Two unconventional figures in the broad spectrum of Christianity have died recently. Brennan Manning, a former Catholic friar who battled alcoholism throughout his adult life and became known for his books on the scandalous love and grace of God, The Ragamuffin Gospel and Abba’s Child, died April 12th. Dallas Willard, a Protestant (with Quaker associations) by practice, philosopher by profession, and author of several books on spirituality such as The Divine Conspiracy, died yesterday. I have been shaped by both of these men both directly and indirectly. Manning’s work first came to me through the music of Rich Mullins, which first prompted me to read The Ragamuffin Gospel. Willard’s message came to me through some of my pastors and through the work of his friends in the faith such as Quaker pastor Richard Foster (author of Celebration of Discipline) and a mutual friend of Willard and Manning, James Bryan Smith. Continue reading
(This is a much revised version of a post that first appeared last year)
The sun doesn’t shine as bright this time of year, but the malls absolutely glisten. We are entering what is known in our contemporary culture as the “Christmas season.” The next four weeks will be paraded by both the religious and the secular as a time of upbeat songs, brightly colored lights, tinsel, and presents, presents, presents. We will run ourselves silly buying up gifts, gorging ourselves on rich food, and inducing an all-around giddy madness. Then, on December 26th, we inevitably crash. It’s so routine, we might be tempted to think that this is the way December has always been. In the ancient traditions of the Church, however, this time of year has a completely different vibe. Continue reading
Sojourn Midtown now gathers in a century-old cathedral known for the majority of its life as the Church of St. Vincent de Paul. Largely because of its long association with Shelby Park, Smoketown, and the surrounding neighborhoods, we have chosen to keep calling the building “St. Vincent’s.” However, our frequent use of the name brings to mind a question we would be wise to ask: who was this namesake of our new cathedral? Continue reading
(This post is a vast revision of a previous article, recently rewritten for Sojourn Midtown’s move into our new St. Vincent’s Cathedral facility.)
Gothic architecture (and its revivals by default) was created for the specific purpose of corporate worship space. Originating in the rebuilding of the Abbey Church of Saint-Denis by Abbot Suger in the 12th Century, the style was meant to instill a sense of awe, of inward and outward meditation, and to convey spiritual truth in simultaneous experience. Here are a few key highlights of the Gothic-style church building that we can see in Sojourn Midtown’s new worship space, the former St. Vincent de Paul Church. Continue reading
(Cross-posted at Image of Truth)
On Monday, Jesus, after cursing a fig tree for not producing fruit (thus establishing his authority over the created world) re-enters Jerusalem and raises quite the ruckus in the temple.
When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace. He said to them,“The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.”
When the leading priests and teachers of religious law heard what Jesus had done, they began planning how to kill him. But they were afraid of him because the people were so amazed at his teaching.
That evening Jesus and the disciples left the city. (Mark 11:15-19 NLT)
Some interpreters have turned this passage into a diatribe against capitalism, particularly in some artistic portrayals. Modernized Passion plays have portrayed the temple courts as everything from a flea market to Wall Street. However, capitalism itself is not what Jesus is rebuking. Those selling in the temple courts were taking advantage of pilgrims who came to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices. They would change out Roman currency for temple currency at exorbitant exchange rates, then sell clean animals to be offered as sacrifices by those who had not brought their own animals. The temple merchants were taking advantage of people… and in the very temple of God. The courts had become a cesspool of dishonesty and greed, and Jesus would have none of it. Those who portray Jesus as a mere docile, nonabrasive figure must ignore this passage, where his righteous anger overflows into violence.
(Illustration: Rembrandt, Christ Drives the Money Changers Out of the Temple, 1626)
(Cross-posted at Image of Truth)
Palm Sunday beings Passion Week (or Holy Week). The primary event the day commemorates is Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem on the Sunday before he was crucified. The work pictured, Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem by Jean-Hippolyte Flanderin, is one of a minority of painting to portray a certain uniqueness in Matthew’s telling of the triumphal entry. Matthew alone says that Jesus used two donkeys, not one, in his ride into Jerusalem:
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:“Say to Daughter Zion,
‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,“Hosanna to the Son of David!”“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”“Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matt. 21:1-6)
The other gospels do not include this detail. However Matthew, who focuses on Jesus most as Jewish Messiah, is careful to include it. Meanwhile, the scene features a word that we often confuse or misinterpret today. Hosanna was not merely a praise, as it is often used today, but also a cry for salvation. The crowds were, as Jesus entered Jersualem, praising and proclaiming him the Messiah that would save Israel once and for all. When this did not happen in the way they believed it would, they turned on him just a few days later. Yet, in doing so, salvation was brought in the way that the Messiah did intend… his own death and resurrection.
The Hosanna from the gospels has been set to music many times, in many styles. Sojourn Music has a setting of it on their album Advent Songs (with Christmas-themed lyrics, however we at Sojourn traditionally sing an alternate set of lyrics to the same melody on Palm Sunday). Well-known musical theatre composer Andrew Lloyd Webber has composed two Hosannas, one for the controversial rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar in 1970 and another, using the Vulgate translation of Mark 11:9, in his highly stylized Requiem Mass in 1984. This version is show below in its first live performance.
(Illustration: Jean-Hippolyte Flanderin, Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem, 1842)
(Cross-posted at Image of Truth)
Tomorrow, Palm Sunday, beings Passion Week (or Holy Week) in the Western Christian calendar. I will be blogging through the week, reflecting on the significance of the days, the ways broader Christianity commemorates this week, and particularly how it has been expressed in artwork. I hope you will journey with me.
(Illustration: Hans Memling, Scenes from the Passion of Christ, 1471)
We are entering what is known in our contemporary culture as the Christmas season. This is in many ways a misnomer, however. Ecclesiastically, the time known as Christmas begins Christmas Day and lasts the next twelve days. Christmas is the celebration of Christ’s coming, his first coming in Bethlehem a little over two thousand years ago, as well as his second coming (though this one tends to slip into the background). However the period leading up to Christmas, starting on the fourth Sunday prior and ending Christmas Eve, is called Advent. Advent anticipates Christmas, it commemorates the fact that God’s people were longingly awaiting their coming Messiah in spiritual darkness. We also await our Messiah… we await his return, whereupon he will expel the darkness (sin, death, and Satan) from this world once and for all. Continue reading
“Today, as yesterday, musicians, composers, liturgical chapel cantors, church organists and instrumentalists must feel the necessity of serious and rigorous professional training. They should be especially conscious of the fact that each of their creations or interpretations cannot escape the requirement of being a work that is inspired, appropriate and attentive to aesthetic dignity, transformed into a prayer of worship when, in the course of the liturgy, it expresses the mystery of faith in sound.” Continue reading