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.

 

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’!

 

Good Friday Reflections

“Good Friday is much more than reliving the passion of Jesus; it is entering into solidarity with the passion of all people of our planet…In Jesus all human suffering is collected. The broken heart of Jesus is the broken heart of God. The broken heart of God is the broken heart of the world” (Henri Nouwen).

Once again, I went through a Good Friday prayer experience where I prayed through the seven stations of the cross (because us Baptists aren’t quite as ambitious as those Catholics who have fourteen stations).

I made an intentional effort not to hurry through this year. I sat and meditated and wrote down my thoughts. I read the Scripture and I studied the paintings depicting the events of Good Friday such as Pilate washing his hands after the trial and the Romans forcing Simon of Cyrene to carry Jesus’ cross.

The thought that kept coming back was this: I too often take for granted the cost of my salvation. It might have been free for me, but it wasn’t free. It cost Jesus in sweat, blood, pain, and life.

It struck me that Jesus could have at any moment on this day decided to bail out. He would have been perfectly within His rights to choose not to die for those who had been reprobates and enemies of God. Yet He saw it through to the end. He stayed the course until He breathed His last.

I know what it’s like to have friends bail on me. Maybe they decided I just wasn’t worth it anymore. Maybe it was just their season of life no longer matched mine.

I’ve probably written off a few people in my time as well. Not that I’m proud of it, but I did.

I’m unceasingly grateful Jesus could see me at my very worst, when I was most cowardly and fearful, and in that moment choose to go all the way to Calvary for me. He chose the nails for me over the comfortable existence He had known in heaven.

Good Friday is only good because of what we’ll be celebrating in two days. In fact, if not for Sunday and what happened then, all my prayers and piety and promises are all in vain.

But thanks be to God that while it may look bleak and hopeless on Friday, Sunday’s comin’!

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.

 

Easter Season Liturgy Part IV

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Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

I saw the sunset today. It was beautiful, but not extraordinarily so. Then I thought of something.

Every sunset is a kind of picture of Easter and death, burial, and resurrection. Even the blood-red color of the sky seemed significant.

Two days from now, we celebrate Easter, or if you prefer, Resurrection Sunday. Whatever you call it, the reason is the same. Jesus, the same who was crucified and buried, walked out of that tomb, holding the keys to death and hell, and forever changing history as we know it.

I participated in a Good Friday service featuring seven stations of the cross with artwork and Scripture, along with prayer prompts. I blogged about it last year and you can read it here if you want:

https://oneragamuffin.wordpress.com/2013/03/29/the-seven-stations-of-the-cross/

Again, I was struck by the incredible price Jesus paid for me. As the Bible says, very rarely will anyone be willing to die for a friend, much less a stranger. Yet while I was yet a sinner and an enemy to God, Jesus died for me. If I really think about it, I am overwhelmed.

Here’s a closing thought from one of my favorites, C. S. Lewis:

“God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing – or should we say ‘seeing’? there are no tenses in God – the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up. If I may dare the biological image, God is a ‘host’ who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and ‘take advantage of’ Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.”

 

 

My Exciting Friday

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Once again, I’m thankful for Friday. I love how Friday always comes around every week, whether it’s been a great or a really bad week.

I didn’t really have much of a plan. I spent part of the evening with family and part of it in front of the iPad watching Netflix. More specifically, the first episodes of Upstairs, Downstairs and Call the Midwife. Both are BBC series, in case you were wondering.

They can’t all be super exciting and thrilling, right? Sometimes, you need a nice quiet evening at home. Even if you are the ultimate life of the party, like me. Or my cat Lucy.

I have no concrete plans for the remainder of the weekend. I am as always open to suggestions and invitations. I will bring chips and corny jokes.

I can’t help thinking of a Good Friday that didn’t seem so good at the time. They had just crucified Jesus. The most unthinkable and unimaginable had actually happened. Jesus, God in the flesh, was dead.

Of course, we know the rest of the story. That’s what makes Good Friday good.

All we did to Jesus couldn’t stop Him. Not even death and a cold grave could hold Him. After all, nothing is stronger than Love. Not hate, not indifference, not death. Nothing.

When Jesus went into that tomb, He took my sins with Him, but when He came out on Sunday, He left them behind with those grave clothes. I love that part.

So it’s not a bad Friday after all.

The Seven Stations of the Cross

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Tonight, I went to a Prayer Experience at Brentwood Baptist Church. It was about praying through the seven stations of the cross. I know that the Roman Catholic Church has 14, but we’re Baptists, so seven for us is a good start.

I didn’t spend too much time at each station, but just enough to grasp a little more of what the Cross meant for me.

I’ve always known about Jesus dying on the cross to save me, but I guess I never really let myself go there in a really deep and meaningful way. If you do, you find shame and humiliation. You find excruciating pain and suffering. You find the most agony one man has ever endured in the history of mankind.

I became aware that it was my humiliation and shame that Jesus bore. It was my sin that he carried on that cross and it was my death that he died. I should have been up there, nailed to that piece of wood.

I realized for the first time that Jesus doesn’t want my sympathy for what happened to him there. He doesn’t want me to feel sorry for him up there. He wants me. All of me. My heart, my mind, my will, my life, all of it.

Just as Simon of Cyrene picked up Jesus’ cross and carried it for him, I’m called to pick up a cross and carry it. That’s what being a disciple means.

Jesus would have done all of it for me, even if I were the only one in the world who needed it. That thought still astounds me. He loves me that much.

So don’t skim over this part of the story. Allow yourself to go there emotionally and mentally and spiritually. Stand in front of the cross and witness the suffering Savior and grieve with his followers. Watch as he is laid in the tomb. Remember that all of this is for you.

Then you can celebrate Easter Sunday.

Good Friday

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“[B]ut we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21).

It’s easy to skip past this part on the way to the Easter Sunday celebrations, but this year I feel the need to slow down and try to appreciate what the disciples must have been going through at this point.

Their leader, Jesus, was dead and in the tomb. Their hopes and dreams had been dashed to pieces and they had nothing left. The one they loved had left them.

I know what it’s like to have to say goodbye to a loved one. It’s not easy. To realize you can never go back and unsay harsh words or say words of love. To know that this is final.

All the disciples had at the moment was pieces of a shattered faith and each other. All they could do was sit silently in the same room, lost for words that could possibly bring comfort or understanding. It had all happened so fast. One moment, Jesus was with them, laughing and encouraging them to be strong, the next he was gone.

I wonder if any of the disciples got trapped in the cycle of “if only.” If only we hadn’t gone to Jerusalem. If only we had recognized Judas’ true colors before. If only we could have gotten away from the garden sooner. If only.

They still had so many questions to ask Jesus. There was still so much they didn’t understand, especially about when he said he could raise up the temple again in three days.

Who else would show them the Father in such a real and tangible way? Who else would open up the Scriptures in such a fresh and vibrant way? Who else would teach by such authority?

They had no answers, only questions.

It’s Friday, but Sunday’s comin’.