Death Died (Holy Week)

Easter 2015

I. Monday.

Most deaths quake the earth of at least one little person.

Death shakes humans up and we’re never ready for him.

If your mother dies, then a part of you dies with her.

Cruel, unnatural is her cold, immobile body.

Don’t get used to it. It’s wrong and awful. Shocking.

 

II. Friday.

One death quaked the earth, and the sun switched off for hours.

Time stopped, nothing was; just a young man and his father.

If your child dies, then a part of you dies with him.

“This is all there is”; so it’s merely weak, pathetic.

But I have to ask, why aren’t we more OK with it?

 

III. Sunday.

Death died, so did I. On that day, I gave up fighting.

At dawn, later on, something broke to let the light in.

Life lived once again and it changed this world we die in.

Sunday, on its way, though it’s nighttime watch for us now;

Stay up, wait with me, while we stand on this quaking ground.

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a season of dying

I’ve been thinking a lot about death. That will happen, sometimes, in the midst of total normalcy and the endless forward march of time. Neither crisis nor an imminent sense of my own mortality brought about this reflection. It’s just part of being human, I guess.

Once the concept began moving to the forefront of my thought-life, it started arising in lots of contexts. Such as: driving on the freeway on a road trip, my only passenger asleep, and how utterly striking it suddenly became that one effortless flick of my wrist could end both our lives in an instant. And no one would ever know what happened. Or: if [that’s a significant “if”] we each get only one opportunity to exist, and for as short a time as the human lifespan, major decisions such as career choices and marriage partners are mindbogglingly weighty. If you pick a job or spouse that you end up hating, then you have to spend your life hating it–and then you never get to exist again. If you suffer from chronic pain or long-term depression and if this is your only shot at existence, then this is your only shot at existence. And: what if [x person in my life] died today? The world I inhabit would be fundamentally altered, and I’d have to keep living in it. But it would be a whole new world, forever. Etc.

Lent, the Christian season of fasting and repentance before Easter, is in some sense a season of dying. Fasting is the practice of “mortifying” one desire in order to enhance other ones (like when your sight is taken away so your hearing becomes acute). Repentance is a process whereby “you” die, and God remakes a new “you” in your place. This season of dying culminates in Good Friday, the remembrance of divine death itself.

And then Easter comes along. The resurrection of Jesus says a lot of things, if you’re willing to listen. Among them is the idea that there may in fact be more than one shot at existence. There is the idea that death may not be the end, but rather the entrance into a truer Truth, a truer Life. It is the shape of the Christian narrative and thus the Christian life: fasting and feasting, repentance and regeneration, humility and exaltation, death and resurrection.

I’ve banked my life on that narrative, not to escape the terror of life decisions and the fragility of existence–although one must wonder why it’s so universally disconcerting, if it really is the only option–but because a God who would die for me is not a God I can walk away from.

So, consider death. Consider how it ought to make us live. Consider the God who creates out of nothingness, resurrects from the tomb, and regenerates human persons so that we become, finally, alive.

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Ecclesiastes 7:2

Unless God Has Spoken

Reminders and prayers when college gets hard.

There is no objectivity
unless God has spoken.
There is no real redemption
unless Christ is risen.
There is no hope of healing
unless there’s an incision.
There is no truth or beauty
without God’s existence.

And the world is a war, waged without waiting for me to wake up.
I’m sleepy from ceaselessly singing my sighs to the silence — speak to me!
Find me in fear, frustration, and f**king things up,
In the midst of the muddiness made by our madness in mushing
Our lies with your truth.
Unmuddle me!

Loneliness lurks, laughing at love and lying about life that’s coming.
I’m tired from trying to take on the task of transforming
The hearts of the hardened, the heads of the half-paying-attentions.
Be with me, bear with me, bring me back to basic things:
Your love of my mess.
Unmangle me!

Because the Lord has spoken,
there is a word that’s certain.
Because the Lord is risen,
I know I am forgiven.
Because there was a piercing,
I know there comes a healing.
Because you are existing,
I’m giving up resisting.

5 things the world needs to hear from the church

“The world” means not only institutions and cultures, but every person. “The church” means not only preachers and organizations, but every Christian. The world is full of prejudices and misunderstandings, and the church is full of bad examples and average people without all the answers.

We all could use some clarity.

1. We [Christians] are not interested in collecting converts like trophies on a shelf. If we are talking at you to prove anything to ourselves, our Christian friends, or God, we are completely in the wrong. Christians are under scriptural mandate to respect all people (1 Peter 3:15). We adhere to a biblical, dual anthropology which teaches that, on the one hand, every human being is an image-bearer of God and therefore valuable and honorable, and that, on the other hand, humanity is, comprehensively, morally broken and spiritual bankrupt, Christians included. In other words, we are no better or smarter than anyone else. In fact, we may appear weaker and more foolish (1 Corinthians 1:27), because God wants us to be amazed at him, not ourselves.

The reason we want to talk to you about our faith is that we earnestly believe Jesus is who he said he is and that he really is able to give the joy, peace, answers, and fellowship with God that he offered. We want the world – especially our friends and family, the people we care about most – to hear him out.

2. We care deeply about personal morality, but not for its own sakeThe aim of a Christian’s life is this: to worship God and express love for him by thinking, feeling, speaking, and acting like Jesus Christ. This means much more than behaving like a better person or giving up bad habits for good ones. It is more spiritual and more profound, and more impossibly difficult. Some of us with the right genes could pull off being “good people”; i.e. people with enough morality and likability to please the culture. None of us accomplish Christ-likeness in its fullness before we die. The idea of grace is so important to us for this reason. We want to be like Christ, but we fail miserably, and still, God chooses to love us as if we had succeeded, for Christ’s sake.

This is the tension behind our views on personal morality. The personal conduct of you and me is extremely important because it has to do with the aim and orientation of our lives, and yet is almost trivial when considered in the light of our failure and God’s grace.

3. We actually believe what the Bible says about Judgment Day, the wrath of God, and life after deathWe believe that God, who is exactingly holy, is angry with the world. We do not believe that he is only angry – Jesus taught that God loved the world to the point of sending his Son, Jesus, into it, to save it (John 3:16-17). Yet our scripture teaches that God will not overlook our outrageous disregard and mockery of him, which is the disease of sin that infects both our societies and our personal lives, forever. Soon, God will demand from every human being an exhaustive account of how they lived their lives. On those souls not shielded by the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God will rain down his justice in hell. It will be terrible, and fair.

In a culture of Self and non-accountability, we take this seriously. We want to do whatever we can to help people save themselves from themselves by entrusting their lives and their fates to Christ.

4. We struggle (with depression, anxiety, stress, unhappiness, loneliness, unmet expectations, sexual temptation, doubt, and on and on) as much as everybody, but we believe that Jesus is more real than all of itWe do not fool ourselves into thinking we have it all together or can refute every argument. We understand that Christian belief is hard – the  apostles understood that (Matthew 28:16-17). Our inner turmoil is often intense and our lives are often a mess, like everyone else.

We are also aware that we are not doing everything as we should be doing it, and that very often our words must speak louder than our actions. The difference for the Christian is not his or her own ability to rise above. The difference is faith in a God who transcends us and a Messiah who knows what it is like to be us.

5. What we are staking our lives on is Jesus, especially his death and resurrectionThe death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth are even more fundamental to Christian faith than the existence of God or the inerrancy of the Bible. That is, we believe in God and the Bible because Jesus did, and we believe in Jesus because he rose from the dead. At the center, our belief stands or falls with him. Understanding the Bible and dealing with questions about Christianity’s rationality become possible in the context of faith in Jesus.

We believe that intellectually satisfying answers to questions about God and the Bible exist and are accessible. It is true to say, however, that everything we are and believe hangs on one person, and the historical reality of two events. Jesus is the central thing, and we believe that every person must ultimately deal with him.

six days is the longest you can go

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. Genesis 2:1-3
I know of a young Orthodox Jewish couple, formerly Christians, who cited this accusation against Christianity as one of the reasons they converted to Judaism: “Why do Christians say they believe in the ten commandments, but functionally only keep nine of them? Why do Christians act as if it is acceptable to disregard the fourth commandment by desecrating the Sabbath?”

The fourth commandment is this:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Exodus 20:8-11
Although I believe the couple’s conversion to Judaism was a lamentable step backward, I see their point. Many modern Christians treat the observance of the Sabbath as a Mosaic law that the New Covenant annuls, in the same category as not eating pork. This attitude, combined with our general cultural engorgement on entertainment, our addiction to busy-ness, and our discomfort with silence and stillness, means that for most of us the fourth commandment amounts to nothing more than an hour of church in the morning, if that.

We forget that God created the Sabbath in the beginning, before the entrance of sin or the giving of the law. He instituted the pattern of the seventh day’s specialness from the start; even Adam and Eve in Eden knew about it. We forget its origin, and we also forget its loveliness. The Sabbath is a truly beautiful thing, and it is precious to God. We neglect it to our own loss and shame.

The Sabbath compels us to remember God. God pointed this out in Exodus 31, telling Moses,

You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, “Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you.” Exodus 31:13
The Sabbath is a sign and a reminder of the fact that God is the Sanctifier, the One who makes his people holy. The Israelites were designated a holy people because of their special connection to the one holy God. In the same way, Christians are “sanctified by faith in [Jesus]” (Acts 26:18), made holy by their connection to the holiness of Christ. It is “in the sanctification of the Spirit” (1 Peter 1:2), in the Holy Spirit’s action in the hearts of Christians to increasingly conform them to the example of Christ, that believers witness and experience God as Sanctifier in living color.

The Sabbath exists as a weekly signpost to the fact that God is; that he is holy; that he relates to mankind; that he mercifully sanctifies his people; that he alone deserves all glory, praise, and thanks. With the Sabbath in your life, six days is the longest you can go without being forcefully reminded of God and of his action in your life and in you.

Christians typically regard Sunday, rather than Saturday, as the Sabbath day because Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday (a practice originating at the beginning of the church). Thus, the Sabbath exists as a year-round celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. With the Sabbath in your life, six days is the longest you can go without being forced to consider the objective fact of Jesus’ divinity, the New Covenant identity which defines you, and the resurrected world to which you are headed.

For if Joshua had given [the Israelites] rest, God would have not spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Hebrews 4:8-10

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” Romans 4:4-8

To enter a relationship with God through faith in Jesus is to enter rest. Jesus does not save us through our works – and faith is not a work, either. He saves us through faith, the best definition of which may well be: to lay your weary soul down in the blood-stained hands of the crucified Son of God, and rest. Rest from working and striving after the wind. Such is the faith which God counts as righteousness.

In one sense, the entire Christian life is work: pursuing greater holiness, greater knowledge of God, greater love, greater spiritual stature. In another sense, all of it is rest: receiving the Father’s love, receiving Jesus, receiving the Holy Spirit, accepting grace through faith.

“Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God.” The whole Jewish pattern of living revolved around the Sabbath, the holy day of rest which they understood as belonging in a special way to God. In the same way, with the Sabbath in your life, six days is longest you can go without being forced to rest from your useless striving and working for God’s love. It’s the longest you can go without being forced to savor the free forgiveness of the cross.

The Sabbath designates the rest of faith. It also foreshadows the rest of heaven, that blessed ceasing from labor and suffering which awaits those declared righteous through faith. To many of us who live sedentary, comfortable lives, the idea of heaven as rest may seem almost anti-climactic. To the rest of humanity, there is hardly a sweeter thought in the world.

If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the LORD’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the LORD,
and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.
The mouth of the LORD has spoken. Isaiah 58:13-14

meditations on Holy Week (4): the Risen Lord

If Jesus is really alive – if the resurrection really happened – then absolutely everything is changed.

Christianity is simple, and explosive, because it is based on recorded, investigated, historical events. It is not primarily a moral code, metaphysical explanation, spiritual technique, method for societal change, or anything else other than a story – a history – which demands a response. When Paul defined the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, he defined it in terms of historical events: the Messiah, in fulfillment of all the scriptures, died, was buried, was resurrected, and was witnessed. Because of these events, there is salvation. Period.

If it did not happen, Christians are to be pitied and disregarded – their faith is pointless. If it happened, every human being must come to grips with it. There can be no explaining away of Jesus or Christianity and no excuses if one admits that the events of Holy Week actually happened.

Thus, each of us must ask: did it happen? Did God come to earth, did he die, did he rise from the dead? If you want evidence for the resurrection, there’s plenty: Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Easter” and N.T. Wright’s “The Resurrection of the Son of God” are two books of which I am aware. Do a Google search and you will have no trouble finding resources. Some of the basic evidences are the authenticity of the gospels, the empty tomb, the eyewitnesses, and the endurance of the movement. If you’re curious, find out for yourself. I believe it happened; therefore Jesus is my Lord, my Savior, my all. What other response is there – if it’s true?

The resurrection of Jesus =

  • the cornerstone of the Christian faith
  • the center of New Testament preaching, e.g. Acts 2:24, 31-32, 4:2, 33, 17:18, 31, 23:6
  • the legitimacy of full-fledged confidence in Jesus and the Bible
  • the validation of the effectiveness and saving power of the cross
  • the preview of what the resurrection of God’s people will be like
  • the cause for hope in a world of chaos, in a body of death
  • the reason to fall down in worship of Jesus, to praise God with all of life, to hold nothing back from the cause of advancing the good news of Christ
In Exodus 15, as the Israelites walked out of Egypt as a free people for the first time, Moses and Miriam sang a song of praise and victory, saying “the Lord is a warrior.” Indeed, he is a warrior: he was at that moment on the shores of the Red Sea, and he is in the lives of his children today. Jesus fought sin and evil, he fought Satan, the prince of this world, he fought death itself, and won. “The Lord is a warrior” at the resurrection. That is hope, life, reality. That is everything.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26