Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Snakes & All Live

Tuesday, March 25 -- Tuesday in Holy Week
(Note: The Feast of the Annunciation is transferred to April 1)

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, page 959)
Psalms 103 (morning) 111, 114 (evening)
Exodus 12:28-39
1 Corinthians 15:12-28
Mark 16:9-20

Today we get to read "The Longer Ending of Mark," a passage that does not appear in most of the ancient sources. It is likely that sometime in the second century, some Christian scholars who were troubled by the abrupt ending of Mark's gospel composed another ending, drawing on scenes from the other gospels. It is significant that this tradition retains the primacy of Mary Magdalene as the first witness to the resurrection. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition she is celebrated as the First Apostle and given the title "Equal to the Apostles."

This "Longer Ending" also is the source of the practice of snake handling and of drinking water laced with strychnine, arsenic or other poisons, mostly in Pentecostal holiness churches. Verse 17 reads: "And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover." Luke 10:19 also says, "Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you." For some, these have been important texts for confirming their faith in Jesus.

It makes me wonder. How different might my life and my faith have been had I been raised in a family with such practices? I was raised in an Episcopalian household, and I know that influenced me profoundly in the direction of my own spiritual temperament. I've met so many people who have come to the Episcopal Church after having been traumatized by their earlier religious experiences. I also know a few people who found that our quieter, more understated style of religious expression was not fulfilling for them and discovered new life and energy in the more dramatic piety of Pentecostal faith or found comfort in the more certain, absolute beliefs of literal or fundamentalist traditions.

We are deeply formed by our early experiences. Our religious origins create powerful foundations, and they also create needs for further healing and growth.

I don't have a good transition here, but it strikes me as we read from Paul's powerful chapter 15 of First Corinthians that there is a thrilling proclamation of the total triumph of Jesus. Paul says poetically, "for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ." Paul is picking up an ancient tradition that says that death is the penalty of Adam's sin, a penalty that affects every human being. All die. But the triumph of Jesus completely reverses that penalty, "so all will be made alive in Christ." All live.

My own experience of the glory and wonder and power of God in Christ has the same kind of fullness that Paul expresses. It seems impossible to me that anyone or anything can escape the immeasurable love of God. It seems hard to imagine that God will fail, or that anyone could resist the wonder of God's love forever. I join Paul in that confidence that in Christ, ALL will be made alive. Alleluia!


Audio podcast: Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week. Click the following link:
Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at www.missionstclare.com
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html

Discussion Blog: To comment on today's reflection or readings, go to http://lowellsblog.blogspot.com, or click here for Lowell's blog find today's reading, click "comment" at the bottom of the reading, and post your thoughts.

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

Our Rule of Life:
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 10:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Coming to know the Lord in 1974 but not really understanding anything about it I pretty much put Jesus on the shelf until later. Then in the 80's I met other Christians and went to an Assembly of God church a few times and in one of the spirited sermons the preacher repeated several times in a row at a fever pitch that "Jesus was alive, Jesus was alive". Somehow at that point I "got it" and my whole life was transformed. So I can testify now like Paul that all will be made alive in Christ. Amen.

At 7:51 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Yes, it is often in a moment of great passion and drama that things break loose and become unblocked, allowing the Spirit to pour into our lives with new reality. In our church, some people have found the renewal program Cursillo to be a way to allow emotions to help us access the Spirit.

Sometimes there develops a crisis if we continue to need an emotional high or excited fix in order to feel like we are growing or remaining close to Christ. I know that is the purpose of some forms of corporate worship. That doesn't work for me, though. I find my deepest felt experience of Christ to be in moments of quiet or deep reflection rather than the louder emotional venues. I've seen someone call this the temperamental differences between "summer" Christians and "winter" Christians -- both legitimate.


At 9:19 AM, Anonymous James Snapp, Jr. said...

Greetings Lowell,

About Mark 16:9-20 ~

(1) This passage *does* appear in most of the ancient sources that contain Mark 16.

(2) It was not written in the second century to end the Gospel of Mark.

(3) It contains plenty of material that is not paralleled in the other Gospels, such as the statement that the disciples did not believe Mary Magdalene's report that she had seen Jesus -- a detail which is not in the other Gospels and which is not suggested by them.

(4) The practices of snake-handling and poison-drinking should be attributed to poor interpretations, not to the text itself.

(5) As far as I know, snake-handling is not promoted in Pentecostal Holiness churches as a whole; these practices are promoted in a particular group called the Church of God With Signs Following.

I welcome you to visit an online presentation which I have made about this passage and its exceptionally early and widespread support. It begins at www.curtisvillechristian.org/MarkOne.html

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.


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