Sunday, April 12, 2009

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Risus Paschalis

Easter could be looked at as God's "practical joke" on the devil.

The Enemy thinks he has won. Jesus has been arrested, brought before the Sanhedrin and endured a mockery of a trial. On the flimsiest of evidence (being generous here) he's handed over to Pilate to be scourged, beaten and broken. He dies the death of a thug on a Roman cross. He is laid in a tomb and the stone is rolled over its entrance.

It's all over. He has won.

But there's something else to consider. There is Easter. God's biggest "gotcha." Something unexpected (at least from the devil's perspective) happens.

In the minds of early church theologians (like Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom) God played a great practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. They called it the "Risus paschalis - the Easter laugh."

Tomorrow is the Great Easter Surprise.

Let the laughter begin!

Friday, April 10, 2009

He Has Done It!

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1)
Jesus’ words from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

The most common way to refer to a specific point in the Scriptures was to quote the first line. From the cross, Jesus directs our attention to Psalm 22; not to express his pain and fear at being rejected by God, but in order to explain to the crowd at the foot of the cross (and to us) what they were witnessing.

Psalm 22 starts out with words that seem appropriate to the crucifixion. “Why are you so far away from saving me?” – verse 1. “All who see me mock me, they hurl insults, shaking their heads.” – verse 7. “They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” – verse 18. This first part of the Psalm focuses on the pain and anguish of God’s servant.

But in the middle of the Psalm there is a shift to expressions of trust in God’s provision and God’s guidance. The change is complete by verse 30 – “Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!” The Psalm ends on this note of victory and triumph.

Which brings us back to Jesus on the cross. By directing us to Psalm 22, Jesus is trying to show us what is happening on the cross. It may look like a picture of defeat; but if you look closely at the cross – it’s a picture of victory and triumph. It may look as though Jesus is exposed as another Messianic pretender; but in reality the cross proves that Jesus is just who he said he was – “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

Thursday, April 9, 2009

God With Us

The body and blood of Christ … made real to us in the bread and cup of communion. The message is simply, “God with us.” That’s the message that we begin the Christian year rehearsing. Emmanuel, God with us.

Today I shared communion with some of the members of my church who can’t get out and be with us when the community gathers. We shared some conversation and laughter together and God was with us.

I spent some time learning about the Seder meal and the passing of the Story from one generation to the next. It is the Story of the mighty ways that God acts throughout history on behalf of God’s people. The time was full of powerful symbols meant to reveal to us that God is with us.

In our worship time this evening, we washed each other’s feet as a sign of humility and service. We see that humility modeled for us by Jesus himself as he washes the disciple’s feet. Because of my knee surgery I couldn’t even kneel down to wash feet, but a friend stepped up and took the basin and towel from me. I was humbled as I watched him do for others what I could not do. The sense of God’s presence was potent; God was with us.

I don’t completely understand this simple truth that God is with us, but I know it to be true. I don’t have to understand everything to believe something. In humility and service, in the washing of feet; God is with us. Sometimes you just have to experience it in order to begin to understand it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

So, yesterday this thing happened ...

Here’s what I’m thinking …

I had surgery on my knee yesterday, but that’s not really what I want to say. It’s related, but the surgery, the recovery; all of that isn’t on my mind right now. It’s going to sound silly and maybe even non-sensical, but here’s the deal.

I wear a braided multi-colored wristband and a green F.R.O.G. band on my left wrist. Not something I talk a lot about, but it’s important to me nonetheless. I’ve worn the braided one for about 5 years, the green one for a few months. In the time that I’ve had them I’ve never taken them off. In fact, the braided one was sewed on and then super-glued so that it wouldn’t come off.

The green one was given to me by a family at my church whose son is struggling with some serious health stuff. I fell in love with this little guy and wear the band to remind me to pray for him. The braided one was a reminder to pray for a young lady in my previous church who was also struggling – very different but very serious stuff. I promised myself I’d wear them both and pray for them both until I knew I could “stop.” The girl’s doing great and has become an awesome Christian woman. The boy is doing well, but still going through treatments and doctors diagnoses. In both cases I don’t feel like I’ve been “released” to stop praying or to take the two reminders off my wrist.

Yesterday, before surgery they told me that I had to take them off or they would cut them off. It never occurred to me that they’d have to come off, but rationally it makes sense. (I’d already followed their directions and taken my wedding ring off and my earring out, which I wasn’t happy about!) I could take the one wristband off, but the other one had to be cut off. You wouldn’t think that would be a big deal, but to me it was. I’ve always felt that symbols have significant meaning. The two bands on my wrist are just one example of a bunch of ways that I’ve tried to mark moments or lift up personal commitments by finding symbols or “markers.” They become ways to remind me to keep commitments, encourage myself, or honor important moments.

Once both were off my wrist yesterday, I started to get a little agitated. Both bracelets-gone. Wedding ring-gone. Earring-gone. I know, I know. Sounds stupid. But all of these things have much more significance to me than jewelry or “decoration.” They mean something far deeper and they have an important spiritual quality to them. Being upset about taking these things off combined with the wait until surgery and I actually needed medication to calm me down. My wife thought I was crazy – maybe she’s right.

There are moments that are worth remembering; significant events that need to be marked and honored. That’s what my wedding ring is. That’s what my earring has become. And in a different, but also important way, that’s what these two wristbands represent to me.

My wedding ring was back on my finger as soon as I was home. The green band is back on my wrist. The other I’m going to try to put on and sew back together tomorrow. You could say they’re just jewelry, just reminders, just things – but you’d be wrong!

Responsive Reading for Palm Sunday

(from Sunday, April 5)

Men: Jesus enters the city and the people cry, “Hosanna!”

Women: Jesus enters the city and the Pharisees cry, “Blasphemer!” Jesus enters the city and the people cry, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Men: Jesus enters the city and the Pharisees cry, “We must rid ourselves of this threat!” Jesus enters the city and the people cry out, “Blessed is the Son of David.”

Women: Jesus enters the city and the Pharisees cry out, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

All: Jesus enters the city and says, “If the people keep quiet, the stones WILL cry out!”

Men: As the end nears, a woman kisses Jesus’ feet – anointing him with her tears and costly perfume.

Women: As the end nears, a friend kisses Jesus” cheek – betraying him for a sack of coins.

Men: As the end nears, Jesus says “You will deny me three times.”

Women: As the end nears, Peter says “Never.”

All: In the end, Peter did. We, too, look at the events of that week and say, “Never, Lord.” Never would we be in the angry mob at Jesus trial. Never would we deny You. But, like Peter, we do not always live out our faith.

Men: In our words, we cry out–

Women: “Crucify Him!” In our actions, we cry out –

Men: “Crucify Him!” In our thoughts, we cry out –

Women: “Crucify Him!” And like those caught up in the crowd thousands of years ago, we cry out –

Men: “Crucify Him!”

Women: “Crucify Him!”

All: “Crucify Him!”

Lights off for final scripture reading by John - Isaiah

Be Like the Saints

“I am not a saint.” A lot of us could probably echo this same sentiment – I don’t feel much like a saint. In spite of the fact that believers are saints – people who have been called to holiness – it’s not a label we usually use. If we do use it, it becomes a colloquialism; “My wife’s a saint.”

We are saints. In spite of the way we feel, God’s work in us through Christ means that we are saints. We are people called to holiness, to live holy lives. We are set apart by God for spiritual purposes. I think it’s easy to lose sight of our “sainthood” because we fall into the trap of seeing sainthood as something we do – through our actions, through the way we live. In reality, it’s something we become by the grace of God – through the unmerited favor of a loving God. “Saint” is who we are and because we are saints, something about our actions changes. The way we live is profoundly affected.

Living like saints means living as though our relationship to Christ really matters. Before we act, before we move, before we speak out against injustice; we begin with a simple, trusting faith. It’s not what we do so much as whose we are that makes us saints.