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Posts Tagged ‘#easter’

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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The Feast in the House of Levi” by Paolo Veronese

These days from Palm Sunday (marking the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem) to the following Sunday (marking the rising of Christ) are known in the church calendar as Holy Week.

This week is one of preparation and prophesy fulfilled. It is a pendulum-shifting drama that swings from joy, to sorrow then to an even greater, impossible triumph.

As I have been contemplating this Holy Week, I have found my heart and mind to be asking questions.

These questions I am focusing on as I walk through the week, remembering the events and how they enfolded, bringing myself into this great drama.

These are my queries:

  • 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?

As soon as Palm Sunday passed, my thoughts moved to the final meal, the last supper of Jesus with his ragtag group of disciples.

It boggles my mind that the disciples could have sat, eating with their leader and friend, listened to the words he said, observed actions (Judas) and words of Jesus and of others … yet they seemed clueless to what was happening, what was to happen.

… but I read the Gospel accounts with the benefit of hindsight

Like a person grieving the earthly loss of one held dear, reminiscing over and over again the actions and words spoken by their dearly departed, we can read the accounts of the Last Supper knowing what comes next. Therefore, we read the words with limited possible meaning.

The meal itself was not simply a final meal between friends, but the annual observance and celebration of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This feast represents the end of the plagues brought to Egypt as a result of their refusal to , as Moses said, “let my people go.” The Jews were saved by painting their doorposts with the blood of lambs, so that when death came by, the blood would prevent it from entering the household … thus it passed over (Passover) their homes. This seder meal was part of a seven day feast, when the only bread eaten would not have been the puffy, yeast-risen bread, but the flat and crispy Matzah type.

Perhaps it is because of this cultural and religious event that the disciple’s minds were not on the future that Jesus was speaking of, but the past. Perhaps all they could see and hear in words of their leader were simply Even Jesus himself said, “I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples” (Matthew 26:18).

Though we see the parallel of celebrating the Passover feast (which celebrated the saving of the Israelites by the blood of the lamb) with the very Passover lamb (whose blood was spilled to save them, us all) … they just saw the observance of a festival.

This Feast of Unleavened Bread … they celebrate it with the very one who said, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35), but they were just looking for physical (not spiritual) nourishment.

This unleavened bread, a reminder of fleeing Egypt, before their bread rose to wander in the dessert. No yeast was to come with them … symbolizing their need to leave their sins behind them. Jesus, sharing their table, was to become like yeast in their lives, growing and spreading his message of redemption.

These Jesus-followers were primitive mortals who knew only in-part as they sat down to feast with their fearless leader. In the days to come, their eyes would be opened to the drama being written as they simply enjoyed a good meal, drink and companionship around the table.

The banquet was just beginning.

*This video (below) presents a discussion of the Veronese painting (above) and compares it to that of Leonardo da Vinci … this comparison, in my mind contrasts how the disciples might have experienced the Last Supper with Jesus (Veronese) to how we see the Last Supper (Leonardo).

“in some ways it just looks like a banquet, and not a Last Supper”

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My first memories of Palm Sunday were as a young child, on a bright Sunday morning, in my grandmother’s church, deep in the rural woodlands on Canada’s East Coast. The children of the Sunday School were each given a palm branch. At a designated point in the Sunday service we were to walk from back to front and back again in the sanctuary, waving our branches and saying

“Hosanna!”
“Blessed is he who comes
in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the king of Israel!”

The congregation smiled encouragingly. Then the pastor instructed all to join in our joyful, hope-filled announcement.

Shortly after, the service ended and we all went home.

Palm branches and excitement over the arrival of a man, a king, on a donkey all but forgot.

This is what Palm Sunday is … excitement then apathy, it is the height of the people’s love for this king, yet it leads to the hardest week for Him, as he walked the road to sacrifice so as to provide the way for the greatest height for us.

This triumphal entry, parallels, yet so different from his pilgrimage on the Path of Sorrows (Via Dolorosa) to Calvary. This trek, leading from his place of torture and sentencing, to his place of death. No palm branches, no joyful, hope-filled exclamations from the crowds in the street.

Today, Palm Sunday, joyful and hope-filled as it was, as it is, is a window into the fickleness of our human race. In less than a week, those who followed him went from

“blessed is he who comes
in the name of the Lord!”

to

“crucify him”

We, who follow him today, are not that different.

Palm Sunday is the beginning of the end, of the beginning. We must check our cheers of hallelujah today … ensuring that our joy in Him lasts longer than this day. For darkness will come into each of our lives and we will need this King to save us.

A Sonnet for Palm Sunday
Malcolm Guite

Now to the gate of my Jerusalem,

The seething holy city of my heart,

The saviour comes. But will I welcome him?

Oh crowds of easy feelings make a start;

They raise their hands, get caught up in the singing,

And think the battle won. Too soon they’ll find

The challenge, the reversal he is bringing

Changes their tune. I know what lies behind

The surface flourish that so quickly fades;

Self-interest, and fearful guardedness,

The hardness of the heart, its barricades,

And at the core, the dreadful emptiness

Of a perverted temple. Jesus come

Break my resistance and make me your home.

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Though the Easter weekend has past, somehow it could almost feel like it never happened.

I have to admit that I didn’t do too well with my lenten sacrifice. I had intended that each day I would read a number of chapters in John, starting with the death of Lazarus and going to Jesus’ arrest in the garden. Despite having the time, with self isolation and social distancing becoming a reality, contemplative reading was not something I have done much of these weeks.

The one lenten practise I did maintain was a frequent, silent praying of what is known as the Jesus Prayer,

Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of God,
have mercy on me,
a sinner.

I put an image of it on my phone’s home screen, so I saw it every time I went to turn my phone on (and man, have I turned it on often during these days of Covid 19 updates and breaking news).

I have been constantly reminded, in the lead up to Easter, who I am in relation to Jesus. What he has done for me.

Then Easter, during this season of Covid 19, came … and went. No crescendo of voices on Easter morning, no large family gatherings, no face to face Easter embraces and greetings of “He is risen” to respond, “He is risen indeed.”

Yet …

The words of song, the words of an ancient creed, have been mulling in my mind for weeks …

The first writing of the Apostle’s Creed was in 390AD …

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of the saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

In this time of Covid 19, in the light shadows of the Easter weekend, we are called to the question,

what do I believe?

And the words of this Creed echo in my mind, in my heart. For this is what I believe is the essential belief of we, the Easter people. The people who follow, not blindly, but in faith of the one who died for our good … both here on Earth, but even more so, for the eternity that awaits us all.

So, my soul sings what I believe, reaching a solo crescendo … one reached by millions of followers throughout the ages.

We all have to answer the question of Pilate,

“What shall I do, then,
with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”

And I believe what I believe
is what makes me what I am
I did not make it
no, it is making me
it is the very truth of God
and not the invention of any man
I believe it

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The day before his death …

and he goes to the garden …

where all things, good and evil, originated.

Today, as we prepare to remember the events leading to the crucifixion of Jesus and subsequent resurrection of our Savior, it is good to spend some time in the garden with him.

When Jesus entered the garden of Gethsemane, he said to his disciples,

“Sit here while I go over there and pray”
(Matthew 26:36)

We are still called to sit … to contemplate … to pray.

Somehow, it is easier to do those things out in nature … and in the beauty of a spring garden, it is as though our souls are drawn not only to the creation, but also the Creator.

Today is the time for reflection, for prayer.

Spend some time today in the garden.

I stay in the garden with Him,
Though the night around me is falling.
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.
And He walk with me and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

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Who do you love?
a spouse? children? friend? parent?

Why do you love them?
how they make you feel?
what they have done for you?
they are yours?

To what extent would your love go for their benefit?
do things they like to do?
move to another city?
sacrifice time? money?

There is a story that always reminds me about the greatest gift of love:

There was a little girl who was suffering from a rare life threatening disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her 5-year-old brother, who had somehow survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness.

The doctor explained the situation to her little brother, and asked the little boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister. I saw him hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, “Yes, I’ll do it if it will save her.”

As the transfusion progressed, he lay in bed next to his sister and smiled, as we all did, seeing the color returning to her cheeks. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, “Will I start to die right away?”.

Being young, the little boy had misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give his sister all of his blood in order to save her.

That story always reminds me of the love of God, for us, his children. It is the love spoken of in John 15:13, which tells us, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

In Ellicott’s Commentary, on this verse, we read that, ” … the highest reach of love is the self-sacrifice which spares not life itself.”

If I think about it, I can imagine being willing to sacrifice my life for a handful of individuals … maybe a few more. I care for those people, have a relationship with them, seek the best for them and desire that they have future, a hope.

The thing is the love of Christ for us goes the next step further. God made this sacrifice because he cares for us, seeks the best for us, desires a future and hope for us. But, he made this sacrifice for those who have relationship with him, as well as those who have not chosen relationship with him … and his sacrifice was his own son.

It is the greatest love … there is no greater.

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Lent, from a Latin word, meaning forty, can imitate Jesus forty days of prayer and fasting in the desert, as some celebrate lenten practise six days a week (not on Sundays) up to Thursday night celebration of the last supper (Maundy Thursday) and others do so every day straight through to Easter Sunday.

There is nothing magical or mandatory about the practise of Lent. It is, quite simply, an opportunity to prepare, focus and share in sacrifice as we await the season of Easter.

I practised lent a number of years ago, giving up cream in my coffee. It was such a little thing, but I missed it so much. Because morning coffee is how my day begins, I missed it … and, in missing something so regular, I was reminded daily of the (so much greater) sacrifice of Christ, for me.

This year I felt a tug to celebrate the lenten season again. This time, though, I did not feel compelled to give up, but take in.

A wise man, James R Dennis recently wrote, of lent,

“If all we do during Lent is give up chocolate, that’s not a Lenten discipline, that’s a diet. And that’s fine, but that’s not the life we’re called into. We are called during that Holy Season to abandon anything that gets between us and God, to lay down our burdens and begin again.” James R Dennis

ahhh … to begin again!

If giving up chocolate (or any other thing) is done so as a sacrifice that will bring us closer to God, that will remind us of his sacrifice, then do it. Let me tell you, I had no idea how important cream in my coffee was to me, until I gave it up for Lent. But I wanted something out of the lenten season that would not just remind me of his sacrifice, but also fill me with his life.

So, my lenten practise will be reading from the book of John, from the death of Lazarus, in chapter 11, to the prayers of Jesus (before his arrest), in chapter 17. I will read this passage every day, from my Bible, not a screen version. During the week preceding Easter weekend, I will then read John 18-20, from his arrest to the empty tomb. In addition to this, I have committed to speak what is called the Jesus Prayer or The Prayer (in the image) daily, to remind me that the mercy I have received has come, at great cost, from Christ.

How about you? I’d love to know if and how you include lenten practise in this season.

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Betrayed by friends and followers, who were like family.

In the Easter week, Maundy Thursday is the day that we remember the events of the last supper, of Gethsemane. It is within those events of Jesus sharing the Passover meal with his disciples, then praying in the garden, also with his disciples, that Jesus experiences what we have all experienced …

betrayal by someone loved

It is here that we can most understand and relate to the suffering of Jesus.

Being arrested, accusations made against him, put on trial, sentenced to death, flogged, crucified. We cannot relate to such experiences of the passion of the Christ.

Betrayal, though … by someone who we loved and who loved us …

we have all felt the life-stealing sting of betrayal by one we love(d).

We have all felt the moment of awareness that we were betrayed by one we love … can betrayal come from any source other than one we love?

Were the relationship not one of trust, one of investment, one of love … there would be no betrayal.

If Jesus can be betrayed, why would we expect less of ourselves? of those closest to us?

Jesus had poured his life, his all into his twelve disciples. When he needed (lets face it, when he wanted) them most, they were sleeping, disowning, abandoning and betraying him.

I find it a fascinating thing that all of these heart-wrenching betrayals occurred around the time that Jesus delivered his final message to the disciples.

It was as though his final message, last teaching, great finale was being slapped back across his face.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

He told them to love,
as he loved.

Would Jesus sell any one of them for silver?

Would Jesus sleep while any of them prayed?

Would Jesus disown, deny any one of them?

Would Jesus go into hiding if any of them were in trouble?

Of course not. This day and the night to follow were the moments when Jesus anguish began … with something worse than flogging, worse than death on a cross.

His worst moments were the betrayals by those who he loved, those who he died for.

Christ knew, even as he entered Jerusalem, that those who knew him the most … then and now, would be the ones who would turn their … turn our backs on him.

we sleep … when we should be praying,

we disown … when asked who we are,

we abandon Christ … when we might be mocked, challenged in our faith,

we betray him … every single day, when we choose to sell our souls to the things of this world.

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