Wednesday, June 08, 2022

The gravity and gladness of preaching

 I have been reading The Revd Dr John Piper on this subject in The Supremacy of God in Preaching. I think he is on to something, you know. Drawing on Jonathan Edwards, he warns against preaching which is cold or in which we speak of the great things of God to sinners as if it were an ordinary conversation about indifferent matters. None of Edwards' 1200 surviving sermons contains a joke, but they do express an earnest passion for souls. He sought not to entertain his hearers with notions but to preach the Word of God with a certain seriousness of purpose. Even when Edwards read from a full manuscript with few gestures, his sermons could have a powerful effect. He would not raise his voice, but he would present an overwhelming argument with an intense sense of the presence of God such that the congregation were overcome with a great solemnity. 

Piper argues the great lesson we can learn from Edwards is to take our calling seriously and not to trifle with the Word of God or the act of preaching. 

Thomas Chalmers was said to be in bondage to his manuscript, even following along with his finger on the text as he read it, and given to long sentences but he had one thing: "blood-earnestness". 

Preaching should not be morose, boring, dismal, sullen, gloomy or unfriendly but it should arise from and seek to mediate a deep and reverent encounter with God.

Away with light-hearted, chipper, talkative preaching. The pulpit is not the place for trivial levity, flippancy or carelessness.  Don't forget: something eternal and infinite is being done there. 

Sunday, June 05, 2022

Platinum Jubilee Sermon

 

 

Revelation 21:22—22:4

Luke 22:24–30

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

It’s impossible to sum up any human person and any life.

When it comes to Her Majesty the Queen, we know both so much and so little about her.

Hers is both the most extraordinary life, and in some ways it’s very ordinary:

There may sometimes be golden plates and cutlery at State Banquets, but there is also Tupperware for the cornflakes at breakfast. 

She is one of us, the best  of us, and yet her life is unimaginably different from yours and mine.

There’s so much which we might say about her 96-year life and her 70-year reign.

She has been a symbol of continuity, and yet so much has changed.

 

I am going to say something about Her Majesty and our readings later, but I didn’t want us to miss the opportunity to hear from Her Majesty herself about what she thinks matters most.

We’re going to watch a specially compiled 9-minute video which picks out some of the things which Her Majesty has said about the Christian faith in her Christmas messages from her first televised broadcast in 1957 to last year’s.

 

* * *

 

Video / quotation from 2011 broadcast:

 

For many this Christmas will not be easy.

With our armed forces deployed around the world, thousands of service families face Christmas without their loved ones at home.

The bereaved and the lonely will find it especially hard.

And, as we all know, the world is going through difficult times.

 

All this will affect our celebration of this great Christian festival.

Finding hope in adversity is one of the themes of Christmas.

Jesus was born into a world full of fear.

The angels came to frightened shepherds with hope in their voices: ‘Fear not’, they urged, ‘we bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.’

 

Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed.

God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general (important though they are) – but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.

 

Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith.

It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities.

It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.

 

In the last verse of this beautiful carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem, there’s a prayer:

 

O Holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us we pray
Cast out our sin
And enter in
Be born in us today

 

It is my prayer that on this Christmas day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord.

 

* * *    

 

Over the last few days we’ve heard some wonderful anecdotes about the Queen.

Many have revealed her wicked sense of humour.

Not all monarchs, I think, would have agreed to films with James Bond and Paddington Bear.

 

The Queen was once at some great event and someone’s mobile phone rang unexpectedly.

There was frantic fumbling and the phone was turned off.

And Her Majesty said: “Oh dear, I do hope it wasn’t anyone important!”

 

I dare to suggest to you that today, someone important is trying to communicate with you.

Will you pause and ask yourself what God has been saying to you by his Holy Spirit?

What he is saying?

Maybe something from a hymn or reading, or something her Majesty has said?

Has there been a word for you, which you need to answer, rather than ignore?

 

Perhaps my favourite story of the Queen is one it’s hard to believe.

It feels like a preacher’s story but I saw the Royal Protection Officer in Morning Suit and Medals telling it on Sky TV.

The Queen and Richard, of Her Majesty’s Constabulary, were out near Balmoral with some sandwiches when an American couple came and spoke to them.

“Have you ever met the Queen?”, they asked.

Quick as a flash, Her Majesty said: “No, I never have, but Dick has, many times!”

Well, they wanted to know everything!

They even asked the Queen to take their photo with Dick!

Dick and the Queen persuaded them to have a photo with the Queen too, but they never let on, hoping they would go home and show someone the photo and all would be revealed.

 

Isn’t it a wonderful and unbelievable story?

 

But it’s a gift for the preacher too, because we are in danger of making just the same mistake.

 

It is good and right that we should make much of Her Majesty the Queen today.

We give thanks for her.  

But she would have us make much more of Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, to whom she looks as her Lord and Saviour.

 

Jesus has been the model for Her Majesty’s remarkable lifetime of service.

He, the greatest of all, who was First by right, became the lowest and the last.

From the throne of heaven, he willingly served us by coming to a Manger and going to a cross.

He served and served and served.

And his life was spent, for us in our place.

 

We ought to have died for him:

That’s what subjects must do for their sovereign at need.

But he died for us.

He took all our sin and guilt.

He overcame our death.

 

He gave up his kingdom only to take it up again and to bestow it on us.

 

We may have felt blessed to be British these last few days.

But this Sceptred Isle is at best a Demi-Eden.

 

As we seek under God to do what we can in the power of the Spirit to make earth more like heaven, do we not feel our want, our need – how very far from paradise our nation is for many?

We need the Lamb and the Light!

The Kingdom of God can never come from our best efforts alone.

I am all for Big Lunches but they cannot truly and for ever bring our society together and make us whole.

We must come empty handed to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.

We are hungry beggars whom King Jesus in his mercy would feed.

Real community is based only on Communion with the King.

 

Happy the British Citizen, perhaps, but happier yet those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life!

 

This Jubilee Pentecost Sunday, the Spirit of God invites all those from every nation to the good news of King Jesus.

He offers forgiveness, peace, hope, joy and more to all who will receive him with humble faith.

Honour the Queen.

Trust in God.

 

Friends, enter his gates now with thanksgiving!

Step into the Light!

Drink of the Water of Life!

Here is the healing of all hurts – now in part, then in full.

Eat and rejoice!

 

Only if we do so now with repentance and faith will we see his face with joy at last.

The gates of his kingdom will for ever stand open wide, but some will have excluded themselves.

 

My friends, as we celebrate the Queen, let us meet the King!

Let us leave here today not with a photo of a royal protection officer, but as subjects, and even friends, of the King of Kings.

 

That is what the Spirit of God says to you today:

Come and welcome to Jesus the King!

 

And so to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit be all honour and power and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Friday, June 03, 2022

Long term church leadership

I've been Rector here now for the best part of twelve years. Our eldest is about to start GCSEs. And just assuming for a moment that we were to stay here until our youngest finishes his A-Levels, I would have notched up twenty two years - quite a stint by modern standards. So I have been thinking about this. 

OPPORTUNITIES

One can know and be known. And show commitment to people and place. You live out perseverance. 

More and more, if you are doing a good job, people will come to you for weddings, baptisms and funerals across the generations. You will have lived through joys and sorrows with more and more families. You earn the right to speak into their situation quite boldly, perhaps, if you all know that you have poured years of love, prayer and practical care into their lives. 

You and the church will have changed together - perhaps for better or for worse. Even if you didn't come with a master plan for revolution, tiny tweaks over five and ten years might have made a big difference. It is said that people overestimate what they can do in a year or two but underestimate what they can do in five or ten.

CHALLENGES

You can't look to a change of place, necessarily, for stimulus. So how will you keep fresh?

If you are going to preach engagingly on Christmas, Easter, Pentecost and Trinity for twenty years, you will need to expand beyond a few favourite Bible passages and ideas. You need depth. Your rootedness requires roots.  

And you need to pray for openness and optimism. Someone (perhaps you!) will say, "We tried that ten years ago and...." You need to be willing to try new and old things. You need to keep plodding on, sometimes slower, sometimes faster, but knowing the Goal and the Way, following Christ and leading others to him. 

Which of your weaknesses are deforming your church over time? How can you and others mitigate against them?

What do you think? What have you seen of long or short spells as Vicar for good or ill? What are your hopes and fears for the long haul?

Applied Focused Purpose and Church Leadership

 The phrase "applied focussed purpose" can help us think about the how, what and why of church leadership. 

You need FOCUS. Even in a small church, there are probably too many people and things to really concentrate on. For a time you may need to focus on admin, or the building, or even the flowers. But what are the things and people you really want to give your attention to? 

PURPOSE. Why? What are your aims large and small? Yes, the glory of God and the good of people. Growth in number and commitment to Christ. 

APPLIED. Break it down. What now? What next? How do your focus and purpose get put in to action by you and others? We don't want activism and we know that being matters more than doing, but you will do some stuff so what and how and why?

What might our church look like with the blessing of God in five years time? What are the next steps, as well as prayer and openness to changing our ideas?

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Arian Sacraments

 Jane Williams argues that Arianism would view the sacraments as merely symbolic because its motivation is to keep the divine from contamination with the creaturely. It is held to be impossible for the creature and God to co-exist. "Sacraments become merely symbolic, since matter cannot receive the divine" (p27. 'Creeds: Boundaries or paths?' in The Bond of Peace: Exploring Generous Orthodoxy (SPCK, 2021)

Friday, April 22, 2022

Joshua J. Knabb, Christian Meditation in Clinical Practice (IVP) - some jottings

 

Joshua J. Knabb, Christian Meditation in Clinical Practice: A Four-Step Model and Workbook for Therapists and Clients (IVP Academic, 2021)

 

Drawing on research around mindfulness, Knabb argues for the benefits of a distinctively Christian approach to prayer, meditation and contemplation resourced by various branches of the Christian tradition. Three introductory chapters set out his approach with comparisons to Buddhist and secular meditation. Five subsequent chapters propose interventions for repetitive negative thinking, impaired emotional clarity and distress intolerance, behavioural avoidance, perfectionism and mentalization.  

 

Chapters include templates for keeping logs, exercises and questions for review. Audio recordings for some exercises are available at: ivpress.com/Knabb1 etc. to Knabb5

 

https://www.ivpress.com/christian-meditation-in-clinical-practice-ebook

 

Some things I thought worth jotting down:

 

Definitions of Christian meditation (p9) heavenly mindedness and communion with God (p11)

 

About one in five adults will struggle with depression during their lifetime to the point of meeting the criteria for a formal psychiatric diagnosis; one in three for an anxiety disorder (p22)

 

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) over 300 diagnoses. The danger of pathologizing normal experiences of psychological suffering (p23)

 

Domains to consider:

Thinking / cognition (e.g. repetitive thinking)

Feeling / affect (impaired emotional clarity or distress intolerance)

Behaviour (avoidance)

The self (perfectionism)

Relationships (p24f)

 

Assessing types of meditation consider: (1) the type of attention (2) relationship to cognitive processes (3) the goal (p36f)

 

Buddhist three marks of existence: impermanence, unsatisfactoriness / suffering, no-self/ non-self (p38)

 

John Ball, A Treatise of Divine Meditation: meditation as “the steadfast and earnest bending of the mind on some spiritual and heavenly matter, discoursing on it with ourselves, until we bring it to some profitable point, both for the settling of our judgements, and the bettering of our hearts and lives.” (Puritan Publications, 2016, p25) quoted on p43

 

Puritan Edmund Calamy on The Art of Divine Meditation (1680): “a dwelling and abiding upon things that are holy; it is not only a knowing of God, and a knowing of Christ, but it is a dwelling upon the things we know; as the bee that dwells and abides upon the flower, to suck out all the sweetness that is in the flower.” p23 quoted on p48

 

Biopsychosocial-spiritual model, dynamic interaction of biological, psychological, social and spiritual (p51)

 

Summary of Christian meditation p54f

 

Comparison of Christian, Buddhist mindfulness / loving kindness / secular meditation pp56f, including table

 

Lectio divina / divine reading – p41 – read, meditate, pray, contemplate

(1) Bite – read slowly

(2) Chew – ponder the meaning

(3) Taste – pray, thank, praise, recognise

(4) Savor – rest in God

p58, See further Guigo II, The Ladder of Monks, 2012

D. Benner, Opening to God: Lectio divina and life as prayer (IVP, 2010)

 

Developing the mental skills of attention, present moment (non-judgemental) awareness and acceptance (some openness, flexibility, curiosity, non-striving etc.):

 

Four stage process: notice, shift, accept, act (diagram p12)

(1) noticing mind, brain, body behaviour patterns such as repetitive thinking, worry, anxiety, self-criticism, judgementalism, perfectionism, avoidance of distress / conflict, emotions

(2) shifting to a more spiritual / heavenly God-centred perspective

(3) accepting the active loving presence of God with us

(4) acting. Fellowship with God and contentment in him as the basis of Christian living. (see esp. pp61-67

 

Gently and repeatedly bringing the mind back to God, perhaps by using some short phrase of Scripture

 

Cultivation a spiritual awareness of God’s active, loving presence in the here-and-now which avoids worrying about the past which cannot be changed and the future which is uncertain

 

We may seek to anchor ourselves in the present with God rather than allowing our thoughts to be on auto-pilot (p65)

 

Description of heavenly rather than earthly mindedness p69ff – rather than always looking at the ground around us, we might focus on Jesus who walks with us as our companion and on heaven as our destination (p64)

 

What are our relational habits / our self in relationship dynamics? (p63)

 

Try to slow down to notice any repetitive thinking and to understand your mind with a bit of humility and distance (p80)

 

Puritan Thomas Goodwin wrote: "our thoughts, at best, are like wanton spaniels, they indeed go after their master and come to their journey's end with him, but they run after every bird, they wildly pursue every flock of sheep they see." (Knabb, p75)

 

“God is the most glorious object our minds could even fasten upon, the most alluring…. But I appeal to your experience, are not your thoughts of him most unsteady? Do you not have as much trouble holding your thoughts on Him as you would holding a telescope on a star with a palsy-shaking hand?... So when we are at our business, which God commands us to do with all our might [Eccles. 9:10], our minds, like truant children… will go out of the way to see any sport, will run after every hare that crosses the way, will follow every butterfly buzzing around us.”

 

We should view our thoughts with a healthy dose of humility. Goodwin says, “As wanton boys sometimes scribble broken words which make no sense, so our thoughts sometimes are – and if you could but read over what you have thought, as you can what you have written, you would find as much nonsense in your thoughts as you will find in madmen’s speeches.” (The Vanity of Thoughts, Knabb, p101f)

 

God’s attributes, especially his four omni-s should lead us to trust him:

Omnipotence – he is in control

Omnipresence – his is with us

Omnibenevolence – he loves us

Omniscience – he always knows and chooses the best for us (p121)

 

Drawing on W. Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms: A theological commentary (Augsburg Publishing, 1984), Knabb pp125-128 suggests using the Psalms as a model for how to lament. He suggests considering Psalm 13 as an example. The lament Psalms combine two main elements: (1) A complaint or plea to God to help remedy a present situation and (2) praise to God for listening to the petition. 

 

Or in more detail:

 

(1) Calling personally on God

(2) presenting a specific problem to God

(3) asking God to intervene 

(4) expressing a reason for the request 

(5) confidently stating that God has heard the request

(6) concluding by giving God thanks and praise for hearing the request, regardless of whether or not the situation is resolved  

 

Greek, eleos, mercy, compassion / kindness to the suffering. Cf. Greek, elaion, olive oil, used in healing wounds, soothing comfort p129 citing K. Ware, The Jesus Prayer (2014)

 

Some “C”s for Christians to consistently cultivate / contemplate:

Closer communion with God

Calm confidence in God

Contentment in God

Commitment to God and his will for me

Conformity to / conversion to Jesus Christ – Christlike-character – Companionship with Christ

 

In the desert tradition some logismoi, tempting compulsive thoughts / distractions from God and some alternative virtues:

(1) Gluttony

(2) Lust / fornication

(3) Money / material possessions

Love of God (charity) self-control (temperance)

 

(4) Sadness

(5) Anger

(6) Boredom / discouragement / restlessness

Patience and courage

 

(7) Vanity / fame

(8) Pride

Good judgement (prudence), understanding and wisdom

(p165f)

 

Cf. Brother Lawrence - Mindful activity e.g. doing the dishes slowly, carefully, deliberately, gently, lovingly, with present attention - not impulsive, hurriedly, distractedly (p172f) – worshipfully!

 

A summary of steps in Puritan mediation: (p191f):

(1) Select a short passage of Scripture on which to focus

(2) Pray for God’s help

(3) Shift from earthly focus to heavenly mindedness

(4) Meditate – focus sustained attention of the passage

(5) Move from brain to heart

(6) Feel (God’s love and grace)

(7) Commit to act on the basis of the meditation

(8) Pray

 

Human self in relationship processes / dynamics – self and others

 

Metacognition – thinking about thinking – an element of distance (objectivity / humility / compassion) from one’s own thoughts – a bird’s eye / balcony / helicopter view  

 

Mentalization (chapter 8, p203ff) minds minds. It involves the recognition that I have a mind and so do other people! It is an attempt to understand the relationships between (1) minds and intentions (the interior worlds), and (2) actions and behaviours (in the external world). It attempts to understand how I might appear to others (from the outside in) and why others might be acting as they do (from the inside out). How people think of things may not correspond to objective reality nor to how I think of them!  Mind reading and its limitations.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

How To Lament

 Drawing on W. Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms: A theological commentary (Augsburg Publishing, 1984), Joshua J. Knabb, Christian Meditation in Clinical Practice (IVP Academic, 2021) pp125-128 suggests using the Psalms as a model for how to lament. He suggests considering Psalm 13 as an example. The lament Psalms combine two main elements: (1) A complaint or plea to God to help remedy a present situation and (2) praise to God for listening to the petition. 

Or in more detail:

(1) Calling personally on God

(2) presenting a specific problem to God

(3) asking God to intervene 

(4) expressing a reason for the request 

(5) confidently stating that God has heard the request

(6) concluding by giving God thanks and praise for hearing the request, regardless of whether or not the situation is resolved  

Parish Magazine Item for May 2022

 

From The Rectory

 

On Thursday 26th May, we’ll celebrate the Ascension of Christ. You are very welcome to join us for our joint benefice service of Holy Communion at St Giles’, Dallington at 7:30pm.

 

In case you need a little reminder, the Ascension marks the end of Jesus’ resurrection appearances. Forty days after Easter, the risen Lord Jesus ascended to heaven and was enthroned at the right hand of God the Father in glory. Ten days later, at Pentecost, he would send the Holy Spirit to empower the church for mission.

 

The Ascension doesn’t enjoy the profile of Christmas or Easter. The marketing industry has perhaps missed a trick by failing (as yet) to commercialise it. Perhaps it doesn’t really make a lot of sense to discuss the relative importance of different parts of the saving work of Christ: Jesus could hardly die if he hadn’t been born, his death is essential to his resurrection. The saving work of Christ all belongs together and each part is necessary. But St Augustine of Hippo spoke very powerfully about the importance of the ascension. As we might be tempted to neglect this festival which is always celebrated on a Thursday rather than a Sunday and not surrounded by a lengthy period off school or work, it is worth thinking about what Augustine claims: Ascension Day is "that festival which confirms the grace of all the festivals together, without which the profitableness of every festival would have perished. For unless the Saviour had ascended into heaven, his nativity would have come to nothing ... and his passion would have borne no fruit for us, and his most holy resurrection would have been useless." No ascension, no Christmas, no Easter, no Christian faith, Augustine is saying.

 

Why might the ascension matter to us? What can we say about it in the space remaining?

 

To some it has seemed rather absurd and primitive to think of Jesus going up into heaven like a human rocket. I guess we don’t think of heaven as literally up in the sky somewhere. But as with the resurrection, the physical bodily nature of the ascension reminds us of the Christian hope. Our bodies matter, as Jesus’ does. Jesus’ incarnation was not temporary but permanent. He continues to have a divine and a human nature. Matter matters. We are looking not to an eternity of disembodied souls, but to the resurrection of the body, as the creed says. On Easter Sunday morning the tomb was empty. The risen Jesus was no mere thought, idea or principle. He wasn’t a ghost or a spirit. And likewise our final destiny is the New Creation, or, better, a renewed creation. And so Jesus the God-Man’s human body ascending to heaven reminds us about the importance of our bodies and this creation. There is hope for my skin and bones and for this world.  

 

And the Bible also makes a point about what Jesus does when he gets to heaven. He sits down. We might even say he puts his feet up. His saving work is done and God is putting all his enemies under his feet. The ascension demonstrates the victory of Christ. The Father welcomes his triumphant Son back to glory and enthrones him as ruler and judge of the world. Jesus has done his job faithfully and fully. His mission was accomplished.

 

And though the world often seems in disarray and terribly broken, our Jesus is on the throne of history. The ascension assures us that love wins. Jesus is our friend in high places who ever lives to intercede for us. The ascension urges us to believe the Christmas prophecy has been, and is being fulfilled: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”

 

A very merry ascension to you!

 

The Revd Marc Lloyd

Monday, April 18, 2022

Four tasks of strategic leadership

 In an interview with Niall Ferguson in The Spectator ('Putin still has a lot left to lose', 16/4/22, p18) former CIA Director, General David Petraeus mentions four tasks of strategic leadership he says President Zelensky of Ukraine has performed brilliantly:

(1) the right over-aching big ideas

(2) communicated effectively

(3) implemented relentlessly 

(4) refined again and again. 

These things might seem like stating the obvious, but sometimes we don't just have the wrong or partial answers, we fail even to address the right issues. It is so easy to be distracted from the big things which matter, it seems to me these four simple points form a useful reminder of necessities at the heart of leadership.  

Friday, April 15, 2022

He Descended to the Dead - Reflections for Good Friday, or indeed Holy Saturday

In the Apostles’ Creed, we confess that Jesus “was crucified, died, and was buried;

he descended to the dead.”

I want to focus with you today particularly on the claim that after his death and burial, Jesus descended to the dead.

A similar belief is affirmed in the Church of England’s Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion.

It’s remarkable that earlier generations thought the descent of Christ to the dead important enough to be included in creeds and confessions, but I suspect we may not have given it much thought – until today!

 

Some translations of the creed say that Jesus descended to “hell”, but that would be misleading for us since we use that word “hell” to speak of a place of torment, of the punishment of the damned.

The creed just means that Jesus descended to the place of the dead.
If we have preconceived ideas about Jesus’ descent to hell, maybe from art works, we may have to put out of our minds what whatever we think the harrowing of hell might mean.

We’ll think about what Jesus’ descent might mean, but let’s back track for a moment and think also about Jesus’ crucifixion, death and burial.

 

Reading: John 19:28-end

 

It’s very important for us to emphasise the full and true humanity of Jesus.

We know he was fully human and fully divine.

And it’s very hard for us to grasp what it means, what it was like, for him to be the God-Man.

We’re speaking of a unique miracle here, that God the Son should assume a human nature at the incarnation so that (without change in God), God the Son was made man.

But one thing we must say is that Jesus’ full divinity didn’t undermine his true humanity.

He wasn’t somehow half God and half man.

It’s not a trade off of percentages.

Jesus was fully God and fully man.  

 

So Jesus’ human life was true and real.

And so was his human death.

Of course in some ways Jesus’ death was unique, but he really died a true human death as a man, a death like ours.

The gospels underline that.

It was essential for our salvation that Jesus should really die a true human death.

Jesus was born to die:

He faced the penalty for human sin as a man – human death.

 

Jesus could only rise from the dead if he truly died.

 

And not only did he die, he also was dead.

Part of Jesus’ full humanity is not only his dying but his being dead.

He shared our state of death.

He wasn’t instantly resurrected.

We should not rush too quickly from Good Friday to Easter Sunday.

Jesus’ body was laid in the tomb for three days, just like our bodies will be buried.

 

Perhaps there is more to be said some other time about the details of Jesus’ burial in the unused tomb of a rich man hewn from the rock in a garden and who does what to his body, wrapping it in linen garments, and so on.

And of course it matters for the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection, for the fact that his body is risen, that eyewitnesses knew where it had been buried.

 

Jesus died and was buried.

As the prophet Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man was three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

The word “cemetery” means “sleeping place” and our bodies will sleep in the grave as they await the great final day when they will be raised up and re-united with our souls. 

And so it was for Jesus for those three days from Friday to Sunday.

He too knew that time of waiting, of the separation of body and soul.

His human experience was parallel to ours to the full extent, right down to the depths – really.

His body was planted in the ground like a seed awaiting the resurrection, as our bodies will be.

 

Jesus’ three days in the tomb remind us that so much of the Christian life is about patient waiting and looking forward to the great day of Resurrection.

Salvation is accomplished, but we await its full fruit.

Of course there is much striving and effort and work to the Christian life.

It is a race and a battle and so on.

But it is also a matter of resting the finished work of Christ.

There is a sabbath rest for the people of God both now in part and fully and finally in the New Creation.

For now we must wait in hope for the Lord’s salvation.  

 

Christians are traditionally buried facing East, awaiting the return of Christ, looking in hope for the coming of the Sun of Righteousness and the dawn of the great final day, when night will be no more.

 

But we are getting ahead of ourselves!

Back to the cross.

It is Good Friday, after all!

 

Jesus cried out from the cross, “It is finished!”

Not “I’m finished”, but my atoning work of dying on the cross is finished.

The price for sin was fully paid – salvation is achieved, accomplished.

It is DONE.  

As Jesus’ body rests in the tomb he takes his Sabbath rest having completed his work of salvation.

Jesus rested from all his work of saving, and it was very good.

When he rises, on Resurrection Day, it will be a new week and a new Creation.

 

Calvin came up with a more or less novel understanding of Jesus’ descent to the dead, or Hades, or Hell.

He took it to mean that Jesus faced hell for us on the cross.

That’s an odd understanding of the creed because the creed speaks of death, burial then descent.

On Calvin’s understanding, the creed seems to get the order wrong.

But even if Calvin is wrong about how to understand the descent of Christ to the dead, it is certainly right that Jesus bore our hell on the cross.

The wrath of God was poured out on the innocent Jesus for us.

As the sin-bearer, Jesus was forsaken to the judgement of God, so that we might know God’s blessing.

Jesus faced the frown of God that we might know his smile.

In his perfect and infinite person, Jesus paid many eternities of hell for all who would trust in him. 

An eternity of sin was spent on Jesus that Good Friday.

 

* * *

 

Jesus’ body was three days in the tomb.

But what of his soul?

He said to the dying thief, “today you will be with me in paradise.”

Our second reading, where the Apostle Peter quotes from Psalm 16, also sheds some more light on this:

 

Reading: Acts 2:22-36

 

Peter says that in the Psalm David must be prophesying the Messiah: “you will not abandon my soul in Hades, neither will you let your holy one see decay.”

We know that David’s body decayed.

 

Human death is the separation of soul and body.

Jesus’ body lay in the tomb for three days awaiting the resurrection, as our own bodies will lay in the grave awaiting our resurrection.

 

And yet Jesus’ soul could be with the dying thief that day in paradise.

The Christian confession has almost always been that Jesus’ human soul went to the place of the righteous dead when he died, sometimes known as paradise, sometimes called “Abraham’s bosom”, which Jesus refers to in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

Jesus shared a full human experience not just of dying but of being dead.

He went down to the very depths of the lower earthly regions, to the place of the dead or to Hades.

But he went there now as the Victor, and the one who had paid the price of sin, as the one who had triumphed over death.

 

Whatever we make exactly of this doctrine of the descent of Christ, the Bible tells us that the keys of death and Hades are given to Jesus.

He rules over Satan, and death, and the place of the dead, and even over hell.

He is the Lord of life who has opened the gate of heaven.

All those who have ever died and hoped in him are with him in heaven.

And one day our bodies and souls will be reunited and we will be raised.

We will be like the risen Lord Jesus who, body and soul, is seated at the right hand of God the Father in heaven.  

 

* * *

 

Our final reading is one of the texts most often connected with Jesus’ descent to the dead.

It could be read in other ways, and the doctrine of the descent of Christ to the dead doesn’t depend on it, but in the light of the Scriptures we’ve read and alluded it, it’s not outlandish to see here a proclamation of Christ’s victory after his death:

 

Reading: 1 Peter 3:18-end

 

Jesus’ death means that he can announce victory over the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago.

Even those under the earth must bow the knee to Jesus the Lord.

Jesus is Lord even of hell and the fallen angels.

Satan is cast down and crushed.  

And the risen Jesus is now gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

The Old Testament saints waited in hope for the coming of Christ, but now his saving work is accomplished.

Their waiting is transformed into reality.

The one they longed for and hoped in from afar has arrived with all the benefits of his cross.

He has come!

He has done it!  

And all the dead who trust in him are with him in heaven.

Jesus has triumphed and brought his people with him.

His victory is our victory.

What he has won is our destiny.

We share in the spoils of his triumph.

 

This Good Friday, then, we meditate also on Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday, and on the Ascension of Christ, his reign in heaven and on great final day to come.

 

I want to conclude our reflections today with some words from Charles Hill:

 

“Christ descended into Hades so that you and I would not have to.

Christ descended to Hades so that we might ascend to heaven.

Christ entered the realm of the dead, the realm of the strong enemy, and came away with his keys.

The keys of Death and Hades are now in our Savior’s hands.

And God his Father has exalted him to his right hand, and given him another key, the key of David, the key to the heavenly Jerusalem.

He opens and no one will shut, he shuts and no one will open (Rev. 3.7).

And praise to him, as the hymn says, “For he hath opened the heavenly door, and man is blessed forever more.”

 

All praise and honour and glory to the Lamb who has conquered!

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth” (Rev. 14.13).

And blessed are we here and now, who even now have this hope, and a fellowship with our Savior which is stronger than death!

Thanks be to God. Amen.”

 (Hill, ‘He Descended into Hell’, 10, quoted in Emerson, He Descended to the Dead, p221)

 

The Apostles’ Creed

 

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Amen.

* * *

 

All of the above is very much indebted to:

 

Matthew Emerson, He Descended To The Dead: An Evangelical Theology of Holy Saturday (IVP Academic, 2019)

 

Some further jottings:

 

What the descent of Christ to the dead means to teach is the Jesus experienced human death as all human do, his body was buried, and his soul departed to the place of the righteous dead, sometimes known as paradise or Abraham’s bosom, and in so doing, by virtue of his divinity, he defeated death and the grave. (Emerson, p23f).

Jesus proclaimed victory over death.

 

It would certainly be a mistake to move too quickly from Good Friday to Easter Sunday.

We need to face the full force of death: the reality and pain of it.

The grief.

The loss.

The apparent finality.

He was buried.

 

We live between the death and resurrection of Jesus, on the one hand, and his return and the consummation of all things on the other.

Our life is lived in these in-between times.

So much of the Christian life involves looking forward in hope and waiting in expectation for what God will do.

And for Jesus too there was an element of waiting.

He died on Good Friday and for that Holy Saturday his body waited in the tomb.

 

He descended to the dead.

He descended from heaven.

He descended to the cross.

He descended to the dead.

Down, down, down.

He went as low as he could go, to the very depths.

 

Matthew Emerson: “The descent [of Christ to the dead] is, in my opinion, a beautiful doctrine that not only fits into the fabric of Christian theology but is also integral to that fabric. While some may believe we can simply discard the descent, it is my conviction that this doctrine, held ubiquitously for the first 1500 years of the church’s life, is an integral one for the health of Christian theology and practice.” (21)

 

Matthew 12:40 - The Sign of Jonah – see Emerson p35f – Woodhouse: “The primary meaning of the ‘sign of Jonah’… is … the correspondence between Jonah’s experience in the belly of the sea creature, and Jesus’ experience in death, his descent to Hades.” Quoted in Emerson p38

 

Matthew 27:52-53

 

Ephesians 4:8-10

 

Lk 23:43

 

2 Cor 12:3

 

1 Cor 15:20, 27 – from the dead, from the place of the dead

 

Phil 2:10

 

Romans 10:7

 

Revelation 1:18

 

“Christ’s descent, then, is part of what Christ experiences for us in the incarnation. Death, both the moment of dying and the state of being dead, is a universal human experience, and Christ experiences it with us and for us.” (Emerson, p57)

 

Typical Roman Catholic view – Emerson, p87

 

Calvin argued that Christ experienced hell on the cross for sinners (see Emerson, p91f).

This is of course true, but Calvin is novel in thinking this is what the Creed means by saying Christ descended to Hades.

Institutes, vol 1, p511ff

The order of the creed is very odd if this is what it means since it affirms that Christ died, was buried and descended to the dead

 

The Heidelberg Catechism Question 44:

 

44. Q. Why is there added: He descended into hell?

A. In my greatest sorrows and temptations I may be assured and comforted that my Lord Jesus Christ, by His unspeakable anguish, pain, terror, and agony, which He endured throughout all His sufferings [1] but especially on the cross, has delivered me from the anguish and torment of hell.[2]

[1] Ps. 18:5, 6; 116:3; Matt. 26:36-46; 27:45, 46; Heb. 5:7-10. [2] Is. 53.

 

The Thirty-Nine Articles – Article 3:

 

The Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 27

 

Q. 27. Wherein did Christ’s humiliation consist?

 

A. Christ’s humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition [a], made under the law [b], undergoing the miseries of this life [c], the wrath of God [d], and the cursed death of the cross [e]; in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time. [f]

[a]. Luke 2:72 Cor. 8:9Gal. 4:4

[b]. Gal. 4:4

[c]. Isa. 53:3Luke 9:58John 4:611:35Heb. 2:18

[d]. Ps. 22:1 (Matt. 27:46); Isa. 53:101 John 2:2

[e]. Gal. 3:13Phil. 2:8

[f]. Matt. 12:401 Cor. 15:3-4

 

The Westminster Larger Catechism Question 50

 

Q50: Wherein consisted Christ’s humiliation after his death?

 

A50: Christ’s humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried,[1] and continuing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death till the third day;[2] which hath been otherwise expressed in these words, he descended into hell.

 

1. I Cor. 15:3-4
2. 
Psa. 16:10Acts 2:24-2731Rom. 6:9Matt. 12:40

 

Summary Emerson, p99ff, 102, esp. 103