now openly debated in the halls of government. No longer is “murder” of the weakest among us considered evil. Rather we are told that “abortion” is an acceptable form of women’s health care, euthanasia is compassionate, and infanticide saves the newborn from a life lacking in quality. The proponents of the culture of death are spending billions of dollars to spread their demonic message to Asia, South America, and Africa all in the name of “reproductive and women’s health care”.

In the Northern Hemisphere, particularly Western Europe and North America, people are living in a moral confusion caused by the acceptance of moral relativism, secular humanism, materialism, and hedonism.

Throughout history there have been long seasons of darkness. This past year I was blessed to be able to read “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” written by Eric Metaxas. Bonheoffer was a Lutheran Pastor and Academic during the rise of the Third Reich. He was executed in a concentration camp just weeks before the fall of the Reich. The book is a compelling story of a man who had to live in the darkness of one of the most evil regimes of the 20th century. It tells a story of a man whose deep faith in Christ led him to be a bold spokesman for righteousness and holiness in the midst of the darkness. This faith led him to martyrdom. If you have not read this powerful testimony I encourage you to do so.

Those who have chosen to follow Christ, throughout the ages, have been called to a participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are we are called to give our lives for the sake of others, particularly the least, the lost, and the lonely.

Our faith informs us that it is never too dark and that darkness will not prevail. By all accounts the crucifixion of Jesus was meant to be the end of a movement. The horrific act of crucifixion was meant not only to execute the leaders of a movement but also to instill fear in the followers. I am sure the leaders of the Temple, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Roman authorities all were convinced that with the death of Jesus by crucifixion it would be the last they would hear from the followers of Jesus.

The Scripture records that indeed our Lord’s crucifixion did instill fear in the disciples. From the moment Jesus was sentenced to death we find the disciples (with the exception of John) hiding in fear. Jesus finds his followers huddled and hiding in fear – in fear that they too would soon be arrested and face the same fate as their Master. It is here that Christ comes to meet them.

With the offer of peace and the receiving of the Holy Spirit, a transformation begins to take place in the followers of Christ so that by the Feast of Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit the timid and fearful disciples are so radically transformed that what they feared the most – martyrdom – they now embraced with the hope of eternal life. Death no longer had any power over them.

The hope of Easter is that death is never the end of the story. The crucifixion is not the final word, nor is martyrdom the final word. At the heart of the Christian Gospel is the message that death is conquered and at the grave we can make our song, “Alleluia.” As the preface of the Mass of the Resurrection states, “for those who believe life is not ended but changed.”

The hope of the resurrection compels us to look beyond the circumstances of life and lift up our eyes to the King of heaven. The Church will prevail against the culture of death. The Church will continue to find its life among the poor, the deprived, the homeless, the hungry, the addicted, and the least among us – the preborn.

We have been given the gift of life – abundant life. The resurrection calls us to become evangelists of this good news of life – even in the darkness. Our faith in Christ makes us messengers of hope. It is a hope that will not disappoint us because the Holy Spirit God has given us has poured the love of God into our hearts. It is the message that Christ Jesus transformed the lives of disciples from fear to faith, hope and love. Today those who come to know Jesus will partake of the same transformation.

I know each of you will celebrate a glorious Easter Day. It is appropriate that we mark the resurrection with a feast. Be it is more important that day-by-day we live the resurrection in the midst of darkness. My prayers are with you during this most holy time of the year. May the liturgies of Holy Week and Easter renew you and empower you.

Under His mercy,

+Craig, Patriarch

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Saint Mark and a Legacy of Failures

People always talk about Saint Peter. “What a horrible case of foot in mouth disease he had,” they say. “Got it wrong more times then he got it right,” they say. “Denied he even knew Jesus… three times,” they say! And, of course, they are right. Maybe that is why he considered Saint Mark to be his son. Yes, St. Peter had his share of mistakes, but St. Mark had just as many, if not even worse.

We first hear about Saint Mark in the twelfth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. We find that his name is John-Mark and the Saints Paul and Barnabas chose him to accompany them on their first missionary journey. (vv. 12, 25) St. Paul, in his Letter to the Colossians, mentions that St. Mark was a cousin to St. Barnabas. (4:10) Unfortunately, St. Mark’s time among the missionaries got off to a terrible start. In chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles, we read,

Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.” Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God. (35-40)

So, St. Mark abandoned St. Paul and St. Barnabas, his cousin, remember, on this missionary journey when the times had gotten tough. There was a problem; they faced rejection and persecution from the Jews; Mark bailed on them. Later on, when St. Paul and St. Barnabas were ready to go off again, St. Barnabas said, “Let’s give him another chance,” and St. Paul said, “Over my dead body.” The dissension between these two missionaries who had so powerfully moved in Asia Minor that they had been mistaken for Zeus and Hermes became so great that they parted ways and did not minister together again!

Yes, St. Mark was the Yoko Ono of the early missionary church. That puts him up there with St. Peter, I would think.

There is a unique pair of verses in St. Mark’s account of the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. As Judas betrays Our Lord and the guards arrest him, the Evangelist tells us, “Now a certain young man followed Him, having a linen cloth thrown around his naked body. And the young men laid hold of him, and he left the linen cloth and fled from them naked.” (14:51-52) This passage is unique in the New Testament. Saints Matthew, Luke and John make no mention of the young man. Many believe that this passage is St. Mark inserting himself into the story. It was customary not to identify yourself as an author of a work in the Ancient Near East and none of the Gospels are attributed to their authors within the text. It is tradition that tells us who wrote which.  The inclusion of this passage in St. Mark’s Gospel suggests that it may very well have been the Evangelist himself.   So, not only did he break up the Disciples’ Dynamic Duo, he also ran so hard and fast away from Jesus when Our Lord was arrested that he tore off his clothes to get away.   St. Peter may have denied Him, but at least he kept his clothes on!

But, wait! This last screw up, we read about it in the Gospel According to Saint Mark! Indeed, the young man rebounded from these two catastrophic showings and managed to pull himself together and make something of himself. Later, St. Paul referred to St. Mark as “a fellow laborer” and “useful to me.” (Philemon 24 and 2 Timothy 4:11) At some point, St. Mark attached himself to St. Peter who, perhaps realizing the young man had a record of failing not unlike the Prince of the Apostles himself, referred to St. Mark as “my son.” (1 Peter 5:13) Tradition tells us that, having ministered extensively with St. Peter, St. Mark recorded St. Peter’s recollection of the life of Christ and compiled the work into the Gospel According to St. Mark. Leaving Rome after St. Peter’s death, St. Mark moved south to Alexandria and established the first Christian Churches in Egypt. As St. Peter is regarded as the first bishop of Rome and the current Pope considers himself the “heir of the throne of St. Peter,” His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, the head of the Coptic (Egyptian) Church considers himself to be the heir to the throne of St. Mark. Legends say that St. Mark was finally martyred in the streets of Alexandria for speaking out against a pagan festival.

And there is the lesson for us. The young man named Mark was a failure in so many ways. He ran so hard and fast away from Christ that he lost his clothes. He ran so hard and fast away from Saints Paul and Barnabas that he prevented them from ever working together again. Yet, ultimately, he embraced the Cross of Christ to the point of recording the Gospel so that more than half of what we know about the life of Christ can be attributed to St. Mark. Many scholars, after all, suggest that Saints Matthew and Luke used a copy of St. Mark’s Gospel when writing their own Life of Christ. Beyond that, he embraced the missionary life from which he had fled earlier and established one of the great patriarchates of early Christianity. Rather than fleeing persecution, he finally faced it and received the martyr’s crown of life in Heaven.

No matter how often we fail, no matter how often we run away from what we are called to do, we may still embrace the Lord. He will always receive us again and include us in His plan, not merely as an anonymous bit player, but as a key figure who touches many and changes life. It is never too late to embrace that which Christ has called you to do. Just pick up the Gospel According to St. Mark and you will see a fine example.

Almighty God, who by the hand of Mark the evangelist have given to your Church the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God: We thank you for this witness, and pray that we may be firmly grounded in its truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. AMEN.

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Where, O Death, Is Now Thy Sting?

Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!

Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia!
Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where’s thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

Hail the Lord of earth and heaven, Alleluia!
Praise to thee by both be given, Alleluia!
Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia!
Hail the Resurrection, thou, Alleluia!

King of glory, soul of bliss, Alleluia!
Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!
Thee to know, thy power to prove, Alleluia!
Thus to sing, and thus to love, Alleluia!

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Holy Saturday and the Harrowing of Hell

In the Apostles’ Creed we profess that Christ “descended into Hell.”  Another priest recently asked me to justify that tenet of the Apostles’ Creed according to Scripture.  He said, “I know that it pre-dates the Great Schism and that it is not an East versus West issue, but if I can’t find it in Scripture, then I can’t teach on it.”  Thankfully, the doctrine can be found in scripture. 

For those unfamiliar, the Harrowing of Hell is an ancient tradition wherein, in the interim between Good Friday afternoon and Easter morning, Our Lord stormed the Gates of Hell and released those who had been there but were destined for Heaven.  Since salvation can only come through Christ Jesus, prior to His Incarnation none could have achieved salvation and found their eternal home in Heaven.  Upon Christ’s death, He was able to go into Hell and release those who had been waiting for His advent.

Something seems amiss about this idea and these hesitations are justified.  Would this tradition suggest that all of the Patriarchs and Prophets would have been in Hell waiting for Jesus’ arrival?  Were they burning in a lake of fire for a few hundred years patiently awaiting Easter morning?  Not quite.  The Greeks refer to the place of the dead as Hades.  The Romans translated the words as Infernum which we render as “Hell.”  In ancient Judaism there was no distinction between where the good people went and where the bad people went when they died.  According to the Jews, once they died, everybody went to Sheol.  These words are often used interchangeably in translations, but that might not be fair.  There came to be a distinction prior to the reconstruction of the Temple between the Sheol to which everyone went and the nicer neighborhood which was called “Abraham’s Bosom.” 

Abraham’s Bosom was a place which reflected rest and comfort as a child climbing upon their father’s lap when they were weary.  Since, of course, Abraham was the father of all of the Jews, any Jew resting in the Bosom of Abraham would be resting on their father’s lap.  We see this idea in the New Testament in St. Luke’s Gospel when Our Lord tells the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.  (16:19:31)  Clearly, when Lazarus dies he is resting peacefully in the comfort of his Father Abraham, whereas the Rich Man is suffering in the “place of torment.”  Thus, while the Patriarchs and Prophets would have been in Sheol, which is sometimes translated as Hell, it is not right to think of them roasting in a lake of fire. 

Our Lord prophesied his Harrowing of Hell in St. John’s Gospel when he proclaimed, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.” (5:25)  Similarly, St. Peter makes repeated mention of the Harrowing in his first epistle when he writes,

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine long suffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. (3:18-20)

And again

“For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” (4:6)

And finally,St. Paul writes in his Epistle to the Ephesians,

“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.   Therefore He says:
          ‘When He ascended on high,
          He led captivity captive,
          And gave gifts to men.’ [Ps 68:18]
(Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)” (4:7-10)

Thus, perhaps it is inappropriate to imagine Christ, “kicking in the Gates” and overthrowing demons and devils with a mighty swords and moves that would put Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee both to shame, but Holy Scripture is clear about this.  After His death, Our Lord “went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient.”  The dead heard the Voice of God, and those who did hear lived as Our Lord took hostages out of Hell and “led captivity captive,” taking those who were prisoners into the paradise of eternal life in Heaven. 

In Eastern Orthodox churches, this event is recalled on Holy Saturday, between Good Friday and Pascha (Easter).  There is tremendous variety in icons representing the event in the life of Christ.  Most often, Christ is removing a stone from off of a tomb and leading out Adam and Eve as well as the various Patriarchs and Prophets.  Thanks be to God, God prepared a way that even those born before true salvation could be offered could hear the Gospel preached.  This is likely what Jesus meant when he told the Jews, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”  (St. John 8:56)

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Be Not Deceived: They Knew Who He Was

As we contemplate the Passion and Death of Our Lord on Good Friday there are some details which we must not allow to be blurred. The overwhelming majority of the world had absolutely no idea what was transpiring in Jerusalem on that day. But those who were involved in the incident knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that at the very least that they were murdering an innocent man, if not the Son of God Himself.

To begin with Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor who ultimately allowed Jesus to be crucified, knew that Jesus had committed no crime worthy of punishment at the hands of the Roman government, much less the death penalty. St. Luke makes this fact most clear in his account of Our Lord’s trial. In verse 4 of the 23 chapter, the evangelist tells us that “Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowd, ‘I find no fault in this Man.’” After that, Pilate did everything he could to shuffle along the responsibility for Jesus on to someone else. He sent Our Lord to Herod, hoping the he would see to the matter. Once Herod sent Our Lord back to Pilate, the Roman Governor hoped the crowd would relieve him of the responsibility. He offered them the choice of releasing either Barabbas or Jesus. The crowd would not oblige him and cried out for the murderous rebel. Finally, Pilate “said to [the crowd] the third time, ‘Why, what evil has He done? I have found no reason for death in Him.’” (23:22) Finally, were that not enough to relieve all doubt that Pilate knew that he was about to condemn an innocent man to his death, he calls for a bowl and symbolically washes his hands before crying out to the crowd, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person.” (St. Matthew 27:24) By his own words, Pilate proclaims that he knew Our Lord was an innocent man.

Likewise, the Jews of the Sanhedrin knew that Jesus was an innocent man. Most people credit the Sanhedrin with trying to preserve the Israel from the radical preacher that was Jesus. This is giving them too much credit. Remember that they paid Judas Iscariot thirty pieces of in order to betray Our Lord and reveal His whereabouts. Judas knew he had done wrong when he told the chief priests and elders, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood,” (St. Matthew 27:4) yet the amazing fact is that the chief priests and elders agreed with him! Two verses later, St. Matthew tells us, “But the chief priests took the silver pieces and said, ‘It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, because they are the price of blood.’” (v. 6) They could put the money into the Temple treasury because they knew Judas was right! The money was blood money from innocent blood. Even the chief priests and the elders knew that he had done nothing to deserve death and was an innocent man.

Perhaps even more disturbing is the revelation given to those who went to arrest Jesus. St. John tells us that “detachment of troops, and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees” came with Judas to apprehend Our Lord. (18:3) The interchange which happened next is incredible. St. John reveals that,

Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, “Whom are you seeking?”
They answered Him, “Jesus of Nazareth.”
Jesus said to them, “I am He.” And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them. Now when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground. (18:4-6)

Typically, when using the New King James version of the Bible, I will un-italicize words which are in italics. The reason being that those who first put together the original King James Version inserted some words which were not in the text for the sake of clarification, a normal and completely understandable necessity in translation. Yet, in this case, I believe that they did an injustice to the text. You see, Our Lord did not really say, “I am he,” but rather He said, “I AM.”

He did not say some Aramaic version of “Oh, that’s me!” Our Lord invoked the Divine Name, the name which was spoken by God at the revelation to Moses in the Burning Bush. (Exodus 3:14) It was the same Divine Name which Jesus used when he address the Jews at the Temple saying “Abraham rejoiced to see My day.” The Jews argued with Him and Our Lord ultimate proclaimed, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” (St. John 8:56, 58) In doing so, Our Lord was proclaiming that He was God. For this, the Jews tried to stone Him.

Now, in the Garden of Gethsemane, when the guards say they are seeking Jesus of Nazareth, Our Lord declares, “I AM,” and the guards “drew back and fell to the ground.” They were knocked down by two little words. Jesus invoked the Divine Name and the guards were driven to their knees! He proclaimed He was God and they fell to the ground! It is almost beyond fathoming that they arose again and still detained him. You cannot hold the position that they believed He was guilty, you cannot even maintain the possibility that they believed He was just a man. They knew otherwise. His invocation of the Divine Name blasted them to their knees! They knew; oh, yes, they knew.

As you meditate on Our Lord’s Passion and Death this Good Friday, hold out hope for Pilate, the chief priests, the elders, and the guards. May God, in His infinite mercy, have brought them to repentance before their ultimate judgment. Scripture is silent on the matter, but various traditions discuss the repentance of those involved. We may pity them, but let us not for a moment believe they were ignorant of what was going on around. They knew full well that they were damning an innocent man to a death on the cross. Some of them, miraculously, even knew He was every bit of who He said He was.

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Maundy Thursday, the Last Supper, and the Passover

I have always believed (and continue to do so) that the Last Supper instituted by Our Lord on the night before he suffered and died for us was, in fact, a Passover meal.  I know that there are some who disagreed, but I continue to hold my opinion, at least for the time being.  Additionally, I believe that, mining through the depths of the origin of a ritual or tradition, we can gain a richer understanding of that ritual or tradition.  That being said, let us look at the Last Supper and the Passover and see if we can find even greater treasures.

First off, Jesus told the twelve apostles, “I have fervently desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (St. Luke 22:15)  One would think that might be conclusive, but if one needs more evidence they need only look a few verses earlier where Jesus “sent Peter and John saying, ‘Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat.’” (St.Luke 22:8)  In St.Matthew’s Gospel, Our Lord instructs his Apostles to tell the householder that Jesus has said, “My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at your house with My disciples.” (26:18)  A parallel passage can be found in St. Mark 14:12-14.  This would, hopefully, lay to rest most questions about whether or not the Last Supper was a Passover meal.

The Passover meal itself is a long and complicated ceremony that full of meaning from start to finish.  One aspect of the meal that is particularly rich with meaning, especially to Christians, is the consumption of four glasses of wine during the meal.  Each of these cups of wine represents one of the four “I will” promises made by the Lord in Exodus 6:6-7, where the Lord instructs Moses to proclaim:

“I am the LORD; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” (Emphasis added.)

Based on these promises, each cup has a special name.  The first cup is the Cup of Sanctification; the second is the Cup of Deliverance; the third is the Cup of Redemption; the fourth is the Cup of Restoration. 

Those participating in the Passover will drink the first cup almost immediately after the opening blessing.  After drinking the Cup of Sanctification, there is ritual washing of hands and feet known as Urchatz.  This may have been the time when Our Lord washed the hands and feet of His disciples. (St. John 13:2-17)  Those participating in the feast use the Cup of Deliverance to remember the Ten Plagues The Almighty sent against Egypt to free His chosen people.  (Exodus 7-12) St. Luke makes it clear that Our Lord passed around at least one cup, instructing His disciples to drink, before offering up the Bread and the more notable cup of wine.  (22.17ff)

After the full Passover meal has been consumed, the third cup, the Cup of Redemption is offered. St. Luke makes this the most clear when he writes, “Likewise [Jesus] also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.’” (22:20)  The fact that this cup is consumed “after supper” points to the Cup of Redemption as the cup over which Our Lord spoke the blessed Words of Institution.  Consider how awesome and magnificent it is that Our Lord used the cup which represented the promise from God that “I will take you as My people” to speak the words “this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (St. Matthew 26:28)  We are the redeemed of the Lord because Jesus shed His blood for us.  His Blood in the Cup of Redemption, the cup of which we partake every time we approach the altar and receive His most precious Body and Blood, is an everlasting reminder of the Blood which was shed during Our Lord’s Passion and on His glorious Cross, which was also foreshadowed over a thousands years before Christ’s birth in the sacrifice of the first paschal lamb, whose blood covered Israel.

There is one cup which remains, the Cup of Restoration which is also known as the Cup of Elijah.  Those celebrating the Passover recite various Psalms of praise, thanking God for His wondrous deeds in redemption before consuming this fourth cup.  In St. Mark’s Gospel, we read that Our Lord declared, “Assuredly, I say to you, I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”  (14:25)  Some suggest that Jesus consumed no wine at the Last Supper; others believe that, rather than consuming no wine, Our Lord abstained from drinking the fourth cup.  There is an aspect of this idea which is particularly triumphant.  In essence, in delaying His partaking of the Cup of Restoration, Our Lord promises, “when you are with me in Heaven, and together we celebrate the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, then we will drink the Cup of Restoration together and then you will be fully restored.” 

These are the promises we see in Maundy Thursday.  These are the promises we see in the Last Supper as a Passover Meal.  As we move forward into Holy Week and relive Our Lord’s final hours before His Passion and death, let us never forget His promises that, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,  that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  (St. John 3:14-15)

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Palm Sunday: Who’s Your Daddy?

In our reading the Passion Gospel this morning, we met a character who is very often overlooked. With the glory of the Triumphal Entry as well as the majesty of the Passion Gospel, it is easy to see how such a figure could be over looked, but, as is the case with the Gospels, minor figures and brief sayings often have tremendous significance. Most of us have heard of the criminal Barabbas, but very few have ever heard a teaching focused on him, much less a sermon on him. Yet in the story of this minor criminal, this violent thug bandit, we see a powerful comparison and a life-altering decision.

In our Gospel this morning we read,

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished. And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy. … But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor answered and said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” They said, “Barabbas!” … Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified. (St. Matthew 27:15-18, 20-21, 26)

The Barabbas passage occurs, in some form or another, in all four of the canonical Gospels. In other accounts we hear that he was an acknowledged murderer, that he had led an insurrection in rebellion against the Roman authorities, and, quite coincidentally, that his name was also Jesus.

This is not likely so strange as it sounds. Jesus is an English version of the Greek name Yeshua, which is in turn a version of the Hebrew name Joshua. Joshua was one of the great heroes of ancient Judaism. He was one of the two faithful spies who returned with a good report from the Holy Land and he was Moses’ chosen successor. The name was quite common among Hebrew boys, maybe not quite so common as Mary was among Hebrew girls, but it was a common name. It would not be completely shocking to have two prisoners with that same name show up in the same prison. Of course, how this other Jesus is known does make things more interesting.

Jesus Barabbas, is more properly rendered “Jesus Bar-Abbas,” which means, “Jesus, the son of Abbas.” We see similar descriptive names (called patronyms) in the case of Peter (Simon Bar-Jonah) and James and John (Bar-Zebedee). What makes this Jesus Bar-Abbas so significant is the meaning of his father’s name. Three times in Scripture we see that the word “abba” is an Aramaic word for “father.” (St. Mark 13:46; Romans 8:15; and Galatians 4:6). So rendering out Barabbas’ name completely, we would find that Barabbas would have been known as “Jesus, the son of the father.” Now that makes things more interesting.

Essentially, Pontius Pilate offered the crowed a choice between Jesus, the son of the father, and Jesus, the Son of the Father. We know that Our Lord repeatedly declared that He was the Son of God. In St. John’s Gospel, the Evangelist informs us, “Jesus answered them, ‘My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.’ Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.” (5:17-18) We also know that Our Lord said that the some of the Jews, through Abraham’s descendent, did not have God as their father. Rather, Our Lord criticizes them, saying,

“If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. … You are of your father, the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” (St. John 8:42, 44)

So the crowd is given a choice. On one hand they have a murderer, a rabble-rouser, a bandit, a liar, and a thief; on the other hand they have one who knew no sin, who harmed no one, who had raised the dead, who preach “turn the other cheek,” who, upon being accosted, instructed his followers to put away their weapons. The crowd is given a choice between a son of the Father of Lies and the Son of the Father in Heaven. Of course, the crowd chose wrongly and went with the spirit of the world. They rejected the Son of the Father in Heaven in favor of the son of the Father of Lies.

This is also a choice that we face daily. In every trial and temptation we choose with whose son we will ally ourselves. When we reject the evil and choose the good, we ally ourselves with Jesus, the Son of God the Father in Heaven. When we reject God’s will for us, we also reject His son and embrace the son of the father of this age. The choice is not a one time decision; we face it a hundred times in our daily walk. Sometimes we choose wisely; others we choose poorly. In every trial, temptation, and decision, make the choice of which son you will ally yourself and whom you will have as your father.

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