Clean Hands

For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies; your tongue mutters wickedness. No one enters suit justly; no one goes to law honestly; they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies, they conceive mischief and give birth to iniquity.” (Isaiah 59:3–4, ESV)

The death of George Floyd was not a tragedy. It was the result of evil. Not an impersonal evil, but one that was endemic of human hatred toward one another. As a people, one nation, so to speak, we cry out for justice, and we weep for the loss of a man’s life. When Mr. Floyd was killed, we all were killed a little bit.

We live in a country that for over five centuries has been unable to manifest basic respect for our neighbors. I believe that one reason we have failed to deal with systemic racism is that we don’t really know the history of it. We have been taught what the people in power want us to know. However, omitting truth is the same as lying. And we all have been lied to so much, that we can’t even believe those who know better.

To this end, I suggest a hard look at ourselves, especially the Church which has been complicit in the lie. One way to do that is to read a book written by Joel McDurmon titled, “The Problem of Slavery in Christian America.” The Church is one place that we should find righteousness, justice, love, and peace, because the Church is an institution of faith in God, who is the source of these things. That’s why we as the Church bear the greatest burden for Mr. Floyd’s death and the injustice in our land.

If we have not all been disturbed by the events across America in the past week, we have lost sight of God’s purpose in our creation. Israel had lost sight of God’s calling as well. Isaiah does not hold back a thing. Isaiah is speaking for God. And where ever this passage rings true, it bears the weight of God’s judgment. We should not be deceived. George Floyd was murdered because we have lived materialistic lives of competitiveness where the golden rule is, “Do unto others before they do unto you.”

The desire to protest such injustice is a Constitutional privilege that has been used to express the fear of the Black community and the fear that they are all targets of injustice. However, there are two issues I struggle with relating to protests.

First, protesting is showing support for a cause and making that support impressed upon the hearts and minds of those who have the power to change things. However, if those who can change things have dead hearts and closed minds, protesting does little more than making the protester feel good for having taken a stand. This feeling soon dissipates and changes into thinking I have done all I can do. Discouragement sets in because nothing appears to change. Eventually discouragement morphs into despair and the believe that nothing I do will ever matter.

Second, there are always a few unscrupulous individuals who take protesting as a cover for rioting and destruction of property. No one wins in this case, everyone loses. This is what has been occurring throughout the States too much this week.

There is an answer, though. I did not include the first two verses of Isaiah’s prophecy before, but read them now.

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” (Isaiah 59:1–2, ESV)

The Lord God is not altered by our human failures. We are the ones who become separated from the only one who can resolve the issue and bring peace. Its not that he can’t hear. Its that he doesn’t listen because of our iniquity. The answer is that we must make more than a stand for justice, we must demand it. But we cannot demand justice using injustice. It doesn’t work to fight fire with fire. If Jesus taught us anything by his life, it is that evil does not stop evil. Jesus stopped the evil by absorbing in in himself. He gave himself over to it and for over two thousand years, his act has not been forgotten.

Jesus did not fight back. He stopped Peter from his attempt at defense. He told us all to turn the other cheek, to walk another mile, to give our coat too. I have been told that in the legal system in America, you must come to court with “clean hands.” I believe that should be true if it is not, because I know it is true with God. We can’t wash our hands so Christ has done it for us.

So, evil cannot be stopped with evil. Wars don’t stop when there is a victor because the loss on both sides is too much to bear. Wars stop when parties refuse to go to war. It is the job of the State to bear justice. Its just that our State has not listened to the God that rules over it. God can change it. He makes his changes by waking us up to righteousness by allowing us to taste our own unrighteousness. Then he calls his righteous ones forward to change the very system of human life in this world into the system of his Kingdom.

As C. S. Lewis wrote in the Last Battle, let us all move higher up and farther in.

Leave a comment

Filed under Law of God, Love

The Law of Love

My last post had to do with obedience. May more things could be said about obedience, however, I would like to reflect on the word love, since that is the sum of God’s law.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4–9, ESV)

Much of what I hear today sets the focus of love on ones’ self. We talk about how much God loves me, or God loves the poor, or God loves sinners. Yet the Law of Love is not about how God loves but how we love. More to the point, how we love God. There is a song sung by Michael W. Smith that says,

I’m coming back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about you, it’s all about you Jesus
I’m sorry Lord, for the thing I’ve made it
When it’s all about you, it’s all about you Jesus [1]

The problem is that all too often it is all about me. “I don’t like that song,” or “The preacher sure was boring today, I couldn’t even follow him,” or “When are they going to put new carpet in the sanctuary,” or “I wonder what the score of the game is.” If it is all about God and Christ, then none of these other things are important. And the trouble is that we are commanded to love ther Lord our God.

This is difficult to do, maybe impossible. Remember, though, that the standard is to yeild to the power and authority of the Holy Spirit and not expect sanctification results too quickly. On the other hand, we must also remember that there are three qualifiers God uses describing how we are to go about loving him: with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. It’s getting harder, isn’t it.

When God commands us to do something, he often shows us how to do it. In this passage, he declares that fulfilling his command to love is to be taught to our children. We should talk about loving God all the time, “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” 

The Hebrews out of an honest desire to fulfill God’s command took this part too far. They created philacteries[2] for their foreheads and the mezuzah [3] for their doors. I reality, these are mnemonic devices may or may not work, and I am certainly not condemning them here. I think, though, that what God wants us to do is to slowly but surely place his word in the forefront of our lives until our first reaction to any situation is, “How can I love God?”

In the end, it is all about God who created the heavens and the earth and placed them in human custody that we could, in all things, make known his great glory. I only pray that I continue to make progress toward that end.

 

[1] copied from https://www.lyricsfreak.com/m/michael+w+smith/all+about+you_20609001.html

[2] Phylacteries contain copies of the four biblical passages upon which their usage is based: Exod 13:9, 16; Deut 6:8; 11:18. They serve as a ritual reminder of the covenantal commitment to keep the Torah of Moses and to thank God for His many blessings. Paul A. Rainbow, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, 2016.

[3] …a small box, containing scrolls bearing the same four verses, mounted to the right doorpost of the house and of each room. Paul A. Rainbow, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, 2016.

Leave a comment

Filed under Law of God, Love

Obedience

Many years ago, Keith Green wrote a song for the church called “To Obey Is Greater than Sacrifice.” The words [1] are powerful: (you can hear it here)

To obey is better than sacrifice
I don’t need your money, I want your life
And I hear you say that I’m coming back soon
But you act like I’ll never return

Well you speak of grace and my love so sweet
How you thrive on milk but reject my meat
And I can’t help weeping of how it will be
If you keep on ignoring my words
Well you pray to prosper and succeed
But your flesh is something I just can’t feed

To obey is better than sacrifice
I want more than Sundays and Wednesday nights
‘Cause if you can’t come to me everyday
Then don’t bother coming at all

To obey is better than sacrifice
I want hearts of fire, not your prayers of ice
And I’m coming quickly to give back to you
According to what you have done
According to what you have done
According to what you have done

The words of the song, though, gain their authority from the Scriptures.

And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22, ESV)

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6, ESV)

Jesus referred to the Hosea passage as recorded by Matthew and Mark. His disciples are going through the fields gleaning grain on the sabbath. When the Pharisees saw this they complained that Jesus and his disciples were breaking the law. Jesus reminds them that David gleaned on the Sabbath, but then he teaches us all a tremendous lesson, “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice.”

I think it interesting that steadfast love requires a greater sacrifice than many of the things we consider sacrificial. The sum of the Law of God is to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, and minds, and strength. This love if God requires loving our neighbors as well. To obey is greater than sacrifice.

Loving God fulfills the Law. The first of the Ten Commandments tells us to love God, and God alone. This is the beginning. Faith starts here. Anything that is not loving God is a distraction from our purpose and life. To obey is greater than sacrifice.

So, what keeps you from total obedience loving God? I don’t need to make suggestions for you to discover your distractions. We all have them. The bottom line is, what takes you away from God? What has become more important than him? What prevents you from gathering at church? What keeps us from fellowshipping with other believers? Whatever it is, we should strive to put it aside and love God as best as we can. Our prayers will change from asking God for things to praising God for what he has already given. Our time with God will excite us to study his word with diligence because if God said it, it is the most important thing for me to hear and know. When we read Scripture, we will not skip over the hard stuff, or the boring stuff, because we know that God gave it all to us for our benefit.

To obey is greater than sacrifice. True obedience takes a lifetime to learn.

“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:6–8, ESV)

 

[1] copied from https://www.metrolyrics.com/to-obey-is-better-than-sacrifice-lyrics-keith-green.html

Leave a comment

Filed under Faith, Law of God, Love

Marked for Life

In 1990, 20th Century Fox released a Steven Seagal movie called “Marked for Death.” It is typical of the action genre that has become the norm for decades. Good versus Bad, white hat versus black hat, or in this case, fear versus greater fear. That’s right. A burned-out CIA agent retires and goes back home only to learn that a gang of ruthless Jamaicans has taken over the drug trade in his home town. As with most of these movies, the law is unable to deal with such a situation because it is inept or because it “has to play by the rules” when criminals don’t.

The leader of this gang is Screwface, a Jamaican drug lord who rules and accomplishes what he wants through fear. Now I have laid out this background so 1.) you don’t have to watch the movie, and 2.) to present a quote by Screwface who at one point says, “Everybody want go heaven. Nobody want dead.” Out of the mouth of evil comes an interesting statement that is an interesting thought, especially as we currently live in a society that has virtually shut down out of the fear of death.

Fear is a powerful motivator. Fear is an emotional response, not a reasonable one. Fear has a positive use. For example, I have a healthy fear of rattlesnakes. I have had a number of encounters with them growing up in Southern California. That fear makes me cautious when I do encounter one. However, to allow the fear to become my emotional response in an encounter is most certainly going to end in disaster. Remaining calm and allowing the snake to go on its way is generally going to result in a short delay and nothing more.

Throughout history, fear has been used as a means of controlling others. A recent article about such a use of fear was written by Gary DeMar and can be found here. I believe that the greatest fear many people have is the fear of death. This, to me, is interesting because as Screwface says in another place, “Look upon this madman! Him dead and him don’t even know it!” Can it be that we fear death because we all know instinctively we are already dead and refuse to acknowledge it?

My question goes to the heart of the Gospel.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Ephesians 2:1–3, ESV)

The human problem is we are all born dead in sin. You may want to try to get philosophical and want to define death at this point, but I suggest that you just reflect on what death might mean to you. Non-existence? Sleep? Pain? Heaven? Hell? “Everybody want go heaven.” I do! So why fear death? I suggest a couple of reasons. First, we were created and given life which is essential to our purpose. It is natural for me to want to live and not want to die. Second, because we are touched by the ramifications of death every day. We know death and we don’t have to admit it for it to be true. Third, most of us believe in a heaven of some kind, and most of us know that it is our deeds that may keep us out of heaven. How many times have you heard about someone who dies and was a good person? How good does one have to be to go to heaven?

Now I present to you a solution to the human problem. The solution to the human problem.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:4–9, ESV)

Screwface was right! To go to heaven you must die. Or someone must die. And someone has died making us alive, Jesus Christ. There are no works that can take us to heaven. There are no deeds that can give us eternal life. But there is Christ Jesus and God’s grace. This truth defeats the fear of death. Why?

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” (Romans 8:31–35, ESV)

While the world turns itself inside out and upside down because of COVID-19, fear not but believe that the one who is greater than the virus loves you. In Christ, we can be marked for life.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comfort, Faith, Gospel, Love

The Chief End of Man

There have always been Christians and non-Christians speculating on the end of the world. There are those who keep trying to tell us when the Rapture, the tribulation, and the final judgment of all mankind will take place. This has been done ever since the early days of the church.[1] Christians are not alone in this fanciful speculation. Take the movie 2012. We love catastrophic movies and books so much, that we are uncritically accepting the same kind of thinking by the scientific community building their models and guessing on what is going to happen.

My suggestion to all of it is to give it up. Why focus on the end of life and society? The Westminster Shorter Catechism makes clear just what the end of mankind is: to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

What a shift in our outlook this offers. We can cast off all fears of what is going to happen tomorrow. We become indifferent to circumstance. It’s not that we don’t care. It’s that we care about the glory of God above all else. We recognize that our humanness is not something evolved from anything. We know better! We are created beings. Created to display God’s being. We are created in his image.

The difficulty is that we don’t act that way. The church of the Middle Ages recognized this with their Seven Deadly Sins: Pride, Envy, Anger, Sloth, Avarice, Gluttony, and Lust. What’s more, we humans have redefined most of these things into virtues. We can only do this if we cast off God the Creator and replace him with God the created.

Why is it that all governments want to control our lives “from cradle to grave?” Only because we, not just the politicians, have removed God from his throne of glory and replaced him with ourselves. Government is good. It is God-ordained. Yet this can only be true if we remember that the purpose of all human government is to glorify God and to aid each of us to glorify him and enjoy our relationship with our Creator.

Little children look up to their parents. They want to be like mom and dad. Can this be why Jesus said we must become like little children? Could this be the meaning Jesus intended when he said, “Let the children come to me?” Our Father wants us to come to him, to make our concerns known to him, be comforted by him.

I don’t remember a lot about being a little child. However, there is one memory that is seared into my mind and heart. I remember walking with my dad and my hand was too small to hold his hand. So I would grab onto his index finger and squeeze. Holding that finger was my comfort and joy because my dad was everything to me.

My dad would be the first to acknowledge that when I was that age, and even to the moment of his death, he was really a stand-in for my true Father. Holding my dad’s finger made me believe that nothing could happen that would cause me harm. How much greater is it to hang on to our Father in heaven and proclaim, “Hallowed be thy name.”

 

[1] see The Day and the Hour

Leave a comment

Filed under Comfort, Love

Essential

From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, both State and Federal governments have designated some people as essential to the recovery due to their job functions. The rest of us are evidently non-essential because we were told to stay home. If your in the same situation as I am, how does it feel to be a non-essential person? I ask this because some stores remain open and others not. If you are a market you must stay open. If you are a liquor store you should be closed.

Some have pointed out that allowing the government at any level to segregate the population into essential and not essential can have serious consequences for the future (see here). It may become an issue or it may not. It does make any student of history think of Hitler, Stalin, and others.

Instead, I want to suggest that we are all essential to God. It started at the beginning:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”” (Genesis 1:26, ESV)

We, human beings, male and female were the pinnacle of God’s creation. Nothing else was made in his image. Nothing else was given dominion over all of creation. That seems to me to be pretty important. When we look at each other, God wanted us to see him. And, he wanted all the rest of creation to see him too.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” (Romans 1:19–20, ESV)

I am not really interested in what the government says about us. We are all essential. And while many of us are told to stay home, I think there has been too little concern for the things that make us human. We have friends and family who we love but cannot touch them or even see them unless it is done electronically. We have work that gives us purpose and provides for our needs. We have Spiritual needs as well. After all, God started this whole thing in the beginning.

I believe these needs are as essential as caring for patients with COVID-19. No one wants to spread the virus. Everyone wants to stop the disease. People created with reasoning minds can and will take steps necessary for protection. So is this “quarantine” really as necessary as has been made of it? I don’t know and I don’t claim to know. However, there are some things I do know.

First, there are always more options than the one taken. The one chosen after careful thought and study may be the best one. But there are many smart people in this world and they don’t all agree on the path to take. There may also be things that were not considered when making decisions. This brings me back to the importance of community.

It also is a reminder that we all need enough humility to say, “Maybe I’m wrong.” In the state where I live, the governor put a ban on fishing among other things. It took a lot of pressure from the public to finally get him to lift the ban even though the numbers haven’t really changed as much as he originally claimed they needed to.

Second, about other options, take a look at this YouTube video by John Stossel.  I’m not saying Sweden has it right and we don’t. Time will tell. Maybe. Maybe the U.S. and Sweden are both right.

So, here is the essential idea to take from this blog. God is bigger than COVID-19. Yes, many people have gotten sick, some have died. And I don’t want to make light of any of this. However, none of us have been invited to the counsel of God to know what he is about. But I know he is about something. And I am sure in faith to know that God did not permit this virus to completely destroy those who bear his image.

And remember, we are essential, even if we are restaurant servers, teachers, pastors, or retired. We are essential to God, and just maybe that should be enough.

Leave a comment

Filed under Faith, World View

Unprecedented

Thursday night, the NFL Draft began with comments on COVID-19 from the Commissioner.  One of his comments included the oft-heard phrase that we are in unprecedented times.

It may seem that way. None of us have lived through a pandemic before. However, in my lifetime there have been a number of declared pandemics including the Asian Flu, Hong Kong Flu, HIV/AIDS, and the Swine Flu [1]. In the last century, we can also add the Spanish Flu.

Maybe what is unprecedented is the way we are experiencing this particular pandemic. The Federal and State governments have tried to enforce emergency orders restricting movement and association with the laudable intention of minimizing risk. Some of these attempts have been helpful, some maybe not so. All of them, though, rely upon fear. Some of them sound hollow like Washington State’s attempt to prevent fishing.

Even though well-intentioned, some of the moves ordered by the government have a hidden cost of the reduction of liberty [2]. But my question is this, is any of this unprecedented?

What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9–11, ESV)

It appears that we have not only forgotten history, but we have forgotten the significance of history too. And this also is not unprecedented as the preacher in Ecclesiastes says.

I believe that the remembrance of history is not the significant thing, though. I believe that what the preacher is saying has been forgotten is much more serious than getting the facts straight. What is most often forgotten is the authority and power of the Most High God. This is the God who went to war against Pharaoh and the gods of Egypt. Have we forgotten how that ended? This is the God who went to war against sin and death. Have we forgotten how that began a new era with a new covenant of life?

Easter is one step in a chain of historical events that together reconcile us to God, establish his kingdom, and enthrone Jesus Christ as the King of kings and Lord of lords. Even over Covid-19. Even over the human efforts to gain control over the sickness and deaths. Let us not forget that our suffering is our joy as we share in the sufferings of our Savior. And if you are reading this and don’t know the truth of it all, pick up your Bible and start reading about the amazing God of the world, bend your knees and bow your back to the ruler of all things, and pray for the faith to believe and live without fear in love.

 

[1]:https://www.visualcapitalist.com/history-of-pandemics-deadliest/

[2]:DeMar, Gary

Leave a comment

Filed under Easter, Faith

Is This the End?

I remember when I was a child reading a book about Chicken Little. Almost everyone knows this parable in some form. The basic story is that one day an acorn falls from an oak tree and hits Chicken Little in the head. His conclusion was the sky was falling, and his mission became to spread the news of the coming disaster. The ending changes from tale to tale and is either positive or negative. On his way to tell the king, Chicken Little tells all the birds and animals he comes across. The last is the fox, who offers his den as protection.

The sad ending is that the fox eats them all. You shouldn’t believe everything you hear. The happy ending (not for the fox!) is they all escape and make it to the king. Be strong and courageous, and things will turn out well.

As with all moralistic stories, they are parables and must be limited in application. Chicken Little was more than merely mistaken. If he had taken a moment to investigate and not make an irrational conclusion, nothing would have happened from it. If the other animals had inquired into what Chicken Little was claiming, they might have realized that the idea of the sky falling is nonsense.

What reminded me of this story is an interpretation of the Corona Virus, which has resulted in tragedy and disruption of life is a judgment of God. The same argument has been made through the centuries for plagues and natural disasters. However, I believe that in each case, we have called the falling sky a curse from God, we border on the flaw of Chicken Little’s irrationalism and the others’ blind acceptance of the claim.

There are thinking people in the church who have called us to not speak of judgment but of compassion, love, and a call to service. I may agree or disagree with their reasoning. Still, I do believe that one of the things I have noticed during this critical time is that many people who are not necessarily religious have given of themselves for the sake of their neighbor. Judgment or not, this arises, I believe, from the nature of all mankind having been created in the image of God.

Whether or not people believe in Christ for their salvation from sin, they have, for the most part, rejected the evolutionary concept of the survival of the fittest. If that maxim was right, we would let the virus run rampant and not mourn those who, in their weakness, die. Yet even atheists, agnostics, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and every other kind of faith you can think of, have joined in the effort to reduce the effect of this and other diseases.

So, I am thanking God for showing us all that we are his creation and that our care for one another is a loving example of his glory.

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:5–7, ESV)

Leave a comment

Filed under Love, World View

Easter

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.” (John 20:1–7, ESV)

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.” (1 Corinthians 15:1–7, ESV)

God of mercy,
we no longer look for Jesus among the dead,
for he is alive and has become the Lord of life.
From the waters of death you raise us with him
and renew your gift of life within us.
Increase in our minds and hearts
the risen life we share with Christ,
and help us to grow as your people
toward the fullness of eternal life with you,
through Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Book of Common Worship, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2018.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Easter

The Paschal Vigil

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5–11, ESV)

What is it like to experience the transition from darkness to light? What is it like to go from chaos to creation, or in this case re-creation? What is it like to go from death to life? What is it to find hope in the midst of hopelessness?

The journey of Holy Week through the Paschal Triduum is a reenactment of this historical reality. The Great Paschal Vigil draws the Church together in darkness. Then through worship, we reach the pinnacle of Christian experience. The services celebrate God’s recreation.

The ancient church recognized the central event of Christianity is not the birth of Christ even though the Incarnation is important. However, the Resurrection is the focal point. Easter is the beginning of all things made new. Easter is the mark when we may be born again. Ancient celebrations of Easter included the lighting of the Paschal Candle which would remain lit throughout the year (until it is extinguished on Good Friday.) Easter was when new converts were finally baptized following a year or more of discipleship and learning. And Easter was the first celebration of the Eucharist following its institution.

Darkness to Light; chaos to re-creation; death to life; eternal hope. These are the things of Easter.

Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern
(O Morning-Star, how fair and bright)

PHILIPP NICOLAI

1599 FREUDENSPIEGEL (SEE USE BY BACH BMV 1)

Translation by Catherine Winkworth

O Morning-Star, how fair and bright
Thou beamest forth in truth and light!
O Sovereign meek and lowly!
Sweet Root of Jesse, David’s Son,
My King and Bridegroom, Thou hast won
My heart to love Thee solely!
Lovely art Thou, fair and glorious,
All victorious,
Rich in blessing,
Rule and might o’er all possessing.

O King high-born, Pearl hardly won,
True Son of God and Mary’s Son,
Crown of exceeding glory!
My heart calls Thee a Lily, Lord,
Pure milk and honey is Thy Word,
Thy sweetest Gospel-story.
Rose of Sharon, hail! Hosanna!
Heavenly Manna,
Feed us ever;
Lord, I can forget Thee never!

Clear Jasper, Ruby fervent red,
Deep deep within my heart now shed
The glow of love’s pure fire;
Fill me with joy, grant me to be
Thy member closely joined to Thee,
Whom all my thoughts desire;
Toward Thee longing doth possess me,
Turn and bless me,
For Thy gladness
Eye and heart here pine in sadness.

But if Thou look on me in love,
There straightway falls from God above
A ray of purest pleasure;
Thy Word and Spirit, flesh and blood,
Refresh my soul with heavenly food,
Thou art my hidden treasure.
Let Thy grace, Lord, warm and cheer me,
O draw near me;
Thou hast taught us
Thee to seek, since Thou hast sought us.

Lord God, my Father, mighty Shield,
Thou in Thy Son art all revealed
As Thou hast loved and known me;
Thy Son hath me with Him betrothed,
In His own whitest raiment clothed,
He for His bride will own me.
Hallelujah! Life in heaven
Hath He given,
With Him dwelling,
Still shall I His praise be telling.

Then touch the chords of harp and lute,
Let no sweet music now be mute,
But joyously resounding,
Tell of the Marriage-feast, the Bride,
The heavenly Bridegroom at her side,
’Mid love and joy abounding;
Shout for triumph, loudly sing ye,
Praises bring ye,
Fall before Him,
King of kings, let all adore Him!

Here my heart rests, and holds it fast,
The Lord I love is First and Last,
The End as the Beginning;
Here I can die, for I shall rise
Through Him, to His own Paradise
Above all tears and sinning.
Amen! Amen! Come, Lord Jesus,
Soon release us,
With deep yearning,
Lord, we look for Thy returning.

Eric Lund and Bernard McGinn, Eds., Seventeenth-Century Lutheran Meditations and Hymns, The Classics of Western Spirituality, (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2011), 278–280.

Leave a comment

Filed under Gospel, Light, Poetry