29 March 2024

Aunt Marie will be shown the way


My Aunt Marie passed away two days ago. Because that was the Wednesday of Holy Week, Marie must wait until Tuesday for her funeral. Of course, this is a path we will all travel.

But it occurs to me that Marie has received an amazing gift. In between her passing and her funeral, we will commemorate the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday.

As I write this, I have just returned from a Good Friday service at which we remembered the death of Jesus as the apostles and disciples looked on. They followers of Jesus then locked their doors with only faith and hope in something almost beyond belief.

Now in 2024, on Sunday we will be reminded of how the faith and hope of Jesus' followers was rewarded. Of course, in these crazy modern times, a lot can happen in two days. Come next Tuesday, will the Holy Spirit assure me that the risen Jesus found the path and showed Marie the way? Do my faith and hope really satisfy me today?

But wait, I have more than faith and hope. 1 Corinthians 13 tells me I also have the surpassing love of God (and the love of Aunt Marie, for that matter). "And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love." I believe Marie is gonna make it!

Risen, indeed.

18 March 2024

Anointing, theophany and fulfillment, oh my!


God privately told Samuel, the revered nazirite priest, that David is the one to anoint as the future king. "The Lord said, 'Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.' (1 Sam 16:12). Admittedly, this is not a glorious theophany, but it is presented as a direct communication from God. David had been tending to the sheep (in the wilderness). Samuel then anointed David. "Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward." (1 Sam 16:13). David is revered as the greatest king, with whom God makes a covenant to continue David's line. This "Davidic covenant" is the beginning of the hope for a messiah. "Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever." (2 Sam 7:16).

Isaiah refers back to this anointing and life of David. "A voice cries out: 'In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God." (Is 40.3).

At the beginning of Jesus' ministry on earth, Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and a theophany occurred. "Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, 'I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?' But Jesus answered him, 'Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.' Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, 'This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.'" (Mt 13-17).

Many New Testament verses point back to prior Scripture. The Jesus story in general is a Creation story, and Jesus fulfilled the messianic, Davidic covenant. So, when something really important happens, I wonder what old pattern is being repeated, or as we Christians like to say, "fulfilled".

After Jesus' entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday, as we call it today), Jewish leaders were hatching plots against Jesus, and Jesus' followers were nervous. As Jesus spoke to his followers, a theophany occurred, "'Father, glorify your name.' Then a voice came from heaven, 'I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.' The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, 'An angel has spoken to him.'" (Jn 20:28-29).

A theophany occurred, unaccompanied by an anointing by a human. When God promised to glorify God's name, the glorification would occur by exposing the divine nature of Jesus through the upcoming resurrection. Episcopalians accept two two dogmas: "the doctrine of the Holy Triadic Unity as the proper doctrine of God, and the doctrine of two natures in one hypostasis of our Lord Jesus Christ." [Education for Ministry, Reading and Reflection Guide, 2023-24, p.121]. Therefore, I am looking for the anointing of the divine nature of Jesus. John the B anointed the human nature of Jesus. While one could argue that God is monotheistic and John's one anointing is enough, I argue that the Holy Triadic Unity is pretty mysterious, and that it's reasonable to look for a second anointing.

My opinion is that this anointing happened at the empty tomb and immediately afterwards. Consider that it is well accepted that the ascension of Jesus after the resurrection is a fulfillment of, "The Lord says to my lord, 'Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.' (Ps 110:1).

I argue that Mary Magdalene fulfilled the following Scripture verses by encountering Jesus and announcing this to the others:

Ps 40:1-3
"I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord."

Ps 40:9
"I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; see, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord."

Ps 110:3
"Your people will offer themselves willingly on the day you lead your forces in holy splendor. From the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will come to you."

Here are the relevant Gospel verses:

Mt 28:1,10
"After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. Then Jesus said to them, 'Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.'"

Mk 16:1-2,7
"When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb." They are told, "'But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.'"

Lk 23:55-56, Luke 24:1,8
"The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment. But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest."

Jn 20:1-2
"Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, 'They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.'"

No human could physically anoint the divine Jesus, but Mary Magdalene came so close that Jesus denied her. "Jesus said to her, 'Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father.'" (Jn 20:17).

As an aside, Jesus later invited Thomas to touch him. I wonder what Mary M would have felt if she had been in that room, having been denied the opportunity to hold Jesus at the tomb, regardless of whatever Jesus meant by ascension.

02 March 2024

Why talk about Mary at all?


What if we didn't know who gave birth to Jesus? Would the Sermon on the Mount be different if Jesus was not born of a virgin? After all, Mary isn't mentioned often; after the crucifixion she gets only a tiny mention in Acts 1.

However, let's look at the way Jesus fulfills Scripture. When Jesus says "destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days" (John 2), he is specifically referring to the exile of the Hebrews from Jerusalem to Babylon (Jeremiah, Isaiah, etc.). The Hebrews, according to these prophets, had fallen away from God, suffered a metaphorical death with the destruction of the Jerusalem temple and exile to Babylon, and enjoyed a restoration when allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. Note that the events in the exile story parallel events in the Exodus story, and they both refer back to the Genesis 1 creation story. When Jesus is resurrected, we say he has "fulfilled" Scripture, in this case the exile story. Don't get distracted by thinking that Isaiah predicted the crucifixion; Isaiah was writing about the exile of his own time period, 500+ years earlier.

I will get to the "Mary" question; I just wanted to give an example of what I think it means to "fulfill" Scripture.

In Matthew 1, the genealogy of Jesus shows that Jesus is descended from King David, a critical character of the Hebrew Bible, through Joseph the carpenter. In 2 Samuel 7, God makes a covenant with David; the Davidic line will continue. This is the beginning of the belief in a messiah. If Jesus is descended from David, we have the first evidence that Jesus could fulfill the Davidic covenant. It is known to Matthew that Joseph is not the biological father, but from a fulfillment perspective, this is not a showstopper. As far as the canon is concerned, Jesus is a human who can restore the Davidic line.

Where did David come from? In fact, the mother of David is not named in the Hebrew Bible. In 1 Samuel, the barren woman Hannah prays really hard, promises to dedicate any son she might bear to the service of God, and then bears a son, Samuel. Specifically, Samuel is a nazirite who doesn't cut his hair; another nazirite is Samson, remember the importance of Samson's hair? Hannah sings a song in 1 Samuel 2 which begins, "My heart exults in the Lord". Samuel grows up to become the high priest who "anoints" the young David to become the next king.

In Luke 1, Elizabeth is a barren woman who surprisingly conceives and gives birth to a nazirite son, who we know as John the Baptist. Mary is a virgin who conceives through the power of the Holy Spirit and gives birth to Jesus. Mary sings a song in Luke 1 that begins, "My soul magnifies the Lord". Hannah's song is indeed the model for the Magnificat. In the Jesus story, we have a barren woman who conceives, a conception through the Holy Spirit, a song, a nazirite, and genealogical research showing David. Mary helps to show how the Jesus story fulfills the messianic covenant. Without Mary, Elizabeth and John the B, the genealogy is a simple coincidence.

I do not mean to suggest that the Gospelists concocted a story to ensure the fulfillment. Either the Mary/Elizabeth/John connection was learned and then it was up to Matthew to do the genealogical research, or vice versa, and the pieces of the historical puzzle were all in place to show the fulfillment of Scripture. There is no record of how the Gospelists learned the details of Jesus' birth.

Again, Mary's role after the birth of Jesus is rather inconsequential. The same is true for Hannah. Certainly, Mary was tasked with raising the messiah, and the appearance of the young Jesus at the temple (Luke 2) resembles the anointing of the young David (1 Samuel 16), but the Bible doesn't give us many details about the relationship between Mary and Jesus, and Joseph disappears after the Luke 2 event. As a final comment, give Hannah credit; way back in 1 Samuel, she starts the fall of the dominoes that leads to Jesus' fulfillment of the Davidic covenant.

The wind over the waters REVISITED

Back in my first blog post I noted that my NRSV translation of Genesis 1:2 provides an alternative translation for  "wind from God&qu...