The ups and downs of eternity

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Ok, I get it. An angel falls and a serpent slithers up a tree. Cain versus Abel, and Joseph into slavery, an exile and an exodus. Free will and good versus evil. Challenges and pitfalls. Pitfalls and a very (very) deep pit. Pushed into a cistern, and pushed to hell. A struggle to rise. It is the grand battle, and a grand chaos of a fallen order. I understand a messiah in the simplest of terms. I understand leaders like Moses, like Caesar, like Herod, like a pharaoh; and ultimately like the Son of God. I can understand the messiah of the nativity. I understand the messiah of Easter, and the need for the Apostles to record the resurrection of Christ. I understand they did so to the best of their abilities. I can also understand the Messiahs need to ascend, and the amount of time Jesus spent explaining His return to the Father. Finally I get the Holy Spirit, and how it proceeds from the Father and Son. With that ascent and decent, the serpent is crushed. That is the end game, the conclusion.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father,
and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always,
the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept,
because it neither sees nor knows him.
But you know him, because he remains with you,
and will be in you.
I will not leave you orphans

The feast of the Ascension and Pentecost defuse the other Messiahs. It steals their thunder, it silences their voice. It allows, in the quietness of contemplation, one to hear the truth. It explains why at the resurrection only a few select followers were permitted entry to the vision. To see they first had to seek. They had to die themselves, so that they might rise anew. They had to answer that first call to “follow me.” Follow me was through cavalry, and into the grave. It was to walk with Christ, and to die to the world. It also was to rise again, and to see anew. There was the vision of a risen LORD. It was the journey of their baptism, their death and life.

This is a transition, from Easter to Ascension. It is a transition of a God that needs to rise on earth and be present here. That speaks of an eternal presence, and eternity is nothing easy to understand. It is a presence that is alpha and omega, first and last. Eternal. The transition is also one where the physical transitions to the eternal. That ascension leaves no room for false prophet, it does make that path for spirit. Eternal is not something easy to understand.

Sixth Sunday of Easter
Lectionary: 55

Acts 8:5-8, 14-17

1 Pt 3:15-18

Jn 14:15-21

Trinity Sunday

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In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. The Trinity, the Holy Trinity. A doctrine of faith. One God in three persons, and a mystery. God the Father, the first person. The old bearded man, the wise old man? Why old and why a man? Why the Father, because Jesus declared Himself Son of God, Son of man. The father in the ancient world exhibited power as much of that civilization was a patriarchy, a world in which males dominated, and where men were in authority. God was all mighty, and the man was the seat of authority in the family. It’s an image of power and authority that man can relate to, but does that suggest God is male? I should think not, and that is not simply to appease the feminist agenda. It’s not simply Father and Son, it the dynamic relationship between Father and Son. I think to the Sistine Chapel and to the frescos of Michelangelo. His depiction of creation and specifically in his creation of man. It’s not the image painted but the relationship between God the Father and Adam. Do I see God in that old man? To answer my own question, no I do not. In those images two arms are extended, and two fingers nearly touch. The fingers of the creator and creation. God, to these eyes today, sees the almighty in the space between those fingers, a God eternally reaching out. Also, a man never able to totally grasp his God. A God that extends His love and becomes Man. The word made flesh. God becomes man. In the space between those fingers lies a dynamic not so easily defined. Imagine if those fingers were to touch, if God were to touch man and if man were to touch God. Think about the moments when they do indeed touch. Creation, the Nativity. That after all is the point of the fresco, it’s about creation.   The breath of life. The Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit sent at Pentecost. The Spirit of God breathed into  man.

Why though do I ponder that painting on the Sistine ceiling on this day to contemplate the Trinity? Its image is not about the trinity, but is about creation. Part of the reason is its fame and influence. Michelangelo was one of the greatest artists of the western world, and one of the greatest in the entire world. His imagery carries weight in my world. His image of the Father is often referenced and copied. It is how many infants learn of their God, the God of the first person of the trinity. One can ask though, is God old and can God ever grow old? The image raises some questions, old and young is one of them. Old and young can also be renamed old and new. That is the old and new of the testaments. Is the Old God the God of the Old Testament? Where is the God of the New Testament? Where is Jesus, or did He come into existence only a couple thousand years ago? Of course every Christian knows that is wrong, He is the alpha and the omega. Jesus is the first and the last. He is eternal, and eternity encompasses all directions. If that depiction is God reaching out to Adam, can it also be the New Adam reaching out to His Father? Is He reaching out for us? An eternal God, true God from true God. Our finite bodies have trouble contemplating the infinite. Western art has a way of partitioning God, Old Man, Young Man, and a Dove. Lets not forget though the Wisdom of God is described as feminine.

Turn then to Eastern Christianity, take glance at Andri Rublev’s Trinity. Gone are the two men and a dove. His is an image of three Angels, similar in age and appearance, but clothed in colors and symbols representative of their Persons. They are described as the Angels that visited Abraham, yet they also represent the Triune God. On a casual glance the viewer cannot tell the Father from the Son from the Holy Spirit. The viewer must learn the meanings of the colors and of the symbols. This God is not glanced at, God is pondered. Curious in this icon is that God I represented as an Angel, and that causes me to think of ancient descriptions of the Christ. Jesus once was considered to be an Angel. The problem became where to place Jesus in the choir of Angels. The Nicene Creed was the solution. Jesus sat at the right hand of the Father, true God from true God. That is, equal to God. Does that explain the similarity of those Angels in the Icon? The interesting point of this icon, formally called “the hospitality of Abraham”, is that it does not correspond to Michelangelo’s God of the creation. Instead it is more reminiscent of Leonardo Da Vinci’s the Last Supper. The three persons of God are gathered around an altar table. It is at that table that we are invited to partake in the mystery of our God. The God of the Trinity..

a ramble and a prayer on the seventh sunday of easter

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…I will ramble on I promise, but these are a few thoughts I wanted to quick jot down. Now I begin to turn my thoughts to prayer , the prayer at the last supper, at the stoning of Saint Stephen, and those of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. But that ramble is not quite ready…

The prayer I begin my ramble on is Jesus’s High Priestly Prayer Jn 17:20-26. It is His conversation with the Father on behalf of us, His disciples. I think of what it says, certainly. I also ponder it as conversation, and its conversation on the behalf of others. The point is that prayer is a conversation. For us, it is the conversation between the human and the divine. A conversation between creation and creator. Think of the conversation between Saint Stephen and the LORD Acts 7:55-60 . First Stephen sees the Father and Son in Heaven, and then he asks that they receive his spirit. He talks to the divine as humans converse to one another. Secondly he pleads his persecutors are forgiven. It is not the structure of the words that count, it is the sincerity of the conversation.That’s prayer.

Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed saying:
“Holy Father, I pray not only for them,
but also for those who will believe in me through their word,
so that they may all be one,
as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
that they also may be in us,
that the world may believe that you sent me.

Jesus ‘s prayer is a bit more lengthy, and even a tad more formal, but it remains a conversation. It is a conversation between a Father and His Son. It is an explanation, and also a petition. We are brought into the conversation. Sitting in a pew, I hear this petition. Its words are vaguely familiar. Not its words, but its structure? A prayer said on my behalf, I have heard it before. But where? Then it dawns on me, I hear it during the liturgy. Precisely I hear it at the Liturgy of the Eucharist . It is the Priest pleading on my behalf that the Divine accept this flawed humans gifts, and that Jesus descend into the Bread and Wine. The priest, in the person of Christ , pleads on my behalf.

In the entirety of these readings, what is it that I see? I see the paten and the chalice raised up in prayer. I see Stephen raise it up in his suffering, I see Jesus raise it up in His passion, and I see the Priest raise it up for me.

Ramble a little on the Easter season…

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How shall I approach the conclusion of this years Easter celebrations? I think it will be by reflecting on the whole season. It will be by viewing its conclusion by looking at its beginning. Both ends mirror each others, they are bookends that contain a season. The beginning of the season begins with fire. It begins with the bonfire built outside Church at the vigil Mass. In Pentecost tongues of fire descend on the Apostles. We in the modern era have lost the significance of fire, and we no longer appreciate its beauty. For us it is something obtained by turning a valve or spinning a wheel, or striking a match. Taken for granted, and thoughtless in its creation. Look at that bonfire, and think. How was it ignited, did a parishioner reach for a lighter or strike a match? The proper way, from what I have read, is to begin with flint stone and the dried plant of flax. Laborious, uncertain, and certainly with prayer. The stone is struck until the fiber ignites. Then it is coddled and guarded, and protected until it takes hold.. Does that explain the Acts of the Apostles? Faith the size of a mustard seed grows into the mightiest of trees, Jesus preached that. Let me add one quick side note regarding fire. Here in North America many are familiar with the fire lit outside the church on the Easter vigil. It is the fire that lights the Easter candle, and then every candle every parishioner holds.Significant, in showing Christ as the light of the world, but here in America that is the only reference to fire throughout the season. In parts of Europe though large bonfires are lit throughout the countryside celebrating the risen Lord. The bonfire celebrates Jesus Christ as the light of the world but lets not forget the care in nurturing a spark into a mighty fire.

Bookends, lets look at another event. This is at the tomb after the passion. The women come to the tomb and an Angel says, Women why do you look for Him in a tomb. He is not there. The  beginning of the Easter season, now look ate the end. Look at the Ascension. The angel says to the men, to the men: Why are you looking at the sky, He is not there but has ascended into heaven. The season begins with an apperance of an angel to the women and ends with that angel approaching the men. Coincidence, I think not. I am amused by the medieval depictions of men staring at feet rising into the sky. Funny how Jesus Christ’s descent to earth was first revealed to a woman, revealed to Mary at the Annunciation. On Pentecost Mary and the disciples will be in the upper room to receive the Holy Spirit. Both men and women receive that Spirit, and both have a role in allowing it to grow. Why was it that the women ran to the tomb, and men stared up at the sky? A mystery, faith is full of them.

I will ramble on I promise, but these are a few thoughts I wanted to quick jot down. Now I begin to turn my thoughts to prayer , the prayer at the last supper, at the stoning of Saint Stephen, and those of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. But that ramble is not quite ready…

 

 

a God of all Encouragement

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There is one word in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians 2 Cor1:1-7 that cannot be missed, it is used ten times in a short passage. That word is encouragement. Whenever a word in this type of writing is used with an obvious and deliberate repetition, there must be some underlying reason why that word is given such emphasis. After given an introduction of himself, he begins “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement.” The blessed be is the beginning of many Jewish prayers, this is the start of a prayer of thanksgiving. In counterpoint to Gods encouragement or consolation are the human experiences of affliction and suffering. Paul mentions the encouragement he received in God throughout his personal sufferings; that his faith in God was strengthened through suffering. What Paul writes makes much sense, but the way in which he wrote it is puzzling. It begs one to ask “what do those words encouragement and consolation mean?” and “why does Paul use that word to describe God?” Why did begin that letter in the manner that he did? Finding the answer takes a bit of research.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of compassion and the God of all encouragement,
who encourages us in our every affliction,
so that we may be able to encourage
those who are in any affliction
with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God.
For as Christ’s sufferings overflow to us,
so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow.

That English word, encouragement, was translated from Greek. The Greek word is paraklēsis, and that is an important word. It is a word that today has special meaning in the Christian Orthodox Churches. In those Orthodox communities church services are called paraklēsis, and in some regions the church or chapel also goes by that name. That bit of information offers an interesting clue. Church, encouragement, consolation, comfort are all related through the word paraklēsis. But how? For that I think of when the Church was formed, and there is one day that specifically is known as the birthday of the Church; at least in the Latin Rite. That day is Pentecost when the Apostles, Mary, and the disciples received the Holy Spirit in the upper room. That Holy Spirit has many names, one of which is Paraclete, and Paraclete is a variant of Paraklēsis. The Paraclete is the Holy Spirit sent by Christ following His ascension. That God of Consolation, and of Encouragement is the Spirit sent by Christ that strengthens Paul throughout his trials of bringing the Gospel to those communities. His encouragement is the Spirit and the Trinity.