June 30, 2013

Fouth of July and Gettysburg

It's hard to believe that 150 years ago this nation was locked in a fierce battle for survival vs. division. On July 1-3, 1863 one of the worsts battles of that war was fought at Gettysburg. General Lee of the South, fresh from victory at Chancellorsville, VA confronted the Northern forces under Maj. Gen. George Gordon Meade. On the third day of the battle Lee attempted a final rout of the Union troops against the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge (an assault known as Pickett’s Charge). Repulsed, with great loss, by the Union forces, Lee was forced to retreat to Virginia and ultimately give up his goal of taking the war to the North.

The two armies together suffered at least 50,000 casualties (killed, injured, captured, and missing). The Union loses were counted at 23,055 (over 3,000 killed, 14,000 injured, and the rest missing or captured). Confederate casualties are estimated at around 28,000, including several of Lee’s top generals. The dead, lying in the hot July sun, had to be buried swiftly by the people of Gettysburg. It was not until nearly 5 months later that a grave site was dedicated after Union soldiers were reburied in the newly constructed National Cemetery at Gettysburg. The committee invited the President to speak, almost as an afterthought, saying, “It is the desire that, after the Oration, you, as Chief Executive of the nation, formally set apart these grounds to their sacred use by a few appropriate remarks.”

History records that President Abraham Lincoln jotted down the speech on an envelope on his way to the battlefield turned graveyard. He spoke for just a couple of minutes after a 2 hour (!) oration by Edward Everett, a famous speaker.

When I was in 2nd or 3rd grade, I learned the Gettysburg Address, just for fun. The teacher was so impressed that she made me go around to all the other classes and recite the speech. Lincoln's words still resonate with me and perhaps with you too.

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Lincoln’s words were met with mixed reactions that were divided along party lines. (sound familiar?) The Democratic-leaning Chicago Times called it "silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States." The Springfield Republican (Massachusetts) called it "a perfect gem…deep in feeling…"

Despite the criticisms, the Gettysburg Address does remain a call to action for all Americans. What Lincoln said about the dead of Gettysburg can be said of all the brave military men and women lost in every conflict throughout the history of this nation. We must remember the past so that these “dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
May you have fun this 4th of July, while remembering the cost to give and maintain the freedoms we sometimes take for granted. Only 87 years before Lincoln spoke, the United States was born. Men and women for generations before and since have bled and died so that the nation “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” might grow and prosper. Let us remember that equality, under God, is not something to be taken lightly but to be shared generously and fearlessly.

June 23, 2013

Holy Bridegroom is Lord

In our ongoing chat about the Holy Bridegroom and our relationship as bride, we are looking at bride and bridegroom images in the New Testament. Are there specific citations that jump into your mind about Bride or Bridegroom in the Gospels or Epistles? There is the Wedding at Canaan (John 2). There is the story of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids waiting for the Bridegroom (Matthew 25:1-10). In Revelation, the Church is symbolized as a Bride “prepared for her husband” and as the “wife of the Lamb.”

In Matthew 9:15, Mark 2:19-20 and Luke 5:34-35, Jesus refers to himself as the Bridegroom when he says, "How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” Similarly in John 3:29, John the Baptism points to Jesus and says, “The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.”

Weddings were then, and still are, joyful occasions. The celebration often lasted a week. That is why it was such a problem when the wine ran out too soon during the wedding in Cana (John 2). It was a social faux pas for the food or drink to run out before the celebration was over. Luckily, Mary asked Jesus to help out with the situation. (Some speculate that the bride or groom were family members, but there is no proof one way or the other.) Even though Jesus did not want to start his ministry in such a way, he does as his mother asks and the steward was amazed "You have kept the good wine until now."
A Jewish husband was given the title of ‘lord’, not ‘master’ of the household. The title ‘Lord’ implies head of the house, leader of the family or tribe not overbearing power. The shame of failing to provide enough would have been on this groom and on the family. He would have had a hard time living it down. Jesus, in taking up his role as head of the 'Household of God' provides the necessary wine.

It is interesting that Jesus in all the Gospels is referred to as the Bridegroom. As we saw last week, we (humanity) were chosen by God as bride for the Holy Bridegroom. In the Gospels Jesus emphasizes that relationship, himself. He accepts the role of ‘lord’ of the household as the Bridegroom. Part of that role is protection of the family. He hints at that when he notes, “time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them…”

Because we are a Resurrection people, we know that the Holy Bridegroom DID step in and redeem us by his own death. And because we are an Easter people, we believe that he made a ‘full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice and offering’ as the old (1928 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer) Eucharistic prayer says. The bride (we) was rescued and redeemed by the actions of the Holy Bridegroom.

The Book of Revelation carries the analogy to the natural conclusion by calling the entire Church the Bride of Christ. Revelation 19:7 says “For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.” Two chapters later (Revelation 21:2), John says, “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” At the very end of the Bible, we hear the glorious invitation where “the Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let the one who hears say, "Come!" Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” (Revelation 22:17) The bride, we as the gathered Church, are finally united with the Holy Bridegroom to welcome all creation!

In our role as the bride, living today, let us remember that we owe allegiance to our Lord, the One who protects, cares for, guides, provides, and most importantly Loves each of us!

In July, we’ll consider the steps between being chosen and becoming a bride.

June 16, 2013

Holy Bridegroom-Bone of my Bone, Flesh of My Flesh

We are in the midst of a meditation on being brides of the Holy Bridegroom. Last time we looked at how brides were chosen, until fairly recently, as a means to improve and carry on the lineage of a family/tribe.

We are brides for the Holy Bridegroom, chosen by God the Father, in order to bear fruit for the Family line. In the last blog, a few of the Old Testament brides were noted and their stories are certainly informative. Let’s look at one Old Testament bride, though and what she could teach us about how to live faith-full lives.
The very first Bride was Eve, specially created and chosen by God for Adam. This picture is from the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo depicts Eve as worshiping God after she is created from Adam's rib. “This is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh,” says Adam. (Genesis 2:23). Isn’t this what we should be in relation to our Holy Bridegroom? What might it mean to be ‘bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh’ with the Holy One?

Bones form the support and structure of a human or other vertebrate. What forms that support structure of our relationship with one another and with God? The very backbone of our relationship with the Holy Bridegroom is that we were Chosen by God. John 3:16-17 says, For God so loved the world (and that means each of us) that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” God CHOSE to redeem us-each and every one. Like the dutiful brides of old, we did not decide we wanted to be betrothed and joined to the Holy Bridegroom. Instead, we were chosen for and by God!

If God’s loving choice of us is the backbone of our relationship, then what is the flesh on those bones? Is it not Love? The Love Jesus tells his disciples about in John 15:12-17:My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.” Again we are reminded that we are CHOSEN-chosen to love and be loved.

This is the Love that the Holy Bridegroom has for the bride. Love that chooses relationship over service and Love that lays down life! Because of the Love, we are to ‘bear fruit that will last’. And how do we do that? The answer is found in 1 Corinthians 13:13 where we are told that “Faith, Hope, and Love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

We are chosen, not because we are perfect, but because we are loved. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:39). We are chosen, not because we are special, but because we are loved. Like Ruth and Rahab, we were outside the tribal lineage, but chosen for the Holy Bridegroom. Rahab, a Canaanite woman, whose action of faith saved the Hebrew spies before the siege of Jericho, gained a place in the lineage of Israel by marriage to Salma. Ruth, a Moabite widow, was welcomed into the heritage by her faithful love of her mother-in-law Naomi and became great-grandmother of King David. Their lives showed that they were of the holy lineage, even if their bloodlines didn’t. Our lives should also show our lineage and our connection to the Holy Bridegroom.

We are chosen as bride by Grace to share in the bone and flesh of the Holy Bridegroom! “Through [our Lord Jesus Christ] we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” (Romans 5:2) By being chosen as bride, we become bone of bone and flesh of flesh with the Holy Bridegroom. Like Eve, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Leah, Ruth, Rahab and the rest chosen as brides to bear the lineage, we are chosen.
Being chosen as bride of the Holy Bridegroom is a responsibility. We are called by Christ to “Love one another” and to “bear fruit that will last”. Because we are the bride, and have access to the Holy Bridegroom, we have the responsibility to “share the glory of God” not with “tongues of men and of angels…prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge…faith so as to remove mountains…,” (1 Corinthians 13:1-5) but rather with Love as outlined by the life of our Lord. Love spelled out in 1 Corinthians 13, which is patient, kind, sympathetic, selfless, endless, caring...

As a chosen bride, as flesh and bone of the Holy Bridegroom, we are free to be all that God created us to be! Isn’t that exciting!
Next time we’ll glance at the story of one bride in the New Testament.

June 9, 2013

Chosen as Bride

Welcome the current blog series where we are exploring images of the Bridegroom and Bride in scripture and how that could inspire us to live more fully as bride or spouse for the Holy Bridegroom. This time we are considering the aspect of Being Chosen as the ‘help meet’, to use old language.

In Biblical times, and still in some cultures today brides and grooms had very little choice in who they married. Our modern, ‘Western’ sensibilities are probably offended by that idea. Aren’t we supposed to ‘fall in love’? Don’t all girls want and expect a ‘knight in shining armor’? Some have suggested that the idea of romantic love is a construct built on the idea of chivalry, which at its core could be considered truly a search for the Holy Bridegroom in all.
Recently, my husband has become an avid viewer of the series Merlin on Netflix. The series is based, as you would imagine, in the time of Arthur before he was king. It’s made me look into Arthur and Camelot history and reality vs. legend. Apparently the ‘real’ Arthur was not the medieval king of knights and ladies faire but a Celtic chieftain. It was thanks to Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur and Idylls of the King by Tennyson and that the image of chivalry, romantic love, and gallantry emerged.

Indeed, up until fairly recently, parents, esp. fathers had a much greater say in who married who. The union of man and woman in marriage was often a business proposition for the betterment of the tribe and family. Families looked for a strong son-in-law to work the farm, a sturdy maiden to bear sons, an alliance with a neighboring lord to improve the strength of the holding, etc.
Back to the Bible. You don’t have to look far to find that the Biblical patriarchs also sought to build up the tribal unit. Marrying within the family line was important in maintaining tribal purity for all ancient peoples. Abraham sent his servant back to his home town of Haran to find a wife ‘from my relatives.’ (Genesis 24:4) Rather than allow Isaac to wed just any girl he fancied from the Canaanites, Abraham wanted to maintain tribal integrity with a girl from the same lineage.

The same thing happens years later when it is time for the sons of Isaac and Rebekah to find wives. Esau marries a Hittite woman. Rebekah uses that as an excuse to send Jacob safely away from his brother's jealousy. (Genesis 21:46). Only then does Esau marry someone of his great-grandfather’s lineage: Mahalath, daughter of Ishmael. (Genesis 28:9) Meanwhile, in Haran, Jacob falls in love with Rachel but ends up marrying her older sister Leah first because of the marriage laws and customs. From their children, the 12 tribes of Israel are descended.
Throughout scripture God refers to the people of Israel as chosen, in relationship similar to choosing a bride. Psalm 135:4 says, “the Lord has chosen Jacob for himself, Israel as his treasured possession” (or beloved bride). Isaiah 42:1 is repeated in Matthew 12:18. “Behold my servant, who I uphold, my chosen/beloved, in whom my soul delights.” Peter echoes the sentiment, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.” (I Peter 2:9)

The prophet Jeremiah uses the bride image openly. “’Return, faithless people,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I am your husband, I will chose you…’” (Jeremiah 3:14 NIV). Of course the imagery in Hosea is that of God choosing to take back even the faithless bride. (Hosea 1-2). The metaphor continues in the New Testament when Jesus tells his disciples, “You did not choose me, I chose you.” (John 13:16)
Like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had brides that were chosen for them, the Father chose you and me (male and female) as the bride for the Holy Bridegroom. You and I are chosen as the perfect one to continue the family lineage. I think that is pretty awesome. Paul gives the Colossians a recipe for living out the relationship, “as God’s chosen…holy and dearly loved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” (Colossians 3:12) We are chosen and betrothed and wed to the Holy Bridegroom who will never leave us or forsake us (no matter what we do)!

Next week we’ll look more closely at one Old Testament bride.

June 2, 2013

Holy Bridegroom Intro

A familiar image of Christ is as the Bridegroom to the Church, His Bride. During Holy Week it occurred to me that we are individually Chosen, Betrothed, Redeemed to be the Bride of Christ. This inspired me to start considering the aspects of brides and bridegrooms, especially in Scripture. As I read various citations, I realized that there is a subtheme of choosing/being chosen and of redeeming/redeemed in the saga of brides in the Bible.

The deeper I dug, the more intrigued I became with the image of Christ as Bridegroom to our souls. I am certainly not the first to take this route of study, as I learned in skimming through internet articles. Over the next few weeks, I will share some of my thoughts as well as a few insights from other writers about how the metaphor of Bride/Bridegroom plays out through scripture and culminates in Christ and the Church and you and me.

Early on, I started considering aspects of a ‘perfect’ bridegroom. What characteristics would such a man have? I found answers in the words of St. Patrick’s Breastplate. Written in 1889 by Cecil Alexander for H.H. Dickinson, Dean of the Chapel Royal at Dublin Castle, Alexander used a Gaelic poem, “St. Patrick’s Lorica”. (Interestingly Cecil was a woman.)

Lorica is the Latin word for all kinds of breastplate armor. St. Paul advises putting on the ‘breastplate of righteousness’ (Ephesians 6:14) and in that context lorica has come to take on the meaning of a prayer of protection. Knights of old had loricas inscribed on or inserted into their breastplates as protection. In some traditions, the lorica prayer has come to be used as an invocation against danger and sickness and even as a guarantee into heaven. There are other lorica style hymns like Be Thou My Vision but St. Patrick’s Breastplate is perhaps the best known. (If you’d like to hear the whole hymn, watch this video.
It is in the 4th Verse that I found some characteristics of the Holy Bridegroom:
I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard

Interestingly, these aspects could also be characteristics of the Holy Spirit, but that’s perhaps a topic for another time. The Holy Bridegroom is one who leads, watches, holds, listens, is wise and teaches, guides and protects, guards, and gives speech. It is likely that few human grooms fit into all those categories, but let’s consider why these are important for the Holy Bridegroom.
The Holy Bridegroom, unlike human grooms, provides all we need in the way of guidance and provision and protection. The Holy Bridegroom leads us in the way we should go (Ps. 24:4-5, Ps. 119:35, Ps. 23:3 and others). At the same time, the Holy Bridegroom teaches us (Ps. 119:33-34) all that we need. Hebrews 8: 11 echoes what is said in Jeremiah 31 that “they shall not teach everyone his neighbor…saying ‘know the Lord,’ for all shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” For now in Christ, the Holy Bridegroom is our teacher, just as Christ went from place to place teaching during his ministry.

The image of God as shield is used many times in scripture. From Genesis 15:1 where God tells Abram “Fear not, I am your shield and your reward shall be very great” to the Psalms and Proverbs (Prov. 30:5). As we saw above, St. Paul suggests not only the breastplate of righteousness, but “in addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (Ephesians 6:16) A shield protects the bearer from objects being thrown at you. In the same way, the Holy Bridegroom stands between the bride and all dangers.

Our Holy Bridegroom is not only a shield, but an active protector who guards us. Psalm 91 is all about the ways that God protects and guards the one who “dwells in the shelter of the Most High”. In the New Testament, St. Paul (again) says, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” (I Corinthians 16:13-14) Indeed part of the protection of the Holy Bridegroom is the loving holding of us when we are sad, or ill, or grieving. Ps. 23 is always a reminder that “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…you are with me…you prepare a table in the presence of my enemies.” Psalm 139 examines all the ways God, the Holy Bridegroom, holds us safe. “You know me when I sit down and when I rise up…where can I go from your Spirit…you formed my inmost parts and knit me together in my mother’s womb…”

This leads to the empowering of the Holy Bridegroom who gives us speech and “hearkens to my need.” Remember in Exodus that God tells Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Genesis 3:14) When Moses argues “I am not eloquent…I am slow of speech and of tongue.” God is not dissuaded but says, “Now go; I will be with your mouth, and teach you what you shall speak.” (Genesis 4:10-12). Moses continues to argue until God ‘hearkens’ and agrees “Aaron, your brother…can speak well…I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you what you shall do.” (Genesis 4:14-15). God still gives us the ability to speak the words of God. At Pentecost the disciples were given the ability “to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” so that all could hear the mighty acts of Easter. Speaking for God does have to be done carefully and while listening to the Holy Bridegroom. We are warned in I Corinthians 13:1 that “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal…”
Over the next weeks, this blog will look at how and why brides were ‘chosen’ and how that relates to us being chosen as a holy priesthood, a new nation, a bride for Christ/God. We’ll explore the differences between a betrothal and an engagement. How might the vows exchanged relate to our own baptismal and/or confirmation promises? What about the aspect of redeeming the bride, even if unfaithful, as seen in Hosea? Naturally that must relate to Christ’s redeeming work on the Cross. Following naturally from all this talk of brides and bridegrooms is consideration of marriage both in the Old and New Testaments and now. Also we’ll consider the roles of women and men and how our perception of the ‘downtrodden’ woman may be a bit skewed. Finally, are there any images in the mystics that relate to Brides or Bridegrooms or Marriage?

Join me on this journey to discover how we can live as a holy bride for the Holy Bridegroom.