The 40 days of Lent that lead to Easter are the most sacred and spiritually powerful in the Christian calendar. From the Ash Wednesday reminder to 'remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,' to the the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, to the joyful Easter song of 'Christ the Lord Is Risen Today' -- Lent is a time when Christians are invited to examine our faith, and deepen the commitment to live the Christian life.
Starting on February 22, Ash Wednesday, HuffPost Religion offers you the opportunity to walk together with an on-line community of pilgrims through this season of grown and discovery. Each day HuffPost will be updating this liveblog with scripture lessons, prayers, music, poetry, hymns, ideas for charitable service and supportive comments and suggestions from fellow HuffPost Lent community members to help make your fast meaningful and powerful.
We will also be offering daily Lenten reflections by some of the most respected Christian voices who will share with you deep wisdom for your walk with Christ. We will constantly be updating this liveblog with Lenten spiritual resources for your fast. All Christian traditions are encouraged to participate whether or not Lent is observed in your church.
04/07/2012 9:52 AM EDT
“SEPULCHER” – by George Herbert
“SEPULCHER” – by George Herbert
Oh blessed body! Whither art thou thrown?
No lodging for thee, but a cold hard stone?
So many hearts on earth, and yet not one
Sure there is room within our hearts good store;
For they can lodge transgressions by the score:
Thousands of toys1 dwell there, yet out of door
They leave thee.
But that which shows them large, shows them unfit.
Whatever sin did this pure rock commit,
Which holds thee now? Who hath indicted it
Where our hard hearts have took up stones2 to brain thee,
And missing this, most falsely did arraign thee;
Only these stones in quiet entertain thee,
And as of old, the law by heav’nly art,
Was writ in stone; so thou, which also art
The letter of the word,3 find’st no fit heart
To hold thee.
Yet do we still persist as we began,
And so should perish, but that nothing can,
Though it be cold, hard, foul, from loving man
04/06/2012 7:07 PM EDT
Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward By John Donne
Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward
BY JOHN DONNE
Let mans Soule be a Spheare, and then, in this,
The intelligence that moves, devotion is,
And as the other Spheares, by being growne
Subject to forraigne motion, lose their owne,
And being by others hurried every day,
Scarce in a yeare their naturall forme obey:
Pleasure or businesse, so, our Soules admit
For their first mover, and are whirld by it.
Hence is't, that I am carryed towards the West
This day, when my Soules forme bends toward the East.
There I should see a Sunne, by rising set,
And by that setting endlesse day beget;
But that Christ on this Crosse, did rise and fall,
Sinne had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I'almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for mee.
Who sees Gods face, that is selfe life, must dye;
What a death were it then to see God dye?
It made his owne Lieutenant Nature shrinke,
It made his footstoole crack, and the Sunne winke.
Could I behold those hands which span the Poles,
And tune all spheares at once peirc'd with those holes?
Could I behold that endlesse height which is
Zenith to us, and our Antipodes,
Humbled below us? or that blood which is
The seat of all our Soules, if not of his,
Made durt of dust, or that flesh which was worne
By God, for his apparell, rag'd, and torne?
If on these things I durst not looke, durst I
Upon his miserable mother cast mine eye,
Who was Gods partner here, and furnish'd thus
Halfe of that Sacrifice, which ransom'd us?
Though these things, as I ride, be from mine eye,
They'are present yet unto my memory,
For that looks towards them; and thou look'st towards mee,
O Saviour, as thou hang'st upon the tree;
I turne my backe to thee, but to receive
Corrections, till thy mercies bid thee leave.
O thinke mee worth thine anger, punish mee,
Burne off my rusts, and my deformity,
Restore thine Image, so much, by thy grace,
That thou may'st know mee, and I'll turne my face.
04/06/2012 6:27 PM EDT
INRI: The Mystery And Meanings of The Cross Of Christ
In the Christian scheme, there is a break, a bright hard line in history, represented by the direct intervention, the gratuitous (freely, graciously given) personal revelation of the Creator in the lives of real human beings.
This event is reckoned as the most important of all events: the incarnation of the only begotten Son of the only Father God as a man, Jesus bar Joseph of Nazareth, who came to live and die as one of us. You and me. It is a continuing divine revelation in the sense that an assembly of believers has remained in existence ever since, continuously, claiming the protection and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and passed on to succeeding generations the doctrine (that is, the truth) of that greatest-ever happening.
Believers have recorded and codified the manifestation of the Event in the four Gospels of the canon (the small library of books generally accepted by the church's ministerial leadership or hierarchy) that dates to within two centuries of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of the same Jesus. The crux of the case for Christianity is the death of the God-turned-man--and his triumph over that death.
Thus, the symbol and source of the Christian belief is the crucifixion, the image of a man writhing in utter agony on a cross of wood, which represents the Roman (read: "human") genius for torture and execution.
Essential, as well, to the understanding of core Christian belief, especially as represented in the Gospel writings, is the concept of mystery.
The Catholic and Orthodox churches, which lay claim to being the oldest in direct apostolic succession among all the Christian churches and denominations, place great emphasis on the "mystery of faith" and the "mysteries" of the life, death and resurrection of Christ. In this context mystery means "not fully knowing" and "not capable of being fully known" by human reason. It does not mean "cannot be known" or "not ever to be fully understood or revealed." Which returns us to the equally poignant concept of time or "salvation history."
Thus the "mystery of the cross" is an invitation for believers to reflect on the willingness of their Creator to suffer the worst degradation imaginable by someone like them--and so unlike them so as to redeem them from their sins.
Christian traditions other than Catholic and Orthodox, such as Bible-based Protestant churches and modern-day evangelicals, may choose to emphasize aspects of the crucifixion other than mystery, per se, though all who believe that Jesus is the long-promised Messiah acknowledge the leap of faith - over the chasm of the unknown and unbelief necessary to achieve the personal relationship with the Savior that fulfills the resurrection-promise of the New Testament. In fact, in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, depictions of Jesus' death dominate depictions of his resurrection.
The death on the cross is the one moment, memorialized on Good Friday in the Church calendar, of the utter humanity, complete and irrevocable, of the Messiah. That point is a pivot from which all else follows in the Christian world view.
What creates this bright-line demarcation on the continuum of history? The four Gospels attributed, in chronological order of their writing, to Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, tell the story as it was handed down (perhaps witnessed by one of the evangelists, John). The symbolism emerged in the early centuries of the life of the Christian Church, though it wasn't always the dominant image: Think of the Chi-Rho or the ubiquitous fish.
But through the ages artists seized on this pithy and violent depiction of the one moment and found a bottomless appetite for the image. Every Catholic Church in the world displays the crucifix, as does every Rosary.
There is hope that we can know, but it requires of the believer a total investment of body and soul - and it requires of God, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to move actively in that same body and soul. At least, that is a Christian-Trinitarian formulation of the process of an individual's conversion to belief, to a way of death, which leads to eternal life, represented by the image of the man on the cross, flanked by two thieves or revolutionaries and labeled with a mocking sign.
INRI: Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. He died under Pontius Pilate, then . . . well, you know the rest of the story.
04/06/2012 3:49 PM EDT
Were You There When They Crucified My Lord - Johnny Cash
04/06/2012 12:17 PM EDT
What did Jesus' Crucifixion Solve? By Tony Jones
And we all know how he died: A particularly gruesome form of public execution known as crucifixion.
But many Christians are less sure of how it works. How is it that Jesus' death accomplishes the forgiveness of my sin? By what cosmic mechanism does that take place?
In other words, there comes a time in every Christian's life when the Sunday School answer, "Jesus died for my sins," falls short. We want to know how it works.
You'd think that this is among the most central of all Christian doctrines to work out. And, indeed, much ink has been spilled, and many pixels typed, regarding this doctrine, called the "atonement" by theologians. But it's also worth noting that never in the 2,000-year history of the church has one's take on the atonement been a matter of orthodoxy versus heresy. Never was it the subject of an ecumenical council, nor was it ever enshrined in an early church creed.
That historical reality affords us some latitude to consider the major ways that Christians have understood the atonement over the years, and to ponder some minority opinions as well. In each, the crucifixion is the solution. Where they differ is the problem. In other words, what is the problem that the crucifixion solves?
The First Majority Opinion
For the first millennium of the church, a particular view of the atonement held sway. In this take -- alternatively called "ransom captive" and Christus victor -- the problem is Satan. When Eve and Adam ate the forbidden fruit and were cast out of the garden, this theory goes, humanity was given over to the Devil, and he held us hostage for generations. Eventually, God struck a deal with the Devil, giving his own Son over in our stead. We were released and Jesus was killed. But -- surprise! -- God played a trick on Satan when Jesus rose on Easter morning. God got to have his cake (reunion with humanity) and eat it too (resurrection of his Son).
If this take on the crucifixion sounds familiar, that's because it was enshrined by C.S. Lewis in "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." Substitute Edmund for humanity, Turkish Delight for the fruit of the Garden, the White Witch for Satan, and Aslan for God/Jesus, and you've got the cast. Aslan offers himself as a ransom for Edmund and is slaughtered on the Stone Table (read, Cross).
But this explanation of the atonement is rife with problems, not least of which is that, in the Narnia version, Aslan is bound by a "deep magic from the dawn of time." It's a pretty weak God who has to obey arbitrary rules like that. And it seems highly unlikely that God would have to negotiate with the Devil for anything.
The Second Majority Opinion
For these reasons, a new version of the atonement rose to prominence about 1,000 years ago. This theory, called "substitutionary atonement," posits that the problem isn't Satan, it's sin.
In this account, when Eve and Adam ate the fruit, they committed a mortal crime. Their rebellion against God was punishable by death, and they lost their immortality. Every subsequent human being has been guilty of the same crime, and each of us has been sentenced to death.
But it's not just physical death. God's sense of justice is perfect, this theory postulates, so God cannot possibly allow a sinful being into his eternal presence in heaven. Thus, we're not only sentenced to die, we're also sentenced to an eternity in hell.
In fact, the offense to God is so great that the debt can only be paid by a perfect, sinless being, and there's only one being in all of creation who fits the bill. So God's Son descends to Earth and pays the price for all of us by dying on the cross. Jesus acts as a substitute for humanity, standing between us and God and absorbing the wrath and punishment that should rightfully be ours.
The substitutionary interpretation of the atonement has problems, too. For one, it binds God to a sense of law and justice; if God is subservient to a legal code of crime and punishment, then the legal code itself becomes God. And for another, the Son is demoted to a junior partner of the Trinity, merely doing the Father's bidding. This has led some theologians to characterize this theory as "divine child abuse."
Recently, alternative understandings of the atonement have been proposed. French anthropologist René Girard sees the sacrificial systems of primitive religions as a release valve in human society. We want what others have; that leads to rivalries; and that leads to violence. In ancient religions, humans regularly laid their sins on an innocent victim and slaughtered it, hoping the blood would appease the angry gods.
Jesus' crucifixion -- the death of the ultimate innocent victim -- shows once and for all that the sacrificial system is bankrupt, proving that violence does not atone for violence.
German theologian Jürgen Moltmann suggests that Jesus' life and death is an act of solidarity between God and humanity. After trying to reunite with us through laws and sacrifice, through prophets and kings, God takes the ultimate step of reunification, becoming human. Jesus' cry from the cross -- "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" -- shows that in the crucifixion, God experienced the most human of all feelings: the absence of God. In so doing, God bridged the gap that sin had caused between us.
Coming to Conclusions
One benefit of the atonement not being a matter of orthodoxy is that Christians are free to hold more than one theory of how it works. For that matter, there's no requirement that a follower of Christ affirm any of these notions at all.
As with all theology, talk of the atonement is conjecture. God's truth is ultimately a mystery to which no human being is privy. However, as we approach Good Friday, Christians rightly consider the crucifixion and its implications. I hope that we do so with grace and good humor.
For my part, it's clear. I'm not interested in a God who needs to bargain with the Devil, or in a God who is bound to a legal system, no matter how just it seems to us. The crucifixion was the single most pivotal event in the history of the cosmos. In it, we see that the true character of God is love. God loves with an immensity that is hard to fathom. So much, in fact, that he forsook much of that divinity in order to find solidarity with you and me.
Tony Jones is the theologian-in-residence at Solomon's Porch in Minneapolis. He blogs at Patheos.com, and his most recent book is "A Better Atonement: Beyond the Depraved Doctrine of Original Sin."
04/06/2012 11:17 AM EDT
Psalm 22: My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”
Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.
Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled;
I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me;
they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.
But you, O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.
From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.
To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.
Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.
04/05/2012 11:49 AM EDT
On The Night He Was Betrayed.. What happened at the Last Supper?
As the Gospels tell it, Jesus went into the final evening of his life aware that he would die soon. How could anyone in his circumstances have expected anything else? His recent words and deeds gave the ruling authorities little choice.
Assassination or execution certainly awaited him. The only unknowns were when, and by what means.
As the Gospels also remember it, on this night -- "Maundy Thursday" in Christian tradition -- Jesus prepared his followers for life without him. The biblical accounts make important contributions to how Christians have understood both the death of Jesus and his living, continuing relevance.
The Last Supper
In three of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), the centerpiece of the story is a meal Jesus shares with his followers. Remembered as "The Last Supper," it provides the basis for a meal Christians share as part of worship (known, variously, as The Lord's Supper, Communion, or the Eucharist). Several elements of this event stand out on Maundy Thursday:
Jesus' instructions to his disciples concerning the meal's location and preparation have a mysterious quality. The clandestine arrangements fit the volatility of the situation. Jesus is a wanted man. The meal transpires with risk in the air.
The Gospels describe it as a Passover meal. Jesus interprets parts of the supper (shared bread and a shared cup of wine) in light of himself, as elements of his own body. He does not declare Passover observations obsolete. Rather, he suggests that the Passover setting contributes additional significance to his coming death. Is God about to accomplish a new kind of deliverance?
"This is my body," he tells them, passing a loaf of bread around the table. Then the cup circulates; "This is my blood." He interprets the cup as a sign of a "covenant" -- a promise to his followers. The words recall an earlier covenant's ratification in Exodus 24:8. Somehow a new promise is being forged, and the blood Jesus will shed at the hands of the state confirms it. When Christians partake in bread and wine during communion services, they express their participation in this divinely-made promise. They express Jesus' ultimate solidarity with his people, a solidarity enunciated by his tortured, demolished body.
As many Christian liturgies remind us, all this happens "on the night he was betrayed." As symbolized in the meal, Jesus gives himself to his followers even though one of them will soon ensure his downfall. Someone, he announces, will hand him over to the authorities. Yet that person, Judas Iscariot, remains welcome at the meal. Jesus hosts his betrayer.
Jesus hosts his deserters, too. Sometime after the meal he informs Peter, the most prominent disciple, that he will publicly deny Jesus three times before dawn. In Matthew and Mark, Jesus tells the group, "You will all become deserters."
After the meal, under cover of darkness, they depart together for the Mount of Olives, just outside of Jerusalem proper. Jesus' arrest followed soon after. Within just a few hours he was on his way to crucifixion, as Friday morning dawned.
04/05/2012 7:48 AM EDT
The Passion of the Christ video of the Last Supper with the song "Rememberance" by Matt Maher.
04/04/2012 2:06 PM EDT
Anniversary of the Assassination of MLK, Jr - Video of the MLK's Mountaintop Speech
04/04/2012 9:45 AM EDT
Lent and Love: A Reflection on John 3:16
There is nothing like having a toddler around to make you question everything you think you know about words. My daughter is constantly mimicking us these days, both the good and the bad. She is trying on words for size, letting them emerge from her tongue just to hear what they sound like in her own voice. Day by day, her linguistic expeditions discover new lands and possibilities. On these journeys, she is discovering and creating a world at one and the same time. She is only three and a half years old. Our son is only a year and half, but even he is reaching out to the world in monosyllabic words of his own creation. Every dog he sees, he wants to identify, to claim some sort of knowledge and insight that the whole world needs to know.
How do they even learn how to speak? We don't hand them a dictionary and ask them to read it and get back to us. We don't make lists of vocabulary words and drill them. We didn't sign them up for language classes. They simply listen and try. They simply experiment and mimic. But mostly, I think, they see, experience, and feel. They don't learn this marvelous world of words so much as they live into it.
But perhaps no word is more wonderful, more meaningful than "love." Few things are as affecting in this world than when my daughter tells me she loves me. And yet she can't possibly understand what she's saying, can she? Does she understand what love is? If I asked her what love is, she would only laugh at me and return to her toys. How did she learn what it is to be loved?