Category Archives: theology and doxology

The Space Between Life and Death

Beeswax Pillar Candle-efa4ce661080a75cd5d4a17ef717f5e4

Dear Readers,

What do you do, when you receive the news that a loved one hovers between life and death?

I open the Book of Common Prayer [BCP]:  It contains Scripture, for such a painful time as this.  In fact, Scripture represents eighty percent of the content of the BCP.  Scripture solidly informs the Creeds, Prayers, Statements of Faith, and Historic Documents.

Preserved through the centuries, the Book of Common Prayer bestows a benediction upon us, when prayer is exceedingly difficult.   The Book of Common Prayer offers clarity and direction to the anxious and grieving mind.  The carefully composed words of the prayers and the voices of the faithful who have come before us, impart to us strength, confidence, and trust in the Triune God.

In the Book of Common Prayer, we join our voices with all those who, through the ages and generations, have turned to the Book of Common Prayer in times of deepest grief and sorrow.

Over the past decades, since a friend first introduced to me the  Book of Common Prayer, the prayers have offered comfort and solace.  Below this meditation, I have copied the section of the BCP entitled, “Prayers for the Sick.”  [www.bcp.online]

Only a thin, translucent sheet of fine paper separates “Prayers for the Sick” and  “Ministration at the Time of Death.”  

 

John Donne contemplated the translucent space between life and death, in his Holy Sonnet Ten:

Holy Sonnets: Death, Be Not Proud

BY JOHN DONNE

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Through the long, dark night of vigil, sitting with my father, in 2006, I held in my hands the Book of Common Prayer and wondered, “Tomorrow, will it be time to turn the page?”

It was an honor for me to be present with my father, as he drew his last breath. Together, my sister, husband, and son gathered around his bed. I turned the page in the Book of Common Prayer and we prayed the prayers. We sang the hymns from the Anglican Hymnbook, which I had previously chosen. As generations of families had done before us, we ushered our loved one into the perpetual light of eternal life.

“One short sleep, we wake eternally.”

The space between life and death is translucent.

Keep these prayers with you, if you are praying for a loved one. If you are able to be present, bring these prayers [and hymns] to the Vigil. Send [email or snail mail] these prayers to those who are praying for their loved one.

Coram Deo,

Margot

Prayers for the Sick 

From the Book of Common Prayer

For a Sick Person

O Father of mercies and God of all comfort, our only help in time of need: We humbly beseech thee to behold, visit, and relieve thy sick servant N. for whom our prayers are desired.

Look upon him/her with the eyes of thy mercy; comfort him/her with a sense of thy goodness; preserve him/her from the temptations of the enemy; and give him/her patience under his/her affliction.  In thy good time, restore him/her to health, and enable him/her to lead the residue of his/her life in thy fear, and to thy glory; and grant that finally he/she may dwell with thee in life everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

For Recovery from Sickness

O God, the strength of the weak and the comfort of sufferers:  Mercifully accept our prayers, and grant to your servant N. the help of your power, that his/her sickness may be turned into health, and our sorrow into joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 or this

O God of heavenly powers, by the might of your command you drive away from our bodies all sickness and all infirmity:  Be present in your goodness with your servant N., that his weakness may be banished and his strength restored; and that, his health being renewed, he may bless your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

For a Sick Child

Heavenly Father, watch with us over your child N., and grant that he may be restored to that perfect health which it is yours alone to give; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 or this

Lord Jesus Christ, Good Shepherd of the sheep, you gather the lambs in your arms and carry them in your bosom:  We commend to your loving care this child N.  Relieve his pain,

guard him from all danger, restore to him your gifts of gladness and strength, and raise him up to a life of service to you.  Hear us, we pray, for your dear Name’s sake.  Amen.

 Before an Operation

Almighty God our heavenly Father, graciously comfort your servant N. in his suffering, and bless the means made use of for his cure. Fill his heart with confidence that, though at times he may be afraid, he yet may put his trust in you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

or this

Strengthen your servant N., O God, to do what he has to do and bear what he has to bear; that, accepting your healing gifts through the skill of surgeons and nurses, he may be restored to usefulness in your world with a thankful heart; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For Strength and Confidence

Heavenly Father, giver of life and health: Comfort and relieve your sick servant N., and give your power of healing to those who minister to his needs, that he may be strengthened in his weakness and have confidence in your loving care; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

For the Sanctification of Illness

Sanctify, O Lord, the sickness of your servant N., that the sense of his weakness may add strength to his faith and seriousness to his repentance; and grant that he may live with you in everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

For Health of Body and Soul

May God the Father bless you, God the Son heal you, God the Holy Spirit give you strength.  May God the holy and undivided Trinity guard your body, save your soul, and bring you safely to his heavenly country; where he lives and reigns for ever and ever.  Amen.

For Doctors and Nurses

Sanctify, O Lord, those whom you have called to the study and practice of the arts of healing, and to the prevention of disease and pain. Strengthen them by your life‑giving Spirit, that by their ministries the health of the community may be promoted and your creation glorified; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Thanksgiving for a Beginning of Recovery

O Lord, your compassions never fail and your mercies are new every morning:  We give you thanks for giving our brother (sister) N. both relief from pain and hope of health

renewed.  Continue in him, we pray, the good work you have begun; that he, daily increasing in bodily strength, and rejoicing in your goodness, may so order his life and conduct that he may always think and do those things that please you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Prayers for use by a Sick Person

For Trust in God

O God, the source of all health: So fill my heart with faith in your love, that with calm expectancy I may make room for your power to possess me, and gracefully accept your healing; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

In Pain

Lord Jesus Christ, by your patience in suffering you hallowed earthly pain and gave us the example of obedience to your Father’s will:  Be near me in my time of weakness and pain;

sustain me by your grace, that my strength and courage may not fail; heal me according to your will; and help me always to believe that what happens to me here is of little account if you hold me in eternal life, my Lord and my God. Amen.

For Sleep

O heavenly Father, you give your children sleep for the refreshing of soul and body: Grant me this gift, I pray; keep me in that perfect peace which you have promised to those whose minds are fixed on you; and give me such a sense of your presence, that in the hours of silence I may enjoy the blessed assurance of your love; through Jesus Christ our Savior.  Amen.

In the Morning

This is another day, O Lord.  I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be.  If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently.  And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus.  Amen.

Ministration at the Time of Death

When a person is near death, the Minister of the Congregation should be notified, in order that the ministrations of the Church may be provided. 

A Prayer for a Person near Death

Almighty God, look on this your servant, lying in great weakness, and comfort him/her with the promise of life everlasting, given in the resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Litany at the Time of Death

When possible, it is desirable that members of the family and friends come together to join in the Litany.

God the Father,

Have mercy on your servant.

God the Son,

Have mercy on your servant.

God the Holy Spirit,

Have mercy on your servant.

Holy Trinity, one God,

Have mercy on your servant.

From all evil, from all sin, from all tribulation,

Good Lord, deliver him/her.

By your holy Incarnation, by your Cross and Passion, by your precious Death and Burial,

Good Lord, deliver him/her.

By your glorious Resurrection and Ascension, and by the Coming of the Holy Spirit,

Good Lord, deliver him/her.

We sinners beseech you to hear us, Lord Christ: That it may please you to deliver the soul of your servant from the power of evil, and from eternal death,

We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you mercifully to pardon all his/her sins,

We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you to grant him/her a place of refreshment and everlasting blessedness,

We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you to give him/her joy and gladness in your kingdom, with your saints in light,

We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

Jesus, Lamb of God:

Have mercy on him/her.

Jesus, bearer of our sins:

Have mercy on him/her.

Jesus, redeemer of the world:

Give him/her your peace.

Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.

Officiant and People:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

The Officiant says this Collect:

Let us pray.

Deliver your servant, N., O Sovereign Lord Christ, from all evil, and set him/her free from every bond; that he/she may rest with all your saints in the eternal habitations; where with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

A Commendation at the Time of Death

Depart, O Christian soul, out of this world;

In the Name of God the Father Almighty who created you;

In the Name of Jesus Christ who redeemed you;

In the Name of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you;

May your rest be this day in peace, and your dwelling place in the Paradise of God.

A Commendatory Prayer

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant N.  Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him/her into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.  Amen.

May his/her soul and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Life and Death, Liturgy, The Book of Common Prayer, theology and doxology

Holy Week Hymnody: At the Cross of Jesus


stainedgl-altar

AT THE CROSS OF JESUS

A remarkable five-part hymn by Edward Monro: “The Story of the Cross”(1864).

[From Anthony Esolen, Touchstone Journal]:

The first part is The Question:

 

See Him in raiment rent,

With His blood dyed:

Women walk sorrowing

By His side.

Heavy that Cross to Him,

Weary the weight:

One who will help Him stands

At the gate.

Multitudes hurrying

Pass on the road:

Simon is sharing with

Him the load.

Who is this traveling

With the curst tree—

This weary prisoner—

Who is He?

The second part is The Answer:

 

Follow to Calvary,

Tread where He trod;

This is the Lord of life—

Son of God.

Is there no loveliness—

You who pass by—

In that lone Figure which

Marks the sky?

You who would love Him, stand,

Gaze at His face;

Tarry awhile in your

Worldly race.

As the swift moments fly

Through the blest week,

Jesus, in penitence,

Let us seek.

 

In the third part of the poem, we address the Lord personally:

 

On the Cross lifted up,

Thy face I scan,

Scarred by that agony—

Son of Man.

Thorns form Thy diadem,

Rough wood Thy throne,

To Thee Thy outstretched arms

Draw Thine own.

Nails hold Thy hands and feet,

While on Thy breast

Sinketh Thy bleeding head

Sore opprest.

Loud is Thy bitter cry,

Rending the night,

As to Thy darkened eyes

Fails the light.

Shadows of midnight fall,

Though it is day;

Friends and disciples stand

Far away.

Loud scoffs the dying thief,

Mocking Thy woe;

Can this my Savior be

Brought so low?

Yes, see the title clear,

Written above,

‘Jesus of Nazareth’—

Name of love!

What, O my Savior dear,

What didst Thou see,

That made Thee suffer and

Die for me?

In the fourth part the Lord responds:

 

Child of my grief and pain!

From realms above,

I came to lead thee to

Life and love.

For thee my blood I shed,

For thee I died;

Safe in thy faithfulness

Now abide.

I saw thee wandering,

Weak and at strife;

I am the Way for thee,

Truth and Life.

Follow my path of pain,

Tread where I trod:

This is the way of peace

Up to God.

So in the final part of the poem, the speaker replies to Jesus with eager love:

 

O I will follow Thee,

Star of my soul!

Through the great dark I press

To the goal.

Yea, let me know Thy grief,

Carry Thy cross,

Share in Thy sacrifice,

Gain Thy loss.

Daily I’ll prove my love

Through joy and woe;

Where Thy hands point the way,

There I go.

Lead me on year by year,

Safe to the end,

Jesus, my Lord, my Life,

King and Friend.

esolenanthony

Anthony Esolen is Professor of English at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island, and the author of The Ironies of Faith (ISI Books), The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regency), and Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books).  He has also translated Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata (Johns Hopkins Press) and Dante’s The Divine Comedy (Random House). He is a senior editor of Touchstone Journal.

2 Comments

Filed under Holy Week, Hymns, Lent, Palm Sunday, Passiontide, theology and doxology

What Is the Gospel?

stainedgl-altar

Dear Readers,

For your Lenten meditation, I offer a clear, concise, yet deeply theological sermon on “What Is the Gospel?” by Fr. Eric Dudley.

Coram Deo,

Margot

 

FrDudley2011

Fr. Eric Dudley is a native of South Carolina, has been married to Belinda for twenty-five years, and together they have three children: Katharine, Christopher, and Margaret.

Fr. Dudley received his B.A. from Wofford College in South Carolina, an M.Div. from Vanderbilt University, an S.T.M. from Yale University, and is in the process of a D.Min. from the University of the South.

Having served parishes in upstate South Carolina for nine years, he came to Florida in 1995 as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church.  In October of 2005, Fr. Dudley left the Episcopal Church to create St. Peter’s Anglican Church.

Fr. Dudley enjoys reading (especially Church history, biographies, and the novels of Trollope, Maugham, and P. D. James), gardening, biking, playing cards, and time with his family.

Leave a comment

Filed under Interpretation of Scripture, Lent, Passiontide, theology and doxology

A Good Friday Meditation: O Sacred Head, Now Wounded

sacredhead

Dear Readers,

I encourage you to listen to the entire recording of J. S. Bach’s Matthew Passion.  

B000035QCS.01_SL75_

Bach’s St. Matthew Passion

Within the recording you will hear the tune of the hymn that we know as “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.”  

 

O Sacred Head Now Wounded: Hymnal 1982

“O Sacred Head Now Wounded” Wikipedia

Text from Hymnal 1982:

1. O sacred head, sore wounded,
defiled and put to scorn;
O kingly head, surrounded
with mocking crown of thorn:
What sorrow mars thy grandeur?
Can death thy bloom deflower?
O countenance whose splendor
the hosts of heaven adore!

2. Thy beauty, long-desired,
hath vanished from our sight;
thy power is all expired,
and quenched the light of light.
Ah me! for whom thou diest,
hide not so far thy grace:
show me, O Love most highest,
the brightness of thy face.

3. In thy most bitter passion
my heart to share doth cry,
with thee for my salvation
upon the cross to die.
Ah, keep my heart thus moved
to stand thy cross beneath,
to mourn thee, well-beloved,
yet thank thee for thy death.

4. What language shall I borrow
to thank thee, dearest friend,
for this thy dying sorrow,
thy pity without end?
Oh, make me thine for ever!
and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never,never,
outlive my love for thee.

5. My days are few, O fail not,
with thine immortal power,
to hold me that I quail not
in death’s most fearful hour;
that I may fight befriended,
and see in my last strife
to me thine arms extended
upon the cross of life.

Text Information
First Line: O sacred head, sore wounded
Author: Paul Gerhardt, 1607-1676
Translator (sts. 1-3, 5): Robert Seymour Bridges, 1844-1930
Translater (st. 4): James Waddell Alexander, 1804-1859
Publication Date: 1982
Meter: 76. 76. D
Language: English

Tune Information
Name: HERZLICH TUT MICH VERLANGEN (PASSION CHORALE)
Composer: Hans Leo Hassler, 1564-1612
Adapter and Harmonizer: Johann Sebastian Bach, 1685-1750
Meter: 76. 76. D
Key: a minor or modal

Lyrics (J.W. Alexander’s version, 1830)

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
How pale Thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish, which once was bright as morn!

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

Men mock and taunt and jeer Thee, Thou noble countenance,
Though mighty worlds shall fear Thee and flee before Thy glance.
How art thou pale with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How doth Thy visage languish that once was bright as morn!

Now from Thy cheeks has vanished their color once so fair;
From Thy red lips is banished the splendor that was there.
Grim death, with cruel rigor, hath robbed Thee of Thy life;
Thus Thou hast lost Thy vigor, Thy strength in this sad strife.

My burden in Thy Passion, Lord, Thou hast borne for me,
For it was my transgression which brought this woe on Thee.
I cast me down before Thee, wrath were my rightful lot;
Have mercy, I implore Thee; Redeemer, spurn me not!

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

My Shepherd, now receive me; my Guardian, own me Thine.
Great blessings Thou didst give me, O source of gifts divine.
Thy lips have often fed me with words of truth and love;
Thy Spirit oft hath led me to heavenly joys above.

Here I will stand beside Thee, from Thee I will not part;
O Savior, do not chide me! When breaks Thy loving heart,
When soul and body languish in death’s cold, cruel grasp,
Then, in Thy deepest anguish, Thee in mine arms I’ll clasp.

The joy can never be spoken, above all joys beside,
When in Thy body broken I thus with safety hide.
O Lord of Life, desiring Thy glory now to see,
Beside Thy cross expiring, I’d breathe my soul to Thee.

My Savior, be Thou near me when death is at my door;
Then let Thy presence cheer me, forsake me nevermore!
When soul and body languish, oh, leave me not alone,
But take away mine anguish by virtue of Thine own!

Be Thou my consolation, my shield when I must die;
Remind me of Thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfolds Thee. Who dieth thus dies well.

Leave a comment

Filed under Crucifixion, Good Friday, Hymns, Lent, Passiontide, theology and doxology

Exploring the Gospel of John: 16

EXPLORING THE GOSPEL OF JOHN

By the Rev. Dr. Michael Petty [Fr. Michael Petty]

St. Peter’s Anglican Church [2006]

Note:  This entry completes the series.  There are no notes for the remainder of the Gospel of John.

“Farewell . . . For Now” (IV)

John 16:4b-33

  1.  16:4b-15:

This section returns to two previous themes:  Jesus’ return to the Father (13:1) and the coming of the Holy Spirit (14:15-17, 25-26; 15:26-27).  The phrase, “these things,” of 16:4b, seems to refer to the warning about persecution and about the role of the Spirit. “This hour” brings an imperative to instruct the disciples.  Jesus acknowledges the impact that “this hour” has had on the disciples; sorrow fills them  (16:6).  Yet, he also reminds them that it is to their advantage that he is going away:  His departure is not a tragic accident but is part of the plan of God.  Jesus has gone to prepare a place for the disciples and promises that they will be with him (14:1-4).  He tells them that his work of revealing the Father will continue in them (14:12-14) and that he and the Father will come to dwell with them (14:15-21).

Jesus now makes very explicit the fact that the coming of the Spirit will be another fruit of his “departure.” (Note 14:18.)   In the references to the Holy Spirit thus far, it is clear that the Spirit will enable the disciples to carry on Jesus’ witness.  As the Greek name for the Holy Spirit, paraklatos, suggests, however, the nature of this witness is both positive and negative.   Just as Jesus’ witness has had an accusatory dimension, so will that of the paraklatos.  Because of the Holy Spirit, the witness of the disciples will have a prosecuting dimension:  They will be pointing out what is wrong with the world.  The language here is juridical in nature.  The Spirit will secure convictions against the world on three counts:

First, the Spirit will convict the world sin — the sin of unbelief.

Second, the Spirit will convict the world for the wrong judgment it made about Jesus.  The Holy Spirit will make it clear that the world’s verdict on Jesus was wrong and that God has reversed the verdict.

Third, the Spirit will convict the world because He will convict the ruler of the world.  (Note 12:31 and 16:11.)  The witness of the Spirit results in a reversal of values and undermines the world’s basic assumptions.  But this witness of the Spirit, against the world, is ultimately for the world, as the Spirit-nourished witness of the disciples anticipates the final judgment.

16:12-15 returns to the theme of the Spirit’s work.   Because the disciples cannot receive all that Jesus wishes to impart to them, the Spirit will come to “guide you into all the truth” (16:13).  Here, the word “truth” is not an idea or a set of ideas but is Jesus himself (14:6).  Like Jesus, the Spirit will not speak on his own authority but on that of the Father and, just as Jesus has glorified the Father, so the Spirit will glorify Jesus.   Once again, it is clear that the Spirit does not impart random and independent revelations but gives to the disciples what Jesus has given to him (16:15).

(2) 16: 16-24:

This section continues the theme that emphasizes Jesus’ going away as a good thing but without reference to the Holy Spirit.   Jesus’ going to the Father (16:17) means that his disciples will not see him for a time but then, later, they will see him.  The disciples will see him after the resurrection and this will have a decisive effect upon them.  It is clear that the disciples themselves have not grasped this important point (16:17).  Having failed to grasp this point, they are also unable to understand the promise that Jesus leaves with them:  “your sorrow will turn into joy” (16:20).  The resurrection will bring about a great reversal.  The metaphor in 16:21 is important and Isaiah 26:16-21; 66:7-17 provides the metaphor:  It describes the travail of Israel which, when Israel passes through it, leads to salvation.  In contrast to the present moment, there will come a time, after the resurrection, in which the burden of the lack of understanding of the disciples will lift (16:23):  They will understand the reversal that God has brought about and what it means for Jesus to return to the Father.   And because of their intimate relationship with Jesus, the Father will grant to the disciples his assistance, in carrying on Jesus’ witness (16:23).

(3) 16:25-33:

16:25  probably refers back to texts like 14:25-26 and, thus, to the work of the Spirit.   After the passing of  “this hour,” the Spirit will interpret for the disciples what has happened and what these events mean.  A summary of this interpretation follows, in 16:26-28:  The clear implication is that this Gospel is the fruit of the interpretive work of the Spirit:  It was imperative  for the Spirit to undertake this work before the writing of this text.  (Note 20:31.)  The understanding to come stands in stark contrast with current incomprehension, as 16:29-30 expresses.  As Jesus’ question in 16:31 implies, the disciples do not yet really believe and will manifest this unbelief, when they scatter and  when they “will leave me alone.”  In fleeing from arrest, in abandoning Jesus, the disciples do not show that they have lost their faith — for they do not yet actually possess it:  This faith comes later.  Even in his state of abandonment, however, Jesus is not alone, “for the Father is with me” (16:32).  The final statement of this whole discourse in 16:33 summarizes the whole in that, ironically, Jesus’ departure will be the foundation of the disciples’ peace — a peace that is not merely a subjective feeling.  It is precisely Jesus’ victory, his return to the Father, which establishes the victory of God.  The disciples, through the Spirit, will know that Jesus has overcome the world and this reality will be the foundation of an eschatological peace — a peace that will be present, even in the midst of persecution.

Questions for Reflection

(1) In what ways does the Holy Spirit bear witness to Jesus today? How do we discern this witness?

(2) In what ways does Jesus’ victory over the world give us peace? What are some ways in which we can live more fully into this peace?

Leave a comment

Filed under discipleship, Interpretation of Scripture, The Gospel of John, theology and doxology

Exploring the Gospel of John: 15

EXPLORING THE GOSPEL OF JOHN

By the Rev. Dr. Michael Petty [Fr. Michael Petty]

St. Peter’s Anglican Church [2006]

Farewell . . . For Now (III)

John 15:1-27

(1) 15:1-17:

(a) 15:1-11:

Jesus identifies himself as the vine and the Father as the vinedresser.  This identification draws upon an important image from the Old Testament:  the image of Israel as God’s vineyard or God’s vine (Isaiah 5:1-7; 27:2-6; Psalm 80:8-19; Jeremiah 2:21; 6:9; 8:13; 12.10).  Identifying Israel as the vineyard or vine automatically identifies God as the vineyard owner or the one who cultivates the vines.  By so identifying himself, Jesus makes it clear that he is the true representative of Israel.  This identification also means that it is Jesus who establishes the connection between the vine’s branches (Jesus’ disciples) and the vinedresser (God).

15:2 introduces two important themes, with respect to God’s relation to his people:

The first theme is judgment upon the vine branches that bear no fruit: fruitfulness is clearly a criterion of God’s judgment, in that God expects his people to bear fruit.

The second follows on the first:  God not only removes the unfruitful branches but he also prunes the fruitful branches to make them even more fruitful; the importance of fruitfulness is again emphasized.  “Already you are clean because of the word I have spoken to you” (15:3).  The theme of being clean first appeared in 13:10, where Jesus pronounces that the disciples are clean (with the exception of Judas).  What Jesus seems to mean is that his teaching has cleansed the disciples and has placed them in a relationship with him, so as to enable them to bear fruit.  There is no question here of the disciples having some kind of “independence” from Jesus, as if their cleansing was a one-time event, which then enabled them to do things on their own.  The language of “abiding” completely undercuts all thought of independence and demands fruitfulness.  “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” (15:4)

What the language offers here is something of an equation, which offends modern ears:  complete dependence upon Jesus = fruitfulness.  It is important to notice that the vine / vinedresser imagery is a perfect way of restating the theme of Chapter 14:  that Jesus’ work of bearing witness to the Father will continue in the disciples.  The “work” of the vine is carried out in its branches, the bearing of “fruit” (grapes).  Lest there be any doubt about this, we have the blunt admonition that “apart from me you can do nothing” (15:5).  The theme of judgment on unfruitful branches, first hinted at in 15:2, returns in a way that is unmistakable, in 15:6.  This imagery, too, has its source in the Old Testament (note particularly Ezekiel 15).

15:7 returns to the theme of prayer, which 14.3 first introduced, but makes more clear the link between obedience and answered prayer:  “If you abide in me . . .” clearly refers to obedience to Jesus’ teaching, as 15.10 makes clear.   Note the balance between “keeping my commandments” and “abiding in my love” and Jesus’ keeping of his Father’s commandments and abiding in his Father’s love.  The point is that if Jesus had not been obedient to the Father’s mission and had, finally, avoided the cross, there would be no grounds to say that the Son loves the Father.   Likewise, obedience to the Son is the emblem of abiding in his love.  The mission of the disciples and the mission of Jesus parallel each other, in that the fruitfulness of the disciples’ mission glorifies the Father, just as the fruitfulness of Jesus’ mission does the same thing (15:8).  But this obedience and fruitfulness is not a joyless burden — because Jesus will bring to the disciples the same love that he has from his Father (15:9).  It is precisely by “abiding” in the vine that the disciples will experience a joy that is “full” (15:11).

(b) 15:12-17:

15:12 essentially repeats 13:34.  Once again, the readers understand that central characteristic of the Church is the willingness of Jesus’ followers to embody the self-sacrificial love of Jesus.  Their love is rooted in his.  The richness of Jesus’ love, mentioned in 15:13, is explicated in 15:15.  While Jesus is their superior, he has made the disciples into his friends; they are no longer simply servants who follow instructions simply because they come from the superior.  Rather than simply following instructions, the disciples are to know what Jesus’ intentions are.  Jesus has not kept aside some “secret knowledge” for himself that he is keeping from the disciples but “all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (15:15).  15:16 emphasizes the experience of Israel:  that it is God who calls the disciples; it is God’s prior action which creates Israel and then the Church, neither of which is a volunteer organization.  While God calls the disciples to bear fruit, their fruit bearing is dependant upon their continuing relationship to Jesus and upon the fact that it is his intention and purpose: what is involved here is more than human religiosity and effectiveness.

(2) 15:18-16:4:

The “world” which hates Jesus is not simply everything around us.  John uses “world” (kosmos) in a very strict sense to mean “those structures and orders of creation that are opposed to God.”   Another sign of the disciples’ conformity to Jesus’ mission (in addition to self sacrificial love) is the response of the world’s hatred.  The theme of calling re-emerges here (see 15:16):  “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (15:19).  Notice that this calls for a shift in thinking.  When they experience the ill-will of the world, the disciples are not to wonder about their “effectiveness” but to be aware that this is a sign of their conformity to Jesus’ mission.  The disciples must live in a situation in which the response to their word is just as mixed as the response to Jesus’ word.  The disciples (10:20) should expect both persecution and obedience. The disciples will face opposition but they will not take it personally, since they will face opposition for the very same reason that Jesus faced opposition: “because they do not know him who sent me.” (15:20)

Because the disciples carry on Jesus’ mission, with Jesus in their midst, the rejection of them is a rejection of the one who sent them:  “whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me, receives the one who sent me” (13:20).  The same principle applies to rejection: “Whoever hates me hates my Father also” (15:23).  15:24 represents the negative aspect of Jesus’ ministry.  He has come primarily to do the Father’s works but for those who reject what he does, judgment has occurred because to reject the one sent by the Father is to reject the Father and, thus, to hate him.  Jesus’ witness makes sin impossible to cover up or ignore.

The phrase “they hated me without cause” (15:25) is from the Greek version of Psalms 35:19 and 69:4.  The purpose of this citation is to show that the rejection of Jesus is part of the will of the Father, though this in no way diminishes the culpability of those who reject him.  We should not view the human rejection of Jesus as indicating the divine rejection of Jesus — only that such a rejection by Israel was foreseen.

In 15:26-27, we return to the theme of the Holy Spirit, already mentioned in 14:15-17, 25-26.  Once again, the Spirit is connected to the witness of the Church.  In accord with Deuteronomy 17:6, which requires two witnesses to establish something, there will be two witnesses to Jesus: the disciples and the Spirit.  It is the Spirit who enables the Church to bear a fruitful witness, even with the hatred of the world directed against it.

The final sub-section of this section, 16:1-4, makes it clear why the disciples are being told all this.  This discourse is aimed at preparing the disciples so that, in the fact of persecution and hostility, they will not fall away into apostasy.

Questions for Reflection

(1)  Are Christians persecuted in any way in our culture?  Have you ever had to deal with persecution?

(2)  In what ways can we manifest joy, even in the midst of difficulty?

Leave a comment

Filed under discipleship, Interpretation of Scripture, The Gospel of John, theology and doxology

Exploring the Gospel of John: 14

EXPLORING THE GOSPEL OF JOHN

By the Rev. Dr. Michael Petty [Fr. Michael Petty]

St. Peter’s Anglican Church [2006]

EXPLORING THE GOSPEL OF JOHN

Farewell . . . For Now (II)

John 14:1-31

1.  Readers will find the heart of Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse” (13:31-16:33) in 14:28, which states:  “If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father.”  The subject is Jesus’ future and his future secures the future of the disciples.  Because Jesus’ future is completely secure, so is that of the disciples.  Three successive questions, each from a different disciple, punctuate this section of the discourse.   Each of the three questions provides Jesus with the opportunity to develop the theme of why his physical departure is a good thing.

2.  14:1-7: 14:1 sets the theme for this section:  “Do not let your hearts be troubled” and “Believe in God; believe also in me” are directly related.   Belief in God is also belief in Jesus and this belief makes it possible for the disciples to face “this hour” untroubled.  Jesus’ departure is good because this means that he has prepared a way to “my Father’s house” (14:2), a phrase that refers to the afterlife.  Jesus is departing to return to God and this return prepares a way for his followers.  Note that Jesus has answered Peter’s question of 13:36.  Jesus’ coming again and taking the disciples to himself (14:3) is apocalyptic language (see I Thessalonians 4:15-17) and refers not to the immediate consequences of Jesus’ death but to the ultimate consequences.   Jesus gives to the disciples the assurance that, although he is physically departing, he will come to them and gather them to himself.  Thomas’ question about the way to the Father allows Jesus to make an important declaration: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (14:6).  The immediate context of this claim is Jewish convictions about Torah being the way to God (cf. Psalm 119:30). The force of this declaration is that Jesus is God’s way to himself, since the Son is the Father’s own Word, revelation, and life giving power.   The Son does not merely communicate accurate information about the Father but grants the power, to those who believe in him, to become children of God (1:12).  The claim, which the Son makes, that he is the only way to the Father, is not an arbitrary one.  He bases it upon the very identity of the Son.  To know the Son is to know the Father (14:7) because the Son shares all that the Father is and knows him completely.

3.  14:8-14:  Phillip’s request, to “show us the Father” (14:8) allows Jesus to again emphasize an important point:  “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9) makes the nature of the Son’s mission clear: The Son introduces people to genuine knowledge of the Father and a living relationship with him.  Through his signs and, finally, through his death and resurrection, the Son reveals the Father’s glory and character.  In the Son, the Father displays himself.   The life of the Son is perfectly transparent to the Father, making it clear that “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (14:10) and that “the Father who dwells in me does his works” (14:10).  God gives this revelation – not for the purpose of allowing people to enter into a state of private religious bliss or enlightenment — but to put them into the Father’s service.  Jesus’ “departure” will enable Jesus’ mission of bearing witness to the Father to continue through the disciples: “ . . . whoever believes in me will also do the works I do; and greater works than these ill he do, because I am going to the Father” (14:12).  The works of the disciples will be “greater” — not in the sense of being more important or astounding — but in the sense of [a greater] extent (in the sense of Acts 1:8).  The ministry that Jesus undertook, of revealing the Father, will not come to an end with his death or resurrection.   It is in this light that we need to read 14:13-14.  Jesus is not promising to grant the disciples their every wish.   The promise of answered prayer presupposes that disciples are being incorporated into Jesus’ mission, in the same way in which he was – completely and self-sacrificially.   It will be the Church’s life of prayer, emphasizing her complete dependence upon the Son, that will sustain the Church in her mission of carrying out Jesus’ mission.  Here, we get the basic understanding of what the Church is, in terms of her fundamental reality:  a community united to Christ and in Christ, sent and sustained to continue the witness of Jesus — a witness to the world and against the world.

4. 14:15-31: This section introduces the crucial subject of the Holy Spirit.  Note that 14:15 connects love with obedience:  Love, here, is not a sentiment but an act of obedient service.  The “commandments” in view are to wash one another’s feet (13:14-15) and to believe in Jesus (14:1).

There can be no claim to love Jesus, apart from obedience.  It is important to notice that Jesus identifies the Holy Spirit in 14:16 as “another paraklatos.”  This implies that we are to also consider Jesus to be a paraklatos, an Advocate or Helper (in the sense that the Old Testament refers to God as the helper of Israel).  Jesus’ role has been to bear witness for God and to bear witness against the world.

It is through the Holy Spirit in the Church that this witness will continue.  14:16-17 and 14:25-26 make it clear that the Church is a creation of the Trinity, created by the Father in the Son and through the Holy Spirit and indwelt by the Trinity; through the Spirit, the Father and the Son come to indwell the Church (14:23).  While the Spirit is clearly distinct from the Son, his principle ministry is to bear witness to the Son, “to teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (14:26). What seems to be ruled out here is the notion that the Spirit will make available “new revelations” which go beyond what the Son has disclosed or revealed.   If the Father bears witness to himself, in the person of the Son, then the Father bears witness to his own witness to himself in the person of the Spirit.  By referring to both the Son and the Spirit, using the term paraklatos, this draws our attention to two distinct ways in which God accomplishes his one work.   It is precisely the presence of the Spirit, who will grant peace to the Church.  This peace is not like the world’s peace, given conditionally and as the product of compromise, but the Spirit gives peace completely and unconditionally and we acquire [receive] it, not by getting things, but by complete self-surrender to Jesus’ mission.   It is Jesus’ own peace, which is not peace in the absence of difficulty, but peace in the very presence of difficulty, suffering, and anguish.  While the ultimate consequence of Jesus’ departure will be that the disciples (and those who follow them) enter into eternal fellowship with God, the immediate consequence will be that they will see him and know that he will not leave them.  (14:18-19).

Questions for Reflection

(1) Why does it seem that we misunderstand the Holy Spirit?  How does this section of John correct misunderstandings or deepen your understanding of the Spirit?

Leave a comment

Filed under discipleship, Interpretation of Scripture, The Gospel of John, theology and doxology