4 August 2013

On the Christian hope

The most stirringly beautiful declarations of faith and hope are the anthems appointed for Christian funerals and burials in the US Book of Common Prayer 1979.

At the church:
I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord.
Whoever has faith in me shall have life,
even though he die.
And everyone who has life,
and has committed himself to me in faith,
shall not die for ever.

As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.
After my awaking, he will raise me up;
and in my body I shall see God.
I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him
who is my friend and not a stranger.

For none of us has life in himself,
and none becomes his own master when he dies.
For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord,
and if we die, we die in the Lord.
So, then, whether we live or die,
we are the Lord's possession. 
Happy from now on
are those who die in the Lord!
So it is, says the Spirit,
for they rest from their labours. 
(pages 491-492)
On leaving the church:
Christ is risen from the dead,
trampling down death by death,
and giving life to those in the tomb.

The Sun of Righteousness is gloriously risen,
giving light to those who sat in darkness
and in the shadow of death.

The Lord will guide our feet into the way of peace,
having taken away the sin of the world.

Christ will open the kingdom of heaven
to all who believe in his Name, saying,
Come, O blessed of my Father;
inherit the kingdom prepared for you.

Into paradise may the angels lead you.
At your coming may the martyrs receive you,
and bring you into the holy city Jerusalem.
(page 500)
At the grave:
Everyone the Father gives to me will come to me;
I will never turn away anyone who believes in me.

He who raised Jesus Christ from the dead
will also give new life to our mortal bodies
through his indwelling Spirit.

My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices;
my body also shall rest in hope.

You will show me the path of life;
in your presence there is fulness of joy,
and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore. 
(page 501) 
These are texts every Episcopalian should be familiar with. They're very comforting when in a transitive process. Life is a constant funeral, and I don't mean that in a depressingly negative sense. Our lives are a cycle of dying and being made new. At times and in all places, we joyfully look to the Resurrection of Jesus with hope.

I'm going to toe the official line, and reference the Catechism of the Episcopal Church found in The Book of Common Prayer:
Q. What is the Christian hope?
A. The Christian hope is to live with confidence in newness and fulness of life, and to await the coming of Christ in  glory, and the completion of God's purpose for the world.
Q. What, then, is our assurance as Christians?
A. Our assurance as Christians is that nothing, not even death, shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
(page 862)
I really believe this is how we ought to live life: Hopefully, with this assurance that nothing can separate us from God's love. We rest in that love in life, in death, and in life beyond death.

To God we belong, and to God we shall return. God is our constant refuge and strength now and unto eternity. Blessed be the Name of the Lord. Saranam.

3 August 2013

Come, come ye saints

Come, come, ye saints, no toil nor labour fear;
But with joy wend your way.
Though hard to you this journey may appear,
Grace shall be as your day.
'Tis better far for us to strive
Our useless cares from us to drive;
Do this, and joy your hearts will swell -
All is well! All is well! 
Why should we mourn or think our lot is hard?
'Tis not so; all is right.
Why should we think to earn a great reward
If we now shun the fight?
Gird up your loins; fresh courage take.
Our God will never us forsake;
And soon we'll have this tale to tell -
All is well! All is well! 
We'll find the place which God for us prepared,
In his house full of light,
Where none shall come to hurt or make afraid;
There the saints will shine bright.
We'll make the air with music ring,
Shout praises to our God and King;
Above the rest these words we’ll tell,
All is well! All is well! 
And should we die before our journey's through,
Happy day! All is well!
We then are free from toil and sorrow, too;
With the just we shall dwell!
But if our lives are spared again
To see the saints their rest obtain,
Oh, how we'll make this chorus swell-
All is well! All is well! 
- William Clayton (1814 – 1879), third stanza edited by Avis B. Christianson 1895 – 1985)

Steven Sharp Nelson - Come, come ye saints with the Lyceum Music Festival Orchestra

My Song is Love Unknown: On mean Christians

There comes a point when you aren’t as stupid as before.  Your eyes and ears are opened, and you can finally see, hear, and understand the truth. Suddenly you see the subtle insults, the lies, the schemes, and so forth. It’s very depressing and sad.

What blinded you to this? It was love. And love covers a multitude of sins.

It’s a harsh truth, but nonetheless a fact of life: Some people, despite their membership in the Church, are just assholes.

Not just assholes, but mean, cruel, bitchy people who will take any chance to tear you down. They are hellbent on ripping you to shreds and trampling down any ounce of self-esteem you might have.

There are two options that many people take: To absorb the abuse, or to ignore it. You can take it unto yourself and define yourself by their standards. You can also simply ignore it, frankly not give a damn, return evil for evil, and probably end up the same way – cold-hearted, mean, and uncharitable.

These are two temptations anyone can succumb to. But there is a third way, a way that neither absorbs the abuse nor ignores the hurt it causes. It is a middle way, a via media that is not just an Anglican way, but the Christian thing to do: You can take and regard this water, then turn it into Gospel wine.

It’s not just a matter of blessing those who curse you nor turning the other cheek. That’s too passive. It is a challenge to take an imperfect offering and turn it into grace. To regard something hurtful to yourself with such love, compassion, and truth is a very difficult thing to do. It takes inner strength and patience to do this. Only the Holy Spirit can you give you these gifts through Christ.

“Regard not our sins, but the faith of your Church” the American Prayerbook (page 395) says.  I find it difficult sometimes to see these persons not as jerks, but as people who are struggling and frail like me. God loves them too. They may do well to hide it or make me feel less than a beloved child of God, but we are nevertheless sinners at the hands of a merciful and loving God. A good God who gives us grace we do not deserve nor earn. A God who continually forgives us. A God who takes our water – our sins, our lies, our bullshit – and turns it into grace, a wine of incomparable vintage and quality.

I pray for the grace not to absorb another’s sin, but to regard it with love, compassion, and understanding. And I pray to turn it into something that will be beneficial to themselves. Much of the time, these are cries simply to be loved, understood, and validated. I can get angry, very angry, and often I may act brashly. Nevertheless, I repent and I will try again. This is part of my Baptismal Covenant: When I fall into sin, to repent and return to the Lord.

There is an old custom that when someone exclaims using the name of God, the listener should say “have mercy”. This is to turn an exclamation into a prayer, so that the other person does not sin.

Would to God that we provide a mantle for those naked, and clothe them with dignity.

Continue loving them, even if they do not deserve it. God did. Sometimes, we may have to cover them with ourselves or even with the sacrifice of ourselves.  This is redemption. Buying back for God that which is truly at fault.

And mind you, it's a tough challenge to unconditionally love them and not to let them pull you down, at the same time

It takes guts to love the unlovable. But don’t love them because you have to; love them because you do truly love them. Often, it’s a parent’s love that can love despite the ingratitude and wrongdoing of children. It’s a parent who sees only their child, and not rules broken, nor their child's failures in life. It’s a parent who loves their child nevertheless. And it is a parent that will do anything to redeem their child at personal cost, even if the child fights back.

God is our Father-Mother and loves us as beloved children. Can we as the Church truly love others as God loves us? 

Samuel Crossman wrote this hymn in 1664:
My song is love unknown,
My Saviour’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take frail flesh and die? 
He came from his blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed-for Christ would know:
But O! my Friend, my Friend indeed,
Who at my need his life did spend. 
Sometimes they strew his way,
And his sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
Then “Crucify!” is all their breath,
And for his death they thirst and cry. 
Why, what hath my Lord done?
What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run,
He gave the blind their sight,
Sweet injuries! Yet they at these
Themselves displease, and ’gainst him rise. 
They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save,
The Prince of life they slay,
Yet cheerful he to suffering goes,
That he his foes from thence might free. 
Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like thine.
This is my Friend, in whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.
We need each other. God grant me grace, and may I give grace to others, in Christ’s name. Amen.