A Few Weeks Late (But Still Worthwhile)

I am posting an old homily by John Chrysostom that is traditionally read aloud in many Orthodox churches on Easter Sunday morning. What’s that you say? Easter is over? Yes, it is, but the sentiment and the reality are just as true the other 364 days of the year. So, without further ado:

“If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let them enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival.

If anyone is a grateful servant, let them, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord.

If anyone has wearied themselves in fasting, let them now receive recompense.

If anyone has labored from the first hour, let them today receive the just reward.

If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let them feast.

If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let them have no misgivings; for they shall suffer no loss.

If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let them draw near without hesitation.

If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let them not fear on account of tardiness.

For the Master is gracious and receives the last even as the first; He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first.

He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one He gives, and to the other He is gracious.

He both honors the work and praises the intention.

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward.

O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy!

O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day!

You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today!

The table is rich-laden: feast royally, all of you!

The calf is fatted: let no one go forth hungry!

Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.

Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.

He that was taken by death has annihilated it!

He descended into Hades and took Hades captive!

He embittered it when it tasted His flesh! And anticipating this, Isaiah exclaimed: ‘Hades was embittered when it encountered Thee in the lower regions.’

It was embittered, for it was abolished!

It was embittered, for it was mocked!

It was embittered, for it was purged!

It was embittered, for it was despoiled!

It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!

It took a body and came upon God!

It took earth and encountered heaven!

It took what it saw, but crumbled before what can not seen!

O death, where is thy sting?

O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!

Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!

Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!

Christ is risen, and life reigns!

Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!

For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that have slept.

To Him be glory and might unto the ages of ages.

Amen.”

Quotes I Love Part One

I think this says it all.

“WE CAN SAY THAT the story of the Resurrection means simply that the teachings of Jesus are immortal like the plays of Shakespeare or the music of Beethoven and that their wisdom and truth will live on forever. Or we can say that the Resurrection means that the spirit of Jesus is undying, that he himself lives on among us, the way that Socrates does, for instance, in the good that he left behind him, in the lives of all who follow his great example. Or we can say that the language in which the Gospels describe the Resurrection of Jesus is the language of poetry and that, as such, it is not to be taken literally but as pointing to a truth more profound than the literal.

Very often, I think, this is the way that the Bible is written, and I would point to some of the stories about the birth of Jesus, for instance, as examples; but in the case of the Resurrection, this simply does not apply because there really is no story about the Resurrection in the New Testament. Except in the most fragmentary way, it is not described at all. There is no poetry about it. Instead, it is simply proclaimed as a fact. Christ is risen! In fact, the very existence of the New Testament itself proclaims it. Unless something very real indeed took place on that strange, confused morning, there would be no New Testament, no Church, no Christianity.

Yet we try to reduce it to poetry anyway: the coming of spring with the return of life to the dead earth, the rebirth of hope in the despairing soul. We try to suggest that these are the miracles that the Resurrection is all about, but they are not. In their way they are all miracles, but they are not this miracle, this central one to which the whole Christian faith points.

Unlike the chief priests and the Pharisees, who tried with soldiers and a great stone to make themselves as secure as they could against the terrible possibility of Christ’s really rising again from the dead, we are considerably more subtle. We tend in our age to say, ‘Of course, it was bound to happen. Nothing could stop it.’ But when we are pressed to say what it was that actually did happen, what we are apt to come out with is something pretty meager: this ‘miracle’ of truth that never dies, the ‘miracle’ of a life so beautiful that two thousand years have left the memory of it undimmed, the ‘miracle’ of doubt turning into faith, fear into hope. If I believed that this or something like this was all that the Resurrection meant, then I would turn in my certificate of ordination and take up some other profession. Or at least I hope that I would have the courage to” (Frederick Buechner).

-Originally published in The Alphabet of Grace

Easter Sunday 2015

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“It is good for us to remember that this stone was rolled away from the entrance, not to permit Christ to come out but to enable the disciples to go in!” (Peter Marshall)

“A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act” (Mahatma Gandhi).

“God proved His love on the Cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, ‘I love you'” (Billy Graham).

“But with Christ, we have access in a one-to-one relationship, for, as in the Old Testament, it was more one of worship and awe, a vertical relationship. The New Testament, on the other hand, we look across at a Jesus who looks familiar, horizontal. The combination is what makes the Cross” (Bono).

For me, Easter is a bit harder to prepare for than Christmas. You don’t have nearly the commercialism of the season constantly reminding you that the day is coming. Also, Easter isn’t on a fixed day every year like Christmas.

Most of all, Easter isn’t quite the feel-good story that Christmas is. You don’t have the cute little infant being cradled by loving Mary as a doting Joseph watches on. You have the gory spectacle of the cross and the death of an innocent Man to deal with.

But you need both, I think. You can’t have the Greatest Story Ever Told without both the virgin birth and the death and resurrection. If Jesus wasn’t born of a virgin Mary, then He’s not qualified to die for anyone’s sins but His own. If He isn’t raised from the dead, then we are still stuck in our sins and just as hopeless as before.

So I love both seasons. More than that, I love how Advent comes before Christmas and Lent comes before Easter, giving us time to prepare our hearts and minds for what it all means.

This year, Easter means that no life is wasted. It means that every life matters and every single person ever born matters to God. It means that your and my identity doesn’t come from honor rolls or bank accounts or resumes, but from Calvary. At the core, who I am is the Beloved of God, who proved that He thought I was worth dying for on that cross.

Oh, in case you’re wondering, there are only 263 days left until Christmas.

 

 

Easter Saturday

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I suppose it was a quiet day for the disciples. Not quiet in the sense of anticipation and hope but more in the sense of resignation and despair. They had seen their Messiah crucified and buried in a tomb.

It was over. All their hopes and dreams for the future went with Jesus into that tomb and the future that presented itself was as bleak as the black sky over Golgotha that afternoon.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a state of grief where there are no more tears to cry, where there’s a quiet calm after the storm. Where it feels like you’ll never feel happiness or laughter ever again. That’s where they were as they stared at the massive stone that a legion of Romans had rolled in front of the tomb where Jesus lay. Even if they wanted to, all twelve of them couldn’t have budged that stone from its place to steal the body of their leader and Lord.

Yes, they had seen Lazarus alive and joking around after being in the grave four days, but this was different. Lazarus had been ill and died in his own bed. Lazarus hadn’t been brutally beaten and whipped within an inch of his life before being forced up the hill to his own crucifixion.

They had seen the finality of the final moments where Jesus commended His Spirit to God in a loud cry. Truly, it was over. There would be no more parables, no more stories, no more miracles, no more crowds.

It’s easy for me, having read the rest of the story, to rush past this day. But for those who were there, there was no rest of the story yet. Just a grey sky and a dark room and a dead Messiah.

Yet early in the morning, just shy of daybreak, everything for these disciples and for the rest of the world was about to change forever.

 

Lent Update for 2015

I have two more weeks to go for my Lent break from social media. So far, so good. More than having extra free time, the best part has been clearing my head and getting my perspective readjusted (again). As much as I love all things social media, it can mess with your head if you let it.

You know it’s time to step away for a bit when you start valuing your self-worth based on social media. I should know, being a recovering approval-addict. I’ve been there, done that, bought the t-shirt and worn it.

I’ll confess that not everything God has shown me during this season of Lent has been fun or easy. I’ve seen just how much I’m addicted to worry and stress and doubts. My faith is smaller than I thought, but I’m also finding out that God os much bigger than I ever imagined.

It’s been a long journey from that day on May 22. 2012 when I got laid off from my job. It hasn’t gone nearly the way I thought it would. But I have seen God’s provision and felt His nearness more in these past three years than ever before.

Lent is a way of me reminding myself that 1) God owns it all and controls it all, not me; 2) if I have God and nothing else, I’m better off than if I had everything but God; 3) it truly will be fine in the end because God said so, and if it’s not fine, then it’s not the end (to borrow a line from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

I think that covers it.

 

Henri Nouwen and Lent in 2015

“O Lord, this holy season of Lent is passing quickly. I entered into it with fear, but also with great expectations. I hoped for a great breakthrough, a powerful conversion, a real change of heart; I wanted Easter to be a day so full of light that not even a trace of darkness would be left in my soul.

But I know that you do not come to your people with thunder and lightning. Even St. Paul and St. Francis journeyed through much darkness before they could see your light. Let me be thankful for your gentle way. I know you are at work. I know you will not leave me alone. I know you are quickening me for Easter – but in a way fitting to my own history and my own temperament.

I pray that these last three weeks, in which you invite me to enter more fully into the mystery of your passion, will bring me a greater desire to follow you on the way that you create for me and to accept the cross that you give to me. Let me die to the desire to choose my own way and select my own desire. You do not want to make me a hero but a servant who loves you.

Be with me tomorrow and in the days to come, and let me experience your gentle presence. Amen” (Henri Nouwen).

I think that says everything that’s in my heart in this season of Lent leading up to Easter Sunday on April 5, especially the part of dying to choosing my own way and selecting my own desire. That’s me. I have my own dreams and ideas of how my life should play out. God has different dreams and ideas for me. Seeing as how God’s ways are so much higher and better than mine, I would do well to yield to His ways over mine.

Lord, I lay my life at your feet. Make it shine brightly for You and for others to see You, regardless of the cost to me. Amen.

Expensive Mistakes, Shame, and other Random Tuesday Night Thoughts

elizabethtowncap

Have you ever made an expensive mistake?

Immediately, I think of the movie Elizabethtown and the character Drew Baylor. He created a shoe which ended up costing the company he worked for close to $1 billion. It was, in his words, a fiasco.

There’s a great line from the movie:

“As somebody once said, there’s a difference between a failure and a fiasco. A failure is simply the non-present of success. Any fool can accomplish failure. But a fiasco, a fiasco is a disaster of mythic proportions. A fiasco is a folktale told to others, that makes other people feel more… alive. Because it didn’t happen to them.”

Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe your mistake wasn’t worth $1 billion. Maybe it was worth $10,000. Or maybe it just ruined a relationship. Or a reputation.

Maybe you feel the familiar nagging sensation of shame, never overpowering but always there, lurking nearby.

Tonight’s guest speaker at Kairos spoke of how two different people in the Bible dealt with shame in radically different ways:

Judas betrayed Jesus and ended up hanging himself, while Peter denied knowing Jesus and ended up hanging around. Not only that, the shame turned into an opportunity for God to use him in ways he probably never would have thought possible.

The speaker said something that I’ll never forget. He said something to the effect that Judas hung himself by his shame because he didn’t know that Jesus hung on the cross for his shame.

The cross means that shame has no more power over your (or my) life ever again. Shame has lost the power to speak into our lives because Jesus took those failures, those fiascos, those worst moments upon Himself on the cross. He took them to the grave, but when He arose on Easter morning, He left them behind, utterly defeated and powerless.

You are not defined by your fiascos or those moments of shame any longer. You are defined by what Jesus did for you and by who you are now in the power of His resurrection. You are defined as beloved child of God in whom He is well pleased.

Shame is all about your past. Jesus wants you to go forward and live in the future He has for you, not in that past any longer.

 

Lessons from Lent

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This may be old hat for you or not. I’m not sure. But stop me if you’ve heard some or all of this before: last year, I gave up only Facebook for Lent. This year, I decided to give up all social media. It turned out to be one of my best decisions ever. Although if I’m honest, I was being obedient to what I felt God was calling me to do. It really wasn’t my decision at all.

I don’t regret for one single second going without social media for those 46 days. I got in more prayer time, I read my Bible more, I read more books in general. Plus, I had a greater sense of peace from not being tied down to Facebook or Twitter.

I think sometimes in order to appreciate something more, you need to step away from it for a while. That was the case for me. I did sometimes feel out of the loop after missing all the news from Facebook. But I can always catch up on that.

Lent is more than just giving up. It’s replacing it with something better. It’s no good to give up social media if you’re going to fill up the time with television. Hopefully, you spend your extra free time in learning to hear God’s voice and hear His heartbeat and feel His love for you. Obviously, the best way to do that is through His Word.

I don’t claim that I was anywhere near perfect in that regard. I wasted too much of the time I had away from social media. But I’m not beating myself up about it. Instead I choose to focus on the fact that I was more discipline in regard to prayer and Bible reading than I’ve been in a long time.

I hope to be able to participate in Lent again next year. I hope that I can be free enough to walk away from anything that enslaves me and takes my eyes off Jesus, whether that be social media or TV or anything else.

Like I said before, it’s really not about giving up stuff or sacrificing what you love. More than that, it’s about prioritizing your life and making sure that Jesus and His Kingdom really and truly are first. Then everything else will line up and fall into proper place.

Easter Sunday 2014

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“Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen”

It’s Easter.

I celebrated with about 130 or so others at the future location of The Church at Avenue South. Though the building has been gutted and won’t be ready for official use for another two months, still the real church got together to proclaim to anyone and everyone that this is Resurrection Day.

The resurrection DOES change everything. It means no more fear of death because Jesus overcame that last enemy when he walked out of the tomb with the sunrise on that first Easter Sunday. It means that whatever I’m afraid of has already been defeated and overcome by this same resurrection power that brought Jesus from death to life.

It means that there is no such thing as TOO LATE, that there’s always time for a do-over and a second chance and a fresh start, that as long as we’re alive we have a purpose and a God willing to bring out that purpose in us.

So I revisit an old Easter toast that I blogged about three years ago today: “We lift our glasses and drink to a Love that never gave up.”

https://oneragamuffin.wordpress.com/2011/04/20/an-easter-toast-stolen-from-someone-on-facebook/

I’ve posted a link so you can read the original post if you want.

Regardless, I’m glad that Easter has come. I’m glad that it isn’t just one day a year, but something that I can celebrate all 365 days (and 366 on those leap years). I’m thankful that just because the holiday ends doesn’t mean the power of that resurrection or its effects do.

 

Easter Season Liturgy Part V

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“O God, Creator of heaven and earth:  Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

So I did the whole downtown Franklin thing again. It always does my heart good to be back there, revisiting my favorite haunts and breathing in the perfect spring night air.

I don’t really know what to do with the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter. It seems so low-key compared to the tragic drama of Friday and the joyful triumphant victory of Sunday.

But I know what’s coming. I wonder what those disciples were thinking and feeling. Or the Marys. It must have seemed like the lowest point of their lives. All of their hopes and dreams and been awakened and they had only just begun to hope, then it was dashed and broken to pieces beyond recognition.

The one they thought would save them was dead in a tomb. They had seem the bloodied body, seen the moment when the spear went into Jesus’ side and both blood and water poured out. There was no doubt.

I’m glad I’m on this side of history and I know what’s coming. I know with the next sunrise comes Sunday and the empty tomb and a risen Christ. That’s where my hope lies.

I can’t imagine people whose faith won’t allow for miracles or resurrections. Would that even be faith at all? What if Jesus’ death were only an example and the only way He lived was in the memories of His followers? What kind of hope would that be?

Only a literal resurrection can give true hope. Only a Jesus who’s really and truly alive, with the wounds in His hands, feet, and side, could inspire the joy of Easter. That’s why I can’t wait for tomorrow and the celebration that comes with it.