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Archive for the ‘Easter’ Category

I read something (multiple times) over the Easter weekend that has been ruminating in my mind, tossing and turning.

I do not know the originator of these words, I do know their theology, the church they attend, the denomination to which they belong … or if they do. All I know is …

the simplicity and truth of this conversion is undeniable.

It comes from Luke 23:39-43:

One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”

But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

We see in this passage the telling of Jesus and two criminals hanging on their crosses. The first declares, in clearly mocking, disbelieving tones, who Jesus is and what he could do for them … based on what others say, not what he believes.

Then, the second speaks and you can hear his sincerity, his humility as he states the truth of his situation, his deserving of this punishment for his crime. And then he simply asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. He knows who this Jesus is and knows that only he can save this man’s soul, his eternity.

Then Jesus asks him to pray a prayer …

Nope

Jesus assures him that he will be with him in paradise, in heaven. That is it.

It is SO, SO simple and clear.

Believe and be saved!

Here (below) is what has been percolating in my mind these days … not sure the original source, but I am thankful for the reminder to me to keep thinks simple, believe and be saved (Acts 16:31) :

“How does the thief on the cross fit into your theology? No baptism, no communion, no confirmation, no speaking in tongues, no mission trip, no volunteerism, and no church clothes. He couldn’t even bend his knees to pray. He didn’t say the sinner’s prayer and among other things, he was a thief. Jesus didn’t take away his pain, heal his body, or smite the scoffers. Yet it was a thief who walked into heaven the same hour as Jesus simply by believing. He had nothing more to offer other than his belief that Jesus was who he said he was. No spin from brilliant theologians. No ego or arrogance. No Shiny lights, skinny jeans, or crafty words. No haze machine, donuts, or coffee in the entrance. Just a naked dying man on a cross unable to even fold his hands to pray.”

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He is risen
(do I hear, he is risen indeed?).

This is the day we sing with joy “he is alive” in various worship songs and hymns.

We have been immersed in the days leading up to this one.

We may have given up things and practises in our lives in the weeks approaching Easter Sunday.

We followed Jesus life from his baptism, to temptations, to miracles and teachings.

We have envisioned him, sitting on a donkey, riding through the excited crowds triumphantly.

We have been reminded of his love for his disciples and how, in the last moments with them, he taught them how to love one another and others in picking up his baton.

We felt the knot in our throats as he dipped his bread into the same bowl as Judas, who would betray Jesus … and his own soul.

We would remember him in the garden, tortured by thoughts of what was to come for us all … even those who could not stay awake with him.

We would know the filth of our own hands as Pilate washed his … a dirt that no amount of water could cleanse.

We would wince at the thoughts of his torture, humiliation and the agony of the cross … the cross that he had to carry (though it was never his cross … he carried our cross … mine and yours). The cross carried through the streets of that same triumphal city, same crowds … from cheers to jeers in less than a week.

We would be silenced at the thought of the earth’s quake, the curtain torn … finished.

silence

silence

silence

Then, the sun began to rise this morning. Our eyes opened to a new day, a reminder that all things have been made new.

The rock was moved, the tomb empty.

Jesus is alive!

The suffering and death have accomplished something miraculous … not just his rising, but his rising for us.

Oh happy day,
happy day
I’ll never be the same
forever I am changed

There are the good things of this world, the hard things of this world, and the best things of this world—God’s love, glory, holiness, beauty. The Bible’s teaching is that the road to the best things is not through the good things but usually through the hard things, as Jesus himself shows us in Philippians 2:5–11. There is no message more contrary to the way the world understands life or more subversive to its values. ” Tim Keller

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Unka Glen

The sky slowly grows lighter, brighter on this Friday morning and I wonder,

was it bright that day, that Good Friday morning?

When he awoke (had he even slept?) to that day that would not be good for him.

My mind cannot help but think of what this day held for him …

the stomach turns,

the chest tightens,

the weight of his act falls on shoulders.

It was a gruesome day for him.

a lonely day.

a day apart.

Today cannot be fully appreciated without acknowledging the horrors, the bloodshed of this day. For that is part of the sacrifice made for humanity.

Yet, it was not war, which demands sacrifice with mutual killing, but sacrifice through substitution.

Jesus did not just die for our eternity, but he stepped into our place, accepting the cost of our sin, becoming our vicarious atonement.

He did this for no reason other than his love for us.

I love the contemporary poem by Unka Glen (above). I love how each line is so fitting to today, for, when he awoke on this Friday morning, he did so with love for us in his heart. He loved with patience for us, with no anger or memory of our mistakes … he walked the road of this day to protect us, to overcome death for us, to show that his loves never fails us … ever.

His grace has planned it all
‘Tis mine but to believe
And recognize His work of love
And Christ receive

For me He died;
For me He lives,
And everlasting life
And light He free-ly gives.

My Hope is in the Lord – Norman John Clayton

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I heard someone share on the radio favorite Easter memories and found myself driving and thinking about my own. When we think of favorites, immediately my mind goes to my childhood and the childhoods of our kids. The egg hunts, the new outfits, singing joyfully, in a celebratory way in church, the sun pouring in on Easter Sunday (shouldn’t it always be dark and ominous on Good Friday, while bright and sunny on Easter Sunday?).

A friend at work mentioned how she loves when, on Easter Sunday, people greet each other with “He is risen” to which we respond, “He is risen indeed.” It is such a joyful, bonding communication between believers.

Then I found my thoughts drift to the events of Easter. Palm Sunday’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the last supper of Jesus and his disciples, the betrayal of Judas, Jesus in Gethsemane, his arrest, crucifixion, the earthquake, his rising.

I thought about each piece of the drama that enfolded from Jerusalem to the tomb and this took my mind to one part of the story.

It is found in Matthew 27:11-26. It is the telling of Jesus before Pilate and the crowd.

The entire drama that enfolded with Pilate comes down to his one act, followed by explanation (v. 24):

He took water and washed his hands in front of the many people. He said, “I am not guilty of the blood of this good Man. This is your own doing.” 

I did a bit of searching for songs that depict or refer to this act. There are quite a few, but they are not ones by artists I would have expected … Rolling Stones, Megadeath, Kendrick Lamar, Pearl Jam.

My own memory could only grasp the lyrics from the Rich Mullins song, Creed (suffered under Pontius Pilate).

Yet, these words and this action of Pilate … the leader who was not a Jew, who had no relationship with this donkey-riding man, but whose wife warned him to have nothing to do with Jesus, for she had suffered such a dreadful, sleepless night …

they could have been spoken by any of us.

For, when things get tough, when other believers do despicable acts, say despicable things, we too wash our hands of this man, his church, his word, his way.

I think Pilate’s words remind me, every Easter, of how they could be my words, my attempt to wash away my participation in his death.

But, I can’t.

For his death … it was for me, for my hand washing … for we cannot wash away sin with water.

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Brian Jekel

“When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.”

Four lines, simply describing the ungilded, unremarkable, dastardly start of life. Though the first line speaks to the growing and beauty of the scene, there is nothing pretty or memorable about this birth, this first breath. We might make assumptions … poverty, physical disfigurement, flaws, a lacking of gifts.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The negative descriptives of the narrator’s self-debasement continue … what an image is drawn for the reader! He/she is ugly, unappealing and something to stay away from, like the devil himself … but unable even to cast a spell. Oh, how we have all had such thoughts of our self. Self-deprecating thoughts as we stare into a mirror, as we speak and our words seem to echo in our heads, while those around were immune to their sounds.

Wait! A hint is given … this is not human, this is a creature on four feet.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me:
I am dumb, I keep my secret still.

An outlaw! This four-legged creature is despised by society, since the beginning of time. Not the first to be fed (perhaps speaking of more than just nutrition), whipped, ridiculed. This being has been told, been shown how lowly it is … since it’s very beginning. It knows that it. is. nothing … nothing of value. to anyone.

BUT … though it knows it is senseless, unintelligent, even speechless

it has a secret!

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

An hour. One hour changed this creature forever. It recalls the noise about him, the soft feel of the fresh palms under his hooves.

The secret is revealed! The scales that had blinded this creature to the reality of it’s strength, it’s grand purpose … have fallen away. As Newton learned, also through ugly reality, this creature learned too that though it was once blind, it now can see.

A one hour ride through the city, redeemed this creature, this jackass.

*Though G. K. Chesterton never mentions the one who rode upon the back of this donkey, though Jerusalem is never whispered, both are shouted in the inner transformation of the narrative voice of the donkey. Perhaps, Chesterton knew, as we all do … deep down in our tattered outlaw hearts, that we all begin as a lowly, despised donkeys in need of one hour with our Savior.

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I love new beginnings.

Spring brings many of those, for it is a season of fresh starts, reawakening. The trees are beginning their blossom beautification to neighborhoods near and around me, with fluffy clouds of whites, pinks and corals. The bulbs, long cold in the ground are pushing their way through the humus, eager to pop all the colors of a rainbow, right there on the ground. I remember each spring, as a child, going for drives ‘in the country’ (I guarantee you, we already lived in the country) to see tree lined fields, inhabited by deer of all sizes and ages, out to forage for ground level nutrition.

In this lenten season, there is new afoot, in the dusty sandals of Jesus, but there was one before him.

I love the passage that speaks of this other man, found in Mark 1:1-15.

I love how Mark goes back, and then forward, back and then forward. It is as if he knows that we mortals will be on the lookout for evidence, for proof that what is reported it truth (which, lets face it, it a good thing and a common practise throughout the word of God).

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord  make straight paths for him.’”

Mark begins his book declaring the start of good news … Genesis may have had a beginning of the world and everything in it, but this story is beginning with the good news … the Messiah!

But, Mark doesn’t then begin with his (first person) take on the life of Jesus, where they went, what they ate, who they talked to, or private jokes between them. No, he goes to the past, to the prophet Isaiah and what he foretold would happen, not just in regard to the Messiah, but those who also had a part to play in this good news.

In this case, his re-telling is about John the Baptist, the cousin who leapt for joy (in his mother’s womb) when he first encountered Jesus.

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

John was the messenger spoken of by Isaiah. The one who primed the pipe, so to say, preparing people for the grand entrance of the Good News.

Then we read of Jesus being baptized by John, followed by his time in the desert with the devil. Then, John, this messenger who heralded the arrival of the Messiah, was put in prison, his main task completed.

  • Let’s stop here a minute, because I think there is an important life application here for us today. John came, he had a job to do. My guess is that he knew God was with him in his task. He had followers (“The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him“), yet, his life was not one that we modern Christ-followers expect, want or think we deserve. He lived simply, sparsely. He did the job of paving the way for the Messiah … and he was done … no accolades, no pat on the back (on this side of heaven), no book deals, no riches, not even a spot on Jesus’ team of disciples. And, though he was the messenger that even Isaiah spoke of, in the end, John kinda lost his head. There is a lesson here … doing what is right in the eyes of God does not guarantee good here on Earth … the only prosperity gospel that is biblical is “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

Then, moving forward, we read of Jesus’ ministry beginnings,

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Here we see Jesus fulfilling the words and actions of John the Baptist, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And we also see Jesus declaring his purpose, declaring the good news … for he was the beginning of the deliverance of Good News.

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Ash Wednesday … a day on the calendar that has had little meaning to me, a day I knew little about.

I guess I think of it as a Catholic day, or one practised by more mainline churches (those older, established denominations, which are protestant but who hold closely to the church calendar, rituals and traditions). It is a day of the burning of Easter palms to ashes and the sign of the cross, applied to the forehead of church-goers.

But … why?

“For you were made from dust,
and to dust you will return.”

Genesis 3:19

Dust to dust … ashes to ashes

mortality.

We are reminded today, by the ashes, that we are mortal, we are subject to death. Like the palm leaves, green and full of life, we eventually fade, dry up and blow into the wind. This mortality, earned through our human DNA, damaged in the choices in the Garden of Eden, by the choices we make each and every day.

But, we are also reminded today, by the shape of the cross drawn with the ashes, that, though our bodies are mortal, fragile, our eternity is in the hands of our redeemer. It is through the gift of his sacrifice that God sees not our sin, but sees us as his.

Today we consider our human condition.

Today we look at what has been done on our behalf.

Today is an opportunity turn from our human nature, to turn from that which separates us from God, toward a daily life of closeness with him and to live with redemption in our souls.

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Who do you say I am?

The words of question to Simon Peter, to the disciples … to us all, encapsulate the most important question ever asked.

Who we say Jesus is determines our relationship with him, our eternity.

If we call Jesus a great teacher (which is true) that simply means that we relate to him on an intellectual level.

If we call him a great healer (which is true) then we relate to him as one who can fix our physical bodies.

If we call him a great counsellor (which is tru) then our relation to him is just as one who we can tell our troubles and to whom we can hand over our anxieties.

If we call him Creator (which he is) then we relate to him as a cosmic genie or chess player, moving his creation to a fro in an effort to win with the most players standing.

But …

if we call his father, then he is one who gave us life.

if we call him Lord, then he has a plan and we are part of it.

and if we call him Saviour, Redeemer … then he is the only one who could open heaven’s gates to us both here on Earth and in heaven … and he did so at a cost that was ours to pay, not his.

Jesus, on his last night with the disciples said (John 14:6), 

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

But, he didn’t stop there, he continues (v.7),

“If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Jesus is reminding his disciples (and everyone who has read these words, including you and I) that Jesus and God are one and that he has access to the power of heaven. Actually, Jesus goes on (v. 12) :

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these …”

What?!

We, who believe in Jesus as our Redeemer, can do even greater things than him?!? People, we cannot forget who Jesus is … what he has done for us … how that impacts our lives.

Just a few years after his life was threatened by a bullet intended to kill him, Pope John Paul 2 said,

“We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song!”

It is the death and resurrection of Jesus that gives us life, through which we share in his power and victory.

People we may have very real struggles, we may have very real fears and sorrows … but we serve the one who has beaten death. It doesn’t matter if this Pandemic continues for years, or if is all a conspiracy … if we call Jesus our Saviour, “Allelujah is our song.”

“Who do you say that I am?”
Jesus

“We do not pretend that life is all beauty. We are aware of darkness and sin, of poverty and pain. But we know Jesus has conquered sin and passed through his own pain to the glory of the Resurrection. And we live in the light of his Paschal Mystery – the mystery of his Death and Resurrection. “We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song!” We are not looking for a shallow joy but rather a joy that comes from faith …” Pope John Paul 2

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To serve is to submit, help or do for another … another group, another person or to God. Basically service is submission of me for another.

To be in service can mean that there is a payment for such acts, but the act of service is always, always an act of the will.

In recent days the word service has been used more than in months previous, added together. The death of Prince Philip, husband to Queen Elizabeth, has heralded the use of the word service in news articles and social media posts in the most honorable of ways.

Just yesterday, scrolling through Instagram I came across a post referring to the decades-long service of Philip to his wife and Queen. Following that was a meme about how we deserve better. I paused my scrolling … and sighed.

To serve is selfless, to speak of our deserving more is quite a different thing.

I think we humans, in this age, struggle to serve others, for we are constantly told that we deserve more, better. Serving takes on the connotation of being low, personal sacrifice without recognition, being in the shadows. No one wants to live in the shadows when the spotlight is so shiny.

This perspective can be exemplified when the culture around us has a pattern of looking down on those who serve others. The current pandemic has done some repair to this perspective, acknowledging those who serve others in hospitals, care homes, grocery stores, schools, on ambulances etc.

Our human choice to focus on what we deserve as opposed to how we can serve others means that we lose out on the joy of serving, of understanding how our strengths and gifts might be used in our service to others. To serve others is to live our life walking more closely with Christ, for he himself came to serve.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served,
but to serve,
and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Mark 10:45

What we deserve … would not be IG meme popular today to our eyes and hearts. For there would not have needed to be a cross if what we deserved was socially marketable. What we deserve is why Jesus had to die … his body broken, his blood spilled, his father’s back to him … he did this because of what we deserve. Thus we have John 3:16 (the Carole Wheaton translation)

“For God so loved the world,
that he GAVE his SON,
that whoever SERVES HIM,
will not get what they deserve.”

Romans 3:24 does give us hope in regards to what we deserve,

“God treats us much better than we deserve,
and because of Christ Jesus,
he freely accepts us and sets us free from our sins.”

His is the example of service to us, for through his sacrifice, we get far more than we deserve. May we focus our lives on what the example of Christ’s serving rather than on what the world says we deserve.

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From the bronze statue by Bruce Wolfe of Christ and Mary Magdalene at the Old Mission in Santa Barbara

The angel spoke to the women who came to the open and empty tomb,

“He is not here, for he is risen, just like he said.”

He is risen … and we who are his followers respond,

He is risen indeed

Those are the words of affirmation that Christ did what he said he would do (as recorded, before his death on the cross). He has conquered death.

These are the words that have even more beauty and weight and value. They spoke the prophetic anticipation waited and prayed for far longer than any vaccination. The words, he is risen, speak not just victory over a virus, but a victory over our human genetic condition of sin.

He paid a debt he did not owe, because we owed a debt we could not pay. Our only hope has ever been his sacrifice and we have hope because died and defeated death on our account.

Our Christian faith hinges on the resurrection … if it had not happened, then Jesus was not the son of God … but it did, there were multiple witnesses in multiple places … our faith is in the living, resurrected Christ (hallelujah!).

This Holy Week, I have been asking these questions:

  • how did the disciples not know what was going to happen as they ate with Jesus?
  • what if I were there?
  • what happened to open the eyes of those who met him on the road?

On the third day Jesus appeared to a number of people who did not, at first, seem to know who he was. These were not people unfamiliar with him, but family, friends, the disciples. Remember, it was only a week since his triumphal entry into the city, only four days since the supper in the upper room, only three days since his public crucifixion.

Depending on the Gospel, Jesus is seen by one or more women at the tomb, or to a few disciples fishing on the Sea of Galilee, or on a road, or in the upper room … what we do know from these accounts is that the risen Jesus was seen by numerous people … witnesses to this miraculous fulfilling of the prophesy.

But there are three occurrences when people who were close to him did not recognize the risen Jesus.

Luke records that two disciples walked and talked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus, and “but they were kept from recognizing him” Luke 24:16). John (20) tells of Jesus talking with Mary Magdalene and until he called her by her name she did not see who he was. Then in John (21) Jesus walked on the shore of the Sea of Galilee while a number of disciples fished, unsuccessfully. Jesus told them to throw the net to the other side of the boat, which resulted in an enormous catch … then Peter knew who is was and leapt from the boat into the water (not on the water this time).

So why? Why did these people, who knew Jesus so well, prior to his death, not know him now? And what caused their eyes to open?

Some theologians say it was that Christ had a different, glorified body. That they did not recognize him because he did not look like the human Jesus they knew.

But, that account in Luke, that they were kept from recognizing him … that sounds like his identity was intentionally kept from them, yet it is not part of the accounts of John.

As I read them, I found myself wondering if these accounts tell us something of how God reveals to each of us in ways that are specific to us and how he created us.

In the case of the the pair on the road to Emmaus, they told Jesus what had happened, about the death of the prophet. It is this title that, I think, says much about their understanding of Jesus. They thought he was a wise man, who could speak to things about the future. It was not until later, as they ate and Jesus broke bread and offered it to them “then their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (v. 31). In their cases, Christ himself chose when to allow them to see who he really was … for before they spoke, he knew that they’d only ever seen him as a prophet, that they would need to see him as he really is.

In the case of Mary Magdalene, she was absorbed in her grief. She was downcast. Her focus was really not on Jesus, but herself. But when he called her by name, then she turned her focus to him, abandoning her pity party.

The disciples in the boat were also in a funk. They were deep in grief and loss and they couldn’t even catch a fish. Their identity had been as fishermen and as followers of Jesus … and they were now unsuccessful in both. It was not until Jesus told them to move their nets and they were filled with fish, that they remembered that their abilities, their value was in who Jesus said they were … and they saw him for who he was.

We, I believe are like these individuals, when it comes to seeing Christ for who is really is.

Some of us have an appointed time to see him.

Some of us need to lift our eyes from ourselves to see him.

Some of us need to be reminded that our identity is in him, rather than what we do.

May, this Easter, we see Him, with eyes opened wide.

He is risen

“The pure in heart,
they shall see God” 
Luke 24:16

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