History

What is Holy Saturday?

The Passion Week provides diverse theological emotions for the people of God. Palm Sunday commences with the entrance of a divine King riding on a donkey. He comes in ancient royal transportation. The royal procession illicit shouts of benediction, but concludes only a few days later with shouts of crucifixion as the king is hung on a tree.

The Church also celebrates Maundy Thursday as our Messiah provides a new commandment to love one another just as He loved us. The newness of the commandments is not an indication that love was not revealed prior (Lev. 19), but that love is now incarnate in the person of love, Jesus Christ. We then proceed to sing of the anguish of that Good Friday as our blessed Lord is humiliated by soldiers and scolded by the offensive words of the religious leaders of the day. As he walks to the Mount, his pain testifies to Paul’s words that he suffered even to the point of death (Phil. 2)But hidden in this glaringly distasteful mixture of blood, vinegar, and bruised flesh is the calmness of the day after our Lord’s crucifixion.

After fulfilling the great Davidic promise in Psalm 22, our Lord rests from his labors in the tomb. Whatever may have happened in those days before his resurrection, we know that Christ’s work as the unblemished offering of love was finished.

The Church calls this day Blessed Sabbath or more commonly, Holy Saturday. On this day, our Lord reposed (rested) from his accomplishments. Many throughout history also believe that Holy Saturday is a fulfillment of Moses’ words:

God blessed the seventh day. This is the blessed Sabbath. This is the day of rest, on which the only-begotten Son of God rested from all His works . . .(Gen. 2:2)

The Church links this day with the creation account. On day seven Yahweh rested and enjoyed the fruit of his creation. Jesus Christ also rested in the rest given to him by the Father and enjoyed the fruits of the New Creation he began to establish and would be brought to light on the next day.

As Alexander Schmemann observed:

Now Christ, the Son of God through whom all things were created, has come to restore man to communion with God. He thereby completes creation. All things are again as they should be. His mission is consummated. On the Blessed Sabbath He rests from all His works.

Holy Saturday is a day of rest for God’s people; a foretaste of the true Rest that comes in the Risen Christ. The calmness of Holy Saturday makes room for the explosion of Easter Sunday. On this day, we remember that the darkness of the grave and the resting of the Son were only temporary for when a New Creation bursts into the scene the risen Lord of glory cannot contain his joy, and so he gives it to us.

Who was Valentine?

Saint Valentine's DayIt is not uncommon to celebrate days without the slightest clue of their origin. Such a day is the traditional Valentine’s Day, or The Feast of Saint Valentine. “Valentine” derives from valens, which means strong, worthy, or powerful. These are apt descriptions for this little appreciated martyr.

Tradition and legends abound. The truth is we do not know much about the life of St. Valentine.  What we do know is that around 278 AD, Valentine, a holy priest in the days of Emperor Claudius II, was executed. The precise day is well acknowledged as February 14th.

Claudius was known for his cruelty. His unpopular and bloody campaigns required a strong army. To Claudius’ vexation, he was not able to draw many Roman soldiers to his cause. Valentine believed that the soldiers were strongly attached to their wives and families. As a result, Claudius banished marriages and engagements in Rome.[1] Valentine believed this to be a great injustice and continued to perform marriages.

Another factor that made Valentine unpopular with Claudius was his commitment to help persecuted Christians. Valentine was faithful to the Christ he served.

Valentine’s high disregard for the laws of Claudius the Cruel and his strong faith were cause for arresting the 3rd century priest. “He was apprehended, and sent by the emperor to the prefect of Rome, who, on finding all his promises to make him renounce his faith ineffectual, commanded him to be beaten with clubs, and afterwards, to be beheaded.”[2]

On this day, we celebrate this faithful saints who died for love; love of truth, and love for Christ; the Christ who gave His life that His Bride might live abundantly.

Not a Primitive Philosophy

Will Willimon writing for the Christian Century asserts that truthfulness is most clearly seen in its practical force. “How shall they know you are my disciples? When you love one another.” This was Jesus’ simple response. At the same time we must not forget that truth is contextualized in history by the writer of history. Life cannot be divorced from truth. Life is formed and lived out by truth if it is to be lived out accordingly. Pagans may conform externally to the law, but manifest “enlightened self-interest” in their actions. The Christian faith, on the other hand, sees truth affecting both external and internal motivations. These motivations are self-less and are shaped by the God/Man who was the embodiment of truth Pilate wondered about. As Willimon concluded:

Christianity is not another philosophy  or some primitive system of belief; it is a community  of people who worship the Jew whom Pilate sent to the cross.

This devotion to the Jewish Messiah is what enlivens the Christian truth and what changes the world.

Bring Out the Champagne! The Party Has Just Begun!

Easter is gone, right? Actually Easter has just begun! The Easter Season lasts for 50 days. It is glorified in the PENT-ecost season. According to the Christian Calendar, Easter lasts until May 19th (Pentecost Sunday). But didn’t we spend ourselves bodily and spiritually this past Lord’s Day? If that’s the case, stir yourselves unto good works. The party has just begun!

We–who are liturgically minded–tend to carefully attend to the Lenten and Advent Calendar, but yet we forget that apart from the Resurrection Lent and Advent would not make any sense. After all, what are we expecting? A virgin birth to a son who would simply die at the age of 33? What are we expecting? A perpetually closed tomb? A sight for annual pilgrimages to Israel?

I am suggesting we need to stock up in our champagne bottles. Every Sunday meal needs to start with the popping of a champagne bottle. “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! POP! “Children, that’s the sound of victory!”

For every day of Easter, set aside a little gift for your little ones or your spouse. We set 100 Easter eggs aside for our two oldest children and let them open them up each day. Other traditions can be added, of course. We indulge in Easter hymnody and Psalmnody.  Easter is no time to get back to business as usual, it’s time to elevate the party spirit.

With that in mind, here are a few suggestions for these next 46 days:

First, for evening family readings, meditate specifically on the Resurrection account and the post-resurrection accounts. Digest every detail of the gospels, and also allow St. Paul to add his resurrection theology in I Corinthians 15.

Second, teach one another the art of hope. We live in a hopeless culture. We walk around with little enthusiasm for what God is doing in our midst. We also don’t believe that God is changing us and conforming us to the image of His son. We need to–especially in this season–to rejoice more with those who rejoice and encourage more those who weep with the hope granted to us in the Resurrection of our Messiah.

Third, invest in changing your community. Ask your pastor in what ways can you be more fruitful in your service to the congregation. Consider also your neighbors. Do you know them? If you do, how many have been in your homes for a meal or a drink, or simply to talk?

Fourth, play Easter music in your home and in the office. Here are some selections of great CDs or MP3’s.

Finally, avoid the introspective rituals that are so prevalent in our Christian culture. Do not allow doubts to overtake you. Think of your Triune baptism. Trust in Christ fervently. Allow the Covenant of Grace to shape your identity. The resurrection of Jesus was the confirmation that those in Christ are made for glory. Look to Jesus and serve Jesus by serving others. By doing so, you will not grow weary in doing well, and you will learn to party beside the empty tomb.

Christ is Risen!

Saints and Scoundrels

Saints and ScoundrelsI’ve begun reading through portions of Robin Phillips’ new work Saints and Scoundrels. The book is a selection of biographies of the great “dragon -slayers and kingdom-builders” of history. Phillips’ preface serves almost as an introduction to postmillenial thought, or a strong Kuyperianism of sorts. The author believes firmly that God “does not work alone but uses the faithfulness of His people throughout the ages to accomplish His purposes” (13).

His conclusion captures these ideas succinctly:

…though villains may rise and fall, the people of God will always be there, pocketing their remains to show the next generation” (15).

Revivalism and Anglicanism

Patrick Henry: First Among PatriotsThomas Kidd elaborates further on the rage of Anglican ministers in the days of the Great Awakening:

“Anglicans raged against these itinerant preachers because they intruded upon the turf of Anglican parishes and exhibited no respect for the established pastor’s authority.” –Thomas Kidd, 34. Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots

Doing Love

Steve Wilkins adds a little romance and realism to the Valentine conversation here:

Namely this, St. Valentine (who, by the way, was a real guy who lived in the 3rd century, that’s his picture over there on the left) ended his life by losing his head because of his undying love for Jesus and his refusal to turn his back on his Savior.

Omens and Anti-Christ superstitions…

Peter Leithart in DC references the absurd belief in the ability of oracles to predict war outcomes. For Maxentius, it was an exodus-like disaster. Likewise, David Garland’s Literary and Theological Commentary on Matthew observes similarly that in the first century,

Omens from the stars were nothing to be brushed aside. The appearance of comets, for example, were assume to portend the birth or the death of someone of great consequence. Suetonius tells us that when a comet appeared over Rome for several nights, Nero took the precaution of having several Roman noblemen executed, so that it would have augured their deaths and not his (26).

A better way:  “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Yahweh our God.”

What is truly important?

Joel McDurmon has a great piece on the American Vision website. He relates the story of a group that determined April 11 to be the most boring date of the year. McDurmon examines their standard of what is and is not important and concludes:

… God rules history, and the same god rules within and without the Church, and in between. He rules in the details of the big people and little people, in the Oval Office and in your bedroom. Nothing under His eye is of less historical importance than anything else, and the only measure of meaningfulness is faithfulness to His Word. This is the only reason the ancient kings even made it into God’s written histories in the Bible: to show how they, along with all the other insignificant people and events of the era, did nothing but fulfill His covenantal promises and prophecies.

The Growth of Christianity in the Early Church

I am continually amazed with how rapidly the Christian faith grew in its early stages. The impact of Messiah was so dramatic that by 312 AD, the emperor embraces the Christian message.  As my former professor Frank James summarizes:

By the middle of 2nd century, we know that Christian churches existed in most of the Roman provinces from Syria to Rome. In 250AD, we know that a significant minority of Christians existed in every Roman province. By 300AD, Christians in some regions (North Africa and Turkey) represented a majority of the population. In 312, Constantine embraced Christianity.