Still Celebrating Easter

Scott Armstrong

Ready for a quiz? What period of the Christian calendar are we in right now?

If you answered, “Easter” or “Eastertide,” congratulations!  I admit that I have written quite a bit about Advent and Lent, and both of those are very important periods in our spiritual walk.  But Eastertide is just as important, even if it goes overlooked by many of us this time of year.

Rich Villodas, lead pastor of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York, recently wrote about why the season of Eastertide is important for the Church.

“For centuries, many in the Church have recognized that Easter is not a one day event that we anticipate, and then just like that, vanishes.  The Church has affirmed that the power of the resurrection is more than a transient moment, but deserves sustained reflection.”

While Lent is 40 days long and is a time of fasting, Eastertide is 50 days long and leads us to a life of feasting!

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Villodas highlights three ways we can focus our attention during this sustained period of Easter.

  1. Eastertide reminds us that through the resurrection Jesus is victorious over the powers of death.

As I have written before, when Jesus rose from the tomb, he proved his sweeping, effective dominion over the powers of sin, death, and the grave.  However, Easter is not just something nice and important that happened to Jesus.  We are invited into that cosmic re-ordering.  The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is also available to all those who choose to follow him!

“It’s very possible to sing about Jesus conquering the grave,” Villodas reminds us, “and the next day be complicit in systems, structures and habits that bring glory to the powers of death.”  This season assures that we live in the “reverberation of resurrection” still ongoing today.

  1. Eastertide reminds us that God’s future life is available to us to enjoy and express to the world.

Just as Mary Magdalene was told to not hold on to Jesus, but rather to go and tell the good news instead (John 20:17), so we are able to offer a hope to those that desperately needs it.  Easter is not Easter if its message is not proclaimed to the world.

Pastor Villodas states it this way, “There’s probably no better time to pray for the healing of the sick because the resurrection is a reminder that one day there will be no sick.  There’s probably no better time to work for peace, because the resurrection is a reminder that one day there will be no war.  There’s probably no better time to celebrate and feast, because the resurrection is a reminder that we are headed to a banquet.  Christians, like our Lord, are to live from the future. Our communities and individual lives point to what’s coming.”

  1. Eastertide calls us to life that cultivates joy.

I am still amazed at the fact that the women present at the empty tomb that first Easter morning “hurried away…afraid yet filled with joy” (Mt. 28:8).  If we have been Christians for many years, we may have sadly lost any wonderment about Easter, let alone awe or even fear.  The tragedy is that the resurrection has become commonplace for many of us.  And if that is the case, the next thing to be lost is joy.  Many of us carry the self-denial and somber attitude of Lent through Eastertide and every other part of the year, for that matter.

But Easter is a time of celebration!  He is risen!  In the days after his resurrection, we find Jesus repeatedly eating, feasting, and rejoicing (Lk. 24:40-42; Jn. 21:9-13).  As always, but especially in this season of Easter, we have the privilege of doing the same!

Villodas wonders if at the end of history, the question God asks us will not be whether we abstained from sin.  What if the question is “Did you enter into the joy that was available to you?”

That’s the invitation offered us during Eastertide.  Jesus is alive! So let us eat, drink, and indeed be merry!

 

Mary Magdalene

By Frederick Buechner

It’s at the end that she comes into focus most clearly. She was one of the women who was there in the background when he was being crucified—she had more guts than most of them had—and she was also one of the ones who was there when they put what was left of him in the tomb. But the time that you see her best is on that first Sunday morning after his death.

John is the one who gives the greatest detail, and according to him it was still dark when she went to the tomb to discover that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance and that, inside, it was empty. She ran back to wherever the disciples were hiding out to tell them, and Peter and one of the others returned with her to check out her story. They found out that it was true and that there was nothing there except some pieces of cloth the body had been wrapped in. They left then, but Mary stayed on outside the tomb someplace and started to cry. Two angels came and asked her what she was crying about, and she said, “Because they have taken away my lord, and I do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:13). She wasn’t thinking in terms of anything miraculous, in other words; she was thinking simply that even in death they wouldn’t let him be and somebody had stolen his body.

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Then another person came up to her and asked the same questions. Why was she crying? What was she doing there? She decided it must be somebody in charge, like the gardener maybe, and she said if he was the one who had moved the body somewhere else, would he please tell her where it was so she could go there.

Instead of answering her, he spoke her name—Mary—and then she recognized who he was, and though from that instant forward the whole course of human history was changed in so many profound and complex ways that it’s impossible to imagine how it would have been different otherwise, for Mary Magdalene the only thing that had changed was that, for reasons she was in no state to consider, her old friend and teacher and strong right arm was alive again. “Rabboni!” she shouted and was about to throw her arms around him for sheer joy and astonishment when he stopped her.

Noli me tangere,” he said. “Touch me not. Don’t hold on to me” (John 20:17),thus making her not only the first person in the world to have her heart stop beating for a second to find him alive again when she’d thought he was dead as a doornail, but the first person also to have her heart break a little to realize that he couldn’t be touched anymore, wasn’t there anymore as a hand to hold on to when the going got tough, a shoulder to weep on, because the life in him was no longer a life she could know by touching it, with her here and him there, but a life she could know only by living it: with her here—old tart and retread, old broken-heart and last, best friend—and with him here too, alive inside her life, to raise her up also out of the wreckage of all that was wrecked in her and dead.

In the meanwhile, he had much to do and far to go, he said, and so did she, and the first thing she did was go back to the disciples to report. “I have seen the Lord,” she said, and whatever dark doubts they might have had on the subject earlier, one look at her face was enough to melt them all away like morning mist.

*Originally published in Peculiar Treasures and later in Beyond Words.

Waiting on the World to Change – Part 2 of 2

*This is part two of the previous article.

To everything, there is a season (turn, turn, turn)

Human beings are “time-bound” creatures by Divine design. We naturally tend to organize our lives around rhythms that play out in time. Depending upon our vocation, different seasons bring different expectations and demands.

I come from a line of farmers on one side of my family and pastors on the other. I have observed that with pastors and farmers alike, the changing seasons determined much of the way we lived our lives.

Accountants have to deal with the tax season. Politicians and civil servants have election cycles. The semesters and breaks of the school year measure time for students and teachers. And sometimes our recreation, rather than our vocation, determines which seasons matter most: when we get to hunt or fish, which sports we get to follow, whether we’re able to get out the boat or the motorcycle or the snow skis.

Growing up as a pastor’s kid in the Church of the Nazarene, I didn’t rigorously follow the Christian year; but without fail, we did observe Advent. Every year, on the Sunday after Thanksgiving we would enter a sanctuary decorated for Christmas: trees and garland alongside nativities and the wreath of Advent candles, the popular traditions intermingled with the sacred. For each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, we lit the candles, usually punctuated by readings from Old Testament prophecy, and we sang songs like “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.”

Sometimes we would lose the plot a bit, and sing “Away in a Manger” or “We Three Kings of Orient Are” during Advent. It’s hard to resist the urge to fast-forward to the climax of Christmas Day, just as it’s difficult during Holy Week to dwell in the despair of Good Friday and Holy Saturday when we know “Sunday’s coming!”

But Advent is about waiting.

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Patience and hope are oft-neglected virtues in our day and age, but this is precisely what Advent seeks to cultivate in us: patient, hopeful anticipation that our God is trustworthy and does not make empty promises.

Looking forward while looking back

During Advent, not only do we anticipate an event that has already taken place—Jesus’ first coming—but we also look forward to and anticipate His second coming! The next time you sing “Joy to the World,” pay attention to the explicit references to Christmas. Guess what? You won’t find any! Isaac Watts’ hymn actually looks forward to Christ’s second coming, made clear in the third stanza (which, ironically, is the verse most often omitted): “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; he comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.”

The reign of Christ over heaven and earth is inaugurated in His nativity, to be sure, but “Joy to the World” is a vision of its future fulfillment, the reversal of the Fall, and the restoration of all creation.

This Advent, as we prepare to welcome the God who comes to us, I wish us all a “Happy New Year,” and invite us to begin a journey through God’s salvation history as told through the rhythms of the Christian calendar. In so doing, we join with countless Christians across space and time who have ordered their lives and their worship according to this pattern, all to the glory of God.

This article was originally published at: Holiness Today

A Swift and Radical Change

In one of the neighborhoods in the city, two missionaries were doing door to door evangelism, knocking on doors to present the gospel using the “Wordless Book.” They knocked on the door insistently, but no one would open. When they were about to leave, a woman about 40 years old leaned out of a small window.  They told her why they were there. Even though the weather was not cold, the woman was wearing a coat; she seemed nervous and concerned, and she was walking from one place to another. She told the missionaries she couldn’t receive them because she was waiting for her therapy session with her psychologist. The missionaries asked for ten minutes to share a Bible story, and so she let them.  At the end, they guided her to accept Christ as her Savior.

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During the prayer, the woman broke down weeping. She told the missionaries that when they prayed she started sweating, feeling really hot and restless at the same time. After giving her some advice, they left, promising her that they would return the next day to give her a discipleship lesson. When they came back, she shared with the missionaries how she had wanted to cancel the appointment with them.  Unable to contact them, though, she began to think that it might be important – even exciting – to receive them again.

At the end of the discipleship lesson, once again the missionaries prayed for her.  But this time the Holy Spirit started to minister to her in a beautiful way, performing a miracle of change in her life. When the missionaries returned for the third time, they were astonished: the woman’s appearance had changed, she looked healthy, and her house was cleaned and organized. She shared that for ten years she had dealt with depression and anxiety; in fact, for the past eight years she hadn’t been able to leave her house. She told them that she kept a lot of resentment in her heart against people that had hurt her, and she had even thought about ending her life to stop the suffering. But on that day, when the missionaries talked to her about Jesus and then prayed for her, she felt a strange heat that invaded her body, and it felt like someone had removed a weight from above. She started to feel joy and shared the news with her parents and brothers whom were disconcerted when listening to her.

After reading the Bible, the missionaries prayed for her once again. This time the woman started crying, asking for God’s healing for her life. By the fourth visit the woman was beaming, and she told them that for the first time in eight years she was able to leave the house and go with her husband to the main square of the city. She told them she was amazed by the joy she felt without medication, any therapy sessions, or even consulting with her psychiatrist at all (who, by the way, had never showed up for the appointment).

The missionaries were joyful to see this swift and radical change. When they were about to pray for her, she asked them to wait.  She ran to the house next door to call her parents, husband and brothers so they could also be a part of the prayer. Her family came and told the missionaries that they couldn’t explain what they were seeing in her life. They said they were religious people, members of the main church in town, but they were amazed by the change in her. They asked the missionaries to pray for them, too, and for other family members. The missionaries prayed for everyone and promised them to continue sharing with them about Jesus. The missionaries are members of a local Nazarene Church, and before this encounter, they had never shared their faith with anyone who did not know Jesus.

Blessed be the name of the Lord!

This information has been provided by Rev. Manuel Molina, and comes from one of many “Project Paul” church planting trips in the north of Mexico.

 

Contempt

By Ken Childress

1 Chronicles 15:29 (NLT) – “But as the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant entered the City of David, Michal, the daughter of Saul, looked down from her window. When she saw King David skipping about and laughing with Joy, she was filled with contempt for him.”

Finding a place of worship is a wonderful experience. Sometimes a place of worship is found under an old tree near a stream or lake. Sometimes in the middle of a noisy work place. Sometimes in a church service. I often find a place of worship and solitude under massive oak trees in a cemetery not far from my growing place in Northwest Indiana. It is a very quiet place and sometimes it seems you can almost hear the voice of God speak to you through the trees.

On this particular scripture, David was in a celebration mood. He had gathered together nearly everyone, including generals, priests, singers, high ranking officials, and common folk – all came together to celebrate the placing of the Ark of God. It was a huge celebration – singing, dancing, trumpets, harps, shouting and more. The noise must have been an awesome thing to hear. David was getting into it as the celebration came closer to the Temple and the tent where the Ark would be placed. Suddenly, Michal, Saul’s daughter, sees David dancing in the street. The word says her heart filled with contempt. I could think of reasons why, but that really is not the point I wish to make this time.

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The point today is this, God’s people were celebrating and she withdrew into a heart of contempt. For whatever reason she missed out on two things. One, she missed out on a wonderful celebration of worship to God. She missed out on a passion and the awesomeness of this wonderful day. She missed out on a visitation of God’s Spirit on His people. What a terrible thing to miss – all because she had contempt for David. Second, she was probably not silent about her contempt – contemptuous people rarely keep these things to themselves. Amen! In sharing any of her contempt with anyone, she rained on the worship celebration parade and poisoned the minds of any with whom she talked.

Not a pretty picture and yet one often repeated in modern day history. I can think of many times we rain on someone’s parade of worship celebration simply because we think they are just a little over the edge with enthusiasm. Or maybe they are just a little too loud in their singing and celebration mood. Or maybe they are singing songs we don’t enjoy. Or they are dancing and we don’t dance. Or maybe – we are jealous because we have not had a visitation of God’s Spirit for a long time personally.

I hope we are not like Michal. It would be well to watch in awe as God brings His Spirit down on an event or a person and rather than be contemptuous of that moment, join in the celebration. How may visitations do we miss because of a spirit of contempt?

 

 

Come, All You Not So Faithful

By Rev. Chris Gilmore

One of my favorite Christmas carols begins with the line, O, come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant. I imagine shepherds and wise men singing these words and asking others to join them as they visit the newborn and long-expected Savior. It is an invitation to gather around Jesus to celebrate his coming.  Come, all you faithful.

But what about the not-so-faithful? Are they invited as well? Can only the joyful and triumphant come to Jesus?

If so the guest list will be remarkably small. Even those who are the most enthusiastic about Jesus are at times unfaithful. We all fail to live up to our own standards, let alone God’s.  We’ve all felt defeated. Honestly, some of us find ourselves here quite often.

As we read the gospels we find that the invitation is much broader than the faithful and joyful. There we see that it is Christ himself who does the inviting. Jesus reveals that his kingdom and his table and his grace are for all people. That he came for the whole world and he invites any and all to come to him. Jesus embodies a love that is for people wherever and whoever they may be.

Sometimes we don’t communicate that message very well. Sometimes we exclude folks who are messy or who sin differently than we do. Sometimes we find it difficult to make room for people who aren’t just like us. Sometimes we act as if we’ve been faithful when we haven’t. Sometimes we pretend to be joyful and triumphant when we are anything but. Sometimes our behavior builds barriers between Jesus and the people he loves.

But Jesus is better than that. And its his party, not ours. And he says you’re invited.

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So yes, come all ye faithful. And come all ye not so faithful too.

Come all you who feel defeated and who feel hopeless.

Come all who are worn out and carry heavy burdens.

Come you who are stressed and at the end of your rope.

Come all who feel dirty and unlovable.

Come you who grieve.

Come wise men with gifts fit for a king.

And come drummer boys with nothing of value to bring.

Come lepers and tax collectors and prostitutes.

Come you who feel overlooked or pushed out or rejected.

Come shepherds and doctors and inn keepers and waitresses.

Come people from every tribe and every tongue. Come young and old.

Come you who feel betrayed. And you have done the betraying.

Come all who blew it this year. And last year.

Come doubters and skeptics. Come with your questions and your intellect.

Come all who hunger and thirst for something more.

Come all of you with baggage.

Come all of you with fear.

Come you with broken hearts and shattered dreams.

Come you have already quit. And those who wish they could.

Come refugees and CEOs.

Come you who are enemies. Come you who are strangers.

Come you anxious and come you hiding behind a mask.

Come you who can barely muster a prayer and you who cry out daily.

Come wanderers and seekers, legalists and charlatans.

Come me. Come you.

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“Come and behold him, born the King of Angels.”

Come and see that the Lord is good.

Come and find hope and help and healing.

Come find rest.

Come and find meaning.

Come and find belonging, find family.

Come find forgiveness and salvation.

Come and find light.

Come find a fresh start.

Come and find grace.

Come and find Jesus. He is Christ the Lord.

When you come you will find that he is better than we have demonstrated and more marvelous than we deserve. He is trustworthy and he is true. He is for us. He is with us.

And you, whoever you are and wherever you’re at or however you feel, are invited. Come.

 This article was originally published at: iamchrisgilmore.com

 

Our Great, Great God

By Scott Armstrong

“Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy” (Ps. 33:1-3).

(Read Psalm 33:1-12)

Let’s experience these words of worship together for a few minutes…

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As we start this psalm, we are instructed to make music to God, sing to Him, play instruments, shout for joy, and use every possible form of music to praise our Lord (vv.1-3)!  Why? Let’s count the reasons. We worship Him because this is the God:

Who is Right and True (v.4). He is always fair in his decisions.

Who is Faithful (v.4).  He keeps His promises and can always be trusted.

Who Loves Righteousness and Justice (v.5).  He does what is right and correct and delights when others do the same.

Who’s Love Never Fails (v.6). His love will never run out; he loves every person, every moment, in every situation they are in.

Who is Creator (vv.6, 7, 9). Out of nothing He dreamed the world and spoke it into existence. Out of nothing He created a masterpiece such as you.

Who is AWESOME (v.8). His greatness deserves our praise. In light of His               astonishing grace, the whole world will fall on their knees and worship Him.

Who is in Control (v.10). The nations and rulers and kings of this world are not in charge; He always has the last word.

Who is Constant (v.11). Through the ages of time His promises will never change and His will shall be eternally accomplished.

In the light of these reasons, we can see why the writer sings, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance” (v.12).

How will you praise such an incredible God today?