Rich Man and Lazarus Holman Pictorial Bible Salesman’s sample
As we gather at your table,
as we listen to your word,
help us know, O God, your presence;
let our hearts and minds be stirred.
Nourish us with sacred story
till we claim it as our own;
teach us through this holy banquet
how to make Love’s victory known.
Turn our worship into witness
in the sacrament of life;
send us forth to love and serve you,
bringing peace where there is strife.
Give us, Christ, your great compassion
to forgive as you forgave;
may we still behold your image
in the world you died to save.
Gracious Spirit, help us summon
other guests to share that feast
where triumphant Love will welcome
those who had been last and least.
There no more will envy blind us,
nor will pride our peace destroy,
as we join with saints and angels
to repeat the sounding joy.
The Saturday of Easter Vigil had unexpectedly exploded into anger and pain. Bewildered, grieving–all the feelings you have when struggling with someone you love–I found myself inside the Church’s most joyful service and, not being reconciled, unable to bring myself to receive communion.
The service continued: the long drama of worship leading up to the moment when the Resurrection was announced and the congregation would ring bells–sounding the victory while the priest walked the aisles casting baptismal water on the parish. That night I had no bell and, I remember searching frantically during the festal shout for something I could substitute–keys, a ringtone. The moment was passing, and overwhelmed by loneliness, I knew only that Easter was far away.
Then in the midst of all my despair, a single drop of water hit me and broke the spell. I was brought out of myself–not to joy, but at least to life. I was in a place where Easter was proclaimed. It was a moment of grace in deep darkness. A touch to call me back.
When our hearts are wintry, grieving or in pain
Thy touch can call us back to life again…
Life of Christ Visualized: no.2053 1943 Image: VCU Libraries
As he was now drawing near, at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
I said I wasn’t gonna tell nobody, but I couldn’t keep it to myself…
what the Lord has done for me.
You oughta been there when He saved my soul.
That Sunday morning when He put my name on the roll.
I started walking, started talking, started singing, started shouting
about what the Lord has done for me.
Five Joyful Mysteries from Catechetical Scenes: Grace and Holy Baptism by Rev. M. Coerezza, S.D.B. Salesian Catechetical Centre c/o Tang King Po School, Hong Kong, 1957.
The Conversion of Saul from Catechetical Scenes: Grace and Holy Baptism by Rev. M. Coerezza, S.D.B. Salesian Catechetical Centre c/o Tang King Po School, Hong Kong, 1957.
These pictures come from a 17-volume series of catechetical pop-up books created in 1957 by the Salesians of Don Bosco, a Roman Catholic religious institute whose primary focus is on Christian education of young people. The Catholic Encyclopedia describes the Salesian Society’s work this way: “In carrying out its principal work, instead of the old punitive or repressive system, it adopts the preventive one, thus promoting confidence and love among the children, instead of fear and hatred.”
And while we’re visiting Asia, here’s a Christmas anthem from the Cheung Lo Church, Church of Christ in China.
Title: In Bethlehem A Babe Was Born (有一嬰孩生在馬槽)
Words / Music: John Carter
Date: Sunday Service, December 23, 2012
Choir: Cheung Lo Church, Church of Christ in China (中華基督教會長老堂)
Pride Goeth Before a fall, detail Copyright Wallace Tripp from A Great Big Ugly Man Came Up and Tied His Horse to Me
I suppose everyone has some aspects of the practice of faith that they do better than others. For me, it’s the praise part that doesn’t come naturally. I feel at ease with prayer and study; I try to be a good person in the world and ask for forgiveness when I fail; I can mostly remember to say thank-you to God for the many blessings in my life. But praise does not rise unbidden to my heart, mind, or lips as often as I feel it should. Perhaps it’s all those mid-west Lutherans in my heritage warning me of the dangers of pride–I’ve become a bit too careful about how lavishly I spread my enthusiasm.
God, of course, is the one person you can praise unreservedly, without ulterior motives, and without fear of excess–such freedom! Praising God feels great–like being part of the roar of a crowd, everyone on their feet, the festal shout, a mighty Affirmation–and given that, I don’t know why His praise is not continually in my mouth. It’s a weakness. Hymns are a huge help to me. Also the psalms. And I know that I need to get myself to church on Sunday, so I can join with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven.
Sigh. There’s always something to work on, isn’t there? Keeps us humble.
The older I get, the harder it is to haul myself out of the house and into a pew on Palm Sunday. It’s not that I’m opposed to celebrating the triumphal entry or going outside and marching around waving palms in broad daylight on city streets. No. I’m fine with all of that, and I actually enjoy the pageantry.
But as the years accumulate behind me, all that glory, laud, and honor starts to feel a little hollow on Palm Sunday, because you know that this is not going to end well. After the palms comes the Passion narrative. In less than an hour people are going to be shouting “Crucify him!” and there will be machinations and treachery and just plain human meanness and weakness. The cruelty won’t even stop once they’ve got him on the cross. The soldiers, the passersby, and the thieves crucified beside Jesus taunt him. It’s a truly wrenching service in which a joyful crowd turns into an vicious mob, Barabbas is set free and Jesus dies. And it all happens so quickly.
For me, Palm Sunday is one of the most depressing Sundays of the year. The story confirms most of the worst of what we know to be true about humanity. It rings uncomfortably true.
So why go? Why not just skip it this year?
Because I don’t want to be one of those people who would let Jesus go to Jerusalem by himself. Because I can’t say “What a friend we have in Jesus” if I’m not willing to be a friend. Because being sad and uncomfortable is a small thing in comparison to the sacrifice and the gift.
What language shall I borrow
To thank thee, dearest Friend,
For this thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
O make me thine for ever;
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
Outlive my love to thee.
Carmina Sacra by Lowell Mason, 1841 Image: archive.org
This morning as the sun is shining and the snow is melting, I’ll share a suite of hymns arranged for flute and harp by Kathryn Cater and Sandy Norman. They begin with “Welcome Delightful Morn,” an old hymn that’s new to me. The words are by Thomas Hayward (who also wrote “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains”). The tune is Das Lieben Bringt Groß Freud, by Friedrich Silcher, who took it from a Swabian folk tune. Silcher’s tune was arranged by Lowell Mason and published in his Carmina Sacra, (second edition, 1841). There seems to be a bit of Ellis Island-like confusion surrounding the tune. Some hymnals name the tune “Lischer” (a misspelling of “Silcher”?), or erroneously give Silcher’s name as “Schneider.”
Dr. Mason would probably want us all to be singing instead of just listening, so I’ll include the words to this first hymn and leave it up to you. Have a blessed Sabbath.
Welcome, delightful morn,
Thou day of sacred rest!
I hail thy kind return;
Lord, make these moments blest;
From the low train of mortal toys,
I soar to reach immortal joys,
Now may the King descend,
And fill His throne with grace;
Thy scepter, Lord, extend,
While saints address Thy face:
Let sinners feel Thy quickening Word,
And learn to know and fear the Lord,
Descend, celestial Dove,
With all Thy quickening powers;
Disclose a Savior’s love,
And bless the sacred hours:
Then shall my soul new life obtain,
Nor Sabbaths be enjoyed in vain,
If you want a picture of Advent to hold in your mind, the Ghent Altarpiece is about as good as it gets. Painted by Jan van Eyck in the 15th century, the altarpiece is one of the most extraordinary things a human being has ever created. Consequently it’s been the victim of crime and theft, but it’s also been photographed and analyzed in astonishing detail by the Getty Foundation. Their website “Closer to Van Eyck” is your Advent devotional for today. Spend some time exploring–macrophotography will let you zoom in to ponder every flower and angel’s wing.
Like a Lessons and Carols service, the Ghent Altarpiece moves through the history of God’s relationship with humanity: from Adam to the Annunciation to the Adoration of the Lamb.
There are prophets proclaiming. There’s music and singing
and sumptuous beauty everywhere you look.
And like Lessons and Carols, the painting leads us on a journey from Creation and the Fall to triumph and worship:
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
Take some time to inhabit salvation’s story. Look closely at Van Eyck’s masterpiece. Wonder and marvel–because that’s what we need to feel as we draw near to Christmas.
Cades Cove Primitive Baptist Church Photo credit: J.Stephen Conn
I want a sober mind,
An all sustaining eye,
To see my God above,
And to the heavens fly.
I’d soar away above the sky,
I’d fly to see my God above.
I want a Godly fear,
A quick discerning eye,
That looks to Thee my God,
And see the tempter fly.
Tune: A. Marcus Cagle, 1935
Words: Collection of Hymns and Spiritual Songs, 1814
A perfect marriage of text and tune: the stern austerity of the lines about sobriety and Godly fear breaks into an ecstatic fugue as the singer soars upward to see God. A hymn about vision and transport.