Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Execution

Tuesday, July 27, 2010 -- Week of Proper 12, Year Two
William Reed Huntington, Priest, 1909
for more about today's observance, click here

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 977)
Psalms 61, 62 (morning)       68:1-20(21-23)24-36 (evening)
Judges 2:1-5, 11-23
Romans 16:17-27
Matthew 27:32-44

Though the disciples have fled in fear, deserting Jesus, a foreigner from Cyrene (modern Libya), is compelled to help Jesus carry his cross.  In Matthew's account, Jesus has no friends at Golgotha.  The crowd jeers.  The bandits crucified with him also taunt him.  There is no "good thief" as in Luke's account.  There is certainly no poignant scene with Jesus entrusting his mother to the beloved disciple as in John's account.  In both Mark and Matthew, Jesus faces his lingering death without support.

This is obviously a political execution.  The Romans allowed no rivals or challengers.  The charge against Jesus is attached to the cross:  "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews."  There could be no king except by Roman authority.  Jesus was executed for treason and rebellion.  The political nature of his death is magnified by the presence of "bandits" sharing his death.  "Bandit" was a word used to describe Jewish Zealots who engaged in guerrilla war against Roman authorities.  We would use the word "terrorists" today.  The Romans identify Jesus as a leader of the Zealots -- a leader of the bandit-terrorists.  The second century Greek philosopher Celsus called Jesus a "bandit" in his work "The True Word," the earliest surviving anti-Christian polemic.

Early Christians continued with many of the political symbols and metaphors that characterized the Jesus movement as being a political movement.  "Jesus is Lord" is a direct challenge to the patriotic civic affirmation that "Caesar is Lord."  Most of the ascriptions of Jesus were taken from the language of civil religion -- "Divine One, Son of God, Savior."  These were all official titles for Caesar.  Jesus' most characteristic focus of his teaching and preaching was his proclamation of "the Kingdom of God" -- what the world would be like if God were king, not Caesar.  In so many deliberate and public ways, Jesus and the earliest Church had a revolutionary political rhetoric.  There were good reasons why Jesus and early Christians were executed as enemies of the state.

Jesus also challenged the contemporary religious authorities.  In many ways Jesus acted as a prophet and reformer of Judaism.  But his attacks on the authorities and the cultic monopoly of the Temple earned him powerful religious enemies.  The passion accounts include events of questioning and torture at the high priest's residence.  There is evidence that such inquisitions happened in the high priest's dungeon.  Matthew has the chief priests joining the taunts of the scribes and elders at the cross.  That is unlikely.  Priests would not risk ritual defilement at a place of death.

The footnote in my bible says that the location of Golgotha (Latin is "Calvaria") -- meaning "place of the skull" -- is an unknown location.  That is true.  But the traditional, legendary location where the Church of the Sepulchre now stands, commemorating both the place of crucifixion and the tomb of the resurrection, has an ancient tradition of veneration.  Some claim that Hadrian built a 2nd century Temple to Aphrodite on top of the site as an insult to Christianity.  It is more likely that the Roman temple was built because of its location at an east-west road junction.  The Christian site was identified by Constantine's mother Helena in the 4th century.

Just a word about today's feast for William Reed Huntington.  Huntington was a great leader of the General Convention and an ecumenist.  Through his efforts, the church affirmed the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1886, 1888 as the foundation for ecumenical dialogue with other Christian bodies.  The Quadrilateral articulates four essentials that define our Anglican identity in conversation with other denominations.  The four points are:
   1. The Holy Scriptures, as containing all things necessary to salvation;
   2. The Creeds (specifically, the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds), as the sufficient statement of Christian faith;
   3. The Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion;
   4. The historic episcopate, locally adapted.
Huntington hoped that these four points would establish "a basis on which approach may be by God's blessing, made toward Home Reunion," particularly with our Roman Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters.  The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral is preserved in the Historical Documents section of the Book of Common Prayer, p. 876-877. 

It seems that today this great beacon of unity is being challenged by some parts of the Anglican Communion which seek to make the exclusion of gay people from the sacraments to be an essential of Anglican identity.



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

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

Visit 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


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