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Keep Good Friday and Easter Together

Keep Good Friday and Easter Together

Easter services are much better attended than Good Friday services. I suspect this is inherent in human nature. We prefer the solution to the hardship getting there. We prefer the happy ending to the suffering that led up to it.

It’s not surprising that we do. Who doesn’t prefer those good times? Who doesn’t want to have as an affirmation of faith the proclamation: He Is Risen!

But our reality is much different. We live through hard times. We have those moments when it seems all is lost. We suffer through times of waiting, wondering whether things can get better or not. Moments of great victory come at a cost.

Holy week illustrates this so effectively. Jesus has toiled through the hardship of His ministry, facing rejection and opposition. Then all comes to a climax, not in victory, but in arrest, trial and death. Almost everyone concludes that things are all over. He’s dead. What are we going to do.

Then there is the silence and waiting of the Saturday between. What will happen as the new week begins? Will they be coming after us? What do we have to do.

And then there is Easter Sunday morning.

We say “He is risen!” with enthusiasm and joy, but many of those who first heard it said it with doubt, fear, and concern. What were they to believe now?

But it becomes more and more certain. They know He has risen from the dead. Triumph!

But what happens now? Is it all an easy run to the end?

No! It is time to be witnesses, to face the trials that come after.

Whenever we pretend that the Christian life is going to be easy and without difficulty, we set someone up for a failure of faith.

So what good did it all do?

There is something more important that Good Friday has to say to us. Yes, it tells us that God knows our suffering. Jesus has been through what we go through. I like to emphasize that when we explain why Jesus had to die the death that He did, we include the simple fact that it was the kind of death that human power provided for someone like Him at the time He appeared. Something different would not be experiencing what we experience.

It also tells us that Jesus is the Lord of Life, who has conquered death. He is not only sympathetic, but He has the power to do something about it.

But it also tells us that Jesus suffered with us for a purpose, and He takes us with us. I was strongly impressed with this as I read Ephesians 2 recently.

Here are some points:

  1. Jesus came to us when we weren’t ready for Him (2:1-3). We can know He means it, because it wasn’t our good looks or attractive personalities that brought Him here.
  2. It was because of love and mercy (2:4-5; see point #1).
  3. He makes us alive with Him (2:5). We have an eternal destiny.
  4. In Christ, we have a glorious purpose (2:6).
  5. It’s a gift. This is important because what we can earn, we can fall short of (2:8-9).
  6. We are his creation, so forget all the ancestry sites (2:9).
  7. We have work to do, but it is work that He planned, that He empowers, and that He carries out.

Ultimately, this lets us know that whatever we are, we are in the One who created us. We live for a purpose, a purpose that is created, assigned, and carried out through that one power. We do not live for futility, even in the greatest of darkness.

So if, on the Monday after Easter Sunday you don’t feel very much like an Easter person, remember that many who heard of the resurrection didn’t either, but God had a purpose for them.

In Him, everything (Ephesians 3:14-21).

Might I recommend slowly and meditatively reading the whole book of Ephesians, or at least chapters 2 & 3?

(The featured image is of my wedding wring, which has “Ephesians 3:14-21” inscribed inside of it. This passage was read at Jody’s and my wedding.)

Experiencing Resurrection

Experiencing Resurrection

Adrian Warnock issued a 10 day empty grave challenge, asking Christian bloggers to write about the resurrection at some point before Easter. Even though I have yet to read his book (I’ll get to it sometime!), I thought I’d take him up on his challenge.

Now the fact is that my experience differs from Adrian’s in that I have found that most churches I have attended tend to be pretty happy about the resurrection, but much more likely to neglect the cross. They have generally been quite happy to discuss the resurrection without any concern for why it was necessary. Unfortunately, however, I believe that if one neglects the cross one can hardly fully understand the resurrection.

A song from my youth, Henry de Fluiter’s Homesick for Heaven:

I’m homesick for heaven, seems I cannot wait,
Yearning to enter Zion’s pearly gate;
There never a heartache, never a care,
I long for my home over there.

I may seem to be deviating from the topic, but I grew up with this concept. A desire for the coming of God’s kingdom is a kind of standard in Christian discourse. We want to go to heaven, with the obvious subtext “not too soon.”

Now I had always thought that I really was homesick for heaven. But it took the time when my son was sick and death was threatening to teach my what homesickness really meant. I am aware that I bring up this one incident constantly in discussing, but living through the death of a child is an event that will change your life for better or worse.

But the experience that I relate to the resurrection is not death, but an earlier time in our experience. James had gone through surgery to remove one lung, and was in intensive care. Prior to the surgery I had committed to teach a series each Sunday for a month at a church about 2 1/2 hours away, at least as I drive. The pastor told me he’d understand if I canceled, but he wasn’t going to withdraw the invitation.

Saturday night I stood by James’s bed side and dithered as to whether I could make it. James was trying to say something to me, but was muffled by the tubes, so I came closer so I could hear. He said one word to me: “Go!”

I went. On those trips I was sustained by the music of the kingdom. I recall in particular one song, “Singing with the Saints” —

I’ll be be sitting at the throne with an angel band,
Shoutin’ hallelujahs to the great I am
If you think it’s a dream, well it ain’t
I’ll be singing with the saints.

I played that music loudly all the way. One of those Sundays–I don’t think it was that first one because James was able to talk to me–my wife Jody tried to call me on the cell phone as I drove and I didn’t hear it ring. When I did notice the call and called back they were shocked that I had missed the call due to the music. You see, I very rarely listen to music that loudly.

But in that experience there were moments when I sensed I could feel the grass of the fields of heaven. I felt a homesickness for that land that I had never felt before. I understand that others whose view of life and whose faith (or lack of it) differs from mine. I know that they too endure great difficulties and come through them. But for myself, it was that part of my faith, not particularly the future hope, but the moments experiencing eternity here and now that sustained me. I realized that I was a native of that kingdom for just a moment. As St. John Chrysostom said of the patriarchs:

What then? Did they mean that they were “strangers” from the land that is in Palestine? By no means: but in respect of the whole world: and with reason; for they saw therein none of the things which they wished for, but everything foreign and strange.

Before that I only thought I was homesick.

I’m reminded of a quote from Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy, p. 37:

…The Eucharist has so often been explained with reference to the gifts alone: what “happens” to bread and wine, and why, and when it happens! But we must understand that what “happens” to bread and wine happens because something has, first of all, happened to us, to the Church. It is because we have “constituted” the Church, and this means we have followed Christ in His ascension; because He has accepted us at His table in His Kingdom; because, in terms of theology, we have entered the Eschaton, and are now standing beyond time and space; it is because all this has first happened to us that something will happen to bread and wine.

In worship we are not merely commemorating historical events, or looking forward to future events, but we are experiencing our true homeland. When we truly get a taste of that true homeland it changes who we are and the way we look at the world.

When we study and meditate on the resurrection, I believe it should take us through that journey. We cannot do so without Good Friday and Silent Saturday. The first reminds us of the nature of evil and of the hardships we all encounter. It reminds us of the price of the kingdom. Silent Saturday is that time of waiting. Victory doesn’t come in an instant, but requires patience and determination. Easter Sunday is the victory of the kingdom.

Stuck on Silent Saturday?

Stuck on Silent Saturday?

OK, it’s Easter Sunday morning, and I can join the chorus: He is risen!

But I know from experience that there are Christians out there who are stuck on silent Saturday or Good Friday. For them, Christianity is all–and only–about the cross. Jesus died, they died in Jesus. They had no hope. Jesus is their hope–but they don’t seem to live it.

If you’re not in that place, you can just ignore me, but if you are, remember Easter morning. The point is not that death and suffering are wonderful. The point of realizing your need is not to go on realizing your need. If I’m thirsty, I get a drink of water. Then I’m not thirsty any more. If you’re in need of redemption, find redemption–and don’t keep acting like you never did find it.

I think that in many of our arguments over historical issues, we forget the meaning of the story. The meaning isn’t about doom, death, and destruction. The story tells us that doom, death, and destruction lose in the end.

By going past silent Saturday, I don’t mean that your pretend that bad things don’t happen. Rather, I ask for an essential Easter optimism that says that even when the worst is happening, there’s something to work toward, something to look forward to.

Paul says:

We were buried therefore with him through baptism to death, that just like Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. — Romans 6:4 (WEB)

Just so, brother Paul! He’s the one who is most often quoted by the hopelessness crowd, especially his words in Romans 7. But I think Paul was just pretty realistic. Looking and working for good endings doesn’t mean one doesn’t recognize the bad. Recognizing the reality of bad things doesn’t mean giving up on good things.

My wife and I lost a son to cancer at age 17. (She wrote a book, Grief: Finding the Candle of Light.) That’s a bad thing. You may wonder why I put it that way. Some say, “Obviously it’s bad.” Others are thinking I’m putting it too lightly. Yet others are thinking, “He’s a Christian, writing on Easter Sunday morning, and God works all things for the good of those who love him, so it’s not really bad.”

No, it’s really bad. It was, is, and will be really bad. There still are moments when I remember him like he had been here only moments before. When I take his little dog out for a walk in the morning, I remember how he used to stop on his way to school to say good bye to his dog when he saw us walking. It’s a painful moment. I acknowledge it. You should acknowledge your painful moments, times, and seasons as well.

But then there are other things. There is the John Webb Golf Tournament that raises money for the child life program at Sacred Heart Hospital. There are many lives that he touched both before and during his illness.

Do these things make illness and death a good thing? No! Easter morning didn’t make the cross painless either. The point is that you get past it, build on it, shake your fist at death and despair and say, “You don’t get the last word!”

That, I believe, is something Easter should re-teach us each year. Death doesn’t get the last word. Evil doesn’t get the last word.

He has risen. Have you?

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter!

I’m waiting till it’s time to head off for our Easter service with my wife, so I thought I’d wish everyone a happy Easter. I don’t expect to post more today, though I’m going to follow an older church practice by talking about Easter through the Easter season. I’m going to call your attention to my short story from last years, Easter Morning Resurrection.