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Swieconka basket annhetzelgunkelcomHoly Saturday is normally the time when some Christians around the world, especially those from Eastern Europe, take baskets of Easter food for their priest to bless.

These foods, particularly the basket of Polish items in the illustration, have a religious symbolism. You can find out more in this post:

Holy Saturday and food traditions

Four years ago, Britain’s top home cook and culinary television presenter Mary Berry had a short series on food eaten around the world at Easter. It was a fascinating series, summarised below:

Easter food explored — part 1 (Mary Berry, BBC — 2016)

Easter food explored — part 2 (Mary Berry, BBC — 2016)

This next post has more about Easter food traditions, in France, Spain, Portugal, Austria and, until a few decades ago, Algeria:

Holy Saturday: preparing for an Easter feast (2017)

Of course, this year, Easter will be different. Because of coronavirus lockdowns, most of us are not allowed to visit with family members or friends outside of our own household.

I could not get lamb this year because of the lack of supermarket deliveries. We will have duck instead. Lamb will be delivered later in April. Oh, well.

Daytime Lectionary readings

jesus-laid-in-a-tomb-f5462516571Spiritually, most of Holy Saturday is mournful. Jesus was in the tomb, having been attended to by friends — but not the Apostles.

Here are the daytime readings:

Readings for Holy Saturday — daytime

This is the Gospel reading, which was read on Palm Sunday (Year A) in the Liturgy of the Passion. The burial of Jesus took place on Friday evening and the sealing of the tomb took place on Saturday (emphases mine):

Matthew 27:57-66

27:57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus.

27:58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him.

27:59 So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth

27:60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away.

27:61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

27:62 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate

27:63 and said, “Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’

27:64 Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.”

27:65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.”

27:66 So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.

Easter Vigil readings

On Saturday evening, the mood changes. Lent comes to an end and many Catholics and High Church Anglicans attend a lengthy but beautiful Easter vigil service, about which you can read more in this post. For centuries, this was the day when catechumens — those studying to be Christians — were baptised:

What happens on Holy Saturday?

Although the body of Jesus was still in the tomb on Saturday, His spirit had gone to Sheol, or the place of the dead to free the souls of children and righteous adults.  Jesus descended into this ‘Hell’, although the limbo He went to is not like the Hell or Purgatory that we know today.  His presence illuminated all these righteous souls from the beginning of time — Adam, Eve, Noah, Moses — and Sheol became a paradise until Jesus’s Ascension into Heaven.  Upon His Ascension, Jesus opened the doors to Heaven for them, where they live with Him now and forever.

The Vigil service anticipates the Resurrection, and the Gospel reading is about what happened on Sunday morning.

This service has more readings than usual. Three readings from the Old Testament must be read; the passage from Exodus 14 is mandatory:

Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21

14:10 As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the LORD.

14:11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt?

14:12 Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”

14:13 But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the LORD will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again.

14:14 The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”

14:15 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward.

14:16 But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground.

14:17 Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.

14:18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.”

14:19 The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them.

14:20 It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.

14:21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided.

14:22 The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

14:23 The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers.

14:24 At the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic.

14:25 He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the LORD is fighting for them against Egypt.”

14:26 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.”

14:27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the LORD tossed the Egyptians into the sea.

14:28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained.

14:29 But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

14:30 Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.

14:31 Israel saw the great work that the LORD did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the LORD and believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.

15:20 Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing.

15:21 And Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”

Psalm

This is one of the Psalms, recalling the Exodus and God’s omnipotence. Verse 8 prophesies Christ as the water of life; Paul refers to it in 1 Corinthians 10:4:

Psalm 114

114:1 When Israel went out from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,

114:2 Judah became God’s sanctuary, Israel his dominion.

114:3 The sea looked and fled; Jordan turned back.

114:4 The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs.

114:5 Why is it, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back?

114:6 O mountains, that you skip like rams? O hills, like lambs?

114:7 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the LORD, at the presence of the God of Jacob,

114:8 who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water.

Epistle

Paul writes of the Resurrection beautifully. Our Lord conquered death and, thanks to Him, so will all believers.

Romans 6:3-11

6:3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

6:4 Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

6:5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

6:6 We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.

6:7 For whoever has died is freed from sin.

6:8 But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

6:9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.

6:10 The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

6:11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Gospel

The Gospel reading describes an angel of the Lord rolling back the stone over the tomb where Jesus lay. The angel’s appearance was as bright as lightning. Note that the two Marys are the ones who check on the tomb — not the Apostles.

Matthew 28:1-10

28:1 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.

28:2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.

28:3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.

28:4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.

28:5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.

28:6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.

28:7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”

28:8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

28:9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.

28:10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

It is impossible to imagine what the two women experienced at that moment in their extreme awe and boundless joy.

I hope we feel the same, knowing that Jesus came to bring us to life eternal.

It is Good Friday 2020 and, incredibly, the doors to most of our churches around the world are locked.

The same holds true for other houses of worship.

It happened easily and quickly.

All it took was a pandemic, media panic and speedy draconian emergency legislation.

—————————————

Now on to Good Friday.

CranachWeimarAltarCyberbrethren

The painting above is by the Renaissance artists Lucas Cranach the Elder and Lucas Cranach the Younger, father and son. Lucas Cranach the Younger finished the painting in 1555. It is the centre altar painting in Sts Peter and Paul (Lutheran) Church in Weimar, Germany. Read more about it below:

Meditations on the Cross

Here are my past posts, which might be helpful in understanding the Crucifixion:

Readings for Good Friday

The greatest reality show ends with a popular vote

Barabbas: an inspiration for liberation theology?

Reflections on the Crucifixion

Good Friday: in whom can we trust? (John 18:12-27)

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the false views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the true views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the comfort

Good Friday: the horror of the Crucifixion (John MacArthur)

Easter: the drama and glory of the Resurrection (John MacArthur, explains Jesus’s relatively short time on the cross)

Biblically focussed clergy, such as John MacArthur, often tell us how much God hates sin.

Yet, most of us, myself included, struggle to understand how much God hates sin.

One thing I learned from writing about the Book of Hebrews was that God hates sin so much that, from the beginning, He commanded that blood sacrifices be made for it. Under the Old Covenant, God’s chosen people had to sacrifice animals time and time again. Yet, all of those were insufficient.

Then God sent His Son Jesus Christ to Earth for the one, holy and perfect sacrifice for the sins of the whole world: past, present and future. The Crucifixion brought about the New Covenant, a ‘better’ covenant, as the Book of Hebrews tells us.

In Hebrews 9:16-23, the book’s anonymous author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, says that the sacrifices under the Old Covenant were but ‘copies’ of ‘the heavenly’ sacrifice that Jesus made on the Cross (emphases mine):

16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.

Hebrews 10 explains the sufficiency of our Lord’s ultimate sacrifice for us, citing Jeremiah 31:33-34:

12 But when Christ[b] had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
    and write them on their minds,”

17 then he adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Therefore, we should be grateful for Christ’s perfect sacrifice for us, which reconciled us with God once and for all.

We can have assurance in our Christian faith, the promise of which is eternal life:

19 Therefore, brothers,[c] since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

You can read more about Hebrews 10 in my post from 2016:

Epistle for Good Friday Year C — Hebrews 10:16-25

May we remember that our Lord’s ultimate sacrifice for us is the reason that we profess the Christian faith.

He then rose from the dead to bring us to eternal life. We look forward to celebrating the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, even though we will be at home alone, instead of with our friends at church.

This Maundy Thursday afternoon I spent time checking the Twitter accounts of the Anglican and Episcopal priests I have cited here in past posts.

Nearly everyone was concerned about coronavirus and, for the Americans, the state of play for the Democrats now that Bernie Sanders has dropped out of the presidential race.

I, too, have been distracted by coronavirus and British politics now that Boris Johnson is in intensive care.

These past posts of mine may help make spending a Maundy Thursday at home more meaningful:

Readings for Thursday of Holy Week — Maundy Thursday

What is the Triduum?

‘One of you will betray Me’ (John 13)

Passover, the Last Supper and the New Covenant

Why some Jews celebrated Passover on Thursday and others on Friday (here and here)

Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper: Jesus’s words of comfort (John 14, alludes to Holy Trinity)

John MacArthur on Passover as celebrated at the Last Supper

John 17 — the High Priestly Prayer: parts 1, 2 and 3

Jesus foretells Peter’s denial (Mark 14:26-31)

This year, throughout Lent I have been thinking about the unending obedience and service that Jesus practised (John 13:14-17, emphases mine):

13:14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.

13:15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

13:16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.

13:17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

He exhorted the Apostles — and us — to do the same: honouring God and honouring mankind (John 13:34):

13:34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

I cannot imagine what it must have been like to be Jesus during His time on Earth. He knew why He was among us. He knew what was in everyone’s heart and mind.

He knew one of the Twelve would betray him (John 13:10-11):

13:10 Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.”

13:11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

This particularly struck me when I read the Gospel for Palm Sunday for the Passion Liturgy.

He knew that Peter would deny Him three times before the cockerel crowed in the early hours of what we know as Good Friday (Matthew 26:33-34):

26:33 Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.”

26:34 Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.”

He knew they would fall asleep during their final hour with Him before His arrest — a time when He really wanted them to be awake as a comfort before a day of unimaginable agony and death (Matthew 26:39-46):

26:39 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.”

26:40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour?

26:41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

26:42 Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”

26:43 Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.

26:44 So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words.

26:45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.

26:46: Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”

How our Lord suffered for our sake. He obeyed His Father by making the one sufficient sacrifice of Himself as the oblation for our sins. That sacrifice also showed His unending love for us, even His enemies.

His is the true example to follow. I pray that I can follow it, especially when I do not wish to do so.

On April 15, 2019, Monday of Holy Week, Notre-Dame Cathedral was ablaze until the early hours of Tuesday morning.

This year, because of coronavirus, few Christians are allowed to go to church during Holy Week. Similarly, our Jewish friends are not allowed to attend synagogue for Passover.

Hmm. Two years of disrupted Holy Weeks.

Never mind, because, even during lockdown, abortions are allowed to go ahead and off-licences (liquor stores) are still open.

As Brother Alexis Bugnolo put it at From Rome:

The real reason behind the Corona Stunt is something much more than simple control. It has a purpose. Here in Italy, most every activity is prohibited other than those who work in necessary sectors of the economy …

At the supermarket, no one is afraid that in exchanging coins or bills, that they will catch Coronavirus. But we are told that the Catholic Mass is a possible source of contagion, so distribution of the Eucharist must be suspended?

Mammon is O.K. to handle? But the Eucharist is dangerous and unhealthy?

Something does not add up.

On Palm Sunday, April 5, he posted that Bill Gates recommends that churches remain closed for 18 months (video at link). Emphases in the original:

Ominously, at 17:40 in this Video, Bill Gates implies that the Catholic Religion will remain outlawed until all can be certified to have received a vaccine, if even then!

I know there has always been speculation about Bill Gates’ name having the ASCII value of 666, but his comments above are more ridiculous, they are diabolic!

Melinda Gates is a Roman Catholic, and Bill and Melinda have raised all their children as Catholics. However, I some how think there is something big missing in their lives, if they think like this: God.

This is what St Peter’s Square looked like yesterday:

It’s not only Catholics who cannot go to worship with fellow believers but all Christians and Jews.

Those of us living through Holy Week 2020 will remember it for the rest of our lives. The unthinkable — closing houses of worship — happened across the world in a trice.

In such circumstances, we should persevere in our prayers and meditations this week:

We have many people to pray for — those affected by coronavirus around the world.

I am grateful that President Trump called for prayer yesterday:

On Saturday, I posted the Gospel readings for this year and a brief sermonette on Pontius Pilate, who arrived in Jerusalem the same time that Jesus did.

One of my readers, Scoot, responded with a poem about Palm Sunday, which sums up the two entries into Jerusalem perfectly:

The poem “The Conquerors” by Harry Kemp is apropos, given the processions of Jesus and Pilate.

Begging your pardon in advance, here it is quoted below:

I SAW the Conquerors riding by
— With trampling feet of horse and men:
Empire on empire like the tide
— Flooded the world and ebbed again;

A thousand banners caught the sun,
— And cities smoked along the plain,
And laden down with silk and gold
— And heaped-up pillage groaned the wain.

I saw the Conquerors riding by,
— Splashing through loathsome floods of war —
The Crescent leaning o’er its hosts,
— And the barbaric scimitar, —

And continents of moving spears,
— And storms of arrows in the sky,
And all the instruments sought out
— By cunning men that men may die!

I saw the Conquerors riding by
— With cruel lips and faces wan:
Musing on kingdoms sacked and burned
— There rode the Mongol Ghengis Khan;

And Alexander, like a god,
— Who sought to weld the world in one;
And Caesar with his laurel wreath;
— And like a thing from Hell the Hun;

And, leading like a star the van,
— Heedless of upstretched arm and groan,
Inscrutable Napoleon went
— Dreaming of empire, and alone. . . .

Then all they perished from the earth
— As fleeting shadows from a glass,
And, conquering down the centuries,
— Came Christ, the Swordless, on an ass!

On his website, Scoot also posted a prayer for these dismal days:

Prayer in Times of Pestilence

Grant, we beseech Thee, O Lord, an answer to our hearty supplications; and, Thy wrath being appeased, turn away from us this pestilence, that the hearts of men may know that these scourges proceed from Thine anger, and cease by Thy mercy.

Amen

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is currently in hospital with coronavirus. He has been running a fever for several days. His fiancée, Carrie Symonds, also has coronavirus and with a fever. She is expecting their child. Please include them in your prayers. We need Boris as Prime Minister.

These past posts of mine might be helpful in our private meditations during Holy Week:

Monday of Holy Week

Readings for Monday of Holy Week

The righteous anger of Jesus towards the money changers

Jesus and the money changers

Tuesday of Holy Week

Readings for Tuesday of Holy Week

Contemplating the withered fig tree (2017)

The High Priests plot against Jesus

Epistle for Tuesday of Holy Week — 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 (2016)

Spy Wednesday

Readings for Wednesday of Holy Week — Spy Wednesday

Judas offers his services

More on Spy Wednesday

More on Judas

Holy Week — the story thus far

Gospel reading for Wednesday of Holy Week — John 13:21-32 (2016)

Wednesday of Holy Week — Spy Wednesday (2017, Henry and MacArthur on Judas: bad hombre)

None of us knows what long-term effects coronavirus will have on our civil liberties around the world.

What follows is an American perspective from MorningStar Ministries, but let’s not forget that the Magna Carta was signed in England in 1215 (emphases in purple mine):

Our Founders feared the tyranny of the mob as much as they feared the tyranny of a king. The same crowd that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem declaring “Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” were crying “Crucify Him!” just five days later. The Founders were devoted to establishing a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but also one that could ride out the wild swings of public opinion. These swings can create a social turbulence that tears a nation apart.

Democracies are where the majority rules. Republics are where the people vote for representatives that rule on their behalf. The representatives ideally will not just try to please public opinion, which can so wildly swing from one extreme to the opposite extreme, but rather do what is best for the whole country. This is why our Founders formed a constitutional republic, not a democracy as many wrongly presume

All three branches of government have been prone to infringe on the authority given to the other branches, as well as the authority given to the states and the people. The military calls this “mission creep”—when a commander starts adding to their specific assignment. When this happens, very often the original assignment gets muddled and sometimes forgotten. This has happened in our Federal Government. It has taken on many purposes that are beyond its constitutional authority.

To remedy this, we must recover the fact that The Constitution was written to assign specific authority to the Federal Government and forever limit it to what was specifically given to it in order to preserve the authority of the states and the people. Therefore, the assignment of any purpose to the Federal Government not specifically named in The Constitution is a violation of The Constitution. A main purpose of The Constitution was to limit the authority of the Federal Government in order to keep it from becoming what it has now become

I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.  Thomas Jefferson

We are in a serious situation at the moment, no matter where we are in the world.

Please pray this week. We have no excuse not to do so.

My latest instalment on what Episcopal priests are thinking about involves respecting the Church calendar.

The following tweets come from the Revd Scott Gunn, an Anglo-Catholic serving in a Midwestern city. He is also the executive director of Forward Movement in the Episcopal Church, a co-author of Faithful Questions: Exploring the Way with Jesus and a religious editorial writer for Fox News.

Epiphany

We are in the last few Sundays of the season of Epiphany, so let’s make the most of them. We should be grateful for the Lord God sending His only begotten Son who died for our sins:

And, while we are at it, let’s forget this abominable modern concept of ‘Ordinary Time’ in the Church calendar, as promulgated by Roman Catholics. Sadly, it has spread to some liturgical Protestant churches. How can Sunday worship or the Church calendar ever involve something ‘ordinary’?

Someone replying suggested developing an Episcopal Church of Twitter. Count me in. It’s a darn sight more traditional and meaningful than many Episcopal Church witterings. That goes for the Church of England, too.

Septuagesima Sunday

In my post with the readings for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany — Year A, I later updated it to say that February 9, 2020, was Septuagesima Sunday, the seventh Sunday before Easter. Next Sunday will be Sexagesima Sunday and the one after that Quinquagesima Sunday.

Until Vatican II modernised the Catholic Church, that was the Sunday that signalled the beginning of Lent for traditionalists. In old money, Lent would have started on Monday, February 10. Now Lent begins on Ash Wednesday for nearly everyone. You can read more about the Sundays before Easter below, including the season of Shrovetide in my post below:

Shrovetide — a history

The Sundays before Lent — an explanation (the Sundays that define Shrovetide)

The readings for the latter Sundays in the season of Epiphany begin to move towards a call to repentance, and this was evident in the first reading from Isaiah as well as the Gospel reading for February 9.

Scott Gunn reminded us of our traditions, which some of his readers had also noticed:

Other Episcopal priests also remembered it was Septuagesima Sunday:

There was a bit more about the importance of the Gesimas in terms of our souls:

Holy Week

Then we discover that Holy Week is a separate season from Lent. This I did not know. I was not alone:

Either way, penitence, prayer and fasting still apply to the final days before Easter.

Corpus Christi

Mr Gunn also reminded us of the feast of Corpus Christi, which is the Thursday or the Sunday following Trinity Sunday. (Corpus Christi is Latin for Body of Christ.) It is still commemorated in the Church of England on the first Thursday after Trinity:

This is the modern version of the Collect from that liturgy:

Lord Jesus Christ,

we thank you that in this wonderful sacrament

you have given us the memorial of your passion:

grant us so to reverence the sacred mysteries

of your body and blood

that we may know within ourselves

and show forth in our lives

the fruits of your redemption;

for you are alive and reign with the Father

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.

An Episcopal priest replying to him was in a lather, tweeting in all caps. It culminated in this exchange, which clarified that the priest was angry about Maundy Thursday as the institution of Holy Communion at the Last Supper:

Oh, dear. I connect both with Holy Communion.

In closing, it is good to see that so many clergy — and laity — still place importance on the traditional Sundays of the Church calendar. Long may it last.

I hope more follow their example.

The inferno of Notre-Dame Cathedral on Monday, April 15, 2019, overshadowed Holy Week services in Paris.

The following day, the Archbishop of Reims in Champagne country issued a statement on the fire:

He called Notre-Dame:

a symbol of the efforts for peace, beauty, hope and faith — even well beyond the Christian faith.

He deplored the loss of a house of worship for the many Parisians and visitors, particularly during the holiest week of the Christian year, beginning with the Chrism Mass on Wednesday and culminating in Easter Sunday.

Chrism Mass

The Chrism Mass, the first major Mass after Palm Sunday, is the one where the oils used in anointing the baptised, confirmands, ordinands as well as the sick and dying are blessed for use during the following year.

Notre-Dame’s Chrism Mass was held at Saint-Sulpice. The Archbishop of Paris Michel Aupetit officiated.

KTOTV, a French-language Catholic channel, said that the alternative arrangements had been made as the fire raged on Monday evening. Saint-Sulpice’s pastor, the Revd Jean-Loup Lecroix, said that church staff and clergy had worked hard to make sure all preparations were in place:

The church was full:

The archbishop gave a moving and powerful homily:

He also called on Our Lady to pray for everyone:

The following observation of his, which I mentioned yesterday, resonated the most. This was the opening to his homily:

What is the difference between a lump of stone and a cathedral? The same difference between a lump of cells and a human being.

Both have a sacred dimension.

The archbishop also spoke of chrism — the blessed oil — in terms of the cathedral. Unction refers to the anointing with that oil. The Sacrament of the Sick and Dying was referred to for centuries as Extreme Unction.

From the full homily transcript (in French):

The other thing that unites the cathedral with a human being is the unction that both can receive to show a transcendence, a divine presence that confers a sacred characteristic upon them.

He referred to the cathedral as the house of God — an expression I have not heard in years, but I learned as a small child. This passage also explains the importance of the altar:

Our cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris received that unction. During its consecration, the altar received chrism. The altar is the sign of the mysterious presence of God, like that which Jacob constructed after his vision of the angels who descended from and rose to Heaven. He called that place Bethel, which means ‘house of God’. The altar, essentially, represents the presence of God. The chrismation that we do on the altar signifies the presence of Christ. This is why priests venerate it and kiss it, because it is upon it that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is performed, recalling what Christ did through His love for us on the Cross. It is this Easter journey that we celebrate at each Eucharist: the death and resurrection of Lord Jesus.

The crosses on its walls also received this sacred oil, which we are now about to consecrate. This cathedral is inhabited by a people. But it is inhabited not only by those who pray in or visit it. It is the vessel of a Presence. St Paul recalled it when he said to Christians, ‘You are the Temple of God’.

He went on to speak about rebuilding Notre-Dame and the responsibility to the Church of every Catholic who has ever received chrism:

We are going to rebuild the cathedral. The worldwide emotion, the extraordinary élan of generosity that the fire engendered, will allow us to raise it up once again. We can speak during this Easter season of certain resurrection. But we must also raise the Church back up. May all who have been baptised, who have received the unction of Christ — Priest, Prophet and King — rediscover the fervour of that beginning, receiving that extraordinary grace in becoming children of God. Those who have received this unction at Confirmation must also manifest this whole gift of the Holy Spirit, which is the same expression of God’s love. This gift must fill them with joy in order for them to build a civilisation of love.

A fitting homily for such a special Mass.

Good Friday

On Good Friday, April 19, the Notre-Dame congregation gathered for the procession of the Way of the Cross:

The archbishop presided over the procession, praying for those who ‘acted with courage: firefighters, police and politicians’.

The prayers were even more intense than usual on Good Friday:

Holy Saturday

On April 20, French sailors serving on the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, currently on mission in the Indian Ocean, sent a special message via formation in the shape of Notre-Dame Cathedral:

Paris is their mother city, so it was a particularly poignant gesture.

Easter Sunday

Easter Masses were held at Saint-Eustache in Paris. The main Mass honoured the firefighters.

Questions, questions

This fire has raised many questions. The two main ones do not yet have a final answer.

Who and/or what started the fire?

How will Notre-Dame be rebuilt?

More to come.

If you missed it, please check out my last post on Notre-Dame de Paris, which ends with this stunning tweet, quickly deleted:

A Jesuit friend in Paris who works in told me cathedral staff said the fire was intentionally set.

What follows is also a bit strange. It is the best glimpse of the flash from the cathedral before the fire started.

Note the time stamps in the tweets below. Did we know there was a Mass on the evening of Monday, April 15, 2019, that had to be evacuated?

I will come back to the mystery of this fire in another post.

Today’s entry looks at what had already been removed from the cathedral during renovations and what had been saved from the fire.

Fearless fire brigade chaplain

The Paris firefighters did an incredible and exceptional job, but special credit goes to their chaplain, the Revd Jean-Marc Fournier, who dashed into the burning structure to save the Blessed Sacrament and the gold Crown of Thorns, believed to be the one our Lord wore. The journalist who posted this tweet works for the Catholic network KTOTV, based in Paris:

Breitbart has more on Fr Fournier and the cathedral’s sacred contents. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Fournier has been in dangerous situations before:

The newspaper reports he responded with the fire brigade to the 2015 Bataclan terror attacks in Paris, where Islamist extremists killed 90 with rifles and suicide vests at a rock concert in the city, where he was “quickly on the scene after the attack… he helped remove the wounded from the hall and prayed with the bodies of the victims.”

The priest also served as a chaplain to the French army and survived an ambush in Afghanistan where ten French soldiers were killed.

Television network Sky News reports the remarks of one member of the Paris emergency services who said of the chaplain: “Father Fournier is an absolute hero.

He showed no fear at all as he made straight for the relics inside the cathedral, and made sure they were saved. He deals with life and death every day, and shows no fear.”

In the following short video, Fr Fournier describes what he calls ‘the fire of the century’, extinguished by 600 firefighters. He also praised the fire chief and his ‘extraordinary intuition’ to save as much of the structure and its contents as possible.

Fournier said that his first thought on arrival was to rescue the Blessed Sacrament and the Crown of Thorns.

He’s a good speaker, very well prepared. Francophones will appreciate this:

On Tuesday, April 16, 2019, the Vicar General of the Diocese of Paris Philippe Marsset said that if there were miracles during the previous night, then our Lord surely worked through the Paris fire brigade:

One can understand why they were the guests of honour at the Easter Mass held at Saint-Eustache for Notre-Dame’s congregation. Archbishop Aupetit praised them for their courage and their ‘human genius which renders honour to God’s love’ for mankind:

Items already removed for renovation

A number of items had already been removed and stored for safekeeping during the cathedral’s renovation:

The 16 copper statues of the apostles and evangelists that adorned the roof of Notre-Dame made headlines last week as they were removed by crane for restoration work, intended to go two at a time over the course of the coming years. They now stand on palettes in a warehouse, having been saved from the fire which the restoration work, ironically, seems to have started.

Breitbart‘s article has photos of the statues’ removal. They were around the base of the spire, which burnt and broke off the cathedral. The statues will be restored in Perigueux, in southwest France. They will be returned once the new spire is completed, thought to be in 2022.

Items saved from the fire

Fr Fournier saved the Blessed Sacrament — consecrated hosts — and the Crown of Thorns from the fire:

Among the relics saved in the effort was Notre-Dame’s most famous and revered and holy relic, the gold-encrusted Crown of Thorns, believed to be the wreath of thorns that was placed on the head of Jesus Christ at his crucifixion.

A close up of the Crown of Thorns can be seen in another Breitbart article.

Elaborate candelabra and works of art were rescued and sent to City Hall (Hôtel de Ville) for safekeeping in St John’s Hall. St Louis’s tunic is also there. Paris’s City Hall is immense, so it is likely that the items can remain there for a long period of time.

The first tweet I saw on February 16 discussed the rooster from the top of the spire, with historic relics inside, including one of the Thorns:

As this historian said that same day, every time something else was rescued, it seemed like a miracle:

The 700-year-old statue of Our Lady was rescued. The cathedral’s rector said he saw it at midnight. He was grateful and expressed his gratitude that ‘the Mother of Jesus protected’ the cathedral built in her honour:

Tweets responding to the original one below indicate it might go to the Louvre temporarily:

This footage shows that, although there is ash all over the floor, the cabinets with the votive candles are unharmed — as is the magnificent rose window in the background:

Amazingly, all of the cathedral’s resident honeybees, living among three hives, survived:

Good News Network‘s article has an aerial photo of the hives’ location and explains:

For the last six years, there have been a trio of beehives nestled on top of the cathedral’s roof. The hives were just a few honeybee colonies that were installed across the city as a means of of boosting dwindling pollinator populations in Europe.

The hives have been managed by Notre Dame beekeeper Nicolas Geant since 2013; so when the Parisian cathedral caught fire last week, he anxiously awaited news of their condition …

Once specialists were finally able to check up on the honeybees, Geant was elated to hear that they were alive and well.

“It’s a big day. I am so relieved. I saw satellite photos that showed the three hives didn’t burn,” Geant told The Associated Press. “Instead of killing them, the CO2 (from smoke) makes them drunk, puts them to sleep.”

That being said, the bees are particularly lucky because the hives reside only 100 feet under where the roof was burning. If their hives had been heated to 63 degrees Celsius (145.4 Fahrenheit), the hive wax would have melted and the bees would have perished.

“I wouldn’t call it a miracle, but I’m very, very happy,” Geant added.

Church bells tolled in solidarity

Church bells tolled in solidarity with the losses that Notre-Dame de Paris suffered in the fire.

NDTV reported that, in England, bells rang on Tuesday of Holy Week and again on Maundy Thursday:

Church bells will toll across England on Thursday in “solidarity” with France and its people as they mourn the Notre-Dame blaze, Prime Minister Theresa May said.

The bells of Westminster Abbey, the church opposite parliament where kings and queens have been crowned since 1066, will be rung on Tuesday at 1643 GMT – the time that Monday’s fire broke out, May said.

“Notre-Dame is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world – a symbol of France and the French people, and cherished across the globe,” Ms May said in a statement.

“The images of destruction we saw last night were truly heart-rending.”

Bells will then be rung across the country on Maundy Thursday, three days before Easter.

Mrs May paid tribute to:

the “swift and heroic action of the first responders, France has huge professionalism in dealing with emergencies of this kind”.

She also offered to help with restoration:

“When it comes to the task of rebuilding, French craftsmen and women are among the finest in the world,” said the British leader.

We stand ready to offer any UK experience and expertise that could be helpful in the work that lies ahead to restore this magnificent cathedral.”

On Wednesday of Holy Week, all French cathedrals rang their bells in solidarity with Notre-Dame de Paris. I would encourage those who love the Church and architecture honouring the glory of God to watch this brief video of France’s magnificent cathedrals:

Bell ringing also took place in other countries, such as Poland.

In closing this post, I would like to point out the following for the many who think the Church is people alone, without houses of worship. The Archbishop of Paris had this to say in his homily during the Chrism Mass on Wednesday of Holy Week:

What is the difference between a lump of stone and a cathedral? The same difference between a lump of cells and a human being.

Both have a sacred dimension.

AMEN!

Tomorrow’s post will look at the fire’s influence on Holy Week services in Paris.

Continuing this series, for those of us who have seen it, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris seems immortal, protected by divine providence.

This is what we remember:

This structure largely remained the same over the centuries. This was before the spire was added:

This photograph is nearly a century old. Note the spire:

Around ten years later, a new fire ladder — the world’s tallest at the time — was tested at Notre-Dame:

So, when tragedy struck on the Monday of Holy Week — April 15, 2019 — the world was stunned, especially Parisians returning home from work:

Later that evening, the inferno continued:

Nine hours after the blaze started, this is what was left:

The following image will become iconic. It made one magazine cover in Britain:

French journalist François Picard tweeted his thoughts before hosting a special programme on France24 about the inferno:

Catholics presented a parochial perspective:

Fair enough, however, millions of Protestants — myself included — were equally struck by my many visits to Notre-Dame and this almost untameable fire.

President Trump spoke well for the world at large in expressing what Notre-Dame means:

That said, structural issues appeared in the cathedral some years ago:

Despite that, in 2016, a new organ console was installed:

The tweet about the structural issues points to a 2017 article in Time, updated after the fire: ‘Notre Dame Cathedral Is Crumbling. Who Will Help Save It?’

Journalist Vivienne Walt, the author, sounded the alarm (emphases mine):

Notre Dame, which looms over the capital from an island in the center of the city, is a constant reminder of Paris’ history. It has seen more than its share of epic dramas, including the French Revolution and two world wars. But now there is another challenge. Some 854 years after construction began, one of Europe’s most visited sites, with about 12 million tourists a year, is in dire need of repairs. Centuries of weather have worn away at the stone. The fumes from decades of gridlock have only worsened the damage. “Pollution is the biggest culprit,” says Philippe Villeneuve, architect in chief of historic monuments in France. “We need to replace the ruined stones. We need to replace the joints with traditional materials. This is going to be extensive.”

As always, it was a question of money:

Under France’s strict secular laws, the government owns the cathedral, and the Catholic archdiocese of Paris uses it permanently for free. The priests for years believed the government should pay for repairs, since it owned the building. But under the terms of the government’s agreement, the archdiocese is responsible for Notre Dame’s upkeep, with the Ministry of Culture giving it about €2 million ($2.28 million) a year for that purpose. Staff say that money covers only basic repairs, far short of what is needed. Without a serious injection of cash, some believe, the building will not be safe for visitors in the future. Now the archdiocese is seeking help to save Notre Dame from yielding to the ravages of time.

She gives us a brief history of the cathedral:

The architects of Notre Dame knew all too well about lengthy building work; it took more than a century to build the cathedral, beginning in 1163. It was periodically vandalized over the turbulent centuries that followed. Rioting Huguenots damaged parts of the building they believed to be idolatrous in the mid–16th century. During the French Revolution, mobs of people carted off or smashed some of its paintings and statues. The hated royalty suffered the brunt of the carnage, with crowds destroying 28 statues of monarchs from the building’s Gallery of Kings. After that, Notre Dame languished in neglect.

Then, in 1831, along came Victor Hugo and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, with its disfigured protagonist Quasimodo:

In it, France’s beloved writer raised alarm about the building’s decay, describing “mutilations, amputations, dislocations of the joints.” “Beside each wrinkle on the face of this old queen of our cathedrals,” he wrote, “you will find a scar.”

But for Notre Dame, Hugo’s book sparked fresh problems. The best seller inspired a restoration in 1844, which used low-quality stone and even cement, since France at the time could not produce the quantities of high-grade material that the job required.

Today, that restoration work is crumbling, as Vivienne Walt saw for herself:

Chunks of limestone lay on the ground, having fallen from the upper part of the chevet, or the eastern end of the Gothic church. One small piece had a clean slice down one side, showing how recently it had fallen. Two sections of a wall were missing, propped up with wood. And the features of Notre Dame’s famous gargoyles looked as worn away as the face of Voldemort. “They are like ice cream in the sun, melting,” says Michel Picaud, head of the nonprofit Friends of Notre Dame de Paris, looking up at them.

Whilst the mediaeval structure of the main part of the cathedral is sound, Andrew Tallon, an expert on Gothic architecture at Vassar College, told Walt:

The flying buttresses, if they are not in place, the choir could come down,” he says. “The more you wait, the more you need to take down and replace.”

Walt explains no one knew about this until a few years ago. Until then, the French government put large parts of the cathedral off limits. These areas were locked off. The government eventually allowed a total of 200 old keys to be standardised, which allowed Notre Dame caretakers to access previously blocked off spaces. André Finot, a spokesman for Notre Dame, told Walt:

We were shocked when we got up there.

The government purchased new bells in 2012 for Notre-Dame’s 850th anniversary. In 2017, the cathedral received an extra €6 million ($6.84 million) for restoration of the 19th century spire. Water damage to the spire could adversely affect the ancient oak roof, which has been there for over eight centuries.

When Walt wrote her article in 2017, the government was not terribly interested:

To the government, the cathedral is just one of many old buildings in need of care. “France has thousands of monuments,” says the official, who was not authorized to speak to the media. Among them, Notre Dame is not necessarily the most pressing case. “It will not fall down,” she says.

Notre-Dame staff were less relaxed about the state of the building:

there is plenty of alarm in the church. Finally accepting that the government would not pay to restore the cathedral, the archdiocese launched Friends of Notre Dame in October to appeal for help. It hopes to raise €100 million ($114 million) in the next five to 10 years. “There is no part of the building untouched by the irreparable loss of sculptural and decorative elements, let alone the alarming deterioration of structural elements,” the organization says on its website. The cathedral, it says, “is in desperate need of attention.”

Ironically, given the fire:

By the time serious renovation work begins–perhaps sometime before the end of this decade–the damage could be worse than it is today.

Indeed. Little did anyone know what would happen at the beginning of Holy Week 2019.

Fortunately, huge donations amounting to €500m arrived swiftly. The Arnault family donated while the inferno raged:

On the morning of April 16:

Pardon the repeat photos, but the accompanying comments are moving:

What a bittersweet memory of Holy Week 2019.

I will have more on Notre-Dame next week.

My prayers go to the victims, friends and families in the horrific attacks that took place in Sri Lanka on Easter, April 21, 2019.

In my archive of copious bookmarks, I ran across another attack on Sri Lankan churches at Easter — in 2009.

The article from ten years ago states that churches were already a frequent target around Easter in the island nation.

2009 attacks

There used to be a news service called Compass Direct, which reported on Christians being persecuted for their faith. Archives can be found on Eurasia Review and the Christian Post.

Thanks to Free Republic, I still have a Compass Direct article from 2009 concerning Easter weekend in Sri Lanka. At the time, Buddhist extremists were targeting Methodist churches. Emphases mine below:

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, April 16 (Compass Direct News) – Buddhist mobs attacked several churches in Sri Lanka last week, threatening to kill a pastor in the southern province of Hambanthota and ransacking a 150-year-old Methodist church building in the capital.

On April 8, four Buddhist extremists approached the home of pastor Pradeep Kumara in Weeraketiya, Hambanthota district, calling for him to come out and threatening to kill him. The pastor said his wife, at home alone with their two children, phoned him immediately but by the time he returned, the men had left.

Half an hour later, Kumar said, the leader of the group phoned him and again threatened to kill him if he did not leave the village by the following morning. Later that night the group leader returned to the house and ordered the pastor to come out, shouting, “I didn’t bring my gun tonight because if I had it with me, I would use it!”

“My children were frightened,” Kumara said. “I tried to reason with him to go away, but he continued to bang on the door and threaten us.”

Police soon arrived on the scene and arrested the instigator but released him the following day.

Subsequently the attacker gathered Buddhist monks and other villagers together and asked them to sign a petition against the church, Kumar said. Protestors then warned the pastor’s landlord that they would destroy the house if he did not evict the pastor’s family by the end of the month.

Fearing violence, Kumara said he canceled Good Friday and Easter Sunday services and evacuated his children to a safer location.

The attack on the 150-year-old Pepiliyana Methodist Church in Colombo took place on Palm Sunday that year — April 5. That day, the congregation held a Passiontide procession:

The gang entered through the back door and windows of the building late that night; witnesses said they saw them load goods into a white van parked outside the church early the next morning.

“They removed everything, including valuable musical instruments, a computer, Bibles, hymn books and all the church records,” said the Rev. Surangika Fernando.

The church had no known enemies and enjoyed a good relationship with other villagers, Rev. Fernando said, adding that the break-in appeared to be more than a simple robbery.

“My desk was completely cleaned out,” he said. “They took important documents with details of parishioners such as baptism and marriage records, which are of no value to thieves. They even took what was in my wastepaper basket.”

Local police agreed that robbery was an unlikely motive and that opponents from outside the area were the most likely culprits. Investigations were continuing at press time.

A third attack took place in Vakarai, eastern Batticaloa district. Anti-Christian mobs intimidated worshippers attending Holy Week services. There was no mention of the church’s denomination, but the pastor made a statement:

“What can we do?” pastor Kanagalingam Muraleetharan told Compass. “The authorities and the police say we have the right to worship, but the reality is that people are threatened.”

The article says that anti-Christian attacks in Sri Lanka began a few years before:

many of them instigated by Buddhist monks who decry the growth of Christianity in the country.

In 2009, legislation designed to restrict ‘forcible’ religious conversion was being discussed in the Sri Lankan Parliament:

Human rights organizations and Christian groups have criticized the vague terminology of the legislation that, if passed, may invite misapplication against religious activity.

The article concluded:

According to the most recent government census, Protestant Christians number less than 1 percent of the total population in Sri Lanka, but they remain the primary target of religiously motivated violence and intimidation.

The bill to restrict ‘forcible’ religious conversion still has not become legislation, at least as of 2018. Christian groups made their objections known in 2009. You can read more about various religious cases that have come before Sri Lankan courts in recent years.

2019 attacks

Ten years later, the 2019 Easter attacks were on Catholic churches. Hotels hosting Easter breakfasts were also targeted.

The Christian Post had two harrowing reports.

The first is an overview, ‘Explosions in Sri Lanka target churches, at least 185 dead on Easter Sunday’:

Three churches were attacked in Sri Lanka, with explosions killing dozens of Christians as they celebrated Easter Sunday morning.

Three hotels — Shangri-La Colombo, Kingsbury Hotel in Colombo and the Cinnamon Grand Colombo — that were holding Easter breakfast buffets were also targeted in the attacks. Two additional explosions were confirmed by media in Dehiwela and Dematagoda areas.

Police and hospital sources say at least 185 people, including children, have been killed and 469 have been injured in the attacks.

At least 81 people are reported to have died at St. Sebastian’s church in Negombo. St. Sebastian’s posted photos of the carnage to its Facebook page showing distressed and injured worshipers and extensive damage to the building. Officials from the church reported that there were 500 people attending Mass at the time of the explosion.

Local media reports say at least 27 people died at Zion Church in Batticaloa in Eastern Province; 24 people were killed at St. Anthony’s Church in Kochchikade.

The first of the explosions was reported to have occurred around 8:30 a.m.

The article says that Catholic churches in and around the capital, Colombo, cancelled all Easter services that evening. All state schools were closed on Monday and Tuesday.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe:

condemned the violence and has ordered the military and police to launch an urgent investigation into the attacks.

“I strongly condemn the cowardly attacks on our people today. I call upon all Sri Lankans during this tragic time to remain united and strong,” he said in a tweet. “Please avoid propagating unverified reports and speculation. The government is taking immediate steps to contain this situation.”

As of Easter Sunday evening:

No group has come forward yet to claim responsibility. Police found a suspicious package in Colombo as well as explosive materials in a house near the Dematagoda blast site.

The second article concerns what happened at Zion Church in Batticaloa, Eastern Province: ‘Minutes after Sunday School class said they would die for Christ, half killed in Sri Lankan bomb blast’.

This must have been unimaginably horrifying:

“Today was an Easter Sunday school at the church and we asked the children how many of you willing to die for Christ? Everyone raised their hands. Minutes later, they came down to the main service and the blast happened. Half of the children died on the spot,” Caroline Mahendran, a Sunday School teacher at the church said according to Israeli public figure Hananya Naftali.

One of the priests had an encounter with a suicide bomber, who was not Buddhist:

Fr. Kumaran, a pastor at Zion Church, told Times of India that he witnessed the death of many of the children shortly after arguing with the suicide bombing suspect he did not recognize.

It was about 8:30 a.m., Kumaran said, when he saw the suicide bombing suspect carrying a bag at the steps of the church already filled with worshipers.

“I asked him who he was and his name. He said he was a Muslim and wanted to visit the church,” Kumaran said.

Kumaran said he was ushered away from the encounter by other priests because it was getting late for Mass. As he walked toward the podium he heard an explosion. When he turned around, the blood of his congregants, including many from the children’s Sunday School class, was splattered on the church walls.

Twenty-eight people were killed, among them 12 children. Two are critical,” a distressed Kumaran told the publication.

A taxi driver lost his only child, a son, who had been part of Sunday School class that morning. The driver’s elder sister also died in the blast. His two other sisters and a brother-in-law were in critical condition as of Monday.

The driver also lost his friend in the explosion:

Ramesh, who had also questioned the suicide bombing suspect and “pushed the man outside the church door,” also died too as the man blew himself up shortly after that.

One priest just missed being killed. This was one time when being late had an advantage:

Fr. Kanapathipillai Deivendiran, who was scheduled to deliver the Easter Day message at Zion Church on Sunday, told The Hindu had he not been running late, he may have been killed too.

“I went a little after 9 a.m. I was a few minutes late or you will not be speaking to me now,” he said. “I didn’t know that there had been a blast a few minutes before that, I just walked into the premises. As I entered, I was shaken by the sight — walls had collapsed completely, there were bodies all over the floor,” he said.

The article gave additional statistics:

the death toll from the bomb attacks on several churches and luxury hotels in the island nation, where Christians make up less than 10 percent of the 20 million population, rose to nearly 300 Monday with at least 500 wounded.

By Monday, April 22, news emerged that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said that Sri Lanka’s intelligence services had received a warning ten days beforehand. They had not taken any action — and they had not informed him. From The Epoch Times:

Wickremesinghe told reporters on April 21 that the warning to Sri Lanka’s police hadn’t been acted upon and that the information hadn’t been passed to him.

The following tweet is from an MP and government minister:

The responses to his tweet were scathing, including these:

The Epoch Times says the alert reads, in part:

A foreign intelligence agency has reported that the NTJ (National Thowheeth Jama’ath) is planning to carry out suicide attacks targeting prominent churches as well as the Indian high commission in Colombo.

The NTJ is a radical Islamic group in Sri Lanka.

Out of 24 persons arrested, 13 suspects were in custody when The Epoch Times filed their report:

While no one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, Sri Lanka’s defense minister, Ruwan Wijewardene, identified the culprits as religious extremists. He said that although they have been identified, their names won’t be released to the public for security reasons.

Wijewardene confirmed that suicide bombers have been found to be responsible for most of the bombings on April 21, and that a single group is believed to be responsible for the coordinated explosions that all went off around 9 a.m. local time.

Interestingly enough, this was:

the first major attack in the country since the end of the Sri Lankan civil war between the Marxist Tamil Tigers organization and the government in 2009.

The Tamil Tigers were ‘innovators’ in suicide bombs.

Someone from St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, north of the capital, recalled the horrors of the country’s civil war:

We are all in shock. We don’t want the country to go back to that dark past where we had to live in fear of suicide blasts all the time.

Although Sri Lankans were the majority population who were victims, there were also tourists from all over the world: Europe, the United States, Turkey and China.

A reformist imam, who divides his time between Washington DC and Australia, tweeted:

On Tuesday, the imam disagreed with Sri Lankan findings:

This news, which also emerged on Tuesday, did not escape his notice:

He responded:

He posted something that got him in hot water with Zuckerberg’s crew:

This is the imam’s view of suicide bombing:

He also praised the response from the United States and criticised CNN:

He isn’t too keen on Democrats, either:

He also had a go at Al Jazeera:

He also tells us this about Sri Lanka. Interesting:

In closing, he offers good advice:

I was going to go into the ‘Easter worshippers’ controversy, but the reformist imam seemed more worthwhile.

More on Notre-Dame starting tomorrow.

This eight-minute video from Michael Knowles of The Daily Wire is an excellent exploration of the future reconstruction of Notre-Dame Cathedral, Holy Week and Jesus:

For such a young man, Knowles posits observations well beyond his years.

His video is based around Rolling Stone‘s article from Holy Week, after the Notre-Dame fire, saying that the cathedral should be reconstructed to move away from ‘a deeply flawed institution’ — the Catholic Church.

Knowles says that it’s not only the Catholic Church that has flaws. Every Christian denomination has them, because of mankind’s own flaws.

He says that, following on logically from Rolling Stone‘s assertion, the further we pull away from our traditional institutions — even secular ones — the more our society becomes ‘lonely’ and ‘isolated’. He says that we have seen this happen in Western countries over the past few decades to the point that even our basic structure of the family unit is fracturing.

Knowles goes on to quote Edmund Burke, who said, essentially, that liberating oneself from everything constricting results in a life without meaning.

Knowles ends by saying there is something to be said for ‘an exalted freedom’, which actually requires ‘some subservience’ and ‘obedience’. He says this is best exemplified in Jesus, in the last days before His death and resurrection — the events we remember during Holy Week and Easter.

Knowles says that Jesus did not come to us as a ‘fully liberated hippie guy’ but as a ‘servant’. He submitted His will to that of His Father for the benefit of mankind.

Knowles should pursue the ministry. He makes much more sense than most present-day clerics.

More on Notre-Dame to follow this week.

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