Archive for April, 2011

Must-See Film: “Of Gods and Men”

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

If you have not yet heard of this film, it is the story of a small monastery in Algeria that lives among and serves the local Muslim population, including the provision of medical treatment. When terrorists come into the region in 1996, the eight men must decide whether to flee or stay.

Their work, struggle, and witness, both before and during the crisis, are stirring examples of cruciform love that expresses itself in interfaith sensitivity, solidarity, and courage. My advice: find it and see it–now.

Easter: It is/is not about Us

Sunday, April 24th, 2011

Today, of course, is Easter. In my experience, there are two types of Easter sermons: those that are primarily soteriological–what Christ’s resurrection means for us–and those that are primarily Christological–what Christ’s resurrection means for Christ. The latter type is also the rarer, and the former tends to be rather lightweight, theologically speaking.

I would naturally tend to prefer the more theological, the Christological, but of course Christology cannot be separated from soteriology. Easter is is not about us, first of all, but is about us, finally, and about God’s entire creation.

Easter is part of the reality of Christus victor–Christ the conqueror, in his death, resurrection, reign, and return. And Christus victor is really a subset of Deus victor. Christology and soteriology have no possible significance apart from theology proper.

Let me put this in concrete terms. In the last two months, death has visited the wife of a student, an elderly uncle, and my wife’s sister, the last in a tragic accident that left her disabled husband the widower-father of four adult children who now need to care for him. If God cannot, or does not, ultimately defeat death, then death wins, and the resurrection hope of these three people of faith is, as St. Paul would say, vain, empty.

Before N.T. Wright published his book The Resurrection of the Son of God, he gave, at my invitation, a summary-lecture on the entire book. It was a stunning lecture (no surprise there), but the part I remember best is the conclusion, in which he recited, from memory, John Donne’s famous Holy Sonnet 10, “Death, be not proud”:

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are 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.

Happy Easter to all.

The Cross our Liberation

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

Ancient Christian texts and traditions have much to tell us about the cross on this and any Good Friday. The cross is the medicine of the world, for instance: crux est mundi medicina. Moreover, crux probat omnia, according to Luther: the cross probes everything.

A beautiful Taizé chant reminds us also that the cross is our liberation, and so we sing = pray twice:

Per crucem et passionem tuam
Libera nos Domine, libera nos Domine, libera nos Domine, Domine.

Per crucem et passionem tuam
Libera nos Domine, libera nos Domine, libera nos Domine, Domine.

Per sanctam resurrectionem tuam
Libera nos Domine, libera nos Domine, libera nos Domine, Domine.

By your cross and passion, by your holy resurrection, liberate us, Lord.

The Significance of the Cross

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

One thing that the entire New Testament makes clear is that the cross is not only the source but also the shape of our Christian existence, our salvation. May those who preach tonight and tomorrow preach both sides of that coin, and maybe it will make this Holy Week’s activities a bit more faithful to the NT’s message.

Mark Goodacre on Crucifixion and Passion Narratives

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

My friend Mark Goodacre of Duke has two very fine podcasts, one on crucifixion itself and one on the nature of the passion narratives; highly recommended.

The Ecumenical Apostle

Saturday, April 9th, 2011

I had a delightful time in the hills of Pennsylvania last Thursday giving the annual ecumenical lecture at Mt. Aloysius College in Cresson, PA. It was called “A More Ecumenical Paul: The Jewish, Catholic, Reformed, Orthodox, Pentecostal, Anabaptist (and more) Apostle” (the more was meant to be open-ended, but I ended up focusing on Paul the ecologist). We looked at texts that highlight themes from Paul that have been especially noticed by these various traditions in order to see Paul more as a contributor to Christian unity-in-diversity. We ended with some common, and some not-so-common, themes that emerge from these texts.

Although/because Cresson is super-rural, this small Catholic college draws people for this event from a 50-mile radius or more. Among those in attendance were the current and soon-to-be-appointed Catholic bishops, the Lutheran bishop, the Brethren in Christ Bishop, the Presbyterian presbytery exec, and a whole lot of other really fine people. The spirit of ecumenical openness and cooperation was palpable.

Perhaps the great surprise of the day was being introduced to the college’s ecumenical studies collection in its library, a room full of 18,000 top-notch books and reference materials in theological studies, almost all donated by one retired Lutheran pastor–bought specifically to have a theological library in rural Pennsylvania. I was bowled over by its size and scope. Another grace-filled instance of “bloom where you are planted.”