Seated at the Right Hand of God

Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus said, “I am,and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Mark 14:61b-62

After Jesus was arrested he was brought before the high priest and the ruling council to stand trial. Many made false accusations against him, but notably no two witnesses agreed. The law required that two or three witnesses must provide the same testimony in order to convict a person, particularly in death-penalty cases. (Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15)

Finally, the high priest asked Jesus directly. “Are you the messiah?” Any kind of affirmative answer would have resulted in Jesus’ conviction, not his acquittal. The high priest wasn’t looking for a reason to believe.

To the high priest’s amazement, Jesus didn’t just say, “Yes, I am the messiah.” He claimed much more than that. His response had the high priest tearing his clothes at what he could only hear as blasphemy. Who did Jesus think he was?

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Where True Joys are To Be Found

I love this collect for the fifth Sunday of Lent from the Book of Common Prayer.

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly
wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to
love what you command and desire what you promise; that,
among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts
may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with
you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Decalogue in Worship

The communion service John Wesley sent to Methodists in America in 1784 began with the Lord’s prayer and a collect, followed by a liturgical recitation of the Ten Commandments. Wesley adapted the Methodist service from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. The Ten Commandments had a prominent place in Anglican worship almost from the beginning. The Decalogue first appeared in the liturgy for communion in the 1552 Book of Common Prayer. You can still see the commandments posted in old Episcopal churches that have kept their antique architecture. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer retains the liturgical Decalogue in the section on the Eucharist, and a version can also be found in the United Methodist Book of Worship. Needless to say, this, like much of our rich liturgical tradition, has fallen out of use in United Methodist churches. 

I commend the commandments for liturgical use, especially in Lent. 

See The Decalogue for a liturgical setting adapted from the traditional form,  with the language of the commandments modernized and abbreviated. 

One More Year of Manure

Jesus riffed more than once on Isaiah’s song of the vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-7).

Let me sing for my beloved, my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield good grapes, but it yielded worthless fruit. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield good grapes, why did it yield worthless fruit? And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured. I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!

The parable found in Luke 13:6-9 is one such occasion.

Then Jesus told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”

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Ancient Christian Baptismal Preparation

I’ve been thinking about Lent and the early Christian practice of preparing catechumens for baptism at Easter. The word “catechumen” itself implies that teaching and learning were part of the process of preparation. The church taught the faith it had received and the catechumens learned. Catechesis is instruction.

Catechumens were also expected to put what they learned into practice. The so-called Apostolic Tradition once attributed to Hippolytus sets out this requirement.

When they are chosen who are to receive baptism, let their lives be examined, whether they have lived honorably while catechumens, whether they honored the widows, whether they visited the sick, and whether they have done every good work. (20:1)

Along with instruction, the church practiced prayer and fasting as a means of preparation. Circa 155 AD, Justin (called “The Martyr”) wrote this in his First Apology or defense of the Christian faith.

As many as are persuaded and believe that what we teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, are instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we praying and fasting with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated.

The catechumens fasted and prayed for the remission of their sins, as did the church.

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