Monday, March 31, 2008

False Belief Corrected

Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. (St. John 20:8-9)

I had always wondered about these verses, until today, when I ran across an explanation from St. Augustine which makes a lot of sense. He says that the words "he saw, and believed" refer merely to what the women had reported, namely "They have taken away the LORD out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him" (v2). Hence, what "they believed" was not the truth, but only the report which was a deduction from reason.

They believed what was not true, until Christ Himself corrected their false belief with His word.

St. Augustine's explanation explains why it says after "they believed" that "as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead."

And this in turn leads us to pay heed to the Scriptures, lest we likewise believe falsehoods on the basis of deduction from reason.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

He Is Risen Indeed - Alleluia!

The Easter season is a particularly important time to deal with the question of epistemology, a very important topic. Put simply, it is the matter of how one knows what he knows. It is on this point that I find the most profound difference between Christianity and every other religion; generally the others do not even deal with this question. They simply have teachings which claim to have antiquity.

What the Biblical writers claim, by contrast, is to have the proof of eyewitness testimony, and corroboration, to support what they assert about Jesus. It is a particular claim of Christianity to establish its merits on the basis of eyewitness testimony of historical fact, viz., the resurrection of Christ. As far as I can tell, no other religion does this, with the possible exception of religious sects which may be considered as offshoots of Christianity, such as Mormonism.

Christianity, as opposed, say, to Hinduism, makes very exclusive claims. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me." In addition, it makes very clear its basis for those claims in historical, verifiable events.

Behind the question "why do you believe what you believe?" there is an implied challenge: on what basis do you claim to know what is actually true about God? While that challenge may make people uncomfortable, it is essential to historic Christianity that that this question demands an answer.

According to the testimony of St. Paul, "he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present" (I Corinthians 15:6). The significance of this assertion is partly in his saying that most of the eyewitnesses were still alive when he wrote it. This means it could easily have been refuted, were it not true. These kinds of assertions are especially noteworthy in view of their implicit challenge: if they were fabrications, they would not have survived.

The Christian faith makes its truth claims on the basis of its assertions regarding the basis of its truth in verifiable reality, as seen, for instance, in this age-old versicle and response:

V: Christ is risen!
R: He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Hence, the Christian faith is manifestly not one which asserts that what one believes is all just a private matter of personal choice.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

An Empty Tomb is Not Enough

One of the more miserable cliches which has attended the Christian faith is the one which speaks of the cross and the empty tomb.

An empty tomb is not enough.

An empty tomb could mean nothing more than that the disciples somehow did manage to steal the body of Jesus, or worse, that the real resurrection of Jesus is a spiritual resurrection and nothing more, or that he was received up into heaven, rather like Elijah or Moses or Enoch. Such tripe has become popular among the intelligentsia who like to pride themselves in their erudite ability to explain for us what the Scriptures are really talking about, the chin-rubbing, squinting 'theologians' who say that Jesus really arose when the hearts of his people came alive with faith.


What the eyewitness accounts provide is an irrefutable attestation--to say nothing of their being divinely inspired--of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Yes, the very corpse, the very body that was laid in the tomb, has been renewed and reborn. It is of the personal appearance of Jesus to his disciples, and to the women, that these accounts testify. We have handled him, says the Apostle John. We examined him, and we believe, exults the Apostle Thomas.

We might even borrow a turn of phrase from Patrick Henry and say, Give me a resurrected Jesus or give me death!

Or, to put it in the preferable words of St. Paul,

If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.

Friday, March 21, 2008

He Was Innocent

Pilate knew he was innocent. Pilate's wife knew he was innocent, which is why she had a nightmare. The people all knew he was innocent, which was why they delivered him to Pilate: they were envious. When the false witnesses came forth, and he made no defense, Pilate was amazed. Everybody knew he was innocent.

His blood be on us and on our children.

That's what the guilty mob cried, and, ironically, that is what has happened, but not in the way they meant it.

His blood covers us and our children, his innocent, holy blood: it covers our guilt and the guilt of our children.

We go free, because he was condemned. We gain life, because he died. We are aquitted, because he was innocent.

And his resurrection on the third day, besides bringing Life to life and bringing Immortality to light; besides bringing joy to the sorrowing, does another important thing: it verifies his innocence: even the Father knew it.

And therefore the Father knows also that we go free, gain life, and are acquitted.

He was innocent, and by the inestimable gift of His sacrifice, we reap the rewards of his innocence. This is the Gospel.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Sir, We Would See Jesus

From Every Day Will I Bless Thee, s.v. Holy Monday:

Certain Gentiles desire to see Jesus. So they ask Philip, the one who in turn will later express to Jesus his desire to see the Father, and to whom Jesus will say, He who has seen Me has seen the Father. And Philip takes it to Andrew, the one who was first of the Twelve to see Jesus, following Jesus' command, Come and see. These two disciples bring the request to Jesus. But Jesus' answer is simply, The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Now in this He spoke of His crucifixion. Thus to see Jesus is not simply to look with the eyes, but with faith. For all the eyes will see is a wretched worm on a cross. Yet it would be faithless and blasphemy for us to call Jesus a wretched worm! Therefore to see Jesus is really to believe, in spite of the eyes, that He is one with the Father, God Almighty. Therefore by faith we call the cross His glory, and we see Him as He is, rather than as He appears. Would you see Jesus? Then learn to believe His word, where sight is denied.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Vindication of Mary of Bethany

A careful comparison of the accounts of Mary and Martha in St. Luke and St. John will reveal the great likelihood that the two accounts are one and the same; in addition, the textual evidence is rather overwhelming that Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha, is none other than Mary Magdalene.

What this means for the account in St. John 12 (and St. Luke 10) is that the dinner, which is taking place after Jesus has raised Lazarus, is a celebration of a restored family. The Magdalene has come home, and is no longer a "sinner" (i.e., public sinner, harlot); she has been shriven, has received absolution. She has been restored to the family. And Lazarus has been brought back from the dead, also restored to the family. This family is renewed by the mercies of Christ. It is most fitting that there be a supper, in celebration.

Meanwhile, Martha is troubled with much serving (St. Luke's account), and complains about her sister. But Jesus gently bids her to become like her sister who "has chosen that good part." Her sister is not only "hearing his word" (a la St. Luke), but anointing his feet (a la St. John). She is fully engrossed in Him who has had such abundant mercy on her. She is the preeminent example for all faith (well is she named Mary, which, I think, is no accident: she is like the Mother of God in this respect).

And this faith is vindicated by Jesus Himself: he says to Martha (a la St. Luke) that Mary has chosen the better part, "which shall not be taken from her," and he says to Judas (a la St. John), "Let her alone." Jesus is her defense and shield. So will he defend, shield, and vindicate all who, like Mary, trust in Him; and he will restore them eternally to the family of the faithful.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Striving for the Mastery

"And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible."

The Apostle's well-known comparison of Christian life to the life of an athlete suggests that there is something enduring in the legends we watch from the sidelines and living rooms. There is something very adult and abiding in our desire to have heroes about whose lives off the field we don't have to be embarrassed.

Brett Favre is one such man, and he will be sorely missed.

I've been a fan of the Green Bay Packers ever since my childhood; I still remember the boyhood thrill of watching Herb Adderley return an interception for a touchdown, or of Carroll Dale in full stride, catching a bomb from Bart Starr. And I know that my own sons will always have the same kinds of memories about Brett Favre.

But I do think there's more about Brett Favre to remember than that, something that people who are not even football fans, much less Packer fans, can appreciate. It's rather as he himself put it so well today in a tearful good-bye interview: when he cheered, we cheered; when he cried, we cried; when he mourned, we mourned; and when he played, we played with him. He's one of us.

When in celebration he would run across the field, helmet held high, and playfully tumble into his teammates, or hoist one one his shoulders, you might say he was in the backyard with us, reliving our childhood dreams for us, right before our very eyes.

When he checked into drug rehab for the overuse of pain killers, we saw him as a man who makes mistakes, just as the rest of us do. And when he overcame that and moved on, we rejoiced with him, and gained encouragement to do the same.

When his father died, we all felt the pain, even in the midst of our cheering over that unbelievable Monday night game he played the next day at Oakland. Even the Oakland fans, I recall, were cheering for him. It was the best night of his career, and it was the saddest. It was a comedy and a tragedy, all wrapped in one. And we were there with him, experiencing every moment.

Today, as he bid the game farewell, he was, as ever, dignified and humble. In explaining why he felt it was time to retire, he said that he didn't feel as though he could give it 100% any more, so therefore it was time to retire; otherwise it wouldn't be fair to the team. Every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Perhaps he felt that if he had reached the point that he couldn't do this any more, then he was unfit to remain as an icon and role model for his fans.

As he rides his John Deere lawnmower into the sunset, we can remember a lesson from St. Paul: the games at which we are spectators are microcosms of Christian life itself, with all its highs and lows, our own disappointments and challenges. Keeping the body under: maintaining self-discipline, and all the preparations and duties of faithfulness the Apostle bids us to maintain. It's like the preparations of an athlete. Maybe it's easier to grasp this when we watch an athlete like Brett Favre, since he has been so very easy to identify with; and so also, maybe it's easier to tell ourselves to live as we will remember Brett Favre to have played on the field--though not to obtain a corruptible crown, but an incorruptible.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Out of the Barn

It has been a long, cold, snowy winter. We yearn for signs of spring. Here is the first:

Gottesdienst is out of the barn.

It has the most beautiful cover we've ever had.

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