According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Saturday, April 8, 2017

R.E. Slater - The Ever-Promise of Palm and Easter Sundays


Jesus enters Jerusalem 

Almighty and everlasting God, who, of thy tender love toward mankind hast sent thy Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may both follow the example of his patience and also be made partakers of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. - The Methodist Church, Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965)

As a little boy I came to especially love Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday. On these high, holy days of the church's calendar year I would witness the depth and richness of the church's traditions - the beautiful worship ceremonies that accompanied the prayers and bible readings on those days with great songs of rejoicing and thanksgiving. By now the winter sun had been replaced with the warming breezes of spring laden with birdsong filling the air and with the boyish promise of a beautiful year ahead. My spirits soared during these days and as much as I loved Christmas (as all good Swedes do) I came to realize that Christmas led to Easter; that a baby's birth led to crucifixion; that an Incarnate God would sacrifice Himself for man's deep sins. A sacrifice that became both God's "Christmas-present" and life-giving "Easter-sustenance" to any penitent willing to abandon self and find all in the Messiah Christ come as atoning Lamb to the altar of God's mercy and forgiveness.

Jesus speaks to old men, women, and children
And so my boyhood images slowly changed. They once were richly imaged in my heart by the pictures shown here from "the bible of my youth" thinking all was right and good in the world when in reality, a week later, from the space between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, the spiritually ugly and horribly unthinkable came to be at the hands of the very celebrants who shouted "Hosanna" not many days earlier. "How? How can this be, I would ask myself?" And even now I still utter these thoughts in my heart six decades later with deep dismay. "How can such a grand faith with such a grand nobility of peace, love, and goodwill to all men seemingly lose its humanity at the drop of a bomb, a political vote, an inane immigration banning, or so soon find itself shouting ungodly epitaphs to one another?" This isn't the Christianity I thought I saw as a boy. But it is the Christianity that is lived out by too many of God's "faithful" unable to see where Christ's path led - from the waving Palm Branches of His adoring masses to the Altar of God - as those same masses began shouting "Crucify Him!" even as they do today with unseeing eyes and blinded hearts. Yet here lies a heavenly altar where atonement would be made for all men and women who, like little children, misunderstood where Palm Sunday truly led. To the place where Peace and Reconciliation must be made between God and man and to all creation. A baneful peace dearly paid for - and made most necessary by the world's sin - if redemption was to become complete in the deep heart and fellowship of God.

Many years later, on a late March morning, in my freshman year of university, I rose up quite early eager to read my bible, pray, and get ready for church. I had joined a wonderful college fellowship that year which fervently rejoiced to serve the Lord with heart and soul, body and mind. I would soon join this warm group of devoted students but needed to get ready so I could catch the church bus working its way across the sleepy city streets. A rusty vehicle grinding its gears as it wended its way through the school's large campus filled within with a growing chorus of joyous singers as it picked up by-ones-and-by-twos the several of us waiting outside our college dorms, fraternities, and campus housing. Here I stood under a semi-darken streetlamp each Sunday waiting for the bus while many thousands of my classmates slept in from a long night of partying hours earlier. Across the street lay another large dorm where my Jewish friend would join me as we together patiently waited the church bus. He was far more knowledgeable than I in his Christianity even as my own story betrayed itself as one growing in the Lord by leaps and bounds this past Spirit-led year.

And so we stood together waiting and talking knowing the church had decided to celebrate Easter Sunday this year outside in the cold parking lot before commencing its regular worship services. When we arrived I immediately began helping to set up the several hundred chairs needed to host our auspicious group of worshipping believers. I pitched in readily to the task making a mighty clatter-and-a-clang with all the other servants of the Lord working together with one another at the same task. And when done, sat down next to any worshipper with whomever I ended up while wishing the morning cold would soon lift. Very soon our South African Jewish pastor rose up at the choir's singing and began our Easter morning service as only a zealous, God-fearing Jew can, by proclaiming with strong shouts of praise and soaring rhetoric the rising of our Lord from the cold tomb of his grave. As we sang songs of resurrection and glory God's Word seemed to soar even as my spirit did in hope and celebration as the warming early spring sun rose in the distance from behind the woodlands beyond to fill us with good cheer. It was beautiful and I could wish these kinds of days lasted forever.

Jerusalem erupts in joy at Jesus' coming
And they will some day. But not just yet, as these next high, holy weekends in the Church's calendar will again bring to its fellowship the truth of its psychotic worship - that what is believed, and sung, and read, holds only for a time until the political or societal winds of fickled change blow hellward in witness to man's confrontation of his plaguing arch nemesis of sin and hate. That it is here, in this hard, harsh world of baleful choices where men and women must confront themselves daily as to their real beliefs and truer actions. If we, as Christians, be for God, and for His love, and for His reconciliation, than as God's faithful we must stand against all else that is not this. And yet the easier road is to party into the wee hours of the morning to then sleep away our stupors thinking there is no more we can do but live without impact, refusing the trouble of faith's fickleness, or its commensurate difficulty of service to others, as too often we become unwilling emissaries of the Lord when called upon to serve.

This is the sleep of Palm Sunday. It betrays the Easter Sunday to come even as it predicts its results. That with any rebirth into the life of God there must be a similar altar we lay our faith upon to take a stand that God's reality is more real than the reality we are living in this stupor called life. That it is God's truth that is more important to us than the ugly truths of unlived faith mired deep in our heart full of hatred and racism. It is here, on the altar of God, we wish only to be awaiting for the morning's warming dawn of redemption's promise to ourselves and to all who would hear and obey at the call of the Lord to rise up and begin the hard journey of redemption. Peace, my friends.

R.E. Slater
April 8, 2017
revised, April 10, 2017


Psalm 51
English Standard Version (ESV)


Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the
prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

51.1 Have mercy on me,[a] O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right[b] spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
19 then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Footnotes:
Psalm 51:1 Or Be gracious to me
Psalm 51:10 Or steadfast



* * * * * * * * * * *




Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday is a Christian moveable feast that falls on the Sunday before Easter. The feast commemorates Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an event mentioned in each of the four canonical Gospels.

In many Christian denominations, worship services on Palm Sunday include a procession of the faithful carrying palms, representing the palm branches the crowd scattered in front of Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem. The difficulty of procuring palms in unfavorable climates led to their substitution with branches of native trees, including box, olive, willow, and yew. The Sunday was often named after these substitute trees, as in Yew Sunday, or by the general term Branch Sunday.

Biblical basis and symbolism

In the accounts of the four canonical Gospels, Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem takes place about a week before his Resurrection.

Christian theologians believe that the symbolism is captured prophetically in the Old Testament: Zechariah 9:9 "The Coming of Zion's King – See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey". It suggests that Jesus was declaring he was the King of Israel to the anger of the Sanhedrin.

According to the Gospels, Jesus Christ rode a donkey into Jerusalem, and the celebrating people there laid down their cloaks and small branches of trees in front of him, and sang part of Psalm 118: 25–26 – ... Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord ....

The symbolism of the donkey may refer to the Eastern tradition that it is an animal of peace, versus the horse, which is the animal of war.[1] A king would have ridden a horse when he was bent on war and ridden a donkey to symbolize his arrival in peace. Jesus' entry to Jerusalem would have thus symbolized his entry as the Prince of Peace, not as a war-waging king.

In Luke 19:41 as Jesus approaches Jerusalem, he looks at the city and weeps over it (an event known as Flevit super illam in Latin), foretelling the suffering that awaits the city in the events of the destruction of the Second Temple.

In many lands in the ancient Near East, it was customary to cover in some way the path of someone thought worthy of the highest honour. The Hebrew Bible (2 Kings 9:13) reports that Jehu, son of Jehoshaphat, was treated this way. Both the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John report that people gave Jesus this form of honour. In the synoptics the people are described as laying their garments and cut rushes on the street, whereas John specifies fronds of palm (Greek phoinix). In Jewish tradition, the palm is one of the Four Species carried for Sukkot, as prescribed for rejoicing at Leviticus 23:40.

In the Greco-Roman culture of the Roman Empire, which strongly influenced Christian tradition, the palm branch was a symbol of triumph and victory. It became the most common attribute of the goddess Nike or Victory.[9] For contemporary Roman observers, the procession would have evoked the Roman triumph,[10] when the triumphator laid down his arms and wore the toga, the civilian garment of peace that might be ornamented with emblems of the palm.[11] Although the Epistles of Paul refer to Jesus as "triumphing", the entry into Jerusalem may not have been regularly pictured as a triumphal procession in this sense before the 13th century.[12] In ancient Egyptian religion, the palm was carried in funeral processions and represented eternal life. The palm branch later was used as a symbol of Christian martyrs and their spiritual victory or triumph over death.[13] In Revelation 7:9, the white-clad multitude stand before the throne and Lamb holding palm branches.

Eastern and Oriental Christianity

Palm Sunday, or the "Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem," as it is often called in some Orthodox Churches, is one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the liturgical year. The day before Palm Sunday, Lazarus Saturday, believers often prepare palm fronds by knotting them into crosses in preparation for the procession on Sunday. The hangings and vestments in the church are changed to a festive colour—gold in the Greek tradition, and green in the Slavic tradition.

The Troparion of the Feast indicates the resurrection of Lazarus is a prefiguration of Jesus' own Resurrection:O Christ our GodWhen Thou didst raise Lazarus from the dead before Thy Passion,Thou didst confirm the resurrection of the universe.Wherefore, we like children,carry the banner of triumph and victory,and we cry to Thee, O Conqueror of love,Hosanna in the highest!Blessed is He that comethin the Name of the Lord.

In the Russian Orthodox Church, Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Ukrainian Catholic Church, Ruthenian Catholic Church, Polish, Bavarian and Austrian Roman Catholics, and various other Eastern European peoples, the custom developed of using pussy willow instead of palm fronds because the latter are not readily available that far north. There is no canonical requirement as to what kind of branches must be used, so some Orthodox believers use olive branches. Whatever the kind, these branches are blessed and distributed together with candles either during the All-Night Vigil on the Eve of the Feast (Saturday night), or before the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning. The Great Entrance of the Divine Liturgy commemorates the "Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem", so the meaningfulness of this moment is punctuated on Palm Sunday as everyone stands, holding their branches and lit candles. The faithful take these branches and candles home with them after the service, and keep them in their icon corner as an evloghia (blessing).

In Russia, donkey walk processions took place in different cities, but most importantly in Novgorod and, since 1558 until 1693, in Moscow. It was prominently featured in testimonies by foreign witnesses and mentioned in contemporary Western maps of the city. The Patriarch of Moscow, representing Christ, rode on a "donkey" (actually a horse draped in white cloth); the Tsar of Russia humbly led the procession on foot. Originally, Moscow processions began inside the Kremlin and terminated at Trinity Church, now known as Saint Basil's Cathedral, but in 1658 Patriarch Nikon reversed the order of procession. Peter I, as a part of his nationalisation of the church, terminated the custom; it has been occasionally recreated in the 21st century.

In Oriental Orthodox churches, palm fronds are distributed at the front of the church at the sanctuary steps, in India the sanctuary itself having been strewn with marigolds, and the congregation proceeds through and outside the church.

The congregation in an Oriental Orthodox church in India collects palm fronds for the Palm Sunday procession (the men of the congregation on the left of the sanctuary in the photo; the women of the congregation are collecting their fronds on the right of the sanctuary, outside the photo).

Western Christianity

In ancient times, palm branches symbolized goodness and victory. They were often depicted on coins and important buildings. Solomon had palm branches carved into the walls and doors of the temple (1 Kings 6:29). Again at the end of the Bible, people from every nation raise palm branches to honor Jesus (Revelation 7:9).

Palm Sunday commemorates the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-9), when palm branches were placed in his path, before his arrest on Holy Thursday and his crucifixion on Good Friday. It thus marks the beginning of Holy Week, the final week of Lent.

In the Roman Catholic Church, as well as among many Anglican and Lutheran congregations, palm fronds (or in colder climates some kind of substitutes) are blessed with an aspergillum outside the church building in an event called the "blessing of palms" if using palm leaves (or in cold climates in the narthex when Easter falls early in the year). A solemn procession also takes place, and may include the normal liturgical procession of clergy and acolytes, the parish choir, or the entire congregation.

In the Catholic Church, this feast now coincides with that of Passion Sunday, which is the focus of the Mass which follows the service of the blessing of palms. The palms are saved in many churches to be burned on Shrove Tuesday the following year to make ashes used in Ash Wednesday services. The Catholic Church considers the blessed palms to be sacramentals. The vestments for the day are deep scarlet red, the colour of blood, indicating the supreme redemptive sacrifice Christ was entering the city to fulfill: his Passion and Resurrection in Jerusalem.

In the Episcopal and many other Anglican churches and in Lutheran churches, as well, the day is nowadays officially called "The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday"; in practice, though, it is usually termed "Palm Sunday" as in the 1928 American Book of Common Prayer and in earlier Lutheran liturgies and calendars, to avoid undue confusion with the penultimate Sunday of Lent in the traditional calendar, which was "Passion Sunday".

In the Church of Pakistan (a member of the Anglican Communion), the faithful on Palm Sunday carry palm branches into the church as they sing Psalm 24.

In many Protestant churches, children are given palms, and then walk in procession around the inside of the church .[citation needed] In traditional usage of the Methodist Church, The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965) provides the following Collect for Palm Sunday:
Almighty and everlasting God, who, of thy tender love toward mankind hast sent thy Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may both follow the example of his patience and also be made partakers of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.