Saturday, April 29, 2006

Evening Prayer's "Phos Hilaron": "O Gracious Light"

During Evening Prayer, both the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (BCP) and the Lutheran Daily Prayer of the Church (DPC) encourage the saying or singing of the Phos Hilaron, the so-called “lamp-lighting hymn.” In the late fourth century St. Basil (c. 329 - 379) tells us that the Phos Hilaron was used as a hymn centuries before him. Some say that the martyr St. Athenogenes sang the Phos Hilaron in joy as he entered the flames. St. Justin the Martyr refers to the text of the hymn about 150 A.D. (Dialogue with Trypho). This is truly an old, old hymn, most likely the most ancient post-Biblical song we sing. Inasmuch as the ancient Jewish and Christian day always begins in the evening, the Phos Hilaron lets us enter each new day with praise and joy. The Eastern Churches have always sung this evening hymn daily, ever since the second century.

Here is the BCP's translation :

O gracious Light,
pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven,
O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!

Now as we come to the setting of the sun,
and our eyes behold the vesper
light, we sing your praises O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices,
O Son of God, O Giver of life,
and to be glorified through all the worlds.

Inasmuch as Lutherans like to sing Evening Prayer, the DPC provides a musical setting for this translation:

Joyous light of glory of the immortal Father:
Heavenly, holy, blessed Jesus Christ.

We have come to the setting of the sun,
and we look to the evening light.

We sing to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit:
You are worthy of being praised with pure voices for ever.

O Son of God, O Giver of life: The universe proclaims your glory.

The DPC also adds this note:
As this ancient hymn, Phos Hilaron, is sung, the candles on and near the altar are lighted. When the large candle is used, the candes are lighted from its flame. Paraphrases of the hymn—“O gladsome light, O grace,” O gladsome light of the Father immortal,” and “O brightness of the immortal Father’ face” may on occasion replace [the prayerbook’s] translation.

It is interesting to note that already in the second century, Christians are praising God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Obviously the liturgies of the Church, shaped and formed by the Scriture’s testimony, were instrumental in helping the early Church formulate its Trinitarian creeds.

The Phos Hilaron is sung to our Lord Jesus Christ. Inasmuch as Phos Hilaron in Greek means “gladdening light,” we sing to Christ each evening with joy because the universe proclaims His glory as Son of God, the Giver of Life. In the BCP the Phos Hilaron is sung just before the reading of the Lessons; in the DPC, it is sung at the beginning of Evening Prayer.

Friday, April 28, 2006

New Book by Scot McKnight on use of prayer books

Scot McKnight, author of The Jesus Creed is publishing a new book in May titled, Praying with the Church: Following Jesus Daily, Hourly, Today. The blurb about the book on suggests he will be looking at the prayerbook tradition in the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Jewish traditions, and suggesting ways this tradition might enrich standard Protestant worship and private devotions. I've pre-ordered the book because I'm interested in that topic, and because I know McKnight is a good writer and deep thinker.

Perhaps topics he brings up might be of interest to others on Anthrakia. Comments?
Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Using Two Prayer Books

I trust it’s okay to let those of you who read these postings that I regularly use a prayerbook. I say this because Mason recently remarked that he too uses one to help him deepen and extend his prayer life. Like Mason, over lots of years, I've discovered that if left to my own inclinations and resources, my prayer life tends to drift into extended times when I simply don't pray. Sometimes I've found that I excuse and comfort myself with the knowledge that the Holy Spirit is crying "Abba, Abba!" (Romans 8) when I can't or don't want to pray. Of course, I'm grateful for the groaning of the Spirit in my times of distress. But I also know that with the Spirit I need to work out my salvation with fear and trembling. When left to my own inclinations and resources, my prayer life, in spite of best intentions, often winds up being narrowly focused; more than I want to acknowledge, I abbreviate my thanksgivings, intercessions, petitions, and confessions, and whatever Scripture readings accompany my intended prayer time. Sporadic and short—those two adjectives seem appropriate descriptions of the way things go for me before God when I don’t use a prayerbook for guidance. And here by prayerbook I don’t mean anything like those little sixty-page pamphlets that various denomination publish quarterly; those simply don’t have enough substance to fill my need for extended reflection nor strike up enough fire to lit “the incense of my evening prayer.” Brevity is not always the soul of wit.

So I use a prayerbook and have done so for a number of decades. Over the years I've worn out two or three with broken bindings and yellowed pages. In the past week I’ve been using two of them. In the evening I use The Book of Common Prayer (BCP), an economy edition I once got for $15, as I get ready for the day ; in the morning after I get up, I’m using The Daily Prayer of Church (DPC), recently published by Lutheran University Press. Each prayerbook provides me with a structure upon and around which I can spend reasonably ample time in prayer, extends my concerns before God, and allows me to read a substantial portion of Scripture each day.

Both BCP and DPC make use of the ancient prayer traditions of the church; they both
  • encourage extended use of the psalms, antiphons, canticles, and responsories
  • keep us aware of all those for whom we ought to pray with collects and litanies
  • urge us to pause now and again for quiet reflection on what we’ve read and for whom and what we're praying
  • help us remember with gratitude the best history of the Church, especially our honored mothers and fathers in the faith
  • and move us in orderly fashion though the Church’s year so that we avoid any preoccupation with some idiocentric theological preference for one biblical teaching over another.

In other words, using a good prayerbook makes sure that the spiritual roots of our lives are deep and extended. That’s the spiritual logic of a good prayerbook.

More than anything, I’ve found that prayerbooks like the BCP or the DPC (and others that honor the traditional—and often Benedictine--sense of time and prayer) keep us profoundly doxological; that is, these good prayerbooks prompt us to continual worship and praise. For all those Christians who spent so much of their time developing the prayer traditions of the Church, I’m grateful. I owe them an enormous debt of gratitude. And to the churchmen and churchwomen who have edited and published these prayerbooks, we all will want to say "Thank you!" As I reflect upon these gifts to the Church, I’ll try to mention them in postings to come. Perhaps if you're not already using a good prayerbook, you might wish to investigate the possibilities.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

"Post-Traumatic Faith" column in Christianity Today

The new issue of Christianity Today arrived this afternoon, and in it I noticed a column by Patrick Stone titled "Post Traumatic Faith: Understanding the plight of Christians who have killed in combat."

Stone describes a terrible incident during a tour of Vietnam 30 years ago and the scars such incidents left on vererans of all wars--including the current conflict in Iraq. Stone says:

"A truth that does not receive enough attention is that killing in combat is the begining of a long journey for most soldiers. At the moment of killing, a soldier may experience relief, excitement, rage, sickness, sadness, exuberance, numbness, or even satisfaction.

"It is in the years that follow that the decision of an instant works itself out within the life of the individual. The vestiges of these intense memories play out in the dreams, marriage, parenting, and work relationships of a former soldier."

The column reminded me of my father, who returned from World War II in 1945 after helping liberate one of the Nazis' concentration camps with Gen. Patton's Third Army. He wasn't able to attend our church for the rest of his life--except when my mom made him. We asked him during his final illness if he believed in God, and he aswered, "I guess I believe in God. I've seen Satan."

I'll try to remember these veterans in my prayers more often from now on.

Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Garrison Keeler and Thomas Merton

I've subscribed to The Writer's Almanac for a long time now (and semesterly require my grad-students in a poetry course to do so too), and whenever possible I like to hear Keillor read the "literary news" of the day on NPR. As you may know, Keillor always signs off with this signature closing: "Be well, do good work, and keep in touch." It's a blessing of sorts, and I like it. But this afternoon I read another similar blessing, this one from Thomas Merton:

Be good, keep your feet dry, your eyes open, your hearet at peace and your soul in the joy Christ.

St. Mark's Day, A Day Later

Parishioners at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Covington, Ga, celebrated their mid-week Eucharist at 11:00 this morning, and Father Tim had some good comments on Saint Mark, whose memory the Church holds dear officially on April 25, but whose life and witness we celebrated a day later at the local Episcopal church. Fr. Tim remarked that Mark's Gospel is his favorite because (I'm paraphrasing here) it's so fast-paced--in-a-hurry, so to speak--full of down-home details and color. Then too Mark liked to make sure, Fr. Tim reminded us, that we get to see the first followers of Jesus for what they were: a bunch of bumblers, slow to catch on, not nearly ready for God's kingdom to break open as it did in our Lord's way of doing life. Mark makes sure that we who listen to the Gospel see ourselves as a big part of the story. Those who came to the Lord's table were, for the most part, older folks, about my age, and it was quite wonderful to see a few older men doing the liturgy well. Here's the collect for the day:

Almighty God, who by the hand of Mark the evangelist hast given to thy Church the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God: We thank thee for this witness, and pray that we may be firmly grounded in its truth; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

A short prayer for peacemakers

I've been looking at a copy of For All the Saints: A Prayer Book For and By the Church that Andy loaned me recently. One of the short prayers at the close of the paslm reading for tomorrow caught my eye. It follows:

Lord Jesus, you blessed the peacemakers and called them children of God. Give us that peace which the world cannot give, so that your Church may be freed from the schemes of the arrogant and--devoted the works of peace--may go forward joyfully to meet you, the Prince of Peace, our Savior and our Lord. Amen.

Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Monday, April 24, 2006

G. .K. Chesterton on "mysticism"

I've been looking through a copy of For All the Saints: A Prayer Book for and by the Church that Andy loaned me this week, and I found an intesting reading from G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936). I thought you might enjoy it. Please overlook the sexist pronouns. Chesterton was a product of his age.

"Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity.

"The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of today) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency.

"If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight; he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that. Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such as thing as free will also. Thus he believed that children were indeed the kingdom of heaven but nevertheless ought to be obedient to the kingdom of earth. He admired youth because it was young and age becsuse it was not.

"It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man. The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else become lucid.

"The determinist makes the theory of causation quite clear, and then finds that he cannot say "if you please" to the housemaid. The Christian permits free will to remain a sacred mystery, but because of this his relations with the housemaid become of a sparking and crystal clearness. He puts the seed of dogma in a central darkness; but it branches forth in all directions with abounding natural health.

"As we have taken the circle as a symbol of reason and madness, we may very well take the cross as the symbol at once of mystery and of health. Buddhism is centripetal, but Christianity is centrifugal: it breaks out. For the circle is perfect and infinite in its nature; but it is fixed forever in size; it can never be larger or smaller. But the cross, though it has at its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms forever without altering its shape. Because it has a paradox in its center, it can grow without changing. The circle returns upon itself and is bound. The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a singpost for free travelers."

Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Spear in the Side

Perhaps the most neglected symbol of the Easter season is the image of the spear in the side. The incident is reported in John’s Gospel: “But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was dead already, so they didn’t break his legs. One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and blood and water flowed out.” (John 19:33-34).

With great finality this act of the soldier guaranteed the termination of Christ’s suffering a mere 6 hours after being nailed to the cross. By Roman standards, Christ’s execution was quick and merciful putting to rest forever the belief that sin must be paid for by suffering. Christ’s suffering was of necessity brief to make this point. For centuries, humans had believed that God had to be appeased by blood sacrifice for our sins. Easter totally upsets this understanding; so little suffering could never pay for the sins of the whole world. The revolutionary revelation given to us by the Christ of Easter was that suffering could never pay for sin. Sin can only be paid for by love. It is not Christ’s suffering at Easter that saves us. It is His sacrificial love.

Those of us whose lives have been touched by the love of Christ must be faithful to proclaim it. We cannot allow Easter to be hijacked by those who have been seduced by the violence, inhumanity, and suffering of Roman crucifixion; who neglect the celebration of the victory and transforming power of the resurrection. Of course Christ suffered. Of course his blood was shed. He willingly gave his life for us. But Easter is about the triumph of Love. Easter is about forgiveness. It is about starting over, a new life, and a fresh start. In short, Easter is about resurrection. As Marcus Borg points out, death and resurrection are a metaphor for the personal transformation that is the heart of Christianity. This is the meaning of Easter.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Collect for the Second Sunday in Easter

Here is a short prayer, a collect, for the Second Sunday in Easter. It is drawn from The Book of Common Prayer. (I really like this one.)

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery has established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Best wishes,
Mason Smith


Singing the Psalms by the Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault

Today I was listening to a cassette series by Anglican priest, the Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault (pronounced, I believe, "boor-go"), titled Singing the Psalms. I ran across an interesting comment on how chanting the psalter informes our worship.

Bourgeault notes that chant requires four things--and these same four things make a big difference in our daily worship. They are: breath, tone, intentionality, and community.

First "breath": The Desert Fathers and Mothers talked of our lives and our chanting as being "the very breath of God." And of course many religious traditions, not only Christianity, reflect on the importance of breath control. "Chanting the psalter is like Christian yoga," she said. Every breath we take is a gift from God. The comments continue at some length. And naturally, a singer must have breath to sing.

"Tone," of course, is central to all singing. It is also central to life. The universe, after all, began with "the Word," or with a vibration of energy in space/time. There are many senses for the word "harmony," and all of them are important for Christian living.

"Intentionality," in Bourgeault's use of it, means that you can't sing well using only your lips. You have to sing "from your center," using your lungs and the strength of your whole body. You have to sing certain phrases "like you really mean them" or the chant is just flat and empty. In other words, the energy the singer brings to the chant is central to its success. The same is true of our journey with the Lord.

And finally "community": A singer of chant is always happier in choir rather than in solo performance. She said that in singing together we must make adjustments all the time, every day--24/7--in order to remain in harmony. In choir, it is much more important to be in harmony with the other singers than to be on absolute pitch.

Just a few thoughts here. Comments? Unfortunately, I think this series is out of print. Some copies are available, used, through the second-hand book dealers listed at Amazon.

Best wishes,
Mason Smith

April 23: Toyohiko Kagawa: Renewer of Society

On this day many Christians in the church commemorate Toyohiko Kagawa, renewer of society, who died in 1960, at the age of 71.

Toyohiko Kagawa was born in 1888 in Kobe, Japan. Orphaned early, he lived first with his widowed stepmother and then with an uncle. He enrolled in a Bible class in order to learn English, and in his teens he became a Christian and was disowned by his family. In his late teens, he attended Presbyterian College in Tokyo for three years. He decided that he had a vocation to help the poor, and that in order to do so effectively he must live as one of them. Accordingly, from 1910 to 1924 he lived for all but two years in a shed six feet square (about 180 cm) in the slums of Kobe. In 1912 he unionized the shipyard workers. He spent two years (1914-1916) at Princeton studying techniques for the relief of poverty. In 1918 and 1921 he organized unions among factory workers and among farmers. He worked for universal male suffrage (granted in 1925) and for laws more favorable to trade unions.

In 1923 he was asked to supervise social work in Tokyo. His writings began to attract favorable notice from the Japanese government and abroad. He established credit unions, schools, hospitals, and churches, and wrote and spoke extensively on the application of Christian principles to the ordering of society.

He founded the Anti-War League, and in 1940 Kagawa made an apology to the Republic of China because of Japan's occupation of China. He was arrested once again. After his release, he went back to the United States in a futile attempt to prevent war between that nation and Japan. He then returned to Japan to continue his attempts to win women's suffrage.

At the end of the war, Kagawa was part of the transitional Japanese government that offered surrender to the United States. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1955. After his death, Kagawa was awarded the second-highest honor of Japan, induction in the Order of the Sacred Treasure. Despite failing health, he devoted himself to the reconciliation of democratic ideals and procedures with traditional Japanese culture. He died in Tokyo 23 April 1960.

Over 150 books were written by Kagawa throughout his career, most of the royalties therefrom being used to support his labour reform efforts. In English you may wish to read Living Out Christ's Love: Selected Writings of Toyohiko Kagawa (Upper Room Spiritual Classics. Series 2) (Paperback).

The church gives thanks to God for the witness of Toyohiko Kagawa with this prayer:

O God, whose blessed Son became poor that we through his Poverty might be rich: Deliver us from an inordinate love of this world, that we, inspired by the devotion of your servant Toyohiko Kagawa, may serve you with singleness of heart, and attain to the riches of the age to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Friday, April 21, 2006

A prayer of the week from Scot McKnight

Here is a short prayer and comment from Scot McKnight and his Jesus Creed web site (linked at right). Not only the prayer, but the following comments are from Scot McKnight. Enjoy!

Here is the prayer for the week in The Divine Hours, which is taken from The Book of Common Prayer:

O God, who by the glorious resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light: Grant that I, who have been raised with him, may abide in his presence and rejoice in the hope of eternal glory, through Jesus Christ my Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be dominion and praise for ever and ever. Amen.

Notice the theological foundation of this prayer: the "glorious resurrection" of the Son of God who "destroyed death" and "brought life and immortality to light."

Notice the implication: co-resurrection empowers us to "abide in his presence" and "rejoice in the hope of eternal glory."

Notice that it is all "through Jesus Christ our Lord."

This is how to pray. Learning to use the prayer books, which I'm a big advocate for in my Praying with the Church, brings us daily into the presence of prayers rich in theology, permanent in value, and instructive for how to pray.

Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Happy to arrive

As of last fall, I have returned to English teaching after some decades away. My other interests are pastoral and community organizing. Easter Joy to all: Christ has truly risen!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

And here are some more thoughts on The Gospel of Judas

Let's begin with a multiple-choice question: Which of the passages below is from the Gospel of Judas?
1. "No blame will be attached to elderly women who do not desire sex, if they take off their outer garments without flaunting their charms, but it is preferable for them not to do this: God is all hearing, all seeing."
2. "Jesus said, 'Truly I say to you, for all of them the stars bring matters to completion. When Saklas completes the span of time assigned for him, their first star will appear with the generations, and they will finish what they said they would do. Then they will fornicate in my name and slay their children [55] and they will [ … ] and [—about six and a half lines missing—] my name, and he will [ … ] your star over the [thir]teenth aeon.'"

3. Thomas said to them: "If I tell you one of the sayings he said to me, you will pick up stones and throw them at me, and fire will come out of the stones and burn you up."

If you guessed #2, you were right. (#1 is from the Qur'an; #3 is from the Gospel of Thomas.) And you are right, too, if you have inferred that this newly recovered gospel is a bit difficult to follow at times.

To read more, visit Betrayed Again: The Gospel of Judas Roadshow in Christianity Today.

Monday, April 17, 2006


Ben Witherington III has a few thoughts
about so-called Gospel of Judas

Readers may want to check out the comments of Asbury's New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III on the recent media-frenzy over the Gospel of Judas. His interesting comments are located on his blog, at:

Best wishes,
Mason Smith


Sunday, April 16, 2006

Last Evening's Easter Vigil

What was begun on Maundy Thursday came to a climax late yesterday, on Holy Saturday evening as we "watched and waited" for the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ during the Vigil of Easter. We celebrated the climax in the Vigil's profound contrasts between darkness and light, death and life, chaos and order, slavery and freedom.

In the early darkness, after lighting the Pascal Candle from the new fire, we entered the church as the cantor (holding the Pascal Candle) sang, "The light of Christ!" and we echoed, "Thanks be to God!"

After the Pascal Candle was placed in its stand, Pastor made the great Easter Proclamation, and again we sang again and again, "Rejoice heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels! Jesus Christ our King is arisen!" We praised the heavenly Father for this holy blessed night that "dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, and brings mourners joy . . . when heaven is wedded to earth and we are reconciled with God!" We prayed that the Morning Star, our Christ, "shed his peaceful light on all creation."

Then it was time for listening to the mighty acts of God as rehearsed in the Hebrew Scriptures. We listened and watched the stories of the creation of the world, the Exodus, the prophetic voice of Isaiah, the dry-bones vision of Ezekial. The second cantor, with her lovely pure singing, led us in praise as we sang psalms to God. At last everyone lifted up his and her voice, lauding God with the Benedicite Omnia Opera ("The Song of the Three Young Men" from the Book of Daniel).

Gathering closer to the holy table, while professing our faith, we remembered our baptisms and the vows we made when we entered our new creation, our exodus, that is, when we were buried with Christ and given new birth with Him in the Resurrection. Blessed again us with water, we confessed our faith in the Apostles' Creed. Then we listened to more of the Word of God: St. Paul spoke to us from his Letter to the Romans; the resurrected Jesus spoke to us in the witness of St. Mark Gospel.

With joy we celebrated the Eucharist, glorifying God with the whole company of heavenm singing the Sanctus, remembering all that He has done for us in Christ, thanking the heavenly Father for the sending of His Son, offering ourselves to Him in gratitude and joyful thanksgiving; and then, after asking the Most Holy Spirit to bless and brood over our bread and wine, we received our Lord's gift of Himself in the sharing of Holy Communion.

In the Vigil the Holy Trinity blessed us with holy proclamation and life-giving sacraments, gifts for and of the Church's worship; June and I left, happy to be baptized, happy to be saved for new life, happy to be among the community of the faithful, happy to welcome once again Jesus into our lives. Like the Pascal Candle, now to be light again and again among all of us who are coming forth from death, we ask God to find the flames of our lives and the lives of all Christians burning, always burning, always giving light.

Easter Praise

On this Easter Sunday, I am able to give a praise report. I believe and know that God has been talking to me in ministry and wants this praise to be given to you on "Anthrakia". Please enjoy.

I will start from the beginning. A week and a half or two weeks ago, my air conditioner went on the fritz. However, in this time of being uncomfortable, I started to reflect on our Lord Jesus and his ministry on earth. Recently, it struck me that there is a link between this and a passage of scripture that I am going to share. I have been having to drink plenty of water and juice and use plenty of wet rags on the skin in order to stay cool and not be thirsty or dehydrated. Look in the book of John in the 4th chapter verses 1- 42 (The account of the Samaritan woman at the well). It struck me that drinking all of that water and juice and the wet rags were all temporary fixes. I am praising God that I have inside of me the living water necessary not to get dehydrated or thirsty spiritually. I hope all of you will reflect on this scripture as we all celebrate the Living Water that is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ this Easter season. Praise God!!!! We serve a risen Savior!!!!!!!

God Bless You. Be Safe


Friday, April 14, 2006


Interesting web site for the Daily Office

Readers of Anthrakia might like to look at a web site that includes the daily office--both morning and evening prayers. It can be reached at:

Visitors to this site can get the full-text prayers, or shorter versions without the scripture lessons. You also can click on download buttons for audio files of some of the music.

Best wishes,
Mason Smith


Prayers for Good Friday

The traditional prayer for Good Friday in The Book of Common Prayer is as follows:

Almighty God, we beseech thee graciously to behold this thy family, for which our Lord Jesus Christ was contented to be betrayed, and given up into the hands of sinners, and to suffee death upon the cross; who now liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

The lectionary readings given for today include: Psalm 22.1-22; Isaiah 52.13 to 53.12; Hebrews 10.1-25, and John 19.1-37.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Cross-Shattered Christ: Shapter Six: "It is finished."

I have pondered this sixth chapter in Hauerwas' Cross-Shattered Christ for over a week now. All that Hauerwas says makes sense, albeit in an almost Zen-like way at times; that is, I find his reflections taking me to the edge of things so that sometimes I have more questions to explore. One of my questions comes from an awareness that our cross-shatted Christ's "It is finished" somehow sums up His Kingdom in victory; all is over, done, completed, brought to closure. And yet as Hauerwas reminds us, St. Paul in Colosians says that "in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflections for the sake of the body" (1.24-25). Here we infer that our hardshops and sufferings may be seen as extensions of Christ's crucifixion. At least that's the way Paul, as an apostle of Jesus, seems to understand his passion and suffering.

And this morning in The Daily Prayer of the Church I prayed this way:

O Lord God, whose blessed Son bore our sins in his own body on the tree: Give us, we pray such true repentence and amendment of life, that we may never crucify him afresh, and put him in an open shame, by conscious and willful sin; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.

In this prayer we--and I, in particular--ask God to shape our lives--and my life, in particular--so that we--and I, in particular--may "never crucify [Jesus] afresh," a reference to Hebrews 6.6.

Yes, it is finished; and yes, our Lord continues to be cross-shattered as He lives among us and in us as His Body, the Church, both as we suffer and as we sin. I'm not able to keep all those "yeses" quite together, but it seems to me that each is as important as the other

  • that I trust Christ, the Author and Finisher of my faith and life
  • that I honor and share the suffering of the Christ when I somehow suffer for His sake,
  • and that I realize that I too recreate the need for and reality of Good Friday when I engage in flagrant and open sin.

As to the later shameful possibility, I'm relieved to hear once again this week, this day, at the end of the day, and tomorrow on Good Friday that "It is finished," that I am completed in Christ. And Christ is completed in me.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


The Prayers for Maundy Thursday

The Collect for Maundy Thursday in The Book of Common Prayer is as follows:

Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, did institute the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may thankfully receive the same in remembrance of him who in these holy mysteries giveth as a pledge of life eternal, the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who now liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Lectionary readings for this day are Psalms 78.14-20, 23-25; Exodus 12.1-14a; I Corinthians 11.23-26 (or 27-32); John 13.1-15 (or Luke 22.14-30).

The reading from I Corinthians will be familiar:

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you: do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood: do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.


And the day's reading from Pslams is:

He led them with a cloud by day,
and all the night through with a glow of fire.

He split the hard rocks in the wilderness,
and gave them drink as from the great deep.

He brought streams out of the cliff,
and the waters gushed out like rivers.

But they went on sinning against him,
rebelling in the desert against the Most High.

They tested God in their hearts,
demanding food for their craving.

They railed against God and said,
"Can God set a table in the wilderness?

True, he struck the rock, the waters gushed out, and the gullies overflowed;
But is he able to give bread or to provide meat for his people?"

So he commanded the clouds above
and opened the doors of heaven.

He rained down manna upon them to eat,
and gave them grain from heaven.

So mortals ate the bread of angels;
he provided for them food enough.


The I Corinthians passage is quoted from the NIV, and the Psalm is from The Book of Common Prayer, which I believe uses the Revised Standard Version.

Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Transition to Weekly Communion

Pastor Chuck Excell, a Methodist minister, tells us how his congregation and he worked toward an established weekly Holy Communion. It's worth reading and might serve as an encouragement for those of us who would like to see FUMC move in this direction.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


Readings and Prayer for
Wednesday of Holy Week

Here is the collect for Wednesday of Holy Week from The Book of Common Prayer:

O Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his back to the smiters and hid not his face from shame: Grant us grace to take joyfully the sufferings of the present time, in full assurance of the glory that shall be revealed; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The readings for Wednesday are Psalm 69.7-15, 22-23. Isaiah 50.4-9a; Hebrews 9.11-15, 24-28; John 13.21-35 or Matthew 26.1-5, 14-25.

Below is the reading from Isaiah from the NIV:

The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue,
to know the word that sustains the weary.
He wakens me morning by morning,
wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.
The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears,
and I have not been rebellious;
I have not drawn back.
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.
Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
and I know I will not be put to shame.
He who vindicates me is near.
Who then will bring charges against me?
Let us face each other!
Who is my accuser?
Let him confront me!
It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me.
Who is he that will condemn me?


Best wishes,
Mason Smith


Prayer for Tuesday of Holy Week

The traditional collect from The Book of Common Prayer for Tuesday of Holy Week is as follows:

O God, who by the passion of thy blessed Son didst make an instrument of shameful death to be unto us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


I have a short passage from Isaiah that I'll share in a different post. The system has been cutting me off when I try to include both items in the same posting.

Best wishes,
Mason Smith


Prayer for Tuesday in Holy Week

The traditional collect for Tuesday in Holy Week, according to The Book of Common Prayer is as follows:

O God, who by the passion of thy blessed Son didst make an instrument of shameful death to be unto us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of thy Son our Savior, Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

And one of the lectionary readings for Tuesday of Holy Week is Isaiah 49.1-6. This passage is quoted from the NIV.

Listen to me, you islands;
hear this, you distant nations:

Before I was born, the Lord called me;
from my birth he has made mention of my name.

He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;

he made me into a polished arrow
and concealed me in his quiver.

He said to me, "You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will display my splendor."

But I said, "I have labored to no purpose:
I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.

Yet what is due me is in the Lord's hand,
and my reward is with my God."

And now the Lord says--
he who formed me in the womb to be his servant
to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself,

for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord
and my God has been my strength--

he says: "It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept.

I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth."


Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Monday, April 10, 2006


Interesting Column on the Jospel of Judas

Readers of Anthrakia might be interested in looking at an interesting column on the newly translated "Gospel of Judas." The column, "First Person: Responding to the Gospel of Judas," is by Albert Mohler, and can be found on the Baptist Press web page or

Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Sunday, April 09, 2006


A Reading for Monday of Holy Week:
Psalm 36.5-10

The Book of Commom Prayer lists the following readings for Monday of Holy Week. The Psalm is 36.5-10, the Old Testament reading is Isaiah 42.1-9; the Epistle is Hebrews 11.39-12.3; and theGospel reading is John 12.1-11 (or Mark 14.3-9.)

Because of its beauty, I've included the Psalm reading below.

Psalm 36.5-10:

Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens,
And your faithfulness to the clouds.

Your righteousness is like the strong mountains,
your justice like the great deep;
you save both man and beast, O Lord.

How priceless is your love, O God!
your people take refuge under the
shadow of your wings.

They feast upon the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from the river of your delights.

For with you is the well of life,
and in your light we see light.

Continue your loving-kindness to thouse who know you,
and your favor to those who are true of heart.


And the collect for Monday of Holy Week is:

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever Amen.

Friday, April 07, 2006

About the Gospel of Judas: "I'm just glad it wasn't found in a bank vault in the Vatican."

By now you've heard of the newly publicized Gospel of Judas. This morning The New York Times runs a front-page story, "Document Is Genuine, but Is Its Story True?" featuring "the secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot during a week three days before he celebrated Passover." No doubt a full hardbond publication of the entire parchment text will be available soon. For now you may find it interesting to read a seven-page .pdf file containing a sizeable portion of the parchment. From what I've read, it's a thoroughly gnostic text with references to Barbelo, Yaldabaoth (and others!), lots of secret-telling by Jesus--all the goodies that "people in the know" like to know. I must admit that I chuckled a bit when Rome's Father Senior admitted, "I'm just glad it wasn't found in a bank vault in the Vatican."

Just as I'm posting, another Times article appears: "In Ancient Document, Judas, Minus the Betrayal." Two on one day!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

A Lenten reflection: "Humility is difficult" by Jim Wallis

What you are about to read is taken from today's online publication of Sojourners. The article was adapted from Jim Wallis' reflections at Sojourners' Ash Wednesday service March 1, 2006.
We all know Lent is meant to be a time of reflection, deepening, and preparation for Easter. Lent is also a call to repentance and, especially, humility. With Lent's beginning on Ash Wednesday, we impose (I love that word) ashes as a very physical, visual, and tangible act of repentance and humility - a mark and act of commitment, not merely a rote ritual.

Some members of our staff have suggested to me that the events of recent weeks and months call us to humility. But humility is a difficult virtue for those who are called to a prophetic vocation - people like us.

Humility is difficult for people who think they are, or want to be, "radical Christians."

Humility is difficult when you're always calling other people - the church, the nation, and the world - to stop doing the things you think are wrong and start doing the things you think are right.

Humility is difficult for the bearers of radical messages.

When we're always calling other people to repent and change, it's not always easy to hear that message for ourselves.

I want to suggest that there is a real and very deep tension between humility and the prophetic vocation. And most prophetic Christians I have known - present company and preacher included - are really not very good at humility.

You see we are always making judgments of others - church leaders, political leaders, majority cultures - but are not often good at applying the judgment to ourselves. Even when the prophetic judgments we are making are necessary, they seldom lead us to humility. After all, we are the ones who know how other people are supposed to change. We are the ones with the answers. We are the ones who are doing it right.

How do we preach like Amos - "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty river!" - without becoming self-righteous ourselves? I think that is very difficult. Perhaps Micah had it right: "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"

And we are especially prone to turn our righteous judgments on each other, at those close at hand, even within our own community - and that can be especially destructive. When that happens, if the truth be told, radical Christian communities are not always pleasant places to be.
When the prophetic indignation we offer daily to the world is turned toward those who happen to be in judging, glaring, or shouting distance of us when we decide they too have fallen short of our ideals - look out!

And let me be human and honest enough to say that leaders in church, state, and certainly faith-inspired organizations should always be held accountable, but being a leader in a prophetic Christian community is often a very hard place to be. Just look at the qualities necessary for the prophetic vocation: The capacity to speak clearly, strongly, boldly, decisively, distinctively, and of course, visibly. I would say, from my experience, that none of those qualities lead directly to humility.

Likewise, the call to be and offer an alternative reality, community, vision, lifestyle, etc., requires an energy and confidence that, again, is not necessarily prone to humility.

So what can save us radical Christians? The same thing that saves everybody else: the grace of God.

I've found myself remembering an old article prompted by a time in the life of Sojourners when these issues were very much at play. It was an article I felt quite convicted to write as a correction to ourselves, to myself, to the prophetic vocation we had chosen. I remember I stayed home from a prophetic anti-nuclear action that many of us were undertaking because I felt the need to think and write instead. It's from May of 1979. It's pretty faded now, but I think it might be relevant to us today:

"Sojourners has written much and often about the abuse and cheapening of grace. In many ways, it is the place where we began. That concern still stands; cheap grace continues to be the greatest affliction of the churches.

"Radical Christians, however, face another problem. It is the tendency to seek justification in our lifestyle, our work, our protest, our causes, our movements, our actions, our prophetic identity, and our radical self-image. It becomes an easy temptation to place our security in the things we stand for and in the things we do, instead of in what God has done. It is a temptation to depend on things other than God's grace.

"'For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works, lest [anyone] should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).' Grace is the logic of a loving God. There is nothing we can do to earn it, win it, or deserve it. Grace is simply a gift, not a reward. We can receive it only by faith, not through good works.

"Grace saves the prophetic vocation. The knowledge and experience of grace can ease the seriousness with which we tend to take ourselves. Grace can restore our humility, our sense of humor, and our ability to laugh at ourselves. All are regularly needed by prophets.

"To trust grace is to know that the world has already been saved by Jesus Christ. It is to know that we cannot save the world any more than we can save ourselves. All our work is done only in response to Christ's work. To receive the gift of grace is to let go of self-sufficiency and to act out of a spirit of gratitude.

"Radical Christians must pursue more than a successful strategy; we must seek a deeper faith. Only then will we have the assurance of salvation, not because of what we have accomplished, but because we have allowed God's grace and mercy to flow through our lives."

Monday, April 03, 2006

A beautiful service: a moment of communion with Our Lord

Yesterday (Sunday, April 2), our congregation celebrated the Lord's Supper, or Communion. In the past, this service, held each month in my church, has seemed rushed--more of an afterthought than the focus of our worship. And there are reasons for this, both historical and local. Other things have to be done during the service. We can't always devote the entire worship time to preparing and celebrating Communion.

But still . . . .

Yesterday morning, the service seemed different. It moved a just a little more slowly than usual, and it used, perhaps, just a bit more of the traditional wording. It seemed very different to me, in a good sense. I felt more drawn into the sacrament, and more in harmony with the minister's message.

Granted, I've been part of a Wednesday small-group class looking at issues of how the Eucharist is celebrated in our denomination, so perhaps I was just more in tune with what was happening. The whole issue is on my mind, and I'm currently reading about Communion, specifically This Holy Mystery. What interested me was how small changes can make a big difference in the way a service is experienced. Probably, very little actually changed. Maybe nothing at all changed. But my reaction was much more satisfying.

I'm thinking about this issue because of church-membership figures that show many denominaitons--mine included--are losing people in large numbers. (See the recent post on the Wesley Blog, linked at the right.) It seems logical that more meaningful services would draw more people back to worship.

Of course, I'm not typical of the average church member, and my particular likes or dislikes can't be the basis of church policy. But I'm wondering how to identify changes--perhaps some of them quite small--that would make our worship services more welcoming and more meaningful. I want to experience more Communions like the one yesterday.

Any thoughts?

Best wishes,
Mason Smith

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