Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?

What follows are the Collects and Readings for the Mass of the Five Wounds. This Mass became very popular in the late 15th and early 16th centuries and it was claimed that if five Masses of the Wounds were said for the soul of the departed, that person's soul would be released from Purgatory. Therefore many testators specified such votive Masses in their wills.

The Five Wounds embroidered
on a late-medieval burse

O God, who by the passion of thine only-begotten Son, and the shedding of his blood through his five wounds, hast renewed the nature of man that was ruined through sin; grant to us, we beseech thee, that as we venerate on earth the wounds that he received, so we may deserve to obtain the fruit of the same precious blood in heaven. Through the same thy Son Jesus Christ who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

O Lord Jesus Christ, who camest down to earth from the bosom of thy heavenly Father, and hast washed away our sins by shedding thy precious blood and enduring the five wounds on the tree of the Cross; we beseech thee, that on the day of judgment, we may be found worthy to hear those words, Come, you blessed, Who with the Father and the Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Epistle: Zechariah 13:1-6

In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness. And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord of hosts, that I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land, and they shall no more be remembered: and also I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land. And it shall come to pass, that when any shall yet prophesy, then his father and his mother that begat him shall say unto him, Thou shalt not live; for thou speakest lies in the name of the Lord: and his father and his mother that begat him shall thrust him through when he prophesieth. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the prophets shall be ashamed every one of his vision, when he hath prophesied; neither shall they wear a rough garment to deceive: But he shall say, I am no prophet, I am an husbandman; for man taught me to keep cattle from my youth. And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.

The Gospel: John 19:28-37

After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost. The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe. For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken. And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced.

The Imago Pietatis
15th century

It was the Roose of the bloody feeld,
Roose of Iericho that greuh in Beedlem:
The five Roosys portrayed in the sheeld,
Splayed in the baneer at Ierusalem.
The sonne was clips and dirk in euery rem
Whan Christ Ihesu five wellys lyst vncloose
Toward Paradys, callyd the rede strem,
Of whos five woundys prent in your hert a roos.

It was the Rose of the bloody field,
Rose of Jericho that grew in Bethlehem:
The five Roses portrayed in the shield,
Splayed in the banner at Jerusalem.
The sun was eclipsed in every realm
When Christ Jesus' five wells last unclosed,
Towards Paradise, called the red stream,
Of whose five wounds print in your heart a Rose.

--- John Lydgate, from 'The Mydsomer Rose'

Friday, September 26, 2014

My Song Is Love Unknown, Samuel Crossman (1664)

My song is love unknown,
My Saviour’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I,
That for my sake
My Lord should take
Frail flesh and die?

He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed-for Christ would know:
But O! my Friend,
My Friend indeed,
Who at my need
His life did spend.

Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
Then “Crucify!”
Is all their breath,
And for His death
They thirst and cry.

Why, what hath my Lord done?
What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run,
He gave the blind their sight,
Sweet injuries!
Yet they at these
Themselves displease,
And ’gainst Him rise.

They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save,
The Prince of life they slay,
Yet cheerful He
To suffering goes,
That He His foes
From thence might free.

In life no house, no home,
My Lord on earth might have;
In death no friendly tomb,
But what a stranger gave.
What may I say?
Heav'n was his home;
But mine the tomb
Wherein he lay.

Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend,
In Whose sweet praise
I all my days
Could gladly spend.

Christ of Pity
supported by a
cherub and a seraph
Andrea Mantegna

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Homily for Holy Cross Day, preached at St Paul's, Camden Square, London

Christ humbled himself that he might be lifted up- and we with him.

This is the lesson of today’s feast, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Let’s keep hold of it as we trace the story of God’s redemption through today’s readings. In our first lesson, we find ourselves in the wilderness with the Israelites. Tired and thirsty and hungry, they grumble against God and against Moses. As punishment they are tormented by poisonous serpents.

It was the serpent who tempted Eve in the garden and led her and Adam to sin against God. The serpents in the wilderness recall that time; they remind us of our first parents questioning God and grumbling against him. The serpents also remind us of the darkness in our own hearts, the fears and the pain, those things which make life so very hard. But notice- God hears the cries of his people. He provides a remedy for pain and protection against death.

Moses is told to make a bronze serpent. Isn’t that a strange thing? Yet all who look on it live. The painful bites are healed; those who would have died are saved.

The Israelites didn’t know it but St John says that the bronze serpent was a type of Christ. The healing that came from looking at it, believing that it could heal, foreshadowed the healing and saving power of Jesus Christ. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.

What’s the connection between the bronze serpent and Jesus? What does it mean when two things are alike? The bronze serpent was like the living serpents. It looked similar. However it was made of different stuff and it had a different purpose. Those hissing, slithering serpents brought death; the shining bronze serpent brought life. Here’s what St John means: Even though Jesus looked just like the rest of us there was more to him than his humanity.

In our second lesson St Paul brings it all together. Jesus Christ, equal with God the Father, humbled himself. He came down from heaven and took on the form of a servant. He became man. Jesus, God born of Mary earth, had a true human nature- Deity made in human likeness.

We see in one lesson a bronze serpent made to heal the wounds of living serpents. In the other, we see Jesus Christ, fully man and fully God, born to heal our wounds. Though equal with God, Jesus made himself nothing by becoming like us. Lifted up on the cross, Jesus’ shining divine nature brings life to us when we look on him with faith. One man being made in the likeness- in the image- of others, but with a different purpose.

Jesus walked and talked and ate. He was hungry. He experienced pain. He was angry. Sometimes he was deeply sad. He left his heavenly glory and took up our poverty, our realness, our mess. And with his perfect divinity, he lifted us up with him high on that holy cross in the wilderness outside Jerusalem.

Our pain, our death, remedied in the perfect suffering body of the Son of Man. Our weakness, our guilt, healed and washed away in the glistening sweat of the heavenly human Lord. Our sweet Jesus suffered all that we have suffered and ever will suffer so that we might be healed. He was lifted up in death so that we might be lifted up to new life.

On this feast of the Holy Cross we celebrate the humble Jesus lifted high, like the bronze serpent in the wilderness. Made in our likeness, he has reconciled us to God through his blood. Let us turn in faith to him, worship and adore him and receive at his bleeding hands pardon and peace. ‘We adore you, O Christ, and we bless You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.’ Amen.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

John Owen on the Loveliness of Christ

Christ and the Two Marys
William Holman Hunt

'When the spouse hath gone thus far in the description of him, she concludes all in this general assertion: "He is wholly desirable,—altogether to be desired or beloved." As if she should have said,—"I have thus reckoned up some of the perfections of the creatures (things of most value, price, usefulness, beauty, glory, here below), and compared some of the excellencies of my Beloved unto them. In this way of allegory I can carry things no higher; I find nothing better or more desirable to shadow out and to present his loveliness and desirableness: but, alas! all this comes short of his perfections, beauty, and comeliness; he is all wholly to be desired, to be beloved;" —

Lovely in his person,—in the glorious all-sufficiency of his Deity, gracious purity and holiness of his humanity, authority and majesty, love and power.

Lovely in his birth and incarnation; when he was rich, for our sakes becoming poor,—taking part of flesh and blood, because we partook of the same; being made of a woman, that for us he might be made under the law, even for our sakes.

Lovely in the whole course of his life, and the more than angelical holiness and obedience which, in the depth of poverty and persecution, he exercised therein;—doing good, receiving evil; blessing, and being cursed, reviled, reproached, all his days.

Lovely in his death; yea, therein most lovely to sinners;—never more glorious and desirable than when he came broken, dead, from the cross. Then had he carried all our sins into a land of forgetfulness; then had he made peace and reconciliation for us; then had he procured life and immortality for us.

Lovely in his whole employment, in his great undertaking,—in his life, death, resurrection, ascension; being a mediator between God and us, to recover the glory of God’s justice, and to save our souls,—to bring us to an enjoyment of God, who were set at such an infinite distance from him by sin.

Lovely in the glory and majesty wherewith he is crowned. Now he is set down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; where, though he be terrible to his enemies, yet he is full of mercy, love, and compassion, towards his beloved ones.

Lovely in all those supplies of grace and consolations, in all the dispensations of his Holy Spirit, whereof his saints are made partakers.

Lovely in all the tender care, power, and wisdom, which he exercises in the protection, safe-guarding, and delivery of his church and people, in the midst of all the oppositions and persecutions whereunto they are exposed.

Lovely in all his ordinances, and the whole of that spiritually glorious worship which he hath appointed to his people, whereby they draw nigh and have communion with him and his Father. 

Lovely and glorious in the vengeance he taketh, and will finally execute, upon the stubborn enemies of himself and his people.

Lovely in the pardon he hath purchased and doth dispense,—in the reconciliation he hath established,—in the grace he communicates,—in the consolations he doth administer,—in the peace and joy he gives his saints,—in his assured preservation of them unto glory.

What shall I say? there is no end of his excellencies and desirableness;—"He is altogether lovely. This is our beloved, and this is our friend, O daughters of Jerusalem."'

Sunday, August 10, 2014

East window, Peterhouse College Chapel, Cambridge

The east window of Peterhouse College Chapel, Cambridge is a rare survival from the Chapel’s original 17th-century glazing scheme.

The window depicts a scene of Christ’s Crucifixion- the moment that a Roman solider on horseback, pierced Jesus’ body with a spear bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The design is taken from a painting by Peter Paul Rubens entitled Le Coup de Lance (1620).

Peterhouse College Chapel was built whilst Matthew Wren was College Master, 1625–1634. In order to fund the new chapel Wren appealed to Friends of the Colleges, past members and personal acquaintances. An astonishing £2,365 was collected, although the actual cost of building exceeded this amount. The seven chapel windows were glazed in 1632 'Ornatus fenestrarum sacris histories depingendae' and cost £118. The work began in 1628 and the Chapel was finished in time for its dedication on 17 March 1632.

Under William Dowsing, the carved wooden angels on the Chapel roof and the statues were destroyed along with the six side stained glass windows, also glazed in 1632. Some fragments of old glass remained in the windows after the Civil War.

The Flemish stained glass which filled the east window is thought to have been removed and hidden during the Civil War, thus surviving until the present day.

--- text adapted from Stained Glass, Laudians and Puritans: The Case of Peterhouse College Chapel, Cambridge

Peterhouse Chapel
showing the window
in context

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Value of Guilt

I had occasion this morning to read a very interesting post by Jayson Bradley titled Emotional Bullying: Using Guilt to Lead Kids to God. What struck me as I read was the degree to which I both agreed and disagreed with some of his remarks. Naturally, this led me to meditate on the idea of guilt and its place in the Christian life, particularly private devotion. There is a long history of Christian writers using what Jayson called 'extremely dramatic language, imagery, and metaphors' and I cannot help but think this is both natural and beneficial.

But first, to Jayson's comments. It is obvious that guilt can be used as a weapon. Perhaps even more than in the Church, it happens in families. We're all familiar with the stereotype of the guilt-inducing mother harping on her trying-to-be-dutiful son or daughter. Paul's admonition to parents in Ephesians 6 and Colossians 3 that they not exasperate their children 'lest they become discouraged' certainly applies here. 

In the Church the potential for such discouragement is greatly expanded. Jayson is right; children are very sensitive (and many adults are as well) to the emotional manipulation that can come along with what may be well-intentioned appeals for moral rectitude. It can be tempting to use guilt like a goad, a tool to force the required action. A steady diet of this unquestionably would be damaging, 'creating relational difficulties' and, potentially, resentment and mistrust.

Yet, I wonder if all such appeals to emotion- to the feeling of personal guilt- are misplaced. Perhaps the problem is one of degree. Might we see the value in reminding ourselves that our sins really were the cause of his Passion? 

The popular hymn 'How Deep the Father's Love For Us' makes use of what might, by some, be seen as such an appeal to guilt: 'It was my sin that held him there/Until it was accomplished.' Placed within the context of the rest of the hymn, the line holds out the promise of a personal redemption to cover a personal guilt: 'But this I know with all my heart/His wounds have paid my ransom.' The wounds that came upon Christ because of our sin are the very wounds that save us. Our guilt is real and so is our salvation.

If we look at an older example of the devotional expression of guilt, 'Ah, Mine Heart, Remember Thee Well' we see how the resolution of guilt is to be found in amendment of life.

Ah, mine heart, remember thee well,
And think on the pains that been in hell.

Ah, mine heart, remember me well,
how greatly thou art bound indeed;
Thou thinkest on Him never a deal
That helps thee ever at thy most need.
Alas, for sorrow mine heart doth bleed,
To think how grievously I have offended;
I cry God mercy, I will amend.

With weeping tears most lamentable
To God above I call and cry;
I will ask grace while I am able,
I have offended so grievously;
Me to amend I will me [haste],
For all my life-days I have misspend:
I cry God mercy, I will amend.

But it is not cold amendment of life, virtue apart from personal relationship, that this poem highlights. While the guilt is real- the fear of hell is palpable!- true amendment of life is found only in reconciliation. As Paul says in Colossians 1, 'And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him...'

The legitimate expression of guilt is found in relationship. Jayson remarks of a friend that his sense of personal responsibility for Christ's death 'made him feel mortifying shame.' Well shouldn't it? Does knowing our sins to have caused our beloved Lord such agonies leave us feeling cold?

I am convinced of the value of guilt. The expression of real emotion, of genuine anguish over our sins, has a place in the Christian life. And it is appropriate for God's ministers to remind us from time to time of Christ's Passion undertaken in our place. Bishop Jewel writes,

'Call to mind, O sinful creature, and set before thine eyes Christ crucified. Think thou seest his Body stretched out in length upon the Crosse, his head crowned with sharp thorns, and his hands and his feet pierced with nails, his heart opened with a long spear, his flesh rent and torn with whips, his brows sweating water and blood. Think thou hearest him now crying in an intolerable agony to his Father and saying, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Couldest thou behold this woeful sight, or hear this mournful voice, without tears, considering that he suffered all this, not for any desert of his own, but only for the grievousness of thy sins?'

This hard truth stood on its own could crush us and that, I think, is the value in Jayson's objection to the misuse of guilt. As with any difficult thing, the answer is in the balance. For Jewel later says,

'Therefore (dearly beloved) if we chance at any time through frailty of the flesh, to fall into sin (as it cannot be chosen, but we must needs fall often) and if we feel the heavy burden thereof to press our souls, tormenting us with the fear of death, hell, and damnation, let us then use that mean which God hath appointed in his word, to wit, the mean of faith, which is the only instrument of salvation now left unto vs. Let us steadfastly behold Christ crucified, with the eyes of our heart. Let us only trust to be saved by his death and passion, and to have our sins clean washed away through his most precious blood, that in the end of the world, when he shall come again to judge both the quick and the dead, he may receive us into his heavenly kingdom, and place us in the number of his elect and chosen people, there to be partakers of that immortal and everlasting life, which he hath purchased unto us by virtue of his bloody wounds: To him therefore, with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end, Amen.'

This is the salve to the sting of guilt- the exercise of true and lively faith. Christ's death was for us and still is for us. His merits apply not just to our past actions but those of today and those of tomorrow. His righteousness which is poured out upon us like his blood poured out on the cross assuages that guilt so, while we may feel it at various times in our lives, we are not defined by it nor has it any authority over us. Guilt forgiven by God may legitimately be remembered by the Christian.

Relationships are never easy. Our relationship with our Saviour is perhaps the deepest and most complex relationship we will ever have. We needn't be afraid of our real feelings of guilt. Neither should we be hesitant in expressing them. In fact, we must express them if we are to open ourselves to receiving comfort and forgiveness. There is nothing so awful as guilt felt for guilt.

When guilt arises, let us recognise it, give a place to it, and be willing to receive the free pardon and release of our redemption in Jesus Christ. Having triumphed over the power of our guilt, Our Lord has enabled it to become a nudge to greater gratitude and love.

Lo, man, for thee, that were unkind, 
Gladly suffered I all this. 
And why, good Lord? Express thy mind! 
Thee to purchase both joy and bliss. 
Jesu, mercy, how may this be?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Divine Impassibility

It is a serious mistake to impute any kind of thoughts to God that are cast in the same mold as human passions—as if God possessed a temper subject to involuntary oscillation.

In fact, a moment's reflection will reveal that if God is 'subject to like passions as we are' (cf. James 5:17), His immutability is seriously undermined at every point. If His creatures can literally make Him change His mood by the things they do, then God isn't even truly in control of His own state of mind. If outside influences can force an involuntary change in God's disposition, then what real assurance do we have that His love for us will remain constant? That is precisely why Jeremiah cited God's immutability and impassibility as the main guarantee of His steadfast love for His own: 'It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not' (Lamentations 3:22). God Himself made a similar point in Malachi 3:6: 'For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.'


God is unchanging and unchangeable, but He is not devoid of affection for His creation. His impassibility should never be set against His affections. His immutability does not rule out personal involvement with His creatures. Transcendence isn't incompatible with immanence.

God is not a metaphysical iceberg. While He is never at the mercy of His creatures, neither is He detached from them. His wrath against sin is real and powerful. His compassion for sinners is also sincere and indefatigable. His mercies are truly over all His works. And above all, His eternal love for His people is more real, more powerful, and more enduring than any earthly emotion that ever bore the label 'love.' Unlike human love, God's love is unfailing, unwavering, and eternally constant. That fact alone ought to convince us that God's affections are not like human passions.

--- Phillip R. Johnson, God Without Mood Swings

Christ in Majesty
Master of the Brussels Initials
c. 1400