Category Archives: Poetry

The Paschal Vigil

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5–11, ESV)

What is it like to experience the transition from darkness to light? What is it like to go from chaos to creation, or in this case re-creation? What is it like to go from death to life? What is it to find hope in the midst of hopelessness?

The journey of Holy Week through the Paschal Triduum is a reenactment of this historical reality. The Great Paschal Vigil draws the Church together in darkness. Then through worship, we reach the pinnacle of Christian experience. The services celebrate God’s recreation.

The ancient church recognized the central event of Christianity is not the birth of Christ even though the Incarnation is important. However, the Resurrection is the focal point. Easter is the beginning of all things made new. Easter is the mark when we may be born again. Ancient celebrations of Easter included the lighting of the Paschal Candle which would remain lit throughout the year (until it is extinguished on Good Friday.) Easter was when new converts were finally baptized following a year or more of discipleship and learning. And Easter was the first celebration of the Eucharist following its institution.

Darkness to Light; chaos to re-creation; death to life; eternal hope. These are the things of Easter.

Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern
(O Morning-Star, how fair and bright)

PHILIPP NICOLAI

1599 FREUDENSPIEGEL (SEE USE BY BACH BMV 1)

Translation by Catherine Winkworth

O Morning-Star, how fair and bright
Thou beamest forth in truth and light!
O Sovereign meek and lowly!
Sweet Root of Jesse, David’s Son,
My King and Bridegroom, Thou hast won
My heart to love Thee solely!
Lovely art Thou, fair and glorious,
All victorious,
Rich in blessing,
Rule and might o’er all possessing.

O King high-born, Pearl hardly won,
True Son of God and Mary’s Son,
Crown of exceeding glory!
My heart calls Thee a Lily, Lord,
Pure milk and honey is Thy Word,
Thy sweetest Gospel-story.
Rose of Sharon, hail! Hosanna!
Heavenly Manna,
Feed us ever;
Lord, I can forget Thee never!

Clear Jasper, Ruby fervent red,
Deep deep within my heart now shed
The glow of love’s pure fire;
Fill me with joy, grant me to be
Thy member closely joined to Thee,
Whom all my thoughts desire;
Toward Thee longing doth possess me,
Turn and bless me,
For Thy gladness
Eye and heart here pine in sadness.

But if Thou look on me in love,
There straightway falls from God above
A ray of purest pleasure;
Thy Word and Spirit, flesh and blood,
Refresh my soul with heavenly food,
Thou art my hidden treasure.
Let Thy grace, Lord, warm and cheer me,
O draw near me;
Thou hast taught us
Thee to seek, since Thou hast sought us.

Lord God, my Father, mighty Shield,
Thou in Thy Son art all revealed
As Thou hast loved and known me;
Thy Son hath me with Him betrothed,
In His own whitest raiment clothed,
He for His bride will own me.
Hallelujah! Life in heaven
Hath He given,
With Him dwelling,
Still shall I His praise be telling.

Then touch the chords of harp and lute,
Let no sweet music now be mute,
But joyously resounding,
Tell of the Marriage-feast, the Bride,
The heavenly Bridegroom at her side,
’Mid love and joy abounding;
Shout for triumph, loudly sing ye,
Praises bring ye,
Fall before Him,
King of kings, let all adore Him!

Here my heart rests, and holds it fast,
The Lord I love is First and Last,
The End as the Beginning;
Here I can die, for I shall rise
Through Him, to His own Paradise
Above all tears and sinning.
Amen! Amen! Come, Lord Jesus,
Soon release us,
With deep yearning,
Lord, we look for Thy returning.

Eric Lund and Bernard McGinn, Eds., Seventeenth-Century Lutheran Meditations and Hymns, The Classics of Western Spirituality, (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2011), 278–280.

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Maundy Thursday

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”” (John 13:34–35, ESV)

On this evening, we remember the upper room supper with Jesus and his disciples. The ancient church did more than just remember. They lived the evening through their liturgy. The importance of Maundy Thursday is expressed by Robbert Webber:

The three great days from Maundy Thursday through the Great Paschal Vigil of Saturday night is the source of our spirituality. Our spiritual journey throughout the year springs from this week, the great paschal mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection, and it returns to this week to die with Christ and to be born anew in him. (Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004), 123–124.)

The word Maundy means commandment and refers to John 13:34. Surely the events on this night reflected the love Jesus commands. He washed his disciples’ feet. He instituted the Lord’s Supper. He gave his final instructions to his disciples. He prayed the great prayer recorded in John 17 which included all disciples of all ages.

Likewise, the things that happened to Jesus demonstrated his love and truth. He did not resist the betrayal of Judas. When he was arrested in the garden and Peter cut off the soldier’s ear, he put it back on the man and healed him. He went quietly with the Temple guard “like a sheep led to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7).

We are called to enter and experience all of these things on Maundy Thursday. The whole Church of Christ around the world joins together not only to remember but to participate.

It takes the worldwide community of God’s offspring back to the originating event and calls on us to enter once again into the meaning of it all. (Webber, Ancient-Future Time, 123.)

Ah, holy Jesus, how hast Thou offended,
That man to judge Thee hath in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by Thine own rejected,
O most afflicted.

Who was the guilty- Who brought this upon Thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone Thee.
‘Twas I, Lord, Jesus, I it was denied Thee!
I crucified Thee.

For me, kind Jesus, was Thine incarnation,
Thy mortal sorrow, and Thy life’s oblation;
Thy death of anguish and Thy bitter passion,
For my salvation.

Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered;
The slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered;
For our atonement, while he nothing heedeth,
God intercedeth.

Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay Thee,
I do adore Thee, and will ever pray Thee,
Think on Thy pity and Thy love unswerving,
Not my deserving.

Johann Heermann (1630)

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Holy Wednesday

Holy Week begins on Monday following Palm Sunday and ends with the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord on Easter Sunday morning. Most Christians recognize Holy Week by one or more of the days called the Paschal Triduum. They include Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. But few outside of Eastern Catholocism may know about Holy Wednesday or Spy Wednesday.

The names for this day come from either of the two events it remembers. First is the anointing of Jesus at Bethany. Second is the deal Judas Iscarius makes with the Chief Priests to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.” (Matthew 26:6–16, ESV)

Because of human nature, I sometimes think we spend too much time talking about Judas. We love scoundrels. However, today is holy because of the act of faith, hope, and love by one woman. I confess to being as pragmatically oriented as the disciples. Oh, how I need to learn the devotion of this woman.

Sometime in the first half of the Ninth Century, there was a Byzantine abbess and nun named Kassia. She was a devout woman of God who wrote poetry and music. One of her hymns is still used in the liturgy on Holy Wednesday in the Byzantine Church. I include it here because it helps me to reflect on the anointing of Jesus and allows me to worship him.

Troparion of Kassiani (Chanted during Holy Week on Great and Holy Wednesday)

Sensing Thy divinity, O Lord,
a woman of many sins,
takes it upon herself
to become a myrrh-bearer
and in deep mourning
brings before Thee fragrant oil
in anticipation of Thy burial; crying:
“Woe to me! What night falls on me,
what dark and moonless madness
of wild-desire, this lust for sin.
Take my spring of tears
Thou Who drawest water from the clouds,
bend to me, to the sighing of my heart,
Thou who bendedst down the heavens
in Thy secret Incarnation,
I will wash Thine immaculate feet with kisses
and wipe them dry with the locks of my hair;
those very feet whose sound Eve heard
at the dusk in Paradise and hid herself in terror.
Who shall count the multitude of my sins
or the depth of Thy judgment,
O Saviour of my soul?
Do not ignore thy handmaiden,
O Thou whose mercy is endless”.
               (https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Troparion accessed 04/08/2020, 10:58 am.)

 

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Our Shepherd

A Psalm of David.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Ps 23.

Almost everyone knows this psalm. The beauty of its poetry and imagery encompasses the heart like a blanket on a cold evening.  It is used by those who believe and those who hope. It is also used by many who are hoping for hope.

Because Psalm 23 is used so often, I have tended to avoid using it. I didn’t want to become cliché. Yet there is no other work in which I find such expression of the Lord’s daily watch and care for his sheep.

The psalm speaks for itself. That is why it is so popular. Unlike other passages of Scripture, even without deep theological analysis, you can still be comforted by its lines. So, I will not try to explain all of the images and cross-references and details. I present it that you may be reminded to use it. Meditate on it. Pray it. Let it become a song of hope in your heart.

May the Lord bless you.

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