Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!
“We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:4).
We have come to the end of our Lenten journey. 47 days of remembering that we have died and been buried with Christ are finished. Today we remember that Christ was raised from the dead, so that we too may live a new life. C.S. Lewis writes it well, speaking in the voice of Jesus: “Your sins, all of them, are wiped out, I can do that. I am Rebirth. I am Life. Eat me, drink me, I am your Food. And finally, do not be afraid, I have overcome the whole Universe” (265). Today we celebrate that all of the sins that we’ve brought to light during Lent are forgiven. The bonds of sin hold us no longer! Today we celebrate that we have new life—we don’t have to stay in the depths of Lent forever. Today we celebrate that Christ is with us through his Spirit. And today we look forward to the day when our resurrected Jesus will return to usher us to the new heavens and the new earth, wiping away every tear from our eyes!
P.S. This is the last blog entry for now, but Bread and Wine includes readings for the first few weeks of the Easter season (which extends until Pentecost in the church calendar—May 23 in 2010). I find Easter too great to celebrate for just one day, so continue the journey!
Their Bodies Were Raised
“…the earth shook, and the rocks were split; the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of their tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.” Matthew 27:51b-53
The deceased saints’ appearing to people is part of the Easter story. But does anyone else feel like this passage fits better with All Saints Day (ie- Halloween)? And, along those lines, is anyone else a little weirded out by it? I mean, it’s not every day that I see a ghost. Yet, there were supposedly many saints who appeared. Crazy. Strangely, Matthew doesn’t appear frightened or impressed; he practically glosses over the whole issue that people are popping up out of their graves.
Perhaps Matthew’s lack of detail concerning this event is related to the fact that the temple curtain (which for centuries had marked the place where God himself resided) was torn from top to bottom. Or perhaps it’s because the appearance of many formerly dead folks is secondary to the accounts of Jesus in the other gospels. I mean, Jesus not only appears to people, he also eats with them and lets them touch his scars.
If I were reading the Bible for the first time, one problem I would have is this: I’ve never seen an angel, miracle, or resurrected saint. Yet, there are all these matter-of-fact accounts of them. Matthew doesn’t freak out. He practically says in passing “the bodies of the saints were seen throughout the city. No big deal. It’s just testimony to the greater mystery that God would allow Himself to die to save humanity.” Who or what exactly are we dealing with here?
The gospel is certainly strange. Is it true?
– Adam Stout
I once heard it said that every night when we go to sleep, we experience a “little death” – that laying down to sleep is, in fact, practice for dying. We temporarily lose consciousness while the world goes on without us. We lie vulnerable and helpless, knowing that we will wake in the morning only because we are protected by God. A number of Christian traditions acknowledge this reality when they pray before bed: “Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit.”
These are Jesus’ words. Just as he entrusted himself into the Father’s hands throughout his life, so he entrusted his spirit to the Father at his death. George Macdonald says in our reading for today that when Jesus gave up his spirit, he was “summing up…what he had been doing all his life.” And in another place Macdonald says, “Every highest human act is just a giving back to God of what he first gave to us.”
Today, Good Friday, we remember Jesus’ words, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” And we remember his death. It’s the kind of prayerful remembering that doesn’t just last for today; it’s the kind that soaks into our hearts and changes how we live.
Jesus says, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” And because we are united with him in his death (Rom. 6:5), we are called to say the same. As we reflect and remember his sacrifice, may we know that we, too, are in the good hands of our Father.
“Our deliverance from sin is based, not on what we can do, nor even what God is going to do for us, but what he has already done for us in Christ.” –Watchman Nee
In the 2005 film The Pursuit of Happyness Will Smith plays a young father struggling to survive intense financial pressure. In addition to trying to make ends meet, he is also trying to save his marriage. Despite his best efforts his wife leaves him, leaving him with the sole responsibility of raising their five year old son. Feeling abandoned and lonely, Smith refuses to give up and instead begins carving out a new life for himself and his son. And he does. Against long odds and without help from any family or friends, Smith lands a job with a prestigious brokerage firm and creates a better life. It’s a classic rags-to-riches story. It’s a story that is told and retold in the United States and around the world of what can happen if you want something badly enough.
It’s a story told and retold so often that many of us start believing it also applies to our life of faith. We start to believe that “if we work hard enough” or “if we want something bad enough” we can make it happen for ourselves; no mountain is too high, no challenge is too great.
But it’s not true. The Gospel tells us just the opposite. The Gospel tells us we cannot do it on our own. There’s nothing we could ever do—no amount of effort, or sacrifice, or commitment—could ever give us what we need most—to be rescued from our sin. Instead, the Bible tells us again and again that what we need most has already been done for us in Christ. It’s done. Jesus already accomplished it.
This past summer my wife and I went for a hike/rock scramble up the side of a mountain. It was a long and tiring hike, and eventually we sat down at the top to eat our lunch. As we began to eat, we found that we drank all of the water we had brought for the hike, so we were now faced with the prospect of hiking back down the mountain without any water. By the time we got back to the car we were both quite thirsty. The first taste of water was so refreshing—it didn’t even matter that it had been sitting in the car and was extremely warm.
Today’s reading talks about thirst. So often the things that we desire and thirst after are not the things that are good for us, and they end up leaving our thirst unquenched. We try to satisfy our thirst with many different things: relationships, money, video games… the list goes on and on. But all of these things leave our thirst unquenched, and we find ourselves just as my wife and I did: thirsty and with dry throats, still looking for water.
The only thing that will truly quench our thirst is the living water, and just as the Samaritan woman at the well asks Jesus for this water to quench her thirst, we must rely on Jesus to quench our thirst. And so as we prepare for Good Friday and Easter, I ask myself: How am I trying to quench my thirst? Am I relying on games or friends, or am I drinking from the Living Water of Jesus Christ?
How are you trying to quench your thirst?
This morning I read an article about the war in Mexico. At the beginning I was not sure what the article was about because I have always thought there is no war in Mexico. But, the article was about the war that my country has against the drug cartels and the real war of hunger and poverty that shapes this other war.
In the reading for today, Aukerman writes about the horrors of the war in 1945. Jesus was present there as he is present now in the war in my country.
I might not be aware of the numbers of people who have been victims in these wars, but Jesus was there. Aukerman writes: “That three hundred million persons or a billion or four billion might be killed in a nuclear world war is beyond the imagination of any mortal. My nearest approach to the magnitude of that horror comes when I realize that Jesus would be the central victim in the midst of the annihilation.”
Matthew 25:40,45 talks about the reality of the presence of Jesus through our brothers and sisters. The reason we are aware of these horrors is that we can think of Jesus and how much he took for us, how he loves us. I like how Aukerman wrote it, to think of Jesus and his earthly life and death must move me to think how much he loves me now. Jesus wants me to love as he loves. In the war in Mexico there are many guilty and Jesus calls me to love them. Jesus is in the midst of every war, every conflict, and this makes me wonder how can I line up with him to make a difference? How can I become an agent of peace and reconciliation for him, for the love that he has for me and the love that he calls me to give to those he loves?
Today we read that “it is treatment we need, not just forgiveness.” As I look forward to Easter that is to come this Sunday and consider these words I wonder how I’ve viewed this Lenten season with its climax of Easter. Has this been a treatment for me or have I simply understood at as me becoming aware of my forgiveness?
In the reading today much ado was made about blood. Kagawa likened the love of Christ to the healing power of blood while Singh ultimately concluded the idea started by the quote above saying Christ’s spiritual blood saves us from death so we can regain life. To answer my earlier question, I do think that leading edge of my motivation for this season is to understand my sin so that I can fully be aware of my forgiveness. As part of this awareness is an increased recognition of what Christ’s blood shed for me means.
If this is the case what about treating the problem? I still sin. Yes I’m made more aware of it from the Lenten spotlight and I hope I’m more aware of Christ’s forgiveness because of this season but is this treatment. I’d love to stop sinning but I don’t know that I’m any closer.
One reason I like the work “treatment” is because it’s an active word. It goes well with some of my favorite theological words, words like transformation, reconciliation, and redemption. All these words begin with a being in one place and ending up in another. The beauty of these theological words is that it is never left simply to us to make the move from A to B. As Ephesians 1:7 says, “In him we have redemption through his blood…” All this leaves me to say that the best treatment we can accomplish is to focus more on Christ so he can treat us. Unfortunately, this is a life long/daily process. Lent is a start, perhaps a place where a good habit or two can start.
In the reading today Brennan Manning writes about “The Signature of Jesus” through several stories of unconditional love. At one point he talks about the antiquated phrase “I was seized by the power of a great affection” to describe a how people you used to relay the information that they were born again or entered into a personal relationship with Jesus. As a chaplain, I’m working towards having students respond to the unconditional love of Christ.
One challenge in this work is to know exactly what type of response to hope for. In recent Christian history there are any number of good ways to respond to Christ. One could say (s)he was “born again”, was baptized, made profession of faith, became slain in the Spirit, entered the ministry, volunteers, works for justice, or speaks of when Christ became real to them. Wesley writes of the time when his “heart became strangely warmed.” I recently concluded interviewing over 60 students for leadership positions on Calvin’s campus and part of the interview process is to try and determine where the strengths of their faith is. Most of them grew up in a Christian home so I was first looking for some sort of ownership of faith for themselves as opposed to simply operating out of the faith of the parents. However, after that I can only say I was looking for a deep faith, a faith that may include any or all of the ideas from the list above.
Conversion in our students is certainly the goal but conversion is a moving target. Lent is a constant reminder of this. I take on new spiritual disciplines to see where are there places in my life that aren’t converted yet. We go to church every seventh day to hear yet another story about how great is the love of God because we may have been slain in the Spirit or made profession of faith or are regularly involved in working for others but there’s some other much more recent story about us failing to act from this place of conversion and commitment, so we need to go deeper and convert more of us and commit more of us to Jesus.
This is the point of Lent. What part of your life needs to be converted today?
“Happy is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are
covered.” Psalm 32:1
It starts when we are young, this desire to prove our competence. I
reach down to help a child with the zipper on her winter coat. “I do
it myself!” she says to me indignantly. And after a few tries she
zips it up.
The “I do it myself” continues as we get older. We learn to ride a
bike, then to drive a car, then to live on our own. “I do it myself”
we say by moving into a dorm and forgetting to call our parents for a
few weeks afterwards. “I do it myself” may bring some of us to occupy
large CEO offices. It may bring some of us to heights of athletic
glory. “I do it myself,” we may say when the diploma is handed to us
from this institution.
But then it happens. If it hasn’t happened yet, it will. The time
comes when I can’t do it myself. The time comes when the challenge or
the obstacle or the tragedy is too great. The time always comes when
I am incapable of doing it myself. We have to face the limitations of
So it is when we try to make it right after committing a sin. A
relationship has been scarred. A trust has been broken. Faith has
been damaged. And I can’t make it right. I have to let someone else
do it. The “I do it myself” I have said again and again must become
“Will you help me?”
I have to let someone else reach down and zip up my coat, cover over
my nakedness and make me clean again.
I have to become like a dependant child.
This is an aspect of the embarrassment and humiliation Stott writes
about. The embarrassment that someone else has to do it for us. The
embarrassment that the someone else that has to do it is God. “We
would rather perish than repent.” And some of us do.
-Nate Van Denend
Today’s reading, by Simone Weil, was a collection of thoughts about the incarnation and cross. The reading was one of the shortest that I have come across, but it’s depth required me to slow down to let each word sink in. Her reflections are profound, to say the least. I don’t seem to have much to say about most of them except, ‘Whoa. I need to think about that more.’ For what it’s worth, here are a few clips that I was particularly struck by:
“In order that we should realize the distance between ourselves and God, it was necessary that God should be a crucified slave. For we do not realize distance except in the downward direction. It is much easier to imagine ourselves in the place of God the Creator than in the place of Christ crucified.”
Though I would say that the distance between humanity and God is much (much!) larger than that between a philosopher (as was Simone Weil) and a crucified slave, it is an interesting and provoking reversal, commenting on our pride, as we picture ourselves as Creators, and on the humility of Christ.
“This infinite distance between God and God, this supreme tearing apart… is the crucifixion. Nothing can be further from God than that which has been made accursed.”
I think I’ll need to think about this for a few years before I really start to grasp what it means, but it feels weighty.
“And even the grace of God itself cannot cure our irremediably wounded nature here below. The glorified body of Christ bore the marks of nails and spear.”
Despite my wonder at the previous quotes, I can’t quite agree with this one. I am treading in some very deep mystery here, but as I read this I couldn’t help but wonder whether glorification is different than what we think of as ‘perfection’. Maybe our glory includes the wounds we receive in love.