The Day of Resurrection

It has been an odd Lent and Paschal season for us. We did not go to church – too ill – we did not keep the fast – too ill – we did nothing outside home during Holy Week – too ill. It seemed to take all my strength to just keep the household moving forward, or at least staying in one place; bills paid, housework done, laundry washed, dried, folded, ironed. Meals were, more or less, cooked. We survived, in our isolated valley way.

Rather than mourning the loss of the cycle of the lenten season, I was just grateful that we had a home, some savings to pay the doctor and the pharmacist, a little cushion to get us the extra petrol and groceries we needed.  I had plans – they fell through. I had goals – they weren’t met. And yet I am grateful, and peaceful, and happy.

I posted the painting above, The Resurrection, by Piero della Francesco, because it is a puzzling image. It is dawn; the Roman guards are asleep outside the tomb in which Jesus of Nazareth was buried – why should they stay awake? They are guarding a dead man. He won’t cause any disturbance, will he? And the disciples who were purportedly plotting to steal the body – they are just idle fisherman from Galilee, long gone home, hiding until the heat is off. This isn’t a triumphant warrior Jesus; this isn’t a winged Messiah, vaulting into the air from his victory over death and hell. There is no flash in his eye, no lordly gestures. There are no angels. He has simply arisen. He holds his banner as if he is using it as a staff to aid his posture, stretching out the cramped muscles that have lain so long on cold stone. He is marked with the horrors of the crucifixion, and yet he is calm, and focussed.

He has passed through not only the valley of the shadow of death, but the pit of death itself. He has surpassed the Passion; He has conquered all of sin. He gazes out at us with an inscrutable gaze. There is nothing more for Him to see but Life.

In a moment He will step up fully on the broken tomb, He will blaze forth in glory that cannot be contained under earth. The heathen soldiers will run in fear, running to a charge of desertion but perhaps just deserting; Rome is not gentle or forgiving.

I expect that He blessed them as they fled, sparing them the cold justice of Pilate. I hope that they made their way home to Gaul, and Iberia and the banks of the Tiber.

I did not grieve and weep over the broken body this year. I had no Pieta in my heart. I am confident of His conquest of death.

He is risen.

Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us;
therefore let us keep the feast, Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia. Christ being raised from the dead will never die again;
death no longer has dominion over him. The death that he died, he died to sin, once for all;
but the life he lives, he lives to God. So also consider yourselves dead to sin,
and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia. Christ has been raised from the dead,
the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by a man came death,
by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die,
so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.

(Pascha Nostrum)

Righteous or Self-Righteous?

Oh, it’s been one of those days. Maybe it’s the freaky snow storm that hit the northeast, maybe it is people wondering if they have been April Fool’d, or maybe it was the haywire hacking that hit Facebook today – people are tetchy and strange.

Yee dawgies! You jes' hold on there, young uns!

Fractious, contentious, argumentative – yes, that was public discourse today. It’s been a long winter, and it’s the middle of Lent.

Arguments that surfaced, wholly unconnected, today: Whether Christians should celebrate Easter (yeah, I know – that’s WHY we are Christians, but this was confusion over the word Easter, which is derived from the pagan/germanic word for spring); whether Christians should speak out against Islam – this was in connection with the burning of a Quran inciting a riot in Afghanistan – and how they should speak out. And then there was Braveheart.

The movie, starring Mel Gibson in bad hair extensions. No, I won’t post a photo because you all know the iconic shot of Mel, face painted blue, trying to look all noble and medieval. It isn’t accurate to history, there’s a bit of hanky-panky involved (Mel Gibson!) but all in all, despite the violence, it is a film worth watching. I wouldn’t let my thirteen year old watch it, maybe, but the young man who posted that he was watching Braveheart tonight is well past that age. He also isn’t likely to buy a broadsword and start hacking at his enemies, or try to seduce French princesses in drafty old towers.

People got nasty. Violence, sex, nudity. God would be unhappy.

Points to make: A) It is about war. Violence is part of war. It doesn’t make war look like fun; it makes war look like hell. B) Sex. Yeah, we all know where babies come from. If I remember, the sex is kind of obscure – it isn’t a porno. C) Nudity. Grownups have seen naked people before. Get over it. And if you have ever watched a movie with Mel Gibson in it, you know you are going to see his nekkid butt. He loves to show that thing. Yawn.  I think the worst thing about watching Braveheart is seeing the progression of leprosy in the Old Bruce.

I am thoroughly disgusted by the actions of Terry Jones, the Florida preacher who has incited violence by burning a Quran, or rather, and more accurately, encouraging his associate to burn a Quran, in yet another of his attention grabbing schemes. This is not what Christianity is about. The stunt didn’t get much news coverage in America, but it made the front pages in Afghanistan, and incited a riot that cost UN personnel their lives. People who have never heard of Terry Jones died because of his bigotry. So I have stated on Facebook that I will no longer entertain items in my news feed that attempt to raise anger and public ire against Islam. And someone tried to argue it with me. Look, links to scurrilous websites that promote misunderstanding, lies and hatred are not going to be part of my life. I’ve already said that about anti-abortion links – I am pro-life, but I do not want to see photos of dismembered fetuses. This does not honour their loss or atone for their suffering. It is disrespectful. People got taken off my friends list for that – and I removed someone today who despite my warning, provocatively posted a link to misinformation. She thinks she is witnessing to Muslims, but this is merely inciting argument.

I will not be watching Braveheart, or any violent movie. My heart is no longer in the fight for freedom. Perhaps that is for young men, if they can grasp the metaphor. I am anticipating that martyrdom is more likely, as my stand as a pacifist becomes stronger. It is exciting to think we are changing the world through facebook, but we aren’t. We could – if we use it to strengthen relationships, rally for peace, and pray for each other. But an argument gets us nowhere, except farther apart.

So watch Braveheart if you are so inclined. Remember, though, that war is brutal. Think of the innocents who lose their lives in the course of developing the plot. Be careful what you say, and why you say it.

Lent and Fasting


“What are giving up for Lent?” 

I’ve heard it every year for – oh, a long time – and sometimes people will (a little smugly) tell me that they aren’t giving up anything, they are adding a discipline. Which is not the point of a fast. Add a discipline if you want – but keep the fast anyway.

Lent and Advent are the traditional fasting seasons in the Church. (Some add more days of fasting.) And fasting means – giving up something. Giving up a lot. Just staying away from Chips-Ahoy cookies isn’t a fast.

This is a fast: No meat, dairy, eggs, alcohol or fats for the whole fasting season. Two meals a day, nothing more. Yes, from Ash Wednesday to after the Easter (Pascha) service. There are little exceptions; fats and wine are allowed on Seventh and First Day (Saturday and Sunday). Yes, this means no Guiness on St. Patrick’s Day, nor Irish stew, nor corned beef and cabbage. You can have the potatoes, onion and carrot, and the cabbage, though.

When we could we have kept this strict fast. It usually means losing about ten to twenty pounds. We don’t keep it if we are ill or have a lot of physical work to do, in which case we modify it somewhat, keeping some fats and eggs or some dairy. One has to be sensible about the fast, but not make excuses for avoiding or breaking it. This year we are keeping in eggs and olive oil because of my recent illnesses.

We eat beans, brown rice, all vegetables, bread and other grains – which for us is oatmeal. Russians eat buckwheat or kasha. Quinoa, amaranth, and wild rice are also good choices. We use a bit of seasoning, especially nutritious herbs, but the idea is that it is just food, not something to please our taste buds.

It is a way to deny the sensuality of this world for a season, to remind us that God is with us and provides all for our good. We want more than just that good – we want pleasures that may not be good for us, as so many of us find with food. I hear younger women – and some my age – say how hard it is to give up the supermarket indulgences as they look for nutritious and economical food choices for their families. If anyone is beginning to feel the sticker shock at the grocery checkout, now is a season to get used to some changes, to shop better, to eat better, to live closer to the earth.

I shop once before Lent, and buy all the beans, rice, dried foods, winter vegetables and supplements we may need. This year I have black beans, pinto beans, garbanzos, lentils and split peas, with rice and bulgur wheat. We have three kinds of flour. I bought potatoes, onions, carrots, turnips, apples and cabbage, with ginger and garlic for seasoning. I have some bottled tomato sauce. Since I will be using eggs we can have homemade noodles. We will use up the cheese in the next week.

Is this hard? Yes, it is, but it is not supposed to be easy. It is a discipline. We will pray for strength in this Lenten journey. I will try to be more diligent in my prayer and study. We will anticipate the great Vigil of Pascha and the remembrance that Jesus Christ not only died for us, He rose from death to defeat death for us.

Post-Paschal Life

Those of us in the “Jerusalem” churches – those churches that derive their calendar and liturgy from the first practices of the church begun under St. James of Jerusalem – get very caught up in Lent, Holy Week and the Paschal celebrations. We get to Easter Week – the octave of Easter, the eight days beginning with Easter Sunday and ending the following Sunday – pretty much overstimulated and exhausted. We are stumbling pilgrims by the time we eat our paschal feast. Although I had no liturgical duties this year, I had many household duties and like the good cellarer I try to be, I felt run off my feet at times.

So the fast is over, the celebratory lamb roasted and the wine drunk; a rich desert tops it off and we finish up the leftovers over the next couple of days. Family gather, people call, it’s something like a wedding with the long church service and the feast after. We had a fair amount of poor health and stressful situations through the end of Lent and in Holy Week, but we made it through with peaceful hearts (mostly) and equanimity.

When I had a parish, I found Lent and Easter so tiring and stressful that I simply could not contemplate feasting on the Sunday. I collapsed after my last Paschal service, in no shape to cook or entertain. I would have some ready-made food and a bottle of wine, land on my couch, nibble and sip a bit through the afternoon, and probably fall asleep before ti was time to get up and feed the sheep.

One of the additional stresses was lambing, which wil fall between March and May, just like Easter. One might wonder why I kept at shepherding, but it was my ground. It kept me from becoming so esoteric and otherworldly that I would not have been able to relate to ordinary people. I tend to be ascetic, austere and intellectual, even though I love athletics and the outdoor life. But it is easier to just sit inside with a book, someone else bringing in the food and firewood. This is not real life – the ivory tower is not the world God created.

Even urban Christians need to get out in the fresh air sometimes. Even if it`s just a few tomato plants on a windowsill or balcony, for heaven`s sake and your own, grow something! Find a park and some free-flowing water and go there. Life is not a brightly lit square with images flashing across it.

The easier pace of the days after Easter remind me a little of the feast to come. Food is plentiful – in theory – since it is spring, things are growing, and we have food from the banquet still in the house. The daily grind lightens as we eat raw and barely cooked vegetables and herbs. (I know this may not apply to the temperate southern hemisphere, but you have your own seasons.) The anxiety of penance and discipline leaves us for a time; our readings and prayers are of thanksgiving and joy.

This will be heaven, and the restored Creation God has promised us. Our sin, our confession, our penance will be subsumed in the great forgiveness of the atonement of Christ. Death will no longer dog our footsteps. We will have nothing to fear – not loss, not famine, not illness and weakness. When He comes to His own, we will be as Him, perfected finally, the flaws burned away. It will always be the Paschal season.

On Lent

The season of Lent as preparation for Easter began in the third century, with St. Iranaeus; it was probably established as a fast of a day or more in local churches. The word “Lent” that we use is from the Anglo-Saxon word for spring. The churches kept Lent as a time of increased prayer and scripture reading. it was the last phase of catechism for those wishing to be baptized at Easter.

Lent is now the forty days before Easter, or Pascha. In the eastern churches Lent ends with the Vigil of Pascha, which starts at midnight on the Saturday preceding Easter, the end of Holy Week. While Lent is a time of fasting, Holy Week is a time of concentrated preparation for Easter, with special prayer services and scripture readings.

Must a Christian fast before Easter? Traditionally, and by church law or canon, the answer is yes. Most Protestants do not keep the fast, however, reflecting the scriptural passage that the guests do not fast while the bridegroom is with them. Most of the “Jerusalem” or high churches would disagree, saying that Jesus meant only while He was physically on earth were the disciples exempt from fasting.

Certainly, fasting from foods was an expectation in the apostolic church at the proper seasons, or for reasons of prayer. The forty days of Lent were not established until the fourth century, and may have arisen from a misreading of the historian Eusebius, who was commenting on a forty hour fast. Nonetheless, the forty day fast became established, to remember the forty day fast of Jesus in the wilderness.

Christians are never expected to abstain from all nourishment for extended periods of time, and water is allowed in all periods of fasting or abstention.

In our century, fasting from food is less common; some churches interpret or allow fasting from activities if that is more practical. Families might abstain from watching television or going to movies. (In centuries past, the theatres were closed in Lent.) Others may use the time of Lent to give up a bad habit such as smoking or gambling. Any fast or abstention must be accomplished with prayer, scripture and the support of the church community. One should at least confide in one’s minister or priest as to the form of abstention one wishes to undertake.

Fasting is not atonement for our sins; it is discipline so that we may strnegthen our souls, bodies, minds and spirits against the onslaught of evil and temptation. it is for our benefit, not God’s.

Please let me know if you need support and prayers in your Lenten journey. I will keep confidentiality if you request.

Enjoy a blessed Lent! Christ is coming!