Happy Easter, Everyone!

“O God, who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen” (The Book of Common Prayer).

It’s officially Easter. It also happens to be April Fools’ Day. It seems fitting when most of the world looks at Christians as fools for believing and living as they do.

It does seem foolish to strive for greatness by becoming the servant of all.

It does seem foolish to turn the other cheek instead of striking back.

It does seem foolish to seek to gain your life by losing it and to pick up your cross daily to die to sin and to follow Jesus.

It does seem foolish to proclaim Jesus words that He is the way, the truth, and the life in the face of so many others who would tell you that there are many paths to God.

It does seem foolish to follow a carpenter’s son who wrote no books and led no great revolts. His ministry lasted barely three years and He died as a criminal in the worst way possible.

Yet what seems like foolishness to most is the wisdom of God.

That same carpenter’s son lived sinlessly, and after dying on the cross, defeated sin, death, and hell forever by raising from the grave after three short days.

We now mark history by His life and there are billions who profess to follow this Jesus, who is both Lord and God.

So once again, happy Easter. May both your words and your actions testify to this foolishness that is wiser than the wisdom of men.

 

Holy Saturday

“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” (The Book of Common Prayer).

According to weather reports, tomorrow will be a wet soggy mess. And it’s also Easter Sunday. Too bad the weather couldn’t have carried over from today with its perfect temperatures and blue skies.

Still, the point of Sunday isn’t the weather but an empty tomb. Jesus may well be the only figure in history to have borrowed a tomb. He really only needed it for Saturday.

It’s true that Jesus is alive and it’s also true that He’s coming back to take His followers with Him and to rescue and redeem a fallen creation.

That Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is a sort of in-between day, coming in between the crucifixion and the resurrection. Right now, it feels a lot like living in the in-between, looking back on the incarnation and eagerly awaiting the Second Coming.

The hope is that just as surely as Jesus walked out of the tomb on that Sunday morning, He will return, just as real and just as alive.

Sure, there will be easter bunnies and chocolate and easter egg hunts. I don’t have a problem with all that. I only need to remember that above all that reigns the living and breathing Jesus. And that makes even a wet and rainy mess of a day better.

 

 

 

Good Friday 2017

“But thank God the crucifixion was not the last act in that great and powerful drama,” King preached. “There is another act. And it is something that we sing out and cry and ring out today. Thank God a day came when Good Friday had to pass” (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

“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).

“Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone but in every leaf of springtime” (Martin Luther).

Why is today called Good Friday? What’s so great about Jesus being tortured to death for a crime He didn’t commit? Why does it still matter nearly 2,000 years later?

It seems weird to call the day of Jesus’ crucifixion Good Friday, but when you look at it with Easter Sunday in mind, it makes a lot more sense.

If all you had was Good Friday with no resurrection, then it’s a very Tragic Friday. We should all stay home on Sunday and live however we want. Get stoned, get drunk, get laid, do whatever because none of it matters if Jesus is still in that tomb.

But God raised Jesus from the dead. He walked out of the tomb two days later and everything changed. Absolutely everything. That’s what makes it good.

So much of what happens in our lives will only make sense in reverse. When God promises to work all things together for our good, we often can only see that good not looking ahead or in the midst of it, but looking back on it. We see then how God orchestrated every moment perfectly to lead us where we are now, the best possible outcome.

 

Maundy Thursday

I confess I don’t know a whole lot about Maundy Thursday. I understand that it is a remembrance of when Christ and the disciples gathered together in the upper room to take Eucharist on the night before Jesus was arrested, tried, and crucified.

I know that some denominations also incorporate foot washing into their services, as Jesus washed His disciples feet and commanded them to follow His example. I know my church didn’t do that part, but I do think they follow the servant attitude behind that command.

I think to fully appreciate Easter Sunday, it helps to experience Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. In order for there to be a resurrection, there also first had to be a death. There had to be a cross before there was an empty tomb.

I also confess that up until recently, I skipped right by these days and focused solely on Easter. For me, it was all about the candy (especially the chocolate kind) and maybe a little bit of gratitude thrown Jesus’ way.

The older I get, the more I appreciate all that Easter represents. I see more of what I could have been apart from grace and more of how much I need Jesus as much now as I did when I first believed. If anything, that need has grown.

I see that Easter, like Christmas, is more than one day of the year. It’s something that believers live out all 365 days of the year while they choose this particular Sunday to commemorate all that Jesus did (and continues to do) for us.

 

Fourth Sunday of Lent Eve

“Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen” (Book of Common Prayer).

In case you were as much in need of a reminder as I am, here it is. Tomorrow is the fourth Sunday of Lent leading toward Easter Sunday.

It’s not about cute little bunnies or chocolate. It’s about the fact that Jesus walked out of the garden tomb on that Sunday so long ago to show the world that sin, death, and hell were forever defeated.

I love what Peter Marshall said about the tomb being rolled away not so that Jesus could get out but so the disciples could get in.

My prayer for all of us is that we are reminded that we still need the hope of Easter now as when we first believed and as much as the first disciples needed it. May we live out the hope as those who fight not for victory but from it.

“I imagine Lent for you and for me as a great departure from the greedy, anxious antineighborliness of our economy, a great departure from our exclusionary politics that fears the other, a great departure from self-indulgent consumerism that devours creation. And then an arrival in a new neighborhood, because it is a gift to be simple, it is a gift to be free; it is a gift to come down where we ought to be” (Walter BrueggemannA Way Other Than Our Own: Devotions for Lent).

“No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great” (John Chrysostom)

The Last Thursday Before the Last Sunday Before Lent

O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son
revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that
we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be
strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his
likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever. Amen” (The Book of Common Prayer).

Mardi Gras is in 5 days (as is my birthday– hint, hint). Ash Wednesday is in 6 days.

That means I’ll be taking my usual sabbatical from social media for the next few weeks until Easter Sunday.

I’m actually looking forward to it this year more than ever. Not so much because of all the negativity (although there has been plenty of that lately) but more so because of all the extra time I’ll have to have actual face-to-face conversations with friends, do some reading out of actual books, watch movies, or just sit and contemplate in silence.

I recommend taking a social media break from time to time. It helps clear your head. It’s like a periodic reboot of your PC that helps reset and reorient your thinking when it’s gotten off track.

I’ll still be doing my blog posts as usual and keeping you updated on all the latest shenanigans in my life (as well as the ongoing saga that is the life of one Lucy the Wonder Cat).

I have some books lined up to keep me occupied, including hopefully rereading some Tolkien in the very near future. I’m still taking requests for good new/old music/movies, and books to check out, so keep sending them my way.

Who knows? Maybe I can manage to meet one or more of you at a nearby coffee spot for one of those face-to-face conversations? You just never know.

 

 

Resurrecting Hope

“Easter was when Hope in person surprised the whole world by coming forward from the future into the present” (N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope).

That was the topic of today’s sermon at The Church at Avenue South– that after being crucified and buried, Jesus actually and physically rose from the grave.

The Apostle Paul says that if Jesus didn’t rise from the grave, then our faith is useless and futile and we are all still dead in our sins.

If there is no resurrection, then Jesus’ death was meaningless and He wasn’t who He claimed to be, but just another in a long line of those so-called “Messiahs” whose words were forgotten and whose followers immediately abandoned them after death to look for the newest “Messiah.”

But Jesus stepped out of the tomb on Easter Sunday morning, forever proving that He is the ultimate God-Man, Savior of the world, the true Messiah.

Our hope is in more than a great teacher who gave us some great ideals to live by before he died. It’s in more than Jesus being “resurrected” by keeping His memory alive in the hearts of His disciples.

Our hope is in the Jesus who made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf and died on the cross, then bodily rose from the grave and appeared to the apostles as well as over 500 other witnesses.

Because Jesus lives, our hope is alive. Because He lives, we live and can face any tomorrow that comes. Because He lives, we know that there is nothing that comes up against us– illness, death, or the grave– that can separate us from the love He has for us.

“We could cope—the world could cope—with a Jesus who ultimately remains a wonderful idea inside his disciples’ minds and hearts. The world cannot cope with a Jesus who comes out of the tomb, who inaugurates God’s new creation right in the middle of the old one” (N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope).

 

An Easter Toast Revisited After Five Years

“We raise our glasses and drink to Love that never gave up.”

I wrote an entire blog on those twelve words five years ago. Little did I know at the time how much more I would grow to depend on that same love that still doesn’t quit.

Every Easter is a reminder of the unfailing love that went to extreme lengths to capture my affection. I’m again reminded that God’s love for me isn’t warm and fuzzy feelings or even admirable devotion but sacrifice of blood, sweat, tears, pain, and death.

So many of us feel unloveable. So many feel unwanted. So many will go to bed tonight believing that they will ultimately end up alone. So many feel that no one will ever find them romantically desirable.

Easter is the proof that no one ever is unloved or unwanted. God in Jesus showed that when He died for each and every one of us. The cross proves once and for all that He thought that you and I were worth dying for.

Sure, we sing the songs and read the verses, but do we really believe it? Not just a head knowledge, but a deep down to the bone belief that goes beyond intellect and feelings?

The Easter invitation is available beyond Easter Sunday. It goes out to all those who don’t feel good enough or smart enough or pretty enough or worthy enough.

The offer is this: Jesus can do amazing things with the ones who will just say Yes to Him, whatever He asks and wherever He leads. He can take even the worst of sinners and make them the greatest evangelists. He can take your worst moments of your life that you keep hidden in a deep and dark place and make those the first lines of your testimony (again, thanks to Mike Glenn for that one).

Easter is still for all of us ragamuffins who know they don’t have it together and still feel like hot messes most of the time. Easter is still for you and me.

 

Easter Even

“If Easter says anything to us today, it says this: You can put truth in a grave, but it won’t stay there. You can nail it to a cross, wrap it in winding sheets and shut it up in a tomb, but it will rise!” (Clarence W. Hall)

Sometimes Saturday can seem to take forever.

I don’t mean the Saturday where you get to sleep in a little later and take it a little easier.

I mean that day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. That day between utter despair and renewed hope.

For most of the time most of us live in a perpetual Saturday. If you look at the headlines, you will see almost nothing but tragedy and horror staring back at you from the front pages or the biggest bold print on the news website.

How do you cope with all that devastation without the reality of the resurrection? How do you even begin to process all the evil that goes on without the knowledge that Jesus will one day ultimately set all things right?

The only way I can get through the crucifixion part of the story is that I already know the rest of the story. I know that death and the grave are not the end. They don’t get the final word.

Those who are staring the imminent loss of loved ones in the face can look to Jesus who wept over His friend Lazarus but then proceeded to call Him out of His four-day old grave clothes and decay into life. The same Jesus who looked His own death in the face and stepped out of His own tomb on a bright and sunny Sunday morning.

Without that, those who cling to faith are the most pitiful and pathetic people. With it, they are the ones who have the most reason for joy.

It was Friday and it’s been a long Saturday, but Sunday’s comin’!

 

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