Re-blog – 5 Reasons Why the Ascension of Jesus Matters

I had a bit of a family day yesterday, so I neglected to post, but yesterday was the Feast of the Ascension of Jesus, commemorating his ascension into heaven 40 days after his resurrection. We are now in the novena (nine days) of the Spirit, a time to pray for the Spirit to come and fall fresh on us.
Ascension is one of the more overlooked holidays on the Christian calendar, so I share this old post with you.

Today the church celebrates the ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into his glory in heaven, to sit at the right hand of God the Father and rule as King over the entire universe.

Why is that Christmas and Easter are such big deals in our culture, but Ascension and Pentecost are largely ignored? Have you ever thought about that? I think that the reason for this is that Christmas and Easter do not confront people with the lordship of Christ the way that his ascension does. Christmas is the easiest to accept for our culture. It’s just a sweet little baby born on a manger. Nothing there to confront me. Nothing there to make me take stock in my life. Even if we come to terms with the fact that this baby in the manger is actually God incarnate, it is still easy to sentimentalize and ignore. Baby Jesus. Sweet little Jesus. Tame Jesus.

Read more….

Image credit: Rembrandt, The Ascension of Jesus, 1636

Did Augustine really say, “The Church is a whore,”?

I hear this quite frequently, “As St. Augustine said, ‘The Church is a whore, but she’s my Mother.”

The problem is that St. Augustine never said that.

If you try to run down the source of the quote, the trail ends in a book written by Tony Campolo. In Letters to a Young Evangelical, chapter 6 he writes, “I would urge you to consider this carefully, and to think about the words of St. Augustine, ‘The church is a whore, but she’s my mother.’ That statement brilliantly conveys how I feel about the church.” He goes on to argue that despite all the failures and sins of the church, she is still our mother, and thus we should be a part of her. Where Campolo got that quote is a mystery because he gives no citation. But if you look further back you will not find it, because it does not exist.

How do I know? Well first off, as someone who has read an awful lot of Augustine and an awful lot about Augustine, I have never come across that quote, and that quote just doesn’t seem like something he would say. A few years back after I heard it yet again I decided to try and find the source. That’s when I discovered that the trail went dead at Campolo. Luckily, as an academic I have access to better search engines than Google.

I went to two of the best search databases for Christian Latin texts, the Patrologia Latina and the Brepols Library of Latin Texts. Between the two of them they contain pretty much everything written by ancient Christian writers in the Latin language. I searched for church (ecclesia) and mother (mater) using several different synonyms for whore (meretrix and prostituta being the main ones) and nothing came up exactly like the quote. That leaves me 99% sure that Augustine never said that.

The closest I was able to find is from Sermon 213 on the Creed. What he says there is significant so I’ve translated it for you:

Let us honor the Catholic Church, our true Mother, the true Bride of her Husband, because she is the wife of so great a Lord. And what shall I say? How great is that Husband and of singular rank, that he discovered a prostitute and made her a virgin. Because she should not deny that she was a prostitute, lest she forget the mercy of her liberator. How can it be said that she was not a prostitute when she fornicated with demons and idols? Fornication was in the heart of everyone; a few have fornicated in the flesh, but everyone has fornicated in his heart. And He came and made her a virgin; he made the church a virgin.*

Here we find the concepts mother, church, and whore, but we do not find that direct quote we are seeking. In fact there is a significant difference between the quote Campolo gave us and what Augustine actually said. Augustine here is saying that the Church was a whore because she formerly lusted after demons and idols. She is no longer a whore because her great husband, Jesus Christ, has liberated her from her thraldom, forgiven her sins, and made her his virgin bride.

Campolo is trying to make the point that although the church fails she is still the church. That is right and good. However, that is not Augustine’s point. Augustine is preaching about the glorious redemption that the great Husband of the church has accomplished. She is praised because of what He has done in and for her. She is our Mother because He is her Husband and because He has sanctified her. To make Campolo’s point resonate with what Augustine actually said, we should love and cherish the church, in spite of her failures, because she is Christ’s bride. Because she is his only bride. He found her, liberated her, sanctified her, and married her. That’s why we love her even when she is imperfect, because she is the only bride Christ has. He makes her great.

It is then grossly wrong to say that the Church is a whore. In fact that is blasphemous to say. Augustine himself says so in Sermon 10, which I found when searching for this supposed quotation:

I read in the Psalm, “The one who disparages his neighbor in private, I will destroy,” (Psalm 101:5).  If it is right for [God] to destroy the one who disparages his neighbor in private, then how much more right is it for Him to destroy the one who publicly blasphemes the church of God? When he says “She is not who she is!” When he says, “What is ours is partial.” When he says, “She is a whore.”**

 

UPDATE: Cyprian wrote concerning this concept in his treatise On the Unity of the Church. Since Augustine cites Cyprian extensively, even from this treatise, it is likely that he learned this concept from the African great himself.

The spouse of Christ cannot be adulterous; she is uncorrupted and pure. She knows one home; she guards with chaste modesty the sanctity of one couch. She keeps us for God. She appoints the sons whom she has born for the kingdom. Whoever is separated from the Church and is joined to an adulteress, is separated from the promises of the Church; nor can he who forsakes the Church of Christ attain to the rewards of Christ. He is a stranger; he is profane; he is an enemy. He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother. If any one could escape who was outside the ark of Noah, then he also may escape who shall be outside of the Church.

*My translation from the Latin text edited by G. Morin: Sancti Augustini Sermones post Maurinos reperti in Miscellanea Agostiniana, vol. 1, 1930, p. 447.

**My translation from the Latin text edited by Michael Petschenig, CSEL 53, p.177, available here: https://archive.org/stream/CSEL53#page/n269/mode/2up

 

 

A Non-Anxious Presence

Over on the Carver Project blog (Carver Connections), they’ve published a short essay of mine in their current series of daily reflections during the COVID-19 crisis. Check out my essay and the others, and learn about the Carver Project as well, a worthy ministry on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis.

Here’s the opening of the essay.


This is a nerve-racking time. As a pastor I spent hours and hours the week of March 8 making plans for a safe worship service. But by the end of the day that Sunday, March 15, all that labor was obsolete. I spent the following week getting up to speed on live streaming and pulling off our first ever digital worship service for our folks at home. Throughout this time, I had to make countless decisions, big and small. It left me exhausted.

I now find myself constantly checking my New York Times app for the latest numbers, declarations, and congressional activity. Then I switch to a local news website to find the latest local information. Then I check my email and Facebook. Then I’m compelled to do it over again. It’s the digital loop of the anxious person.

Maybe you’ve felt something similar over the past four weeks.

There’s a lot to be anxious about: infection rates spreading, people dying, and major institutions shutting down. How will we keep our work going or meet our responsibilities? How will we continue to care for, serve, and educate those under our charge? Will there be a disruption in the financial provision of my family? What if someone I love gets sick? What if I get sick?

Nerve-racking indeed.

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Re-post: Holy Saturday Homily – A Great Silence and Stillness

I enjoy reading this ancient Holy Saturday homily each year. It is rich with biblical theology. It makes very powerful and sophisticated connections between the sin of Adam and the redemption of the second Adam, Jesus Christ.

We do not know who wrote this homily. It likely dates from the 2nd. c.

I think the theme of stillness resonates with us in this time of COVID-19. A stillness that erupts with resurrection victory on Easter morning.

We are longing for that day to come.

Read here: An Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday

Into the Darkness

Click here for this year’s Advent Prayer Guide.

The light fades earlier and earlier this time of year and darkness falls upon us. Darkness can easily be associated with evil in antithesis to light, but in the beginning it was not so. In the beginning, God created the heavens in the earth and separated the light from the darkness and said it was good. Total darkness is not good. Only darkness is not good. But darkness followed by light followed by darkness is good. God said so, in the beginning.

The fact that there is more darkness this time of the year is also good. God created it this way. It is good. On the fourth day God made two lights, the greater to rule the day and the lesser to rule the night. He also made stars to be co-regents of the nighttime sky. Thus Night is never totally dark. We are not meant to dwell in total darkness. Even in the deepest night there are lesser lights ruling over it reminding us of the greater light to come. When God placed these greater and lesser (and even lesser) lights in the sky he said it was for “signs and for seasons.” This means we are to learn from the darkness; it is a sign for us. This means that the changing seasons are also good. This dark part of the year is the way God made things. It is good. We are to meditate on what this means.

It’s hard for us modern people to think about the meaning of darkness because we never really have to be in it. Our world is always lit. Darkness is rather foreign to us. But if we think about the world without modern amenities, the darkness is a natural time to rest. Without light we cannot work. We can think. We can pray. We can talk. We cannot work. Darkness implies the need for rest. Darkness also implies the need for quiet. It gets quiet at night. You can become aware of this if you are out in the woods just before dawn, especially in the late fall or winter when the bugs are no longer active. It’s quiet. Deafeningly so. And then just before dawn, when the light begins to grow in the sky, noises start happening. Birds start chirping. Squirrels start messing about. The noises are distracting, but the night is quiet. Quiet for meditation and prayer. This is how Jesus spent his last night before the cross. And he implored his disciples to join him, though they became overwhelmed with sorrow.

Watch and pray. This is the theme of Advent. Advent is not preparation or prelude for the babe born on Christmas morn. Advent is a watchful expectation for the King to return and dispel darkness and usher in his kingdom of light. We inhabit the darkness. We watch and pray in the darkness. And we know that after darkness, the light will come.

Many of us have had much to mourn this year. Many have experienced pain and loss. Many suffer under the weight of depression and anxiety. Many endure profound sadness due to unrealized dreams and unanswered prayers. Many have seen the lives of loved ones shattered by oppression and violence. We should mourn these things. Part of mourning is leaning into the reality of death and the brokenness of this world we live in: that things are not the way they are supposed to be. Advent is a season to cry out to God to come and deliver us from our pain; our sadness; from sin. The prayer of Advent is, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

The word Advent is from the Latin word advenire, which means “to come to.” Advent is about the various comings of Jesus. He came 2,000 years ago as God incarnate of the Virgin Mary. He will come again in glory to set up his everlasting kingdom over the new heavens and the new earth. But there is also a very real sense in which Jesus comes to us today, in the in-between-time. Jesus shows up every Sunday when we worship him. Jesus also shows up to intervene in various ways in our lives when we call out to him. So when we cry, “Come, Lord Jesus,” we are not asking for the end to come. We are crying out for him to show up now and deliver us in our present situation.

As we enter into Christ’s life, we enter into the life of God’s people who have been trained through the millennia to hope and pray for peace, security, justice, and welfare (Psalm 122). Have we expected too little? Have our hopes been dulled by our sorrow? Great David’s greater Son is coming! Can we set our hopes to the whetstone of the Word, renew our sharp edges, and hope for something preposterous?

Will you join me in entering into the darkness this Advent season? To watch and pray? To rest? To simplify? To be still and quiet? To mourn? To see the moon and stars and believe that dawn is coming? To cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus?”

May you have a blessed Advent season.

For more Advent reflections, click here.

Featured image: St. Francis in Meditation by Francisco de Zurbarán. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Lent Prayer Guide 2019

Here is a PDF copy of the guide along with sound files of all the music in the guide.

Lent 2019 Prayer Guide

To learn more about Lent, click here.

Lent Guide Music MIDI Files
Click on these files to hear the tunes for the songs in the guide.

 

Special thanks to John Hendrix who made the art for the guide.

 

Come, O Root!

Download my 2018 Advent prayer guide.

O Radix Jesse… These are the opening words of the traditional antiphon on Dec. 19 each year (that the cover art of this prayer guide depicts). In English the prayer is worded this way:

    O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;

    before you kings will shut their mouths,

    to you the nations will make their prayer:

    Come and deliver us and delay no longer.

The “Root of Jesse” is an image used by the Prophet Isaiah in his eleventh chapter. This “Root” will come and deliver the people Israel and extend their territory to the ancient boundaries promised to the Patriarch Abraham. Paul quotes Isaiah 11 in Romans 15:12 and interprets the prophecy not to be about the extension of the kingdom of Israel, but the gathering of the nations into the Church. Just as in Micah 7:11-12, Isaiah’s prophecy, and indeed the Lord’s promise to Abraham, is fulfilled in the Church, whose boundaries extend to the ends of the earth and whose inhabitants include every tongue, tribe, and nation. The above prayer then is for the prophesied One to come and deliver us. The need is urgent. “Delay no longer!” we cry.

Root. Radix. The interesting thing about the concept of the Root of Jesse in the text of Isaiah is that it is not entirely clear who the Root is. Is Jesse the Root from which Christ springs? 11:1 certainly leads us in this direction. Or, on the other hand, is Jesus the Root from which Jesse springs? Verse 10 leads us in this direction. The answer to the question is, “Yes.” Jesus Christ is both the Root and the Shoot, he is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the author and the finisher of our faith. He is Ancient of Days and yet lately born. He ushers in the beginning and also the end. Jesus is the Root, the ancient ancestor of Jesse and also the Shoot, the one who springs forth from Jesse’s lineage to usher in the everlasting kingdom and the renewal of all things. Jesus is David’s son and David’s Lord.

Radix. This Latin word for “Root” is where we get the word radical. Jesus is radical. Jesus gets to the root of things and he calls us to get to the root of things. The word radix is also where we get our modern abbreviation for medicine. Rx is an abbreviation for radix because many ancient medicines were made from the roots of things. Jesus is radical. He gets at the root. He is our medicine. Come, O Root, and deliver us!

The most important thing to remember about Advent is that Advent is not Christmas. The word “advent” is from the Latin advenire which means “to come to.” Advent is a season reflecting on the “comings” of Jesus. There are three distinct comings of Jesus that are in view in the season of Advent. The first coming was in the past and was the birth of our Lord Jesus. The second coming is at the end of history and is the bodily return of Jesus Christ to judge the earth. Yet there is another coming of Jesus that we should not miss. The third coming is how we long for Jesus to appear and visit us now, in the present, to right wrongs and advance the kingdom of God in this world. In Advent we do cry out for Jesus to come again. But we also look for his coming to us today in his Word, in the sacrament of the Eucharist, and in the faces of our brothers and sisters in Christ who bear his image. Christ comes to us in all these ways, and we need him to come. We need him to visit us this Advent. Come and deliver us and delay no longer!

As we look around us we see a great need for The Root to come and deliver us. We have our own personal needs. We have the needs of our church and our community. There are national crises that we should be concerned about. We need the Lord to come. Now! we cry. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. This is the spirit of Advent.

The Good News is God will answer our cry for deliverance. The Root has come to set us free. The Root will come again to renew all things. And the Root promises to meet us in the here and now. He promises to be present with us through His Word. He promises to be present with us through his sacrament. He promises that when two or three of us are gathered together in His name, he will be smack dab in the middle of us.

This Advent let us commit ourselves to preparation and prayer in joyful and hopeful expectation that King Jesus will come and deliver us. Let us watch and pray and not give in to despair, though it seems he never hears us and never answers us. Many times, when we are praying we are expecting a big act of God, a mighty work, a life changing event. But often God, in His infinite wisdom, chooses to give us a sustaining grace instead of that life changing event we prayed for.[1] We may wonder why he does this, when we know he has the power to move mountains and stop time. Maybe he does it because His greatest desire for us is that we would be satisfied with what he daily gives us in his regular, ordinary comings to us: The very substance of his Son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus is enough. Let us be satisfied with Him.

[1] I credit my friend, Pastor Thurman Williams for this idea.

Cover art by Sister Ansgar Holmberg. Click here to order her Advent art series.


Download my 2018 Advent Prayer guide here, and bookmark the link to listen to the tunes for all the psalms, canticles, and hymns: http://christourkingcolumbia.org/advent/