Audio Content: Dr. Gary Rushing was the guest on this episode of Ancient-Future Faith. He talked with Host Chris Alford about a life of ministry and how he is using biblical, ancient-future principles in his capacity as a worship pastor in the Methodist Church. Gary has served in a variety of denominations and now has the unique challenge of working in a “high seasonal” church in Florida where the numbers fluctuate by a thousand depending on the time of the year. What a challenge! And what a wonderful pastor he is…. Join us!
KB Categories Archives: Christian Year
In this episode of Ancient-Future Faith, guest Ellen Koehler (right) was in the studio to talk about an upcoming Lenten series at Epiclesis (an Ancient-Future Faith Church in Sacramento, CA) on the Psalms. Based partly on the work of theologian Walter Brueggemann, the 5-session study will look at how the psalms– what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “the prayer book of the Bible”– speak to every season of our lives.
Did you know that increasing numbers of evangelicals are going back to their early Christian roots and discovering the many ways that Lent can shape our spiritual lives? Join us as they talk with Dr. Chris Alford about giving things up– and taking things on– for Lent.
Long-time AFFN member and contributor Rev. Dr. Donald P. Richmond has written a remarkable set of devotionals for the Advent Season. May it be a great blessing and source of inspiration to you during these days of listening and waiting.
Thank you, Don, for your ongoing (and precious) contributions to our Network.
Here’s the introduction to the series, and then find the link to the .pdf file for the entire set just below:
Then Shall They See: Meditations for Advent
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent, as found in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, encourages us to “read…mark… learn…and inwardly digest” holy Scripture. The purpose of these four admonitions, according to the Collect, is to empower the reader to embrace and emulate Christ’s teaching. Reading and reflecting upon Holy Writ, with an honest and open heart, helps us to do this. These simple meditations seek to honor the Collect’s concern.
As in the past, with my other seasonal reflections, there is a process that I encourage you to follow. First, and foremost, read and reflect upon the Lesson of the day. Do not rush the Reading. Do not try to interpret the Reading. Sit before the Reading and let it speak to you. Instead of interpreting it, let the text interpret you.
As well, read and reflect upon the brief commentary that I have written. Engage with what I have suggested by asking questions. Is this how you read the text? Do you interpret this biblical passage in the same way? What are the readings, found in both the biblical text and my commentary, communicating to you? What is God asking you to do, based upon the Scripture provided?
Finally, and importantly, pray the prayer. The prayer, Come Thou, long-expected Jesus, is written in red throughout the meditations and was originally composed as a hymn by Charles Wesley. Although I reference the same prayer each day, if done with devotion it will work its way into our hearts.
May the Christ-Child, Son of God and Son of Mary, incarnate himself ever more richly in our hearts and our lives.
Enjoy the entire set of Advent devotionals by clicking here.
Scripture reports that after his resurrection, Jesus appeared several times in physical form to many people. Forty days later, the book of Acts tells that Jesus was again with his disciples:
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power then the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:6-11, ESV).
Last Friday I had the privilege to attend commencement ceremonies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. President R. Albert Mohler’s address to graduates was inspired by the account of Stephen, Christianity’s first martyr. His message was entitled, “As if It Had Been the Face of an Angel.” This title harkens to Acts 6:15: And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel (Acts 6:15, ESV).
Dr. Mohler pointed out that the original language indicates Stephen’s face had the same other-worldly glow as did Moses’ face after spending time in God’s presence and receiving the Ten Commandments. Scripture gives even more explanation of Stephen’s angelic countenance: But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55-56, ESV).
Stephen’s vision and testimony were not only the deciding factor upon which the council stoned him, they also hold a key to every Christian’s faith and our hope for heaven; Christ’s ascension. Jesus Christ did ascend to heaven – not as a non-corporeal spirit being, rather, in a new physical body given by God at his resurrection.
Why is this important? As Gerrit Scott Dawson writes, “Through the ascension we discover that the incarnation continues. Jesus remains united to our human nature.” “If Jesus’ new life does not continue, then he could have died again…. The resurrection requires an ascension to be completed…. To put it bluntly, if Jesus did not go up as a man, he cannot come again as a man. The Judge would not be our Brother, not the one tempted in all ways as we are, not the man with the nail-scarred hands and the ‘rich wounds yet visible above.’ He might be God in that case, but he would not be human. And we would be lost.”
What God allowed Stephen to see gives a clear and true understanding of the role Christ now plays on our behalf.
Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man (Hebrews 8:1-2, ESV).
Robert Webber put it this way, “Jesus Christ, this man who is God, participated in our humanity to die for us and to be resurrected for us, and he now has ascended to the very throne of God to continually represent us to the Father. For ‘he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence’ (Hebrews 9:24, NIV). He who did everything that ever needed to be done to save us now continually stands before the Father interceding for us!”
This year (2017), Ascension Day is Thursday, May 25th. If Jesus Christ is your Savior and the Lord of your life, take some time to reflect on how perfectly he loves us and how grateful we are for his continuing work on our behalf before the throne of God in heaven.
Dawson, Gerrit Scott. Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2004. p. 3-5.
Webber, Robert E. Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004. p. 159.
Image above: “Ascension.” Salvador Dali, 1958.
In the cross is salvation, in the cross is life, in the cross is protection from our enemies, in the cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness, in the cross of strength of mind, in the cross is joy of spirit, in the cross is height of virtue, in the cross the perfection of sanctity -Thomas á Kempis, Imitation of Christ
Those who do not belong to Christ misunderstand and malign the cross. A mockery to heathens and a myth to many Jews, the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is often misapprehended by Christians as well. Many believers in Christ gratefully look back upon the cross as simply a “justification accomplished” event. Attending the Divine Service, and participating in Holy Communion, is no more than a “remembrance.” Neglecting both the Hebrew understanding of “remembrance” and the “do this” imperative, many Christians give little attention to living the crucified life. As Thomas á Kempis has written, “Jesus has now many lovers of his heavenly kingdom, but few bearers of his cross” (Imitation).
Ash Wednesday introduces us to a new Season of the Church and, as well, a renewed opportunity to radically (in our culture) follow Christ. Lent, those days of denial between Ash Wednesday and Easter Saturday, reminds us of both Christ finished work and our ongoing responsibility. Far more than our now-defunct “New Year’s Resolution,” Lent provides Church-sanctioned and (hopefully) Spirit-inspired occasion to renew our walk with Christ along the “Way of Sorrows.”
Of course, such a prospect is not entirely “inspirational”– at least in strictly human terms. Who wants to take up the cross? Who wants to deny her or himself? Who wants to die, and “daily” at that? Who wants the narrow road along the Via Dolorosa? Let’s be honest, nobody wants to– even if we want to, in the broadest sense, follow Christ. It is, indeed, a hard road.
Thomas á Kempis, quoted at the introduction of this article, provides us with a different perspective on the cross. While certainly a “cross,” á Kempis highlights the “crown” embedded within it. He has apprehended the truth, communicated in one translation of a Psalm, “the Lord reigns from a tree.”
First he tells us that “the cross is salvation.” Generally speaking, Christians understand this. Without the cross of Christ, there is no forgiveness of sin or sins. Sadly, as mentioned earlier, we often embrace this as a fond (yet safely distant) remembrance. In fact, however, beyond the past, the cross is persistently present in the life of the Christian. It is salvation now…now…now…perpetually now. It is a “now” event because, for the Christian, the cross is firmly planted in the Gethsemane of our tangled emotions, the Golgotha of our minds and the tomb of our withered hearts. It hangs before our faded sight, as Constantine’s faded hope, shouting “In this sign conquer.” And in this planted sign, by God’s grace, we will conquer!
As well, á Kempis tells us that “the cross is life.” This assertion requires a new perspective. If our lives are rooted in this world, these words will never make sense. In order to apprehend and be apprehended by this truth, we need to understand that Christ’s cross is grounded in present realty as viewed from future hope. The cross is “life” as seed that was planted in Eden’s promise, Prophet’s speech, Psalmist’s song and Apostle’s testimony. The seed is Christ; Christ planted within the heart of every Christian by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus “endured” the cross “for the joy that was set before him.” Shame and sorrow were enveloped in Sovereignty. Today in our most abject poverty, mourning surrenders to the “now” of God’s presence and the tomorrow of God’s absolute and unbroken rule. The cross is life because, as Aaron’s Rod, it blossoms.
The cross is, as well, “protection from our enemies.” This is an odd statement, given the fact that Christ died at the hands of his enemies– the jealous, the grandiose, the violent, the envious, the rank idolaters and adulterers, the ones who wear our faces and bear our names. Where is protection when, naked and abused, you hang upon a cross? There is absolutely no “easy answer.” And yet, thankfully, there is an answer. When, like Christ, we come to bear the cross, when we accept this as our life-giving portion in this life, we have the protection promised in ‘a Kempis’ words. We are told that “the Son of God came forth to die,” and that we have no higher expectation. If we come to die, if we come for the cross, if our expectation is tribulation, we have no enemies to be protected from. If we embrace the worst, the cross, what more can enemies say or do? When we come to embrace what our enemies impose, what more can they do?
The cross, according to the writer of Imitation, is “infusion of heavenly sweetness.” How can this be? The answer is found in what Christ has done and what Christ will do. Our Lord knew God’s “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani,” the excruciating depth of which words were apparently incomprehensible to the hearers (Mark 15:33–35), so that we would not need to speak them ourselves. He knew the bitter gall (Mark 15:36) of separation so that we might be spared it. He released his Spirit, in promise (John 20:22) and in completion of his work (John 19:30), so that we might receive the sweetness of the Spirit (Acts 2) and be perpetually renewed in and by him (Acts 4). This holy infusion is the fullness of poverty presently realized (Matthew 5:3). It is the pay-off of mourning’s hard investment (Matthew 5:4). It is the inheritance of the humble (Matthew 5:5), the fullness of the hungry (Matthew 5:6), the living water of the thirsty (Matthew 5:6), righteousness for the unrighteous (Matthew 5:6), and vision of Glory (Matthew 5:7) with peace… and promise of persecution.
Given these things, in spite of the crisis and the cries, the cross is “strength of mind.” Take a moment, maybe many moments during Lent, to reflect upon Christ’s last seven “words.” Do these words in any way reflect a weak mind? Here, in spite of mockery, ridicule and abuse, we discover a most-stable and most-centered man. There are many reasons for this, but one of the reasons is that our Lord was singular in purpose. His purpose and his power were in pleasing the Father. The singular and centered mind set upon the calling of Christ, infused by the Spirit, is a most-stable mind and the foundation of a most-stable life.
There is a marked absence of joy in our world today. A similar deflation has infected the Church. We are SO VERY DESPERATE to manufacture emotionally charged worship simply because we have not really known the cross or the infusion of dynamic spiritual grace. To know the crown we must own the cross. According to á Kempis, the cross is “joy of spirit.” Are we feeling empty? Are we feeling joyless? Has life lost some (or even most) of its meaning? These experiences might simply be because we are not embracing the cross. Although this is counter-intuitive and, from a human perspective, contradictory, the cross and celebration go together. We are, metaphorically and practically speaking, raised up by the cross.
“The cross is,” as well, “the height of virtue.” How is it the height of virtue? First and foremost it is the height because it is upon the cross that Christ, the perfect God-Man, secured our salvation, sanctification and glorification. He is the reason for its height. However, as imitators of Christ who are created and called to his “likeness,” we have a share in the virtue Christ and his cross provide. Virtue is given us, but it is a process of growth as well. Growing in the virtues is our Christian vocation. Peter, the Apostle, makes virtue a priority in his second letter. Virtue, he writes, his furthered by knowledge, self-control and steadfastness. This results in, or is further enhanced by, godliness (2 Peter 1:5–6). There is no means of growth than by the cross– its knowledge (implying intimacy), and the self-control and steadfastness that it requires. The cross is a “taking up” and not an “arriving at.” It is a path, and not simply a destination.
As such, the cross is “the perfection of sanctity.” The holy person clings to the cross, as Christ gracefully hung upon his, because this is “absolute surrender” to God. It is, as well, what is best for lost humanity– even if the lost do not know it, or are entirely disinterested in it. It is in our own best interest, and in the best interest of a fallen world, that we cling to Christ’s cross. It is our “Yes” to God who, in Christ, has said “Yes” to us.
Jesus says to take up your cross. Your cross and my cross are not the same. Although there certainly will be similarities of design, there will be striking dissimilarities. Each cross is unique, designed by God for us for our ongoing “perfection of sanctity” and “joy of spirit.” Let this Season of Lent, soon to begin, set us upon the narrow path of following Christ. Lord, in your mercy, have mercy upon us.
You’ll find Carl’s meditations on a blog page titled “Faith Foundations.” Take some time each day during Lent to read and ponder what you find there. Thank you, Dr. Carl, for your contribution to our Lenten disciplines.
AFFN Member Mark Chapman has produced a wonderful collection of Meditations for each of the days of Epiphany. Mark writes: “I have posted an introduction to the season of Epiphany, plus the opening meditation, and will continue to update the collection day by day as the season continues. The Lord is come; let Him be made manifest in all the Heavens and the earth!”
Epiphany, like other potentially unknown holidays in the Christian tradition, is understood best by seeing what it meant to early Christians and learning why they began celebrating in the first place. Remember that the early church believed the birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus was so life-changing that they thought they should re-orient their lives to reflect their new identity – even the way they experienced time. Because of this strong belief and their commitment to the Gospel of Christ, they developed the cycles of the Christian Year.
Unlike the common calendar that follows astronomical time, the Christian Year does not begin on January 1st, it begins on the first Sunday of Advent. This is usually the Sunday after our American Thanksgiving. Since we just experienced Advent and Christmas, let’s skip ahead to Epiphany. Epiphany begins after the twelve days of Christmastide (Yes, there are actually twelve days of Christmas) and extends to the Feast of the Presentation or Candlemas. If you want to know more about this interesting memorial, see my article, Keep the Groundhog in His Shadow. Epiphany was the very first annual celebration of the early Christian church apart from Pascha (Easter). Merriam-Webster defines Epiphany as a sudden manifestation/perception of the essential nature or meaning of something. Epiphany began as the memorial of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist and the official beginning of His public ministry. Christ’s immersion in the waters of the Jordan River was followed by the Holy Spirit landing on His shoulder in the form of a dove. Then a voice from heaven was heard proclaiming, “this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). These events gave the sudden understanding or epiphany that Jesus Christ was God’s Son.
Old and New
Church Father, Clement of Alexandria reported (170-200 AD) that the celebration of Jesus’ baptism was held by believers on January 6th (Talley, 121). “The earliest narrative for the solemnity of Epiphany, the baptism of Jesus himself in the Jordan River, remembered and celebrated the medium of Christian social transformation – that is the waters of baptism. By that event, the waters of the Jordan River were sanctified by the touch of God’s Son, and by them, in turn, all the waters of the world were sanctified for baptisms in ages and places far from the Palestinian waters of Jesus’ baptism. Those waters are the medium of sanctification because they bring people into a new society, that of the Kingdom of God” (Connell, 191).
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” – Matthew 16:24 (ESV)
This original understanding of Epiphany is still maintained by Orthodox Christians. One of their most interesting traditions associated with Epiphany is the blessing of the waters and diving for the cross. The largest of these celebrations takes place each year at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Sixty or so young men from the ages of 16 and 18 participate in the church’s 110 year-old tradition. The morning begins with a worship service and then the boys’ process bare-footed two blocks from the cathedral to the water followed by thousands of other worshipers and on-lookers. Following the release of doves and a special blessing, the Archbishop tosses a small white cross into the chilly waters of the Spring Bayou and the divers leap in, striving to reach the cross. The one who reaches the cross first is then carried on the shoulders of the other young men back to the cathedral where he receives a special blessing from the Archbishop. The dive is more than a fun and competitive event. It is meant to recall Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River and an important part of the young men’s formation as disciples of Christ and faithful Christians (Demorris Lee, blog article from January 2, 2012).
We Three Kings
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples;
But the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you,
And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. -Isaiah 60:1-3 (ESV)
Popular expression of the story of the Magi involve three wise men, traditionally known as Caspar (who brought the gift of gold), Melchior (bringing frankincense), and Balthazar (bringing myrrh). Most scholars believe there may have been more than three, but the tradition grew out of the three gifts mentioned in scripture. It is worth noting that scripture gives testimony that they arrived sometime after Jesus’ birth. Matthew 2:11 reports that instead of finding the child in a manger, “And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.” The story of the Wise Men teaches believers that Christ has been manifested as the Savior, not just for the Jews or a select group of people, but for the entire world.
Why does it matter?
Through both stories of Epiphany, we are brought to understand God’s greatness and the manifestation of divinity among us (Chittister, 80-81). Epiphany is more than a story about Jesus’ baptism. It is more than a story about three Wise Men. We do not need to pretend that the baby Jesus is born again every year. The coming of the Magi and the Baptism of Jesus help us to identify exactly who was born in Bethlehem and “help us to move beyond this ‘cute baby’ concept that keeps so many from realizing the deep meaning of the incarnation or prevent us from appreciating the great exchange between God and man” (Stookey, 112). Christmas and Epiphany can actually be seen as two aspects of the same holiday. This one holiday pushes believers to see Christ manifested in the flesh and as the true Son of God. Epiphany is about how Christ’s manifestation is extended in us (Webber, p. 77). Think about these questions as you ponder Epiphany in your own life:
- How is my life different because Christ has revealed Himself to me?
- How is my family different? My work? My relationships?
- Does my life give an epiphany of Christ to those around me?
Chittister, Joan. The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life. Nashville, TN: Thomas
Connell, Martin. Eternity Today: On the Liturgical Year, Volume 1. New York, NY: Continuum
International Publishing Group Inc, 2006.
Lee, Demorris A. “Diving for the cross.” Faith & Leadership: A learning resource for Christian leaders and
their institutions form Leadership Education at Duke Divinity. January 2, 2012.
Stookey, Laurence Hull. Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996.
Talley, Thomas J. The Origins of the Liturgical Year. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991.
Webber, Robert E. Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year. Grand Rapids,
MI: Baker Books, 2004.
AFFN Member Mark Chapman has produced a wonderful collection of Meditations for each of the days of Christmas. From the introduction to the whole set, Mark writes: “Let’s worship God together during our meditations through the season of Christmas. These meditations, constructed with the help of “The Book of Daily Prayer” by Dr. Robert Webber (Eerdman’s, 1993) come in three sections: 1) the incarnation itself during the first three days; 2) the heavenly nature of Jesus during the next four days, which brings us to the end of December; and 3) what Jesus says of himself, beginning with January 1st.”