This past Friday was heart-crushing for anyone who heard about the Newtown, Connecticut elementary school shooting that took the lives of 20 six and seven year-olds and six adults. Less well-publicized was the stabbing of 22 children ages six to twelve and one 85 year-old woman outside a primary school in China the very same day. The news was almost too much to bear and puts a cloud of darkness over this often joyous time of year. One shop owner in Newtown commented to a reporter, “Christmas is cancelled this year.” However, as today we light three candles for Advent: hope, peace, and joy, if there is anytime we need this church season in our lives, it is now. 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
(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
(I recently have had a series of discussions about Christianity, Halloween, and horror including publishing several posts and featured quotes here on the topic of horror in light of Christianity and giving a podcast interview on the topic of Halloween. As the frequency of conversations has picked up, I thought I might consolidate some of my thoughts on this issue.)
The month or so approaching Halloween has always been my favorite time of year. I love walking the Halloween aisles of the stores, looking at the masks, costumes, and decorations, and particularly indulging in watching my favorite horror movie classics from the 1920s through ’60s in my spare time with way too much sugar sitting in a giant bowl beside me. I love walking down the street beside mine, famous for its Halloween decor, and seeing the elaborate display of ghosts and ghouls of every shape and size littering the lawns of my otherwise typical neighborhood. The questions often have come up, though: isn’t it wrong for a Christian to celebrate Halloween? Doesn’t this most macabre of holidays make much of evil and not God? With its Pagan origins, can I and my family celebrate Halloween in good conscience? I grew up with Halloween, but as I neared adulthood and returned to the church after several years of disconnect, I was actually shocked to encounter the hostility many Christians and churches had to the holiday. Accusations that the holiday glorified evil and represented everything Christianity should be against actually seemed like they might have some reasonable grounding. After pondering these issues for years, however, I have come to the conclusion that Halloween is not only a permissible but helpful and instructive holiday that Christians can and should be a part of. Continue reading
Everyone has favorite personal or family traditions for each holiday. Last October I asked what your favorite horror films and literature were, and then gave my favorite horror films and stories afterward (feel free to still contribute to those discussions). This year I would like to ask you a somewhat different question. Not all great Halloween films and TV specials are “horror,” though many are. What are your favorite movies, TV specials, and books to enjoy in the days and weeks before Halloween and why? I will share mine in a few days.
(Illustration: a still from A Charlie Brown Christmas)