Easter

The Passion and Resurrection of the Christ

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[From a compilation of the Gospel narratives, all of which add insightful details to the trial, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus. These narrative begin in Mark 15, Matthew 27, Luke 23, and John 18.]

Early in the morning the leading priests and the elders met again to lay plans for putting Jesus to death. Then they bound him, led him away, and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor.

Now Jesus was standing before Pilate, the Roman governor. “Are you the king of the Jews?” the governor asked him.  Jesus replied, “So you say.”

But when the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against him, Jesus remained silent.  “Don’t you hear all these charges they are bringing against you?”Pilate demanded. But Jesus made no response to any of the charges.

Now it was the governor’s custom each year during the Passover celebration to release one prisoner to the crowd—anyone they wanted.  This year there was a notorious prisoner named Barabbas. As the crowds gathered before Pilate’s house that morning, he asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you—Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?”

The leading priests and the elders said,“By our law he ought to die because he called himself the Son of God.” They persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be put to death.  When Pilate heard this, he was frightened.

He took Jesus back into the headquartersagain and asked him, “Where are you from?”But Jesus gave no answer. “Why don’t you talk to me? Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?”

Jesus said, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above. Those who handed me over to you have the greater sin.”

Then Pilate tried to release him, but the Jewish leaders shouted, “If you release this man, you are no ‘friend of Caesar.’Anyone who declares himself a king is a rebel against Caesar.”

Pilate saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere and that a riot was developing. So he sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is yours!”

   And all the people yelled back, “We will take responsibility for his death—his blood be on us and on our children!”

So the governor asked again, “Which of these two do you want me to release to you?”

The crowd shouted back, “Barabbas!”

Pilate responded,“Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”

“Crucify him!”

“Why? What crime has he committed?”

“Crucify him!” yelled the crowd.

 Pilate responded,“Take him yourselves and crucify him. I find him not guilty.”

So Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.

The soldiers stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him.  They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head, and they placed a reed stick in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mockery and taunted,“Hail! King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck him on the head with it.  When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified.

Along the way, they came across a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross.  They went out to a place called Golgotha (which means “Place of the Skull”).  The soldiers gave him wine mixed with vinegar, but when Jesus had tasted it, he refused to drink it.

The soldiers nailed him to the cross, then gambled for his clothes while keeping guard. A sign fastened to the cross above Jesus’ head announced the charge against him. It read: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” The place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, so that many people could read it.

The leading priests objected and said to Pilate, “Change it from ‘The King of the Jews’ to ‘He said, I am King of the Jews.’”

Pilate replied,“No, what I have written, I have written.”

The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery.  “Look at you now! You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, if you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross!”

The leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders also mocked Jesus.  “He saved others but he can’t save himself! So he is the King of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross right now, and we will believe in him!  He trusted God, so let God rescue him now if he wants him! For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”  

Two criminals were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.

One of them scoffed and said, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”

But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die?  We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong. Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

At noon, darkness fell across the whole land.  At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Some of the bystanders misunderstood and thought he was calling for the prophet Elijah.  One of them ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, holding it up to him on a reed stick so he could drink.  But the rest said, “Wait! Let’s see whether Elijah comes to save him.”

Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit.  At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart, and tombs opened.

The Roman officerand the other soldiers at the crucifixion were terrified by the earthquake and all that had happened. They said, “This man truly was the Son of God!”

The Jewish leaders didn’t want the bodies hanging there the next day, which was the Sabbath.  So they asked Pilate to hasten their deaths by ordering that their legs be broken. Then their bodies could be taken down.  So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two men crucified with Jesus. But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, so they didn’t break his legs. One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out.

As evening approached, Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea who had become a follower of Jesus, went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate issued an order to release it to him. Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a long sheet of clean linen cloth.  He placed it in his own new tomb, which had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a great stone across the entrance and left. 

The next day, on the Sabbath, the leading priests and Pharisees went to see Pilate.   “Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while he was still alive: ‘After three days I will rise from the dead.’  So we request that you seal the tomb until the third day. This will prevent his disciples from coming and stealing his body and then telling everyone he was raised from the dead! If that happens, we’ll be worse off than we were at first.”

Pilate replied, “Take guards and secure it the best you can.”  So they sealed the tomb and posted guards to protect it.

Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb.  Suddenly there was a great earthquake! An angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it.  His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint.

Then the angel spoke to the women.“Don’t be afraid! I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying.  And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.”

The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. They ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.”

Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted.

One of the twelve disciples, Thomas, was not with the others when Jesus came. They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you. Thomas, put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

“My Lord and my God!”Thomas exclaimed.

Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book.  But these are written so that you may continue to believethat Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.

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If there is one thing that is more clear than ever, it’s that the world is broken, and I’m not saying this just because Michigan and not Ohio State is in the Final Four.

  • Shooters (who will use knives if they can’t get guns)
  • Sexual harassers and abusers (#metoo movement and human sex trafficking)
  • Families literally imprisoning their own children
  • Love letters to mass murderers (the Parkland Shooter)
  • Twitter abuse that exposes the cruelty that simmers in more people than we knew
  • Racism that is a very real ongoing problem in our culture
  • This Nxvim cult I have been reading about that literally brands and enslaves women
  • Netflix has more and more documentaries about corruption, lies and greed in business

Last week, a friend of Sheila’s was shot by her husband and put in the trunk of his car, where she stayed until one of her six children talked their father into turning himself in.

There is evil at work in the world, and we know it. It’s not just the stories ‘out there’ that get headlines; it's the story of our own life that reveals how all of creation groans as it waits for redemption. (Romans 8:22)

Maybe we have had things done to us that have damaged us. These are the things that we see or experience and we know deep in our souls, “This is not okay. That is not the way life is supposed to be.” We know something is wrong, and we instinctively desire that justice be done, that God deal with evil in the world. The prophet Amos said, “Let justice roll down like a river,” and that resonates with us. (Amos 5:24)

But that will put us in a bind, because we have done things to othersthat deserve condemnation. Something we said or did contributed to the brokenness of this world, and to someone else’s life in particular. We did or said something that was not okay, and honestly, we are the perpetrator, not the victim. Our words or our actions or even our attitudes have hurt others. There are obvious ones where someone is physically hurt, right? But there are more less noticeable ways we go about doing this.

  • Our addictions lead us to use and hurt those around us.
  • Our pornography use demeans and dehumanizes others.
  • Our sarcasm leaves deep scars.
  • Our insecurities cause us to lash out at others who have done nothing wrong.
  • Our need to be in control makes us cruel and manipulative.
  • As parents, we pass on too many of our dysfunctions to our kids, and as kids, we have wounded our parents more than we know.

Let’s be honest: we have all done things that deserve condemnation. There is plenty of guilt to go around.  And this means that if God is going to judge evil, God is going to judge us.

Enter Jesus, the incarnation, God in human flesh.On our own, we are spiritually dead. Our sins have doomed us to be swept away by the justice of God. Jesus came to take that flood on himself, and in so doing bring peace between sinful, fallen humanity and a holy God. And because Jesus was fully God and fully human, as a perfect man he satisfied God’s uncompromising justice against sinful humanity; as God, he revealed God’s unfailing love in his sacrifice of himself to pay the penalty He demands.

“God did not, then, inflict pain on someone else, but rather on the Cross absorbed the pain, violence, and evil of the world into himself… this is a God who becomes human and offers his own lifeblood in order to honor moral justice and merciful love so that someday he can destroy all evil without destroying us.” (Tim Keller)

Or, as John so eloquently puts it in Scripture:

“God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, so that whoever believes on Him will not perish, but have eternal life.  For God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but so the world through Him could be saved.” John 3:16-17)

Jesus said his death would rescue us from the ultimate penalty that we deserve for what we have done; his resurrection shows that He has the power to do what He says he will do. He has shown us that, in the midst of this broken world, Jesus loves us enough to give his life so that we can truly live, and he is strong enough to offer the only kind of healing and hope that can save even the worst of us sinners.  And here is where the radical and perhaps even scandalous message of the gospel really kicks in.

  • Jesus came to save those who have been verbally, physically, emotionally or spiritually abused – and those who did the abusing.
  • Jesus came to save those who have been used – and those of us who use others for our own selfish gain.
  • Jesus came to save the cheated on and the cheater, the back-stabber and the back stabbed, the liar and the lied to, the grudge-holders and the grudge creators.
  • Jesus came to save those who self-destruct, and hate, and judge, and lash out, and hurt others.

And since all of us are on this list – probably in every category in some way -  that’s great news for all of us.

2,000 years ago, we were visited by a God who entered the world to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). That is still what Jesus does today.

No matter what you have done, or what has been done to you, or what you think of Jesus, it is still true: “That by believing in Him you will have forgiveness of sins, the redemption of your soul, and life everlasting.”

 

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The Days We Celebrate (Easter 2017)

1 Corinthians 15The Voice (VOICE)

 Let me remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I preached to you when we first met. It’s the essential message that you have taken to heart, the central story you now base your life on; and through this gospel, you are liberated…. 3-4 For I passed down to you the crux of it all which I had also received from others, that the Anointed One, the Liberating King, died for our sins and was buried and raised from the dead on the third day. All this happened to fulfill the Scriptures; it was the perfect climax to God’s covenant story. 

Afterward He appeared alive to Cephas (you may know him as Simon Peter), then to the rest of the twelve. If that were not amazing enough, on one occasion, He appeared to more than 500 believers at one time. Many of those brothers and sisters are still around to tell the story, though some have fallen asleep in Jesus. Soon He appeared to James, His brother and the leader of the Jerusalem church, and then to all the rest of the emissaries He Himself commissioned.  8 Last of all, He appeared to me…

13 Friends, if there is no resurrection of the dead, then even the Anointed hasn’t been raised; 14 if that is so, then all our preaching has been for nothing and your faith in the message is worthless. 15 And what’s worse, all of us who have been preaching the gospel are now guilty of misrepresenting God because we have been spreading the news that He raised the Anointed One from the dead (which must be a lie if what you are saying about the dead not being raised is the truth)…

Friends17 if the Anointed has not been raised from the dead, then your faith is worth less than yesterday’s garbage, you are all doomed in your sins, 18 and all the dearly departed who trusted in His liberation are left decaying in the ground. 19 If what we have hoped for in the Anointed doesn’t take us beyond this life, then we are world-class fools, deserving everyone’s pity.

20 But the Anointed One was raised from death’s slumber and is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep in death. 21 For since death entered this world by a man, it took another man to make the resurrection of the dead our new reality. 22 Look at it this way: through Adam all of us die, but through the Anointed One all of us can live again. 

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We live in a world in desperate need of peace.

Terrorism, rumors of wars, persecution, genocide, human trafficking, tension between police and citizens, political fighting, social media frenzies of name-calling and insults. It hits closer to home, too: our families, our workplace, our friendships, our church. Then there is the lack of peace deep inside – the depression, anxiety, despair and shame. We live in a world in desperate need of peace.

I want to talk about how Jesus’ death and resurrection makes peace possible.

There is a Hebrew word, Shalom,that refers to peace with God, within, and with others. In many ways it takes us back to the Garden of Eden, at a place and time when everything was good. We have wandered far from that place of peace and rest, and the history of the world shows that we do a terrible job re-creating peace on our own. The prophet Jeremiah lamented the people who say, “’Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace”; Luke records that Jesus wept for Jerusalem: “If you had only known on this day what would bring you peace.”

The prophet Isaiah said that one day there would be a Prince of Peace; Paul wrote that Jesus is our peace; Jesus said he came to bring a peace that was unlike anything the world could give. When he appeared to the disciples after his resurrection, one of the first things he said was, “Be at peace.”

This promise of peace through Jesus Christ is our hope in a fallen and broken world, and that’s our focus today.

Peace With God

We were created to be at peace with God – pure, holy, unstained by sin. Genesis talks about the close communion of God and Adam; it’s that kind of peace that is the goal. Unashamed, guiltless, not covering or hiding our sins or ourselves.

But sin ruined that kind of peace. And lest we blame Adam, we all contribute. We all choose to do that which appalls a righteous and holy God. Everyone is directed by their conscience; Christians are directed by the Bible and empowered by the Holy Spirit – and yet we still at times choose to willfully choose a path of spiritual, emotional, relational and sometimes physical destruction that we know offends  the God who created and loves us and hurts those around us. We don’t just ignore God or make mistakes; we are rebels. Some of us are just more obvious about it than others.

It not that we are totally unaware. If nothing else, our stories betray us. We want a line between good and evil, a really clear demarcation: “There are evil people and things; there are good people and things.” We want Sauron vs. Gandalf; the Lion vs. the Witch; Captain America vs. the Red Skull; Ohio State vs. anyone else, really.

While those stories are instructive and good, it’s not what we experience in real life. Even the writers of Scripture knew this. Look at any primary character in the Old Testament and find one whose life was a pure as snow. They don’t exist. The line between good and evil runs right through the center of our hearts. It’s why we are awesome parents one day and horrible parents the next. It’s why one day I’m the husband my wife dreamed about when she was a kid and the next day I’m not even close. It’s why our friendships struggle, and our families fight, and even church can feel like a battleground.

The whole world is in a war between sin and holiness, and at times the epic heroes arise and defeat the classic villains, and we cheer (as we should), but more often than not we see that murky middle battleground where the Boromirs and the children who visited Narnia and the Tony Starks struggle to embrace the good and reject the evil. And even then that just reminds us that the epicenter of this battle is in our heart.

We see in the Old Testament how God instituted a plan to begin a restoration project that pointed toward Jesus. It starts with Abraham.

God made a covenant, an agreement with Abraham,  that Paul alluded to in the passage we read today (“ the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus was the climax to God’s covenant story”). God promised that he would bless the world through Abraham and his descendants, who would become the children of Israel. Abraham just needed to be obedient and follow God. To seal the covenant, it was typical at that time for the two parties to kill an animal, dismember it, and walk through the middle as a way of saying, “If I break the covenant, may this be done to me.” In a vision, God appeared to Abraham and walked through this dissected animal alone. In other words, God said, “If either one of us breaks the covenant, may this be done to me.”

Eventually, God renewed this covenant relationship through Moses (the 10 Commandments and all the extra details), and gave his people an incredible amount of instruction on the kind of life that pleases God.

So all the Israelites were now in a covenant with God – they occasionally re-read the Law publicly and reaffirmed that yes indeed, this was the plan. This covenant was a little different in that there were some conditions: if they did good, they would be blessed. If they did bad, they would not. This led to trouble, because the Jewish people were terrible at keeping the Law.  

God initiated a temporary substitute through the sacrificial system, but they had to keep repeating this (for good reason.) It didn’t matter how much or how often the rabbis added more and more laws to try to make sure they could live perfectly. They couldn’t. If anything, the more detailed they got, the more it became clear how far they were from holy.

To make it worse, the cause-and-effect penalties of their sin caught up with them. The conditions of the covenant had to be honored and they were. The wages of their sin were conquest and enslavement. One Old Testament prophet recorded that they sat by the rivers of Babylon and wept as they remembered what they have lost – and what they could have.

They longed for a Messiah, a deliverer, and bringer of hope and peace. It appeared that these people - who were supposed to be the means by which God blessed the world -  had sold their spiritual birthright in exchange for their sin. They had failed to live up to God’s standards even when God had made them clear through Moses.

Now they were scattered, dying, convinced God has abandoned them.

But God had not.

God did bless the world through Abraham’s descendants – but not in a nationalistic sense like the Israelites expected. It was through the lineage of the Jewish people  that Jesus was born. That was the plan all along.

Enter Jesus, God in the flesh, sent to earth to fulfill the demands that God made on himself in his covenant with Abraham. God did not break the covenant; Abraham did. Yet God would pay the price for that sin by taking upon himself the penalty. He would be killed. He would also offer one sacrifice once and for all to fulfill the obligation of the sacrificial system under the law of Moses. On the cross, Jesus was torn for the sins not just of the Israelites, but of the world. Jesus satisfied the requirements of both those covenants while establishing a new one, one that all of us can be a part of.

Why is this important? Because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Without Jesus, we are dead in our sins. Our peace with God is broken, and without Jesus there is nothing between us and His wrath. No matter how good we think we are, we have shaken our fist at the heavens and said, “Not your will, but mine be done” over and over again.

But on the cross, the justice and mercy of God meet. God initiates a covenant fulfillment with us even before we are aware of the need for it. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, our war with God can end, and we can be at peace with Him. Our sin does not have to condemn us or separate us from God.

We can be forgiven, loved, embraced, even adopted into God’s family so that we are called ‘children of God.’ We are offered forgiveness and hope in this life and an eternity of joy in the presence of God in a New Heaven and New Earth, a reality in which, as Tim Keller says, all that is bad will be undone.

Peace Within

I mentioned a number of things earlier that rob us of peace within: depression, anxiety, shame. We could add anger, bitterness, jealousy, hopelessness, unforgiveness…

Some of those things can be caused by medical issues that a doctor can help (our biology is fallen too). Some of those things we can bring on ourselves because of our sinful choices. Some of things can arise because of sin that has been done to us. I believe the presence of Jesus gives us hope in the midst of all of those things, but there is one primary reason Jesus died and rose again when it comes to peace within. That is to address our guilt and shame for our sin.

Here’s the reality.

On this side of heaven, I will sin because I am not perfect. With the help of the Holy Spirit, the guidance of God’s word and the community of God’s people, I will be remarkably better than I would be without those things. God miraculously frees us from the overwhelming power of sin. Because of Jesus, I am not doomed to be chained by the power of sin. However, the cross and the empty tomb don’t remove the presence of sin. Not yet. I am no longer enslaved to sin, but I can still choose it.

And I do. I’m not perfect. Ask anybody. Neither are you. If you aren’t sure if that’s the case, ask your family. They will fill you in. So what do I do with that?

I could become consumed with perfection and working on my own power – and run myself into the ground trying to achieve the impossible. Then, I will become either insufferably arrogant the more I am successful or sadly self-loathing the more I fail. That’s the kind of righteousness the Bible says is filthy rags. It’s gross. Self-righteousness is not pretty.

Or I can turn to Jesus, the “author and finisher of my faith,” who sees me in my imperfect sinfulness and loves me anyway – and that love includes not letting me stay where I am, but changing and renewing me so that I increasingly become like Jesus. 

Because I have Jesus, I will have a strength I would never have on my own. In my times of doing good, I am driven to worship God, not my own willpower and work, so I avoid arrogance. In my times of failure, I am driven to throw myself at the mercy of a God who is faithful even when I am faithless, and that reminder of the love and tenderness of Jesus moves me out of my self-loathing as I remember that that Jesus knows and loves me, gave His life for me, and is transforming me into His image.

With Others

This changes everything is our relationships. The more we understand how the love of Jesus brought about peace with God, the more determined we will be to pass on that love. And when we see how his death and resurrection show His love – truly see it – we will love Him in return, and it will change us.

What kind of love is that? A radical, self-sacrificing commitment to the good of those around me. It’s what the Bible calls agape love. Jesus died so that I could live; why would I not in some way choose to ‘die’ to myself so that those around me can live? It’s how I honor my Lord. It’s how I pass on the legacy of Jesus.

 In some ways we commemorate this during communion: “This is my body which was broken for you …do this in remembrance.” We can’t die and bring salvation for our sins or the sins of others – we must have Jesus for that. But we can honor what Jesus has done by being broken and spilled out as we show the love of Jesus.

 As followers of Jesus, we ‘die’ to jealousy, envy, anger, pettiness, meanness, pride, selfishness. The Bible insists that we present our bodies as a living sacrifice, that we climb up on the altar and sacrifice everything in us that needs to die. We could never do this on our own power, but we are not alone. We have God’s spirit inside us, his Word in front of us, and His people around us.

 We can do this, because God is with us.

 This is the peace the Resurrected Lord offers to us.

  • Through Jesus, our relationship with God can been repaired so that we are no longer rebels. We are servants, friends, children, kings, priests. As a church we are the bride of Christ, and the bride will be made glorious in preparation for the glorious return of Jesus.
  • Through Jesus, our peace within can be restored as we surrender and then commit our lives to the love and grace of a Risen Savior who is greater than all of our sins. We do not have to live in shame and fear; we can be transparent, bold and loved.
  • Through Jesus, our peace with others flows from this reality. We will want to go into all the world and preach the gospel and make disciples. We will  want everyone so see how the love of a Risen Savior transforms our lives, not for our glory but for the glory of the One who makes this possible.

The Days We Wait (Easter 2017)

I mentioned last week that the Bible is full of ‘three day stories”[1]: Jonah in the big fish; Joseph’s brothers in jail in Egypt; the plague of darkness in Egypt; Rahab hid the spies for three days. Jesus was in the tomb for three days. On the third day is when the bad stuff ends. That’s the day we celebrate, and rightly so. But Third Day stories aren’t clear until the Third Day. On Day One and Day Two, it’s not yet clear how the story will end. The First day of Third Day story is often a brutal one.

Crucifixion Friday was the First Day of a Three Day story.  We talked last week about how Jesus understands our First Days. His entrance into the human condition showed that God is not a distant, uncaring and cold God. God understands us. But there is still Saturday before Sunday. It’s not the day when the tragedy occurred; it’s not the day that Resurrection brings hope and life. It’s that troublesome (and often very long) middle day. Here’s what the Bible records the followers of Jesus were doing between Crucifixion Friday and Resurrection Sunday. (This is a combination of the details as they appear in Matthew 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20).

At the rising of the sun, after the Sabbath on the first day of the week, the two Marys and Salome came to the tomb to keep vigil. They brought sweet-smelling spices they had purchased to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. Along the way, they wondered to themselves how they would roll the heavy stone away from the opening…

[They encounter the Risen Jesus]

They brought this news back to all those who had followed Him and were still mourning and weeping. They recounted for them—and others with them—everything they had experienced. The Lord’s emissaries heard their stories as fiction, a lie; they didn’t believe a word of it until Jesus appeared to them all as they sat at dinner that same evening (Resurrection Sunday).

 They were gathered together behind locked doors in fear that some of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem were still searching for them. Out of nowhere, Jesus appeared in the center of the room and said, “May each one of you be at peace.”

What do we see the closest followers of Jesus doing?

  • Keeping a vigil of mourning
  • Planning how to perfume the body of the dead Messiah
  • Hiding in fear
  • Mourning and weeping
  • Refusing to believe that Jesus was alive

It’s not a great resume builder, really. You would think that the biblical writers might want to put a better spin on what happened here. “As the disciples were praying and rejoicing over Jesus’ impending Resurrection, Mary returned and told them the good news. And they said, “Of course! We knew it all along!”

No, they were mourning the death of their long awaited Messiah. They thought he was gone. They thought he had failed – and in that failure shown that he was not, after all, the promised deliverer. As far as they knew, he was never coming back.

Crucifixion Fridays are hard, but Silent Saturdays may be even harder. Funeral days are hard, but they are at least full of adrenaline and crisis management and we are surrounded by support. But then the next day, when family drifts back home, and friends go back to their routine…that’s when Silent Saturday sets in. The loneliness and the emptiness…

It’s hard enough when it involves earthly things. But what about when our relationship with God is best described as a Silent Saturday kind of relationship? What if there is a spiritual loneliness and emptiness, a sense that God is aloof at best and gone at worst. What about the times when the heavens seem empty, and our prayers just seem to drift off into a void? What about the times when God is silent?

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvytewIxll0[/embed]

John Ortberg tells the following story:

“From the time she was a young girl, Agnes believed. Not just believed: she was on fire. She wanted to do great things for God. She said things such as she wanted to "love Jesus as he has never been loved before." Agnes had an undeniable calling. She wrote in her journal that "my soul at present is in perfect peace and joy." She experienced a union with God that was so deep and so continual that it was to her a rapture. She left her home. She became a missionary. She gave him everything. And then he left her.

At least that's how it felt to her. "Where is my faith?" She asked. "Deep down there is nothing but emptiness and darkness …. My God, how painful is this unknown pain … I have no faith." She struggled to pray: "I utter words of community prayers—and try my utmost to get out of every word the sweetness it has to give. But my prayer of union is not there any longer. I no longer pray."

She still worked, still served, still smiled. But she spoke of that smile as her mask, "a cloak that covers everything." This inner darkness continued on, year after year, with one brief respite, for nearly 50 years. God was just absent. Such was the secret pain of Agnes, who is better known as Mother Teresa.

So what do we do with the Silent Saturdays of our lives? I want to offer a number of suggestions not so that you will be immediately aware of God’s presence, but so you can be purposeful and grow from this kind of season of your life.

1. Be honest with God. The Bible gives us permission to voice our hearts during Silent Saturday. Look at a few of the Psalms:

  • Psalm 6:2–3  “Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing. Heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled. My soul is greatly troubled, but you, O Lord, how long?”
  •  Psalm 13:1–2 “How long, O Lord, will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?”
  • Psalm 90:13–14 “Return, O Lord. How long? Have pity on your servants. Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love.”
  • “I cry to you for help and you do not answer me; I stand, and you only look at me.” (Job 30:20)

A friend sent me a psalm of lament, full of anger and frustration, that she had written as part of her process of coming to grips with why God had allowed what He did in her life. It was raw and beautiful, and it was bold. Those are good things. God knows your heart and mind; he already knows your deepest internal struggles. Voice them. God is big. He can handle it.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yw9Fp6XWq7w[/embed]

2. Keep the vigils

In the spite of the pain of their loss, the Marys did what they had always done, which was part of the ritual life of living in Jewish community. What Jewish people believed and what they did in almost every aspect of life were so intertwined that it’s hard to imagine that the vigil was not considered part of what God called them to do. There is something to be said for keeping the faith through an active commitment to obedience and faithfulness. I would like to offer four vigils I believe are helpful.

A. Pursue Church community. Don't forsake gathering together (Hebrews 10:25). The disciples did at least one thing right: they hung together in the midst of their grief. It’s important that we remain connected and not withdraw. In community, others came back and reported their experiences with the Risen Christ. Even in the midst of doubt, there was hope. We stay in community so that we can be challenged, encouraged, and held close. We need to feel the nearness of God’s people when God feels distant. We need the hope that lives in others when our sense of hope is gone.

B. Pray and Read Scripture. I don’t know that there is a formula for the best way to do this. There are all kinds of cool ideas about how to read through the Bible or how to pray. I don’t think they are bad; I just don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all kind of approach.

  • Listen to or read the Bible.
  • Pray alone - or get together with others.
  • Pray for a block of time - or throughout the day.
  • Sing. There are theologically rich songs that are good reminders of the hope we find in Jesus.

C. Dive Into Devotionals (podcasts, books, teachings). This is one way to experience the community of the church. It’s also a good way to find clarity about the Scriptures and to hear the testimonies of others. What did they do when they were in the First and Second days of their stories?

D. Practice Obedience. One of the greatest dangers we face is giving up and saying to God, “You know what? If I can’t feel your presence, I am going to live as if you’re not there.” We shake our fist at the heavens and begin to sow sinful things that can be forgiven and healed but will nonetheless be harvested (Galatians 6:7).

The Bible describes the way of obedience as “the path of life” (Psalm 16:11). There is something about faithful obedience that is not just healthy; it is wise and stabilizing. This, too, is sowing actions that you will one day reap – but this time it won’t be the wages of sin. It will be the fruit of righteousness.  Also, I believe obedience is one of the ways we are conformed to the image of Christ – and in that conforming – as we begin to see what it means to ‘be like Jesus’ -  we begin to appreciate the wisdom of the One who guides our life.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6csM0TLZIs[/embed]

3. Learn to wait

  • Psalm 37:7  “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him. Fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way.”
  • Psalm 27:14  “Wait for the Lord. Be strong and let your heart take courage. Wait for the Lord.”

I’m not good at waiting. I want problem resolution. Give me a task! Sometimes that is what God calls us to do, but many God does not work that way. I like what Jon Bloom wrote in an article entitled, “When God Is Silent.”

Why is it that “absence makes the heart grow fonder” but “familiarity breeds contempt”? Why is water so much more refreshing when we’re really thirsty? Why am I almost never satisfied with what I have, but always longing for more? Why can the thought of being denied a desire for marriage or children or freedom or some other dream create in us a desperation we previously didn’t have?

Why is the pursuit of earthly achievement often more enjoyable than the achievement itself? Why do deprivation, adversity, scarcity, and suffering often produce the best character qualities in us while prosperity, ease, and abundance often produce the worst?

Do you see it? There is a pattern in the design of deprivation: Deprivation draws out desire. Absence heightens desire. And the more heightened the desire, the greater its satisfaction will be. It is the mourning that will know the joy of comfort (Matthew 5:4). It is the hungry and thirsty that will be satisfied (Matthew 5:6). Longing makes us ask, emptiness makes us seek, silence makes us knock (Luke 11:9).

Deprivation is in the design of this age. We live mainly in the age of anticipation, not gratification. We live in the dim mirror age, not the face-to-face age (1 Corinthians 13:12). The paradox is that what satisfies us most in this age is not what we receive, but what we are promised. The chase is better than the catch in this age because the Catch we’re designed to be satisfied with is in the age to come...

It’s the desert that awakens and sustains desire. It’s the desert that dries up our infatuation with worldliness. And it’s the desert that draws us to the Well of the world to come.

Sometimes, the best way to hand over the weight of the world is to wait on Christ.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcRMNiZtj5s[/embed]

4. Don't confuse what you feel from what is real

I heard a wise man say once, “You will either judge truth by your feelings, or you will judge your feelings by what it true.” What is true is that God may feel absent, but He is not. God is with us always. Why does He feel absent? I don’t know. It could be that you are in rebellious sin. It could be that you are tired. It could be that God has removed the sense of His presence as part of transforming you into the image of Christ. It could be that you are distracted. I don’t know.

But I know that God is near and faithful no matter how we feel.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-RL42uub19E[/embed]

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RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

 

[1] I got this idea from a brilliant teaching called “Saturday: Living Between Crucifixion and Resurrection,” posted by Richmont Graduate University on youtube. I don’t know who the speaker was. You can access the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U90EKNZPKCU

The Days We Mourn (Easter 2017)

The Bible is full of ‘three day stories”[1]:  Jonah; Joseph’s brothers in jail in Egypt; the plague of darkness in Egypt. When the Israelites left Egypt, they traveled three days into the desert before they found water; Rahab hid the spies for three days; plagues of judgment against Israel often lasted three days.

Jesus was in the tomb for three days.

On the third day is when the bad stuff ends. That’s the day we celebrate, and rightly so. But third day stories aren’t clear until the third day. On Day One and Day Two, it’s not yet clear how the story will end. The First day of Third Day story is often a brutal one.

It was the First Day -  Crucifixion Friday, or Good Friday -  that Jesus died.  His followers did not know this was a Third Day story. All they had on that Friday was the First Day. They had seen so many failed messiah’s by this point[2]. They did not understand the prophecy that pointed toward Jesus’ resurrection. They were afraid and in despair.

Crucifixion Friday reminds us that Jesus knows what it means that all of creation groans (Romans 8:22) and how the very land mourns (says Jeremiah 12:4). When the prophet Isaiah wrote of the coming Christ, he wrote, “Surely he has borne our grief’s and carried our sorrows; He was stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:4)

Jesus understands our First Days. His entrance into the human condition showed that God is not a distant, uncaring and cold God. God understands us.  

“God’s beloved Son, leaving the echoes of His cries upon the mountains and the traces of His weary feet upon the streets, shedding His tears over the tombs and His blood upon Golgotha, associating His life with our homes, and His corpse with our sepulchres, shows us how we, too, may be… sure of sympathy in heaven amid the deepest wrongs and sorrows of earth.” - Edward Thomson.

So today, we are going to begin our journey toward the Third Day - Resurrection Sunday – but settling into the reality of First Days in our lives, and the importance of clinging to a Savior who understands even the most terrifying and tragic days of our lives.

“The psalms of pain and protest shock Christians who are not used to this way of talking to God. Yet they have an explicit place in the New Testament. Jesus uses the phraseology of Psalms 6 and 42 in Gethsemane, and on the cross utters the extraordinary cry that opens Psalms 22. Nor does Jesus pray these prayers so that we might not have to do so, for a lament such as Psalm 44 appears on the lips of Paul (Romans 8:36). In the New Testament, believers grieve and protest. To refuse to do so is often to refuse to face our pains and our losses.” (John Goldingay)

In ancient Israel, mourning was a community event. Family and friends showed support by participating in the rituals of lament with the mourner (e. g. Job 2:12-13). To fail to show solidarity in such a situation was to deny the shared covenant. The lament was so formalized that Zechariah gives directions about how to do them in proper order. (12:11-14).  I think Nicholas Wolerstorff, in his book Lament for a Son, captures the reason why well.

“What I need to hear from you is that you recognize how painful it is. I need to hear from you that you are with me in my desperation. To comfort me, you have to come close. Come sit beside me on my mourning bench.”

On Resurrection Sunday, we are going to talk about the primary reason Jesus died: to forgive our sins and save us from the penalty of eternal death. That will also be a part of this morning as well, but first we are going to focus on a different part of the story that the church has commemorated for 2,000 years (at least the more liturgical churches have). We are going to sit on the mourning bench with each other as we offer our suffering to a Savior who suffered and died so that we could live.

READER: As the soldiers led Jesus away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned for him. Jesus turned and said to them, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.’”  (Mark 15:1-15; Luke 23:13-28)

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining...  Then Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.” Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.”  (Matthew 27:45-50; Luke 23:44-47)

Pastor: Jesus entered a world that was broken, suffering, and full of pain. He grieved the loss of his friends; he wept for his people. He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. He entered into a lonesome, weary world in desperate need of the light of hope and peace to bring the promise of God's everlasting presence and love.

 

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_gxM9NCyKU[/embed]

 

Pastor: God, you have given us reason to celebrate, but we often find the days cold and our hearts hard.  As we await our resurrection into the new life in the world to come, it’s sometimes hard for us to lift up our hearts. You understand the grief of this world; meet us in our aching hearts we pray. Hold as we walk through darkness.

Congregation: Help us. Embrace us. Heal us.

READER:  “He was despised and forsaken by men, this man of suffering, grief’s patient friend.
As if he was a person to avoid, we looked the other way; he was despised, forsaken, and we took no notice of him. Yet it was our suffering he carried, our pain and distress, our sickness-to-the-soul.


We thought that God had rejected him, but he was hurt because of us; he suffered for us. Our wrongdoing wounded and crushed him. He endured the breaking that made us whole. His injuries became our healing. We all have wandered off, like shepherdless sheep, scattered by our aimless pursuits; The Eternal One laid on him, this silent sufferer, the sins of us all. (Isaiah 53:3-6)

Pastor: Jesus knows the feelings of abandonment, anger, and loneliness we sometimes feel. Jesus knows the depths of our broken hearts, and He alone has the power to bring beauty from the ashes in our lives. We long for the day when His work will be completed in us and in a world that groans as it awaits redemption.  

Congregation: Meanwhile, we weep with those who weep, and we mourn with those who mourn.

READER: The Psalmist wrote in the 88th psalm: O Eternal One! O True God my Savior! I cry out to You all the time, under the sun and the moon. Let my voice reach You! Please listen to my prayers! My soul is deeply troubled, and my heart can’t bear the weight of this sorrow. I feel so close to death…

You crush me with Your anger.
You crash against me like the relentless, angry sea. Those whom I have known, who have been with me,
You have gathered like sheaves and cast to the four winds.
They can’t bear to look me in the eye, and they are horrified when they think of me.
 I am in a trap and cannot be free…

Are You the miracle-worker for the dead?
Will they rise from the dark shadows to worship You again? Will your great love be proclaimed in the grave or Your faithfulness be remembered in whispers like mists throughout the place of ruin? Are Your wonders known in the dominion of darkness,
or is Your righteousness recognized in a land where all is forgotten?

But I am calling out to You, Eternal One.
My prayers rise before You with every new sun! Why do You turn Your head
and brush me aside, O Eternal One?
 Why are You avoiding me… I am desperate. Your rage spills over me like rivers of fire; Your assaults have all but destroyed me…  You have taken from me the one I love and my friend; darkness is my closest friend.

 

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D6PP-YS-FqU[/embed]

 

PASTOR: In the midst of the brokenness of this world, we have reason to say, “Hallelujah.” Because even when we are tempted to give up, even when we have lost that which brings ‘life’ to our life, even when the comfort of our friends has brought us nothing but ashes, God does not abandon us.

READER: “At different times and in various ways, God’s voice came to our ancestors through the Hebrew prophets. But in these last days, God’s voice has come to us through His Son, the One who has been given dominion over all things and through whom all worlds were made.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)

Pastor: God of light and life, you speak even when we do not hear. You are present even when we do not sense you are near. In the midst of darkness and silence, we listen for your voice and long to feel your comforting grace.

Congregation: God of the desperate, draw near us as we draw near to you. Open our eyes so we can see you; open our ears so we can hear.

READER: The prophet Jeremiah wrote: “My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick… For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.  Is there no balm in Gilead?  Is there no physician there…?  O, that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night…”  (Jeremiah 8:18,21-9:1)                    

Pastor: In this place, we join with the prophets in freely admitting our pain, our loss, our fear. Though the light of God’s mercy illuminates our tears, we mourn without shame. Here, among God’s people, we are welcome even if we're cynical, even if we're angry, even if we scoff at the mention of hope and meaning. Here we can bare our hearts to those who will help us to bear our burden.

Congregation: Here we, the followers of a weeping Savior, bear one another’s burdens.

Pastor: Here, in the company of those who follow the Prince of Peace, let us be at peace. 

Congregation: May we, the church, be a sanctuary of God’s peace for those in need of shelter.

Pastor: We will cast our sorrows upon Christ, for He cares for us.

READER: The Psalmist wrote:

“My soul is dry and thirsts for You, True God, as a deer thirsts for water.

I long for the True God who lives.
When can I stand before Him and feel His comfort? Right now I’m overwhelmed by my sorrow and pain;
I can’t stop feasting on my tears.
People crowd around me and say,
“Where is your True God whom you claim will save?” With a broken heart,
I remember times before
When I was with Your people. Those were better days. 

I used to lead them happily into the True God’s house,
Singing with joy, shouting thanksgivings with abandon,
joining the congregation in the celebration. Why am I so overwrought?
Why am I so disturbed?
Why can’t I just hope in God?
(Psalm 42:1-6)

 

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zulKcYItKIA[/embed]

 

READER: Though we are worn as we wait for all that is dead to be reborn, we can agree with what David wrote in Psalm 42: “ I will believe and praise the One who saves me and is my life… in the light of day, the Eternal shows me His love. When night settles in and all is dark, He keeps me company—His soothing song, a prayerful melody to the True God of my life.” (Psalm 42:7-8)

Pastor: As we lift our broken hands toward the only One who can heal us, we light the darkness of our memories with candles that help us to remember that though our grief is real, our hope burns brightly with the light of the True God of life.

The First Candle

We light our first candle to acknowledge the pain of loss: the loss of relationships, the loss of jobs, the loss of health. We take the pain of the past, offering it to God from whose nail-scarred hands we may receive the gift of peace. We light this candle for the light of love to illuminate that which was lost in the darkness of our history.

Congregation: Renew us, God of light and joy.

The Second Candle

We light the second candle to remember those who have died. We remember their name, their face, their voice, the memory that we carry with us. We remember the times we laughed, argued, loved, hugged, smiled, and wept. The valley of the shadow of death can seem relentless, so we light this candle to commemorate the memories of a life once shared, and to illuminate with comfort the path of those of us who mourn.

Congregation:  May the light of a dying and risen Savior’s eternal love surround us.

The Third Candle

We light the third candle to our attitudes, our mindset, our hidden, inner times of darkness.  We acknowledge the times of disbelief, anger, despair, and frustration, the times we have compromised our integrity and lost our innocence. We bring God’s pure light to the depth of our flawed mortality. With this light, we also remember the family and friends who have stood with us, and the Savior who is faithful even when we are not.

Congregation:  Let us remember that Christ brings the light of life.

The Fourth Candle

We light this candle to remember those who feel alone, who feel isolated from loved ones, far from home, far from friends, far from a God they believe is unconcerned with their suffering. We light this candle to remember that the God who guided His people through a wilderness with fire can illuminate the way of those captive to the darkness of loneliness and disillusionment.

Congregation:  May Jesus, who was despised and rejected, comfort the lonely and brokenhearted.

The Fifth Candle                                                                                                                           We light this candle to remember those who are in the midst of hardships that threaten to overwhelm them. For the poor, the persecuted, the hungry, the homeless, the sick. We lift up those who suffer the pain, indignity, and bewilderment that accompany a broken body, spirit or soul. We pray that God, who lit up the night to guide wise men to the healing Christ, will light the way today to a Risen Savior. 

Congregation: O God, light our path; bring hope to the hopeless; make us new.

The Sixth Candle

We light the sixth candle to remember our faith and the gift of hope. We remember that God promises those who love him a world with no more pain and suffering. We light a candle for courage in the darkness. We confront our sorrow, our loss, our confusion. With God’s Spirit and the presence of his people, we bring the light of comfort to each other, bearing each other’s burdens, and praying for hope in our broken world.

Congregation.  Let us remember the One who draws beauty from ashes, brings the truth, and offers us hope.

READER: The Apostle Paul wrote: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”  (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

Pastor: It is through the suffering of Christ that we find comfort in the midst of our suffering as well.  On the night Jesus offered himself up for us he took bread, gave thanks to you, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said: "Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." When the supper was over he took the cup, gave thanks to you, gave it to his disciples, and said: "Drink from this, all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  

Congregation: Because of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, we have been delivered from the power of sin, death, and despair. In the light of Gods’ Word, the sacrifice of Christ, and the presence of God’s Holy Spirit, may we endure with hope and faith.

Pastor: It was in His parting sorrow that Jesus asked His disciples to remember Him. May we, the church, be united in the fellowship of his suffering so we can experience the power of his resurrection.

READER:  “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’  And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’  (Revelation 21:1-5)

Pastor: In the promise of God’s never-ending love from which nothing can separate us, we claim peace. We long for the day when there shall be no more tears, no more sorrow, no more sickness, no more death. Even when we see only a glimmer, we know the light of your love is overcoming all darkness.

Congregation: Christ himself is with us.  He is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Pastor: Hear the good news:  God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life. One day, Christ who died and rose again will wipe all tears from our eyes. He will make all things new.

Congregation: All Honor and glory to the only One who can bring us peace.

Pastor: As we wait for Resurrection, we lift up our broken hearts. May the God of Comfort be with us.

Congregation: May the God of Resurrection be with us all. [3]

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ezmme0B2Awg[/embed]

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[1] I got this idea from a brilliant teaching called “Saturday: Living Between Crucifixion and Resurrection,” posted by Richmont Graduate University on youtube. You can access the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U90EKNZPKCU

[2] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12416-pseudo-messiahs

[3] NOTE: I had never written a liturgy or a lament before this one. I found four or five online, read them for a week, then wrote this one. In other words, I could not have written this without learning from others. I think one of those can be found at Blue Christmas Resources; another at A Service for Longest Night. Unfortunately, I have no idea where I found the rest of them. I tried hard not to plagiarize; I hope I succeeded.

Could We Live Like This?

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He Is Risen!

 

Luke 22:54-62 (ESV)

54 Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house, and Peter was following at a distance. 55 And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. 56 Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” 57 But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” 58 And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” 59 And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” 60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62 And he went out and wept bitterly.

 

Ashamed

 

 

Luke 23:44-47 (ESV)

44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour,[b] 45 while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus,calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!”

 

Mourning

 

 

Matthew 28:5-7 (ESV)

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”

John 20:11-16 (ESV)

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb.12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her,“Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, "Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

 

Rescued

 

John 20:19-21; 26-28 (ESV)

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me,even so I am sending you.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

 

Doubting

 

Luke 24:45-48 (ESV)

45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written,that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and[a]forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

John 20:30-31 (ESV)

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 

Despairing

 

Matthew 28: 18-20 (ESV)

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

 

I love the characters in the story of the Resurrection. They are us. The Bible does not surround Jesus with superheroes. Prostitutes, tax collectors, and the demon possessed hung out with him. Before and after he died, his followers scattered in despair. Even after he rose again, people didn’t believe him.

That’s just the way people are. It’s a messy story.

Jesus died and rose to save people who really need saving, people who were dying in some way because of it. 

With the Resurrection of Jesus came an important question: “Can things be different for us too? Do we have to life like that? Or can we live like this – like you?” We don’t want “that,” the way we already know we can live: We can be cowardly, overwhelmed by grief, broken by our sinfulness, doubting, full of despair. Nailed it. But if what you are saying is true, there is a new way to live.

"[Jesus’] purpose in dying for them is that their lives should now be no longer lived for themselves but for him who died and rose again for them.... in Christ [we] become new people altogether—the past is finished and gone, everything has become fresh and new.” (2 Corinthians 5:15-17)

“God has restored our relationship with Him through Christ—not counting our sins against us —and has given us this message of reconciliation. We are now Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were appealing direct through us… We appeal to you, on behalf of Christ, ‘Make your peace with God.’” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

Paul is writing this. Paul, one of the very people who were so full of sin, so broken, so dead inside. Paul is the voice of the Resurrected, through whom God wants to spread the Good News to the World. Jesus is alive, and because the dead can live again through the power of God, no one needs to be “dead in their sins.” All can be brought to life through Christ.

  • The cowards can become unashamed. The disciples who hid in fear became the voice of the Gospel.
  • The used can become worthy. The prostitutes and demon possessed were the first to witness the risen Christ.
  • The broken can be mended. Jesus specifically meets with Peter to let him know that God wanted him in his kingdom.
  • Those dead in their sins can be made alive. That which has brought shame and despair can be transformed into boldness and hope.

This is the power of the Resurrection.

We can all live like this.

Always Mardi Gras and Never Easter

From a much longer, thought-provoking article that is worth reading as we head toward Easter:

 The Mardi Gras of Protestantism didn’t celebrate the day on just a yearly calendar, though, but, much more importantly, on the calendar of a lifespan.

The typical cycle went something like this. You were born, and reared up in Sunday school until you were old enough to raise your hand when the teacher asked who believed in Jesus and wanted to go to heaven. At that point, you were baptized—usually long before the first pimple of puberty—and shortly thereafter, you had your first spaghetti-dinner fundraiser to raise money to go to summer youth camp. And then, sometime between the ages of 15 and 20, you’d go completely wild.

Our view of the “College and Career” Sunday school class was somewhat like our view of Purgatory. It might be there, technically, but there was no one in it. After a few years of carnality, you’d settle down, start having kids, and then be back in church, just in time to get those kids into Sunday school, and start the cycle all over again. If you didn’t get divorced or indicted, you’d be chairman of deacons or head of the women’s missionary auxiliary by the time your own kids were going completely wild. It was just kind of expected. You were going to get things out of your system before you settled down. But you know, I never could find that in the Book of Acts, either.

I never really went through the wild stage. But years later, having externally lived a fairly upstanding life, I found myself envying a Christian leader as he gave his “testimony.” This man described his life of mind-blowing drugs, manic sex, and nonstop partying in such detail that, before I knew it, I was wistfully thinking: “Wouldn’t that be the best of both worlds? All that, and heaven too.” I’d embraced the dark side of Mardi Gras, in my own mind. As much as I thought I was superior to both the drunken partiers on the streets and the dour cranks condemning the revelry, I had internalized the hidden hedonism of it all. I was under the lordship of Christ, but, if only for that moment, wishing for the lordship of my own fallen appetite.

  - from Russell Moore's Always Mardi Gras and Never Easter