KB Categories Archives: Devotional

Then Shall They See: Meditations for Advent

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 “readmarklearn…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.

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In the Cross

Dark blue crossDonald Richmond:

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.

 

 

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Faith Foundations for Lent

Salisbury CathedralAFFN Board Member and frequent contributor to this space Dr. Carl Peters is writing a beautiful series of Lenten devotionals.

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.

Click here for the blog post.

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Epiphany Meditations

Epiphany-imageAFFN 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!”

Find the entire collection here at Mark’s Website/Blog, “Here’s the Word.” 

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Christmas Meditations

christ-the-savior-is-bornAFFN 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.”

Find the entire collection here at Mark’s Website/Blog, “Here’s the Word.”

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Beholding His Glory

Chris Alford: AFFN Contributing Member Donald Richmond has written a beautiful piece of work on the Transfiguration. A collection of 40 meditations on the Transfiguration text found in Matthew 16-17, the introduction is presented here, and the rest is available by download (see link below).

 

Beholding His Glory: Transfiguration and Human Transformation

Introduction

transfiguration-lewis-bowmanIt has been suggested that the Transfiguration of our Lord (St. Matthew 17: 1–9; St. Mark 9: 2–10; St. Luke 9: 28–36; 2 Peter 1: 16–19) is one of the most important yet most neglected events recorded in the Bible.[i]  I wholeheartedly agree. Briefly reviewing my theological training, spiritual formation and pastoral ministry, I am ashamed to say that this critical event has historically had very little cognitive influence on my daily life.

This truth is disturbing for a number of reasons, but mostly because of its objective theological importance and subjective spiritual capacity to change lives. If God’s written word has seen fit to emphasize this event, and devout persons throughout history have also sought to visually depict what was communicated, I am convinced that intense and informed visual (icon) and verbal (inscription) reflection upon the Transfiguration has a unique capacity not only to change my life, but, also, the lives of every human being. The Transfiguration is history, health and hope for humanity.

This crucial event is history. It really happened. It is not specious speculation, but an event which was observed. In his second letter, St. Peter tells us that the Transfiguration was not a “cleverly devised” tale, but, rather, an “eyewitnesses” experience. And it is to be noted, with absolute joy, that this history is our heritage.

This crucial event promotes health. Do we actually believe God? Do we actually believe and seek to assimilate what He has communicated in and through His written word? Saint Paul, in 2 Corinthians 3:18, hints at the great possibility and promise of changing our lives through contemplation upon the image of God. Originally created in the image and likeness of God, and fallen from our primal grace, we have received the abundance of God’s mercy through Jesus Christ. God’s offering of himself in Christ has secured our healing. Isaiah the prophet tells us that we are healed through the “stripes” our Lord endured for us (Isaiah 53:5). St. Gregory of Nazianzus wrote, “What has not been assumed has not been healed.”[ii] In Christ our sins are “assumed,” and we shall be like him as we behold him as he is.

This crucial event encourages hope. It is hope because the Transfiguration does not simply dwell in the past as an historic event. Instead, as with the Sacraments (albeit differently), the Transfiguration is an historic “happening” of current significance. It exists in the perpetual “now.” By observing the Transfiguration we can be transformed. Just as Peter, James and John were forever changed by this event, we can “behold” and be changed. What we “behold” we become.

Transfiguration_by_Feofan_Grek_from_Spaso-Preobrazhensky_Cathedral_in_Pereslavl-Zalessky_(15th_c,_Tretyakov_gallery)Although these meditations are suitable for any occasion, they are specifically intended as a devotional resource for the forty days between the Transfiguration (August 6) and Holy Cross Day (September 14). The format of these meditations is simple, following a pattern that I have used in other texts written for the seasons of Lent and Advent.[iii] In this volume we will also be asked to reflect upon an icon of the Transfiguration. In this way, our quest to be like Christ will be both visually and verbally enhanced.

Our lives have a context, in fact many contexts, by which we come to understand the world, our neighbors, ourselves and God. Similarly, the Transfiguration has a specific context which requires careful consideration. As you read and reflect upon these meditations you will note that I do not begin or end with specific references being made to the Transfiguration. At first this may seem unusual; after all, these meditations are intended to focus upon this important event. Upon analysis, however, there is a reason for my approach: In order to understand and apply the message of Christ’s Transfiguration, or any life-event, we must appreciate the context in which it took place. It is crucial for the reader to understand, therefore, the entire context in which the Transfiguration occurred. Without this context, significant life-lessons would be lost. The disciples needed to learn about how to walk in the light of the Transfiguration, in all of its life-contexts, and so must we. As such, as with everyday life, context tells us a great deal about the content. If we want to know the content of anything we must understand the context.

It is my hope that these meditations will fill a need that has often been neglected, and help us to become more like Christ as we are transformed into his image.

         Donald P. Richmond – Commemoration of the Appearance of our Lord to St. Thomas after the Resurrection

red-white-pearl-download-arrowTo download the complete devotional, please click here.

 

 

 

[i] Andreas Andreopulous. Metamorphosis: The Transfiguration in Byzantine Theology and Iconography (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2005), 15.

[ii] Pope Benedict XVI. The Fathers (Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 2008), 87.

[iii] Donald P. Richmond. Suffering: Job’s Very Human Path to Holiness (Missionary Society of St. Jude) and A Short Season in Hell: Meditations on Dante.

Image above, right: “Transfiguration.” Lewis Bowman. Contemporary.

Image above, lower left: “Transfiguration.” Icon. Theophanes the Greek. 15th century.

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Practical Holiness

Donald Richmond:

PracticalHolinessEvery true Christian hungers and thirsts for holiness. This inherent inclination (which must be followed by crisis-experience) is because we are “born again” by the Holy Spirit, and it is this Spirit of holiness that dwells within every regenerate believer. That is, in other words, we want to be holy because we have the Holy Spirit living within us (emphasis mine).

This said and understood; what practical steps can we take in order to become more holy, more Christ-like in our nature, disposition, and affairs? We must, briefly stated, walk in and by the Holy Spirit in order to both avoid (when we can) and overcome (by God’s grace) the corrupting influences of Satan, sin, self, and society. Granted, sanctification is a crisis experience. Granted, as well, we must make ourselves available to the ongoing sanctifying work of the Spirit. And yet, with these truths both believed and obeyed, are there practical steps we can take in order to enjoy the Christian perfection that God, through Christ by the Holy Spirit, has for us? The answer to these broad and brief questions is a resounding “YES!” There are indeed practical steps we can take in order to enjoy the sanctifying gifts and graces that God has for us. These, in part, are found in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-9). (more…)

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Right-side Up in an Upside Down World

Rob Hewell:

BirdUpsideDownThe Book of Acts is an engaging narrative and certainly necessary for understanding the impact of the gospel. Among the more important lessons from this record is that the work of God’s Holy Spirit in and among Christians will highlight the differences between God’s people and the rest of the world, not diminish those differences.

The first nine verses of chapter 17 indicate Paul and Silas arrived in Thessalonica where Paul contended with the Jews in the synagogue for three Sabbaths. A number of Jews and Greeks became followers of Christ.

Some Jews, however, were not so amenable to the gospel. They gathered a mob, created a commotion, and hauled Jason and some believers before the local authorities. Apparently Jason provided lodging for the two preachers.

The charge leveled against Paul, Silas, and the others? “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also…” (v. 6, NRSV). Further, “They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying there is another king named Jesus” (v. 7).

Under Roman rule the phrase “turning the world upside down” was useful for identifying persons who were acting treasonously. The purpose of the gospel of Jesus, however, was not to depose emperors—at least not in the way this rowdy crowd suggested to the local authorities.

Isn’t it just like the world to think that Jesus and Jesus’ followers are “upsetting the apple cart” as it were? It’s the world’s nature to defend its own status quo. Self-preservation is the name of that game. Truth be told, however, it’s actually the world as we know it in the shadow of the Fall that is already upside down.

Jesus has never turned the world upside down— not then, not now, not ever. Instead, God was incarnate in Jesus Christ in order to turn things right-side up.

The gospel tells us about a complete redemption of the whole cosmos; not merely a better version of what has been for so long, but the way things are supposed to be. The revelation to John about a new heaven and new earth reads like a re-establishment of Eden (Rev 21). The “right-side upping” of the whole creation through Christ creates the context within which God will make all things new.

Paul and Silas’ proclamation of the kingship of Christ likely constituted civil disobedience. Yet their greater commitment was obedience to God and the message of God’s Messiah. If anything, Paul’s concern for Roman rulers was more for their conversion to the faith (read of his encounter with King Agrippa in Acts 26). The fact that some in the broader culture perceived Paul’s preaching about Christ as a threat to Caesar is merely a collateral repercussion, not an intentional aspiration for dethroning the emperor.

The right-side up gospel of God’s kingdom—and those proclaiming that gospel—will always be in conflict with the world’s thinking, values, and behaviors. The world’s defense of itself will always be upside down, appealing to some temporal principle or ideology, rarely if ever to anything bearing the weight of eternal truth.

For the moment, suppose Paul and Silas were found at Jason’s house and brought before the authorities. Paul might have responded to such allegations by saying, “If those are the charges, I’m guilty!” He would then give a vigorous and articulate declaration of Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah and resurrected Lord, the Son of most high God in the royal lineage of David.

An odd twist in this narrative is that the crowd’s indictment actually proclaims a truth at the heart of the gospel: that Christ is indeed the Sovereign of a new kingdom. Sometimes the world speaks right-side up truth in spite of itself. It is a sign of the gospel’s influence when the world is critical of Jesus’ followers by accusing them of doing and saying precisely what God has called them to do and say.

As Jesus’ followers now in the 21st century, it is incumbent upon us to be “guilty” of the same “offense” as Paul and Silas. The message we are called to proclaim is likely to be perceived as disruptive and even subversive by an upside down world because that is precisely what it is—the good news of the right-side up Kingdom of God.

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Kingdom and Cross: An Analysis of the Lord’s Prayer

Don Richmond:

prayer-over-bibleWe are all familiar with the warning, “be careful what you pray for.” Although this caution is often offered with considerable tongue-in-cheek, it is also wise to carefully reflect upon its admonition. Prayer is, indeed, dangerous.

Often, as when James and John lobbied our Lord for priority of place, we are not entirely sure what we are requesting. We may have a breadth of understanding, but we lack considerable depth. While this may apply to a multitude of both fixed and free prayers, this breadth without depth becomes most obvious in the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples. More often than not we recite this prayer– even when said from the heart– with little attention given to the dangerous priorities we are setting. We understand its broad petitionary skeleton, often utilizing it as a pattern and a process for prayer, without comprehending the essential marrow of its existential expectations.

Many of us were taught the Lord’s Prayer as children. Over the years we have recited this prayer, often daily and weekly at church, with an abandon that can only be rooted in innocence. Whether said in the morning, mid-day, or evening, the Lord’s Prayer has provided comfort for countless souls.

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