Tuesday, April 22, 2014

At the Foot of the Cross: A Good Friday Meditation

Here we stand at the foot of the cross. Our journey, step by step throughout the week, has brought us all the way to the cross. We stand with our Lord’s mother, the God-bearer. We stand with the other women and the beloved disciple. What can I say to express what Christ has done for us? I can only amplify what has been said. So I offer three words, or comments, to remind us of the truth.

My first word comes from today’s Collect: “Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross. . . .”[1]

It’s an unusual collect. One commentator calls it disarming. It is remarkable because it asks for only one thing: Almighty God, behold this your family! It says, “Look on us! Draw your attention to us as we rehearse this drama in two acts, the memory and vivid power of two indispensable acts [Christ’s death and resurrection] which took place on our behalf. Help us, O God, to enter into this.”[2] That is a worthy request. So we stand at the foot of the cross asking God to be present with us as we behold our dying Lord Jesus Christ.

My second word comes from our reading in Isaiah. “All we, like sheep, have gone astray, / each of us has turned to our own way; / and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity [the sin, the guilt] of us all.” On Wednesday evening I mentioned that the prophet Isaiah wrote eight hundred years before Christ, as if Christ himself were speaking: “I offered my back to those who beat me, / my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; / I did not hide my face / from mocking and spitting.” Now Isaiah speaks again, as though standing with us at the foot of the cross: “All we, like sheep, have gone astray.”[3]

As we gaze upon our dying Lord, we realize that each of us is that lost sheep. The Good Shepherd has left the ninety-nine, alone in the open country. He has gone to find you and to find me. The Good Shepherd pays the price to bring us back to the fold. To change the metaphor, each of us is the Prodigal Son or Daughter. Each of us has left home and has squandered God’s riches. Yet, the Father runs with open arms to welcome us. He has in mind a feast to celebrate our return. Our dying Lord Jesus Christ picks up the tab for the banquet. So we pray, “Almighty God, graciously behold this your family!”

My third word comes from two well known hymns. Perhaps you have already thought of the first one. It’s the spiritual, “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” It takes us to Calvary. “Were you there when they nailed him to the tree? / Were you there when they pierced him in the side? / Were you there when they laid him in the tomb? / Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble.” Yes! We were there. Now, we are here as they crucify our Lord.

There is also Isaac Watts’ hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” The third verse is my favorite: “See, from his head, his hands, his feet, / sorrow and love flow mingled down! / Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, / or thorns compose so rich a crown?” As Jesus hangs on the cross connecting heaven and earth vertically, his arms extend horizontally to the whole world. And the blood of Christ, effectually expressing the love of Christ, reaches all the peoples of the earth. “Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, / or thorns compose so rich a crown?”

So here we are at the foot of the cross. Collectively we ask, “Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

© Stan Bohall April 21, 2014

[1] The Book of Common Prayer, 276.
[2] The Collects of Thomas Cranmer by C. Frederick Barbee and Paul F. M. Zahl, 47.
[3] Isaiah: God Saves Sinners by Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr., 356. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

In God Alone...

Rest is a natural part of the rhythm of life. We long to relax and sleep after “a hard day at the office.” We look forward to a day off each week. We anticipate a restful vacation after months of work. But how do we experience rest? How do we get a good night’s sleep? How do we let things go during a holiday weekend or an extended vacation?

Whenever Psalm 62 comes around in the cycle of psalms, I am reminded that true rest is found in God alone. The psalm begins, “In God alone is my soul at rest.” Consider that our minds and bodies rest only as our souls are at peace.

The writer of Psalm 62 is in the midst of an unsettled situation. He laments, “How long will you all attack one man to break him down, as though he were a tottering wall, or a tumbling fence?” So he longs for rest from the commotion. And he begins by telling the truth: “In God alone is my soul at rest.” A few verses later he reminds himself to act on the truth: “In God alone be at rest, my soul.”

So how can we rest in God? I have two suggestions. First, quietly meditate on the truth. Find a peaceful place where you will not be disturbed. Sit quietly and let the rhythm of your breathing set the pace for the truth to run through your mind: “In God alone is my soul at rest.”

My second suggestion is to consider the simplicity and word-order of the statement: “In God alone is my soul at rest.” That translation is more satisfying for me than alternatives such as, “My soul finds rest in God alone;” or “Truly my soul finds rest in God.”

The version I have settled on puts God first. The writer tells us that in God my soul finds rest: “He alone is my rock, my salvation, my fortress; never shall I falter.” Next it says that God alone is my source of rest—not alternatives such as TV, music, parties, alcohol, or drugs. And it is my soul that rests in God. That’s the part of me that relates most fully to the Creator. The other parts of my being follow the inclination of my soul. The final word of the adage is rest—literally silence. That is, when my soul is silent, not cluttered with worries and anxiety, I am at rest. The goal is rest; the source is God.

So the next time you are frazzled, consider meditating on Psalm 62 verses 1 and 5. “In God alone is my soul at rest;” and “In God alone be at rest, my soul.”

Note: The translation of Psalm 62 that I have used is from The Revised Grail Psalms, Copyright © 2010.  Click on  
https://www.giamusic.com/sacred_music/RGP/psalmDisplay.cfm?psalm_id=274 to view the full text.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

It's Choreography!

What makes a film a work of art? First-rate writing, acting, music, direction, cinematography, and editing must meld to make a beautiful film. All of those components come together in the remarkable movie, The King’s Speech. It is a stunning composition.

As I watched it the first time in the theater I realized: It’s choreography! All the parts interact gracefully. And they lead, ultimately, to a dramatic duet performed by the speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), and his subject, King George VI (Colin Firth). All that precedes that performance makes the dance possible.

Choreography involves three basics: music, movement, and a message. Consider Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker or Bernstein’s West Side Story. Both integrate music and movement; and they tell a story. All three fundamentals are present