Archive for January 2010

Feast of Johann von Staupitz (November 8)   Leave a comment

Martin Luther’s Spiritual Mentor; died in 1524

Johann von Staupitz, born circa 1460, joined the Augustinian Order in 1485.  In 1500 he became a Doctor of Theology.  Two years later Staupitz became Dean of Theology at the University of Wittenberg, then Vicar-General of the German Congregation of Augustinians the following year.  In 1512 he resigned his professorship and moved to southern Germany.  Eight years later Staupitz resigned as Vicar-General.  In 1522 he joined the Benedictines to become Abbot of St. Peter’s in Salzburg, Austria.

While visiting the Augustinian monstery at Eufurt, Staupitz met a monk named Martin Luther.  From 1505 to Staupitz’s death the two men stayed in contact.  Staupitz heard Brother Martin’s lengthy confessions then counseled Luther regarding grace and encouraged him to pursue an academic career.

When Luther sparked the Reformation with the 95 Theses Staupitz understood Luther’s criticisms as valid critiques of church abuses, not dogma or doctrine.  If Staupitz had been in power in the Roman Catholic Church, the Church would have stopped selling indulgences.  But he was not in church power.  Yet Staupitz criticized the Protestant Reformation as schismatic, for he shunned schism.  Staupitz’s connection with Luther caused suspicion to fall upon him, and Pope Paul IV placed his writings on the Index of forbidden books in 1559.


Almighty God, your Holy Spirit gives to one the word of knowledge, and to another the insight of wisdom, and to another the steadfastness of faith.  We praise you for the gifts of grace imparted to your servant Johann von Staupitz, and we pray that by his teaching we may be led to a fuller knowledge of the truth we have seen in your Son Jesus, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Proverbs 3:1-7 or Wisdom 7:7-14

Psalm 119:89-104

1 Corinthians 2:6-10, 13-16 or 1 Corinthians 3:5-11

John 17:18-23 or Matthew 13:47-52


Feast of Daniel Payne (November 3)   Leave a comment

Historiographer of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (1848-1852); Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (1852-1893); died in 1893

Daniel Payne was born to a free Black family in Charleston, South Carolina, on February 24, 1811, and raised a Methodist.  He opened his first school at age 18, in 1829.  Payne had to close that school six years later because the state had outlawed teaching literacy to slaves and free people of color. (Aside:  South Carolina has been regressive for a very long time–since its founding, I think.)

In May 1835 Payne moved to Pennsylvania, where he converted to Lutheranism.  In Pennsylvania he attended Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg.  He had drop out because of poor eyesight, however.

In 1842 Payne joined the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.  There he provided leadership for the rest of his life.  The AME Church was divided between partisans of order and supporters of emotionalism; Payne sided with the former.  Also, Payne sought to improve the educational levels of the clergymen so they could lead the people  more effectively.  Toward this end he encouraged a liberal arts education for seminarians and believed that ministers must be literate.  And Payne’s reforms concerned church music, too.  He introduced trained choirs and instrumental music to AME congregations.

With the help of representatives from the Methodist Episcopal Church (1784-1939, a forerunner of the present-day United Methodist Church) Payne founded the Wilberforce University in Ohio in 1856.  The purpose of this institution was to promote classical education among African Americans.  Payne served as President from 1863-1877, making him the first African-American college president in the United States.

In 1865 Bishop Payne began to organize AME congregations in the former Confederacy.  Church growth was rapid, but not without complications.  Finding sufficient meeting spaces could be difficult, for example, as was finding enough ministers, given the requirements of literacy and education.

Payne opposed Henry McNeal Turner, a promiment AME bishop, with regard to the “Back to Africa” movement, which Turner, alienated from white-dominated society, supported.  Payne said, however, “To God alone can we look for protection” from racism and Jim Crow segregation.



From 1839:  “Slavery Brutalizes Man,” by Daniel Payne:

In June 1839, Payne delivered the oration at Fordsboro, New York, on the occasion of his ordination by the Franckean Synod of the Lutheran Church. The speech was delivered in support of a synodical report to end slavery in America. The speech helped persuade the synod leadership to support the report. Payne’s speech appeared in the Lutheran Herald and Journal of the Fort Plain, N.Y., Franckean Synod 1:15 (August 1, 1839), 113-14. It is posted here with permission of the Lutheran Theological Seminary, Abdel Ross Wentz Library, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

MR. PRESIDENT: I move the adoption of the Report, because it is based upon the following propositions: American Slavery brutalizes man—destroys his moral agency, and subverts the moral government of God. Sir, I am opposed to slavery, not because it enslaves the black man, but because it enslaves man. And were all the slaveholders in this land men of color, and the slaves white men, I would be as thorough and uncompromising an abolitionist as I now am; for whatever and whenever I may see a being in the form of a man, enslaved by his fellow man, without respect to his complexion, I shall lift up my voice to plead his cause, against all the claims of his proud oppressor; and I shall do it not merely from the sympathy which man feels towards suffering man, but because God, the living God, whom I dare not disobey, has commanded me to open my mouth for the dumb, and to plead the cause of the oppressed.

Slavery brutalizes man. We know that the word man, in its primitive sense, signifies. But the intellectual and moral structure of man, and the august relations which he sustains to the Deity, have thrown around the name, and being designated by it, a halo of glory, brightened by all the ideas, that are ennobling on earth, and blessed in eternity. This being God created but a little lower than the angels, and crowned him with glory and honor; but slavery hurls him down from his elevated position, to the level of brutes, strikes this crown of glory from his head and fastens upon his neck the galling yoke, and compels him to labor like an ox, through summer’s sun and winter’s snow, without remuneration. Does a man take the calf from the cow and sell it to the butcher? So slavery tears the child from the arms of the reluctant mother, and barters it to the soul trader for a young colt, or some other commodity! Does the bird catcher tear away the dove from his mate? So slavery separates the groaning husband from the embraces of his distracted and weeping wife! And are the beasts of the forest hunted, tortured and slain at the pleasure of the cruel hunter? So are the slaves hunted, tortured and slain by the cruel monster slavery! To treat a man like a brute is to brutalize him. We have seen that slavery treats man like a brute, therefore slavery brutalizes man! But does slavery stop here? Is it content with merely treating the external man like a brute? No, sir, it goes further, and with a heart as brazen as that of Belshazzar and hands still more sacrilegious, it lays hold of the immortal mind, seizes the will, and binds that which Jehovah did not bind—fetters that which the Eternal made as free to move and act as the breath of Heaven. “It destroys moral agency!” To destroy moral agency is to fetter or obstruct the will of man. Now let us see if slavery is innocent of this. The very moment that a man conceives the diabolic design of enslaving his brother’s body, that very moment does he also conceive the still more heinous design of fettering his will, for well does he know that in order to make his dominion supreme over the body, he must fetter the living spring of all its motions. Hence, the first lesson the slave is taught is to yield his will unreservedly and exclusively to the dictates of his master. And if a slave desire to educate himself or his children, in obedience to the dictates of reason or the laws of God, he does not, he cannot do it without the consent of his master. Does reason and circumstances and the Bible command a slave to preach the gospel of his brethren? Slavery arises, and with a frown, an oath and a whip, fetters or obstructs the holy volition of his soul! I knew a pious slave in Charleston who was a licensed exhorter in the Methodist Episcopal Church; this good man was in the habit of spending his Saturday nights on the surrounding plantations, preaching to the slaves. One night, as usual, he got into a canoe, sailed upon James’ Island. While in the very act of preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ to dying men, the patrols seized him and whipped him in the most cruel manner, and compelled him to promise that he would never return to preach again to those slaves. In the year 1834, several colored brethren, who were also exhorters in the Methodist Episcopal Church commenced preaching to several destitute white families, who gained a subsistence by cultivating some poor lands about three or four miles from Charleston. The first Sunday I was present; the house was nearly filled with these poor white farmers. The master of the house was awakened to a sense of his lost condition. During the following week he was converted. On the third Sunday from the day he was convinced of sin he died in the triumphs of faith, and went to heaven. On the fourth Sunday from the time the dear brethren began to preach, the patrols scented their tract, and put them to chase. Thus, an end was put to their labors. Their willing souls were fettered, and the poor whites constrained to go without the preaching of the gospel. In a word, it is in view of man’s moral agency that God commands him to shun vice, and practice virtue. But what female slave can do this? I lived twenty-four years in the midst of slavery and never knew but six female slaves who were reputedly virtuous! What profit is to the female slave that she is disposed to be virtuous? Her will, like her body, is not her own; they are both at the pleasure of her master; and he brands them at his will. So it subverts the moral government of God.

In view of the moral agency of man, God hath most wisely and graciously given him a code of laws, and certain positive precepts, to control and regulate moral actions. This code of laws, and these positive precepts, with the divine influence which they are naturally calculated to exert on the mind of man, constitutes his moral government.

Now, to nullify these laws—to weaken or destroy their legitimate influence on the human mind, or to hinder man from yielding universal and entire obedience to them is to subvert the moral government of God.

Now, slavery nullifies these laws and precepts—weakens and destroys their influence over the human mind, and hinders men from yielding universal and entire obedience to them; therefore slavery subverts the moral government of God. This is the climax of the sin of slavery! This is the blackest, foulest, and most horrid feature of the heaven-daring Monster! He stretcheth out his hand against God, and strengtheneth himself against the Almighty-he runneth on him, even on his neck, upon the thick bosses of his buckler. Thus saith the Lord, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” But does the man who owns a hundred females obey the law? Does he not nullify it and compel the helpless woman to disobey God? Concerning the religious instruction of children, thus saith the Lord, “Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” But what saith slavery? “They are my property, and shall be brought up to serve me.” They shall not even learn to read his word, in order that they may be brought up in his nurture and admonition. If any man doubts this, let him read the slave code of Louisiana and see if it is not death to teach slaves. Thus saith the Lord, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Does not slavery nullify this law, and compel the slave to work on the Sabbath? Thus saith the Lord, “Obey thy father and thy mother.” Can the slave children obey this command of God? Does not slavery command the children to obey the master and let him alone? Thus saith the Son of God, “What God hath joined together let no man put asunder.” Does not slavery nullify this law, by breaking the sacred bands of wedlock, and separating the husband and wife forever? Thus saith the Son of God, “Search the Scriptures.” Does not slavery seal up the word of God and make it criminal for the slave to read it? In 1834, the legislature of South Carolina enacted a law prohibiting the instruction of any slave; and Mr. Lawrence in a pamphlet which he published in 1835, to defend this law, declared that if the slaves were permitted to read the Bible, ninety of them would become infidels, like Voltaire, where ten would become Christians. “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel unto every creature,” saith the Son of God. Does slavery permit it? In 1835, a minister of the Episcopal Church, in the city of Charleston, appealed to the civil authority for permission to preach to the free population of an evening, but they would not permit him.

The objector may reply, that at the present moment there are four Methodist missionaries, and one Lutheran, laboring among the slave population of South Carolina. We answer, that this is true, and we are glad of it; but this fact does not overthrow our proposition, nor falsify what we have stated, for although a few planters have permitted the Gospel to be preached to their slaves, the majority of them prohibit it, and this permission is extraneous to slavery and is no part of its creed or code. Slavery never legislates for the religious instruction of slaves, but, on the contrary, legislates to perpetuate their ignorance; and there are laws this very moment in the statute books of South Carolina and other states, prohibiting the religious instruction of slaves. But this is not all that slavery does to subvert the moral government of God. The slaves are sensible of the oppression exercised by their masters; and they see these masters on the Lord’s day worshiping in his holy Sanctuary. They hear their masters professing Christianity; they see their masters preaching the Gospel; they hear these masters praying in their families, and they know that oppression and slavery are inconsistent with the Christian religion; therefore they scoff at religion itself-mock their masters, and distrust both the goodness and justice of God. Yes, I have known them even to question His existence. I speak not of what others have told me, but of what I have both seen and heard from the slaves themselves. I have heard the mistress ring the bell for family prayer, and I have seen the servants immediately begin to sneer and laugh; and have heard them declare they would not go in to prayers, adding, if I go in she will only just read, “Servants obey your masters”; but she will not read, “Break every yoke, and let the oppressed go free.” I have seen colored men at the church door, scoffing at the ministers, while they were preaching, and saying, you had better go home, and set your slaves free. A few nights ago between ten and eleven o’clock a runaway slave came to the house where I live for safety and succor. I asked him if he was a Christian. “No sir,” said he, “white men treat us so bad in Mississippi that we can’t be Christians.”

Sir, I taught school in Charleston five years. In 1834 the legislature of our state enacted a law to prohibit colored teachers. My school was filled with children and youth of the most promising talents; and when I looked upon them and remembered that in a few more weeks this school shall be closed and I be permitted no more to teach them, notwithstanding I had been a professor seven years, I began to question the existence of the Almighty and to say, if indeed there is a God, does he deal justly? Is he a just God? Is he a holy Being? If so, why does he permit a handful of dying men thus to oppress us? Why does he permit them to hinder me from teaching these children, when nature, reason and Revelation command me to teach them? Thus I began to question the divine government and to murmur at the administration of His providence. And could I do otherwise, while slavery’s cruelties were pressing and grinding my soul in the dust, and robbing me and my people of those privileges which it was hugging to its breast, and giving thousands to perpetuate the blessing which it was tearing away from us? Sir, the very man who made the law alluded to, did that very year, increase the property of South Carolina College.

In a word, slavery tramples the laws of the living God under its unhallowed feet–weakens and destroys the influence which those laws are calculated to exert over the mind of man, and constrains the oppressed to blaspheme the name of the Almighty. For I have often heard them sneeringly say, that “The Almighty made Charleston on Saturday night, when he was weary, and in a great hurry.” O, Brethren of the Franckean Synod! awake! Awake to the battle and hurl the hottest thunders of divine truth at the head of this cruel monster, until he shall fall to rise no more, and the groans of the enslaved are converted into the songs of the free!!


Lutheran Herald and Journal of the Fort Plain, N.Y., Franckean Synod 1:15 (August 1, 1839), 113-14.


Almighty God, you have raised up faithful bishops of your church, including your servant Daniel Payne.  May the memory of his life be a source of joy for us and a bulwark of our faith, so that we may serve and confess your name before the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Ezekiel 34:11-16 or Acts 20:17-35

Psalm 84

1 Peter 5:1-4 or Ephesians 3;14-21

Matthew 24:42-47

Feast of John Woolman (October 7)   1 comment

Above:  John Woolman

Image in the Public Domain



Quaker Abolitionist

John Woolman, born in Burlington, New Jersey, on October 19, 1720, was an itinerant Quaker preacher in the American colonies.

As a young man Woolman discovered a robin’s nest full of hatchlings and their mother.  He threw rocks at the mother robin, killing her.  Filled with remorse and realizing that the young birds could not live much longer without her, he removed the nest from the tree and killed the hatchlings quickly and out of  mercy.  This was a turning point in Woolman’s life, for thereafter he loved all living things.

As an adult Woolman opposed slavery actively, convincing many fellow Quakers to free their slaves.  He wore undyed clothing because the manufacture of dyes entailed slave labor.  Also, he paid slaves whenever a slaveholder extended him hospitality.  Woolman’s writings on slavery contributed to the increase of abolitionism among the Friends.

Being a Quaker, Woolman was a pacifist.  Hence he protested the French and Indian War, and refused to pay taxes used to support that conflict.

In 1772 Woolman traveled to England (in steerage, voluntarily, consistent with his creed of simplicity).  At London he convinced that Yearly Meeting to oppose slavery.  Shortly thereafter he died of smallpox at York.



A Prayer by John Woolman, from The Communion of Saints: Prayers of the Famous, edited by Horton Davies:

O Lord my God! The amazing horrors of darkness were gathered round me, and covered me all over, and I saw no way to go forth; I felt the depth and extent of the misery of my fellow-creatures separated from the Divine harmony, and it was heavier than I could bear, and I was crushed down under it; I lifted my hand, I stretched out my arm, but there was none to help me; I looked round about, and was amazed.  In the depths of misery, O Lord, I remembered that thou art omnipotent; that I had called thee Father; and I felt that I loved thee, and I was made quiet in my will, and I waited for deliverance from thee.  Thou had pity on me, when no person could help me; I saw that meekness under suffering was showed to us in the most affecting example of thy Son, and thou taught me to follow him, and I said, “Thy will, O Father, be done!”


Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.  Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression.  Help us, like your servant John Woolman, to work for justice and peace among people and nations, to the glory of your name, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

Police Squad! (1982)   Leave a comment

Police Squad! (1982)

Leslie Nielsen as Detective Frank Drebin

Alan North as Captain Ed Hocken

Ed Williams as Mr. Olson

William Duell as Johnny

Peter Lupus as Norberg

The same brains behind Airplane! (1980) made this short-lived (six episodes) series.  Police Squad! was a satire on 1970s Quinn Martin crime series.  Leslie Nielsen played the square-jawed Detective Frank Drebin, who was usually oblivious to what happened around him.  Rex Hamilton played Abraham Lincoln (shooting back) in the opening credits.  Also, each week’s guest star died in the opening credits.  In addition, Ed Williams played Mr. Olson, the police lab scientist who conducted dubious experiments (such as fun things to do with discarded swimwear) and had unusual forensic science techniques (such as shooting bullets through video tapes of Barbara Walters interviews). Another fun feature of each episode was the fact that the title the announcer read did not match the title on screen.  And there were many visual gags (such as an Egyptian-style human form next to a chalk outline of where a body fell).   Each half-hour episode was a comedy gem without a laugh track.

But don’t take my word for it.  Consider the following dialogue from the first episode.  Ralph Twice, a man just laid off from a tire factory, cashed a check at a credit union.  Sally Decker, the cashier (in need of money to pay off her orthodontist) shot Ralph Twice then the teller, Jim Johnson.  Next she stole the money from Twice’s check and created a lie to tell the police.  She claimed that Twice had held up and shot the teller, and that she shot Twice in self-defense.

Frank: Do you feel up to any questions?

Sally: I’ll try.

Frank:  Where were you when all this happened?

Sally:  I was right here at my desk, working.

Frank:  When was the first time you noticed something was wrong?

Sally:  Well, when I first heard the shot, then, as I turned, Jim fell.

Ed:  He’s the teller, Frank.

Frank:  Jim Fell’s the teller?

Sally:  No, Jim Johnson.

Frank:  Who’s Jim Fell?

Ed:  He’s the auditor, Frank.

Sally:  He had the flu, so Jim filled in.

Frank:  Phil who?

Ed:  Phil Din.  He’s the night watchman.

Frank:  Now, wait a minute.  Let me get this straight.  Twice came in and shot the teller, and Jim Fell.

Sally:  No, he only shot the teller, Jim Johnson; Fell is ill.

Frank:  Okay, then.  After he shot the teller, you shot twice.

Sally:  No, I only shot once.

Ed:  Twice is the hold-up man.

Sally:  Then I guess I did shoot Twice.

Frank:  So now you’re changing your story?

Sally:  No, I shot Twice after Jim fell.

Frank:  You shot twice and Jim fell?

Sally:  Jim fell first then I shot Twice once.

Frank:  Who fired twice?

Sally:  Once.

Ed:  He’s the owner of the tire company, Frank.

Frank:  Okay, now Once is the name of the tire company, and he fired Twice.  Then Twice shot the teller once.

Sally:  Twice.

Frank:  And Jim fell, then you fired twice.

Sally:  Once.

Frank:  Okay.  Alright, that’ll be all for now, Ms. Decker.

Ed:  We’ll need you to make a formal statement down at the station.

Sally:  O, of course.

Frank: You’ve been very helpful.  We think we know how he did it.

Sally:  O, Howie couldn’t have done it.  He hasn’t been in for weeks.

Frank:  Well, thank you again, Ms. Decker.

(Frank walks toward Ed, and they move toward the exit.)

Frank:  Weeks?

Ed: Saul Weeks.  He’s the comptroller, Frank.

Fortunately, the series is available on DVD, as are the three Naked Gun movies based on this series.  The show is better, though.


Posted January 30, 2010 by neatnik2009 in Reviews

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Feast of Joanna, Mary, and Salome (August 3)   6 comments

Witnesses to the Resurrection

Identifying who certain biblical figures can prove difficult.  Relying on names is insufficient sometimes.  For example, the Apostle Bartholomew and the Apostle Nathanael were the same person.  And Simon Peter was Cephas.  These are relatively easy cases, for they pertain to Apostles.  Attempting to sort out the identities of the women who witnesses the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus is not as easy, however.

Mark 15:40 states that Salome (not the one who demanded the head of John the Baptist) and Mary Magdalene were present at the crucifixion.  Salome was probably the same person as Mary (of Clopas), wife of Zebedee, sister of Mary of Nazareth, and aunt of Jesus.  (See Matthew 27:56 and John 19:3.)  Zebedee was the father of the Apostle John and one of the two Apostles named James.  This made Jesus a cousin of two of his Apostles, assuming that Salome was Mary of Clopas.

The Gospel accounts say that the women  traveled to the tomb to annoint Jesus’ body with spices.  The Gospel of Mark, in its original version, ended abruptly, with an empty tomb:

And the women came out (of the empty tomb) and ran away from the tomb because they were frightened out of their wits; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Volume 7 of The Interpreter’s Bible (1951), pages 911-912, contains the following analysis of the women’s presence at the tomb:

These women who figure so notably in the resurrection stories portray powerfully the love that does not end with death.  They loved Jesus beyond the end.  They sought to pay the last reverence that could be paid.  But on their sad journey of faithfulness they ran into a surprise.  Faithfulness has a way of running into surprises.  When one goes faithfully on with duty, doing in times of darkness, disappointment, or defeat, what is often the little that can be done in devotion to Christ, one meets the unexpected.  The thing beyond one’s own power and wit happens.  New strength, the comfort of the fortified heart; the fresh awareness of a Burden-bearer, walking alongside; the way opened through seemingly insuperable obstacles–all these surprises of God have been encountered along the road of faithfulness.

Fear seems a natural reaction in that context.  I might have been scared, too, at least briefly.

There is some confusion and disagreement concerning the identity of Mary, Mother of James.  Mark 16:1 lists her alongside Salome and Mary Magdalene as present at Jesus’ tomb.  Matthew 28 identifies the women at the tomb as Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary.”  Luke just mentions Joanna, Mary the mother James, and Mary Magdalene.  Her identity rests with the question of who James, her son, was.  I can of at least three followers of Jesus (two Apostles and an early Bishop of Jerusalem) named James.  And there were other people named James at the time.  Mary the mother of James was faithful.  That is all that matters.

Luke 24:10 states that Joanna, Mary the Mother of James, and Mary Magdalene returned from the empty tomb and informed the eleven surviving Apostles that Jesus was alive.  The Apostles did not believe the women.

So, who was Joanna?  Luke 8:3 identifies her as the wife of Chuza, who was the steward of Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea (reigned 4 B.C.E.-39 C.E.).  The Lukan Gospel states also that Joanna supported Jesus and the Apostles financially.  Joanna is a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church, too.

Were Joanna and Salome the same woman, just as Bartholomew and Nathanael were the same man?  Or, or were both present but not listed together?  I think it unlikely that Joanna and Salome were the same person, unless Chuza the steward was also Zebedee the fisherman.  Yet I think that it does not matter.  Let us not distract ourselves with trivia, and so miss the main point:  Today we celebrate the faithfulness of women who followed Jesus.

I conclude with an excerpt from Hidden Women of the Gospels, by Kathy Coffey (New York: Crossroad, 1997).  Read as Coffey writes in the voice of Joanna:

I could barely sleep, the morning’s errand looming over the night.  A monstrous boulder dominated my dreams, and I felt crushed beneath its weight, grazing my knuckles against its flinty surface.  That night followed the least restful, most nerve-wracking Sabbath I’d ever spent.  Any “holy” thoughts were lost in wondering about the dark tomb, the stench, the violence we might face the next morning.

For the tenth time, I checked my supplies:  Cloths and spices, balm for that broken body.  Would we have enough?  Would the guards stop us?  Would everyone who’d agreed to come show up?  Could we budge the stone?  Maybe I stewed over the little questions so I could suppress the larger one: how could a tomb contain him, his vibrant, pulsing life?

My friends looked exhausted too when we gathered in the greyness before dawn.  We’d all had a sleepless night and longed to begin the day, no matter how terrible it might be.  Something stronger than our questions drove us to the sad task ahead.  Maybe it was the memory of his arm hanging limply from the rock-hewn shelf, the bruises in his hand turning violet.  Maybe it was his insistence at our last meal together: remember me.  Maybe it was the look on his mother’s face when we wrapped the torn limbs into linen.  Each of us bore different memories, like shadowy companions along the road.

From a distance, I thought the stone loomed larger and darker than I’d remembered.  But as I got closer, I realized it wasn’t a boulder but a dark opening, a glaring hole.  Our pace quickened.  Was I hallucinating, or did glimmers of white flash inside?  I grasped Mary Magdalene’s hand for courage as we stepped into the cool tomb.  We barely had time to blink our eyes and adjust to the darkness before we heard a voice buoyant with song.

For the rest of my life I will carry those words, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen.”  Would every sadness unravel so swiftly?  Would our sharpest sadness unravel so swiftly?  Would our sharpest tragedies be robbed of their sting?  If someone told me then that paralytics could dance, trees could hoist themselves into the sea, and the dead could sing, I’d believe it.  My inner terrain has shifted somehow.

And the men who scoff at us?  They’ve just missed the best news they could ever hear, poor fools.


Blessed Lord, through your only-begotten Son you overcame death and by your Holy Spirit you call us to Him that we might believe and be saved.  Grant as the women came to his tomb on Easter morning and found joy where they expected sorrow, so we might also come to Christ Jesus, casting our cares upon Him and receiving forgiveness, peace, and the sure and certain hope of everlasting life through Him who reigns eternally with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Psalm 45:1-9

Mark 16:1-9 and Luke 24:1-12

Posted January 29, 2010 by neatnik2009 in August 1-10, Saints of 29-199 C.E.

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Feast of St. Matteo Ricci (May 11)   2 comments

Image in the Public Domain


Roman Catholic Missionary to China

To say or write that we stand on the shoulders of giants has become cliched.  Yet often the sentiment is accurate.  Certainly it applies to many Chinese Christians and Christians of Chinese descent.  For, despite the best efforts of Chinese authorities from the 1700s forward to suppress Christianity, the faith has never died there.  And a giant of faith–St. Matteo Ricci–a saint on my Ecunemical Calendar–did much to establish the church there.

Ricci, born to Italian nobility in Macarata, studied law at Rome.  There, in 1571, our saint, against his father’s wishes, joined the Society of Jesus.  Ricci volunteered for missions in India in 1577.  He arrived in Goa the following year.

Ricci’s greatest work, however, was in China, where St. Francis Xavier had labored faithfully yet not successfully.  (As Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, God calls us to be faithful, not successful.)  Yet, in 1583, Ricci arrived at Chowkingfu (near Canton), from where he worked as a missionary for about six years.  From 1589 to 1595 our saint served as a missionary based at Chaochow.  His next stations were Nan-changfu (until 1598) then Nanjing then Beijing (fro 1601).

Ricci’s life as a missionary in China was challenging, for how does one adapt properly to a different culture?  How to dress was a major issue.  Our saint learned to adopt the wardrobe of a Confucian scholar.  He and his fellow Jesuits in China adapted to Chinese culture, becoming fluent in Mandarin, mastering Chinese classics,and speaking with Chinese scholars–working from the top of society down.  The fact that Ricci had prisms, clocks, and geographical, astronomical, and musical knowledge impressed many Chinese elites greatly, opening doors for his mission.

So, despite challenges, Ricci and his fellow Jesuits were able to make inroads at Beijing, with the emperor and the imperial court.  Jesuit knowledge of astronomy made members of that order useful to the Son of Heaven, whose duties included maintaining an accurate calendar showing the locations of heavenly bodies.  They were more skilled at that difficult task than were the people attempting it.  And the emperor, coming under Christian influence, did not convert, but some courtiers and members of the imperial family did.

The Jesuit mission in China, by working within Chinese culture–a tactic appropriate in the Middle Kingdom–opened up China to Catholic missionaries.  And the Jesuit mission created a cultural exchange.  Not only did Jesuits learn much about China, but Chinese elites gained knowledge about the West, learning Euclidian geometry and seeing an clavichord, for example.  Ricci’s detailed volume about Chinese geography expanded knowledge about that subject in Western Europe also.

The saint died at Beijing on May 11, 1610.

Unfortunately, political pressures sabotaged the Jesuit mission in China.  Had the Jesuits accommodated to Chinese culture too much?   Some Franciscans, Dominicans, and Augustinians thought so.  Their tactics of working among the common people instead alienated leading elements in China, making life more difficult for the Jesuits.  And Confucian opposition to Christianity, grounded in xenophobia, cultural misunderstanding, and doubts about major doctrines, encouraged the imperial suppression of Christianity which began in 1722.

I wonder what would have happened if more missionaries had done as Ricci did.






God of grace and glory, we praise you for your servant Saint Matteo Ricci,

who made the good news known in China.

Raise up, we pray, in every country, heralds of the gospel,

so that the world may know the immeasurable riches of your love,

and be drawn to worship you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Isaiah 62:1-7

Psalm 48

Romans 10:11-17

Luke 24:44-53

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 59


Feast of St. Marcellinus of Carthage (April 6)   Leave a comment

Above:  Roman Province of Africa (highlighted)

Image in the Public Domain




One of the more extended and unpleasant schisms in Western Christianity involved the Donatists.  At the end of the reign of the Emperor Diocletian, who retired in 305 C.E., the Imperium launched an empire-wide persecution of Christians.  Many Christians, faced with the prospect of imprisonment or painful death, renounced the faith and gave up Bibles for burning.  Others, however, went to prison or their deaths.  Some of the northern African survivors of the Diocletian persecution developed a holier-than-thou attitude with regard to the repentant apostates who sought to return to the fold.  The Roman Catholic Church forgave the penitents; the schismatic Donatists did not.  The Donatist sect survived until the 700s, when the Muslims, conquering northern Africa, extinguished that group.

The Donatists were moral perfectionists, the purest of the self-proclaimed pure.  The main problem with a purity test, of course, is that it affirms its author as pure and condemns as impure those with whom the author disagrees.  A purity test is inherently exclusionary.  And how many among us are pure enough to pass such a test?  Fortunately, God shows mercy to penitents.  We who claim to follow God should emulate that example.

Marcellinus was a a friend of St. Augustine of Hippo, the great bishop and theologian.  He was also the Secretary of State of the Western Roman Empire during the reign of the Emperor Honorius, who held that office 395-423.  Marcellinus, in his imperial capacity, granted the Donatists freedom of worship in 409.  Two years later, when the Donatists had become powerful and begun to oppress Roman Catholics, the latter petitioned Honorius for protection from the former.  The Emperor sent Marcellinus to preside over a conference at Carthage.  The Secretary of State declared the Donatists heretics and ordered them to surrender their buildings to Roman Catholic bishops and priests.  The Western Roman Army executed this order brutally.

Two years later, in 413, some Donatists, blaming Marcellinus for army brutality, accused the Secretary of State and his brother, Apringus, who had also been active in the Donatist matter in 411, of having been complicit in a recent rebellion against the Emperor.  Heraclion, an African count, had led an insurrection against Honorius in the wake of Alaric’s 410 Sack of Rome.  The Western Roman Army had suppressed the revolt and executed Heraclion.  General Marcius, a Donatist sympathizer who had suppressed the recent rebellion, ordered the arrest and imprisonment of Marcellinus and Apringus.  Their deaths on the false charge constituted judicial murder.


Gracious God, in every age you have sent men and women who have given their lives in witness to your love and truth.  Inspire us with the memory of St. Marcellinus, whose faithfulness led to the way of the cross, and give us courage to bear full witness with our lives to your Son’s victory over sin and death, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.   Amen.

Ezekiel 20:40-42

Psalm 5

Revelation 6:9-11

Mark 8:34-38

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 59