The Nativity

Our faith, our story, seen through the eyes of Duccio.

Duccio_di_Buoninsegna_-_The_Nativity_between_Prophets_Isaiah_and_EzekielThe Nativity (with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel), 1308-1311, egg tempera, Duccio di Buoninsegna, c. 1255-1319

Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Duccio’s “Nativity” was once part of the Maesta (Majesty) which served as an altarpiece for the Cathedral of Siena, Italy. When the painting was completed in 1311, it was composed of a very large panel of the Madonna and Child surrounded by saints and angels. Its base – called a “predella” (Italian for “foot stool” which it resembled) – was below the main panel. It served physically to support the altarpiece and visually to depict seven scenes of the birth and early life of Christ. In its original form, an Old Testament prophet stood to the right of each event holding a scroll on which a passage written by him pertained to the scene.

Duccio’s “Nativity,” the second scene in the predella, takes place in a grotto with Mary reclining on a red cushion in a royal robe of blue. In keeping with the practice of increasing a person’s size in accordance with their importance, she is much larger than the other figures. In the manger, the baby Jesus is being watched over by an ox and an ass and many angels have gathered above them; some are looking heavenward in praise and others are leaning over for an adoring glance at the baby. A small star is at the peak of the cave entrance with its rays shining onto the face of Jesus. Below the figure of Mary are two related scenes. On the left, two midwives are bathing the newborn Jesus and on the right, angels are announcing Jesus’ birth to the shepherds as they stand with a sheepdog and their flock. On the left side, Joseph is sitting outside of the grotto in a pink robe, To the right of this scene is a painting of Ezekiel holding a scroll with his words; “This gate shall be kept shut: it shall not be opened, and no man may pass through it.”

In the early eighteenth century, the Maesta altarpiece was taken apart in order to divide it between the two altars of the Cathedral of Siena. During this process, damage was caused and some parts of the painting became separated and lost. Other sections were purchased and placed in museums. One of the results is Isaiah now is not with the scene to which he and his words belong. The scroll he is holding states; “Behold a young woman shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel” and he was placed originally at the immediate right of the “Annunciation,” (the first scene of the predella). He was separated from it and is now at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC standing next to the “Nativity.” Isaiah is not looking toward the birth of Jesus because in the original he was looking toward the Archangel Gabriel’s visit to Mary. The painting of the “Annunciation,” to which his words of prophecy apply is an ocean away in the National Gallery of London without its accompanying prophet, Isaiah.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

Be well. Do good. Pay attention. Keep learning.

Image: Web Gallery of Art

Revival in the Season of Epiphany

Posting to resume in the Season of Epiphany (2018).

With determination (and hope) posts will again appear on our Hear the Spirit site as the Season of Epiphany (2018) begins. We invite you to come, read, and comment as you “Keep Learning” and growing in Christian maturity.

Epiphany

Was Jesus’ Last Supper a Seder?

Here is an accessible look at the events of Holy Week. When was the “Last Supper” and was it a Seder? When was Jesus tried, condemned, and crucified? Let Jonathan Klawans guide your exploration:

Many people assume that Jesus’ Last Supper was a Seder, a ritual meal held in celebration of the Jewish holiday of Passover. And indeed, according to the Gospel of Mark 14:12, Jesus prepared for the Last Supper on the “first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb.” If Jesus and his disciples gathered together to eat soon after the Passover lamb was sacrificed, what else could they possibly have eaten if not the Passover meal? And if they ate the Passover sacrifice, they must have held a Seder. […]

… I believe we must be careful not to let our emotions get the better of us when we are searching for history. Indeed, even though the association of the Last Supper with a Passover Seder remains entrenched in the popular mind, a growing number of scholars are beginning to express serious doubts about this claim.

Read the entire post on the pages of the Biblical Archeology Society:
Was Jesus’ Last Supper a Seder? – Biblical Archaeology Society.

Let’s talk about being called and having a calling

Professor Hanvik on “called” and “calling”

In the middle of yesterday’s (8/5/12) conversation about being called (to know Christ, to be holy as our God is holy) and calling (to be a wife, a husband, a father, a mother, a member of the choir, a member of the Altar Guild, an intercessor in prayer, a team member working in the food distribution ministry, a neighbor, a co-worker, a teacher and you get the idea) I read this from Professor Hanvik in his commentary on Ephesians 4:1-16

Quote . . .Paul pairs the words “called” and “callings” in two different places in the passage (4:1 and 4:4). The reader is reminded of the relationship between our being called by God and the subsequent assignment of a calling in the world. The language of calling links the church with the election of Israel. God has chosen for himself (1:4) a people and this election depends firmly on God’s decision. It is done “before the foundation of the world” (1:4) and it relies solely on God’s gracious initiative (2:8). And the result of being called is that the faithful now have callings where they lead lives marked by humility, love and patience (4:2).

It is easy to get confused about the dual nature of a call. It is worth underlining that being called and having a calling must be distinguished but never separated. Our relationship with God simultaneously involves a relationship with neighbor or community. And these callings are multiple as it is impossible for a Christian to not be in some type of calling at all times of life.

Just as God is active in every nook and cranny of creation so God uses his people to make sure people are fed, clothed, comforted, educated, protected, etc. Proclaimers would be wise to remind listeners that a calling should not be pared down to a job or occupation. This would mean wide stretches of human experience would be outside of God’s providence. God calls us not only to work but to friendship, family life, citizenship, etc. —WorkingPreacher.com for August 5, 2012

It was a terrific conversation. Thank you. I learned a lot. Please continue the conversation here using the Comment section which follows the post. Bless you, dear reader, bless you as you bless others by exercising the ministries to which you have been called.

I am the bread of life

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry,
and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Jesus (John 6:35)

These words are the inspiration of the hymn “I am the bread of life” by Suzanne Toolan, RSM (Hymn 335 in our 1982 Episcopal Hymnal). The original wording has often been adapted to be more inclusive—even as Jesus was inclusive. Here is one arrangement of this hymn as you prepare for (or celebrate) Sunday’s Gospel text, John 6:24-35.

What a great gift we have been given. We will never exhaust the mystery of Emmanuel: God with us.

Seven, ten, or thirteen? Scholars are still deciding.

We raised the question on Sunday.

The last 3 weeks we have read from “Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians” in our worship. In the discussion on Sunday (7/29/12) Stan and I raised the question about who authored the letter to the Ephesians. In part, our question arises from our reading of commentaries and essays by a variety of scholars including, most recently, the scholarship of Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan.

Quote . . .THREE PAULS

Mainstream scholarship as it has developed over the last two centuries has concluded that some of the thirteen letters attributed to Paul were not written by him. Rather, they fall into three categories.

First, a massive scholarly consensus: at least seven letters are “genuine” – that is, written by Paul himself. These seven include three longer ones (Romans, I and II Corinthians), and four shorter ones (I Thessalonians, Galatians, Philippians, and Philemon). Written in the 50s of the first century, plus or minus a year or two, they are the earliest documents in the New Testament, earlier than the gospels (recall that Mark, the first gospel, was written around 70). Thus the genuine letters of Paul are the oldest witness we have to what was to become Christianity.

Second, an almost equally strong consensus: three letters were not written by Paul. These are I and II Timothy and Titus, commonly known as “the pastoral epistles” or simply “the pastorals.” Scholars estimate that they were written around the year 100, possibly a decade or two later. The reasons these are seen as “non-Pauline” include what looks like a later historical setting as well as a style of writing quite unlike the Paul of the seven genuine letters.

Thus the letters to Timothy and Titus were written in the name of Paul several decades after his death. In case some readers may think that writing in somebody else’s name was dishonest or fraudulent, we note that it was a common practice in the ancient world. It was a literary convention of the time, including within Judaism.

Third, letters about which there is no scholarly consensus, though a majority see them as not coming from Paul. Often called the “disputed” epistles, they include Ephesians, Colossians, and II Thessalonians. We are among those who see these as “post-Paul,” written a generation or so after his death, midway between the genuine letters and the later pastoral letters.

From Chapter 1 of their book The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary Behind the Church’s Conservative Icon. Chapter 1 is online at: Paul: Appealing or Appalling?

In your reading and study have you formed an opinion? What role does the Holy Spirit play in the writing, preserving, handing on, and interpreting of these letters? What role does the Spirit play as you grapple with this kind of information? Let’s keep the conversation going.

We are in this together

An image from the fire that destroyed St. James Episcopal Church in Cannon Ball, ND
A July 25 nighttime fire destroys St. James Church in Cannon Ball, North Dakota.

The Epistle for Proper 8 Year B read on July 1, 2012:
7 Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you —so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. 8 I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. 10 And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— 11 now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. 12 For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. 13 I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between 14 your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. 15 As it is written, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”  2 Corinthians 8:7-15

Quote . . .How believers use their resources — time, money, talents, and attention — is a reflection of what they believe about God and God’s actions in the world. Furthermore, how those resources are used preaches a message to others. Paul wants the Corinthians’ actions to be a reflection of the gospel in which they believe.

This passage fits in a larger section of 2 Corinthians (8:1-9:15) that is chiefly concerned with Paul’s collection for the Jerusalem church.…

In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul gets more mileage out of the Macedonian success story by shaming the Corinthian church into acting.…

Before he resorts to shaming them directly, he reminds the believers that their actions to support the Jerusalem poor demonstrate the earnestness of their faith (2 Corinthians 8:8). Paul reframes the whole collection as the gospel enacted. In 2 Corinthians 8:9, Paul retells the good news through the lens of generosity. Christ gave up extraordinary riches so that others might receive the abundant wealth of God’s grace.

Professor Carla Works on WorkingPreacher.com a commentary on the Epistle for July 1, 2012

From the Episcopal News Service (ENS)

A July 25 nighttime fire has destroyed St. James’ Episcopal Church in Cannon Ball, North Dakota.

Sioux County, where Cannon Ball is located, is one of the poorest counties in North Dakota and among the top ten poorest in the nation

“At 10 p.m. Central Time a parishioner who lives across the road from St. James’ saw that there was smoke and fire coming from the church,” said the Rev. Canon John Floberg, who has served as St. James’ rector for 21 years and is canon missioner for native ministry in the Diocese of North Dakota. “Flames spread quickly through the parish hall to the church itself, and by quarter of eleven the whole structure was engulfed in flames. It’s all ash today.” Read more: NORTH DAKOTA: Fire destroys St. James’ Episcopal Church

I propose that we take up a collection in the Sunday Morning Forum for the people of St. James Episcopal Church. With the Apostle and the with the Professor I believe that how we use our resources tells a lot about what we believe about God and God’s actions in the world.

More information about St. James in Cannon Ball, ND and about the Standing Rock Episcopal Community of North Dakota. I remind you: we’re in this together.