Mortality and Sin

Read Genesis 3:19

Today Christians in all parts of the world attend services for Ash Wednesday. This day marks the start of the Lenten season in the Western Church. On this day we remember our mortality and the cause of death, sin. It is a day of reflection, solemnity, and humility. As part of the worship service, the person has ashes placed on their forehead or hand in the shape of a cross to serve as a visual reminder of our sin and death, but also the rescue found in the cross. When the imposition of the ashes takes place, the worship leader often says, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”

When you read the verse for today from Genesis, you see the source of the phrase used on this day. This verse is part of the story of humanity’s choice to ignore God as a first step of disobedience  which we refer to as sin. God is explaining to the first humans the consequences of this choice. One of the consequences is death. God indicates we were from the earth and to the earth we will return. Our mortality is the consequence.

While this is an important day to acknowledge our mortality and our sin which has brought it into the human experience, that is not the last word. As I said, today marks the first day of a forty (Sundays are not included in the count.) day journey to the Easter celebration. The Easter celebration reminds us that Christ claimed victory over death and the cause of it, sin. Jesus’s obedience overcame our disobedience. This is why the cross is placed on us as a sign of victory even in the midst of our humble repentance today.

Happy Day

This Sunday is the seventh and final Sunday of this year’s Easter season. Easter season is a season of rejoicing. We rejoice because of Jesus’s saving action on the cross and life-giving action of the resurrection. It seems fitting that on this Sunday we listen to the words of the song, Oh Happy Day.

Questions to reflect upon:

What makes you happy?

How do you respond to the acts of Jesus in relationship to Easter?

What has your Lord taught you to do?

How are you going to carry the rejoicing of the Easter season into the rest of your year?

Hallelujah

On this fifth Sunday of Easter, a gentle song of gratitude seemed appropriate. Sisters, Cassandra and Callahan Star, released a version of the contemporary song Hallelujah which they entitled An Easter Hallelujah. The original version was made popular by Leonard Cohen in 2014. The Star’s version recalls the events of Jesus’s death on the cross and his resurrection. The word hallelujah is a translation of the Hebrew word for expressing gratitude and adoration. Consider your own sense of gratitude and adoration as you watch this video.

Morning

One of the misunderstood aspects of Easter is that many people view Easter as a one-day celebration. Like Christmas, most people set aside one day out of the year to celebrate and remember. Christmas has twelve days in the church’s liturgical calendar. Easter on the other hand has seven weeks in the liturgical calendar. Today is the second Sunday of Easter. Since it is important to make each Easter Sunday special and unique, I have decided that on Sunday we will focus on a music video to help us look at the impact and emotions around the events connected to Easter.

Today’s music video is “Then Came the Morning.” I was first introduced to this song when I was asked to narrate an Easter cantata by the same name which a local community choir was performing.

What would your response be if you were one of Jesus’s disciples and watched him die on the cross?

Looking at the recorded life of Jesus, what stands out to you?

Would you have the confidence which the song claims that Mary had? Why or why not?

How does the imagery of morning enhance your understanding of Jesus’s resurrection?

What thoughts after listening to this song will you take with you into this week so that Easter remains a focus in your life?

The Wait

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Psalm 130:5-6 (NIV)

Waiting can be a challenging aspect of life.  Children wait for birthday celebrations, Christmas, Easter and Halloween when they receive gifts and special treats.  When a woman is pregnant, there is approximately eight months of waiting (usually the first month the person is unaware). Family, friends, and her partner eagerly look forward to the arrival of new life along with the one carrying the child. In the midst of winter we must wait for the warmth and new life of spring. All of this waiting can result in impatient people.

On this day when we await the sunrise of Easter morning, we sit in silence. The events of Thursday and Friday, filled with activity and emotions, are over. Jesus died on the cross and it now stands empty. His body has been sealed away in a tomb where death holds the power. All there is for us to do is wait. The darkness of yesterday afternoon and last night lingers around our spirits. There is an unsettling quiet about today. As the words from the psalm portray, our whole being waits for the Lord. Tomorrow will bring a new beginning with new life but today we wait.

Most Important

Those within the Christian faith (and those who are not) have just celebrated the holiday of Easter. For Christians, this celebration is one which remembers the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. This day marks the end of a week which has become known as Holy Week. Holy Week recalls significant events Including:

  • Jesus’ arrival to Jerusalem which turns into a procession with palm branches
  • Jesus’ final meal which Jesus has with the closest of his disciples
  • Jesus’ arrest by the temple guards, his “trials” before the religious leader
  • Jesus’ appearances before Pilate and Herod
  • Jesus’ crucifixion and death
  • Jesus’ body being placed in a tomb

For non-Christians, this celebration focuses solely on the Easter Bunny, hiding Easter eggs and all types of sweets and candies. Christians also take part in these fun activities. Our Jewish brothers and sisters also celebrate Passover which is significant in the Christian history as well.

The other significant celebration which is shared by Christians and non-Christians is Christmas. The Christian focus is on the incarnation of God in Jesus. Non-Christians focus on Santa Claus. Jews celebrate Hanukkah around the same time as well. A majority share in the giving of gifts, festive decorations, Santa Claus, and family gatherings.

As a Christian leader, I have wrestled with how our traditions and actions deal with both of these holidays which are significant celebrations of events in our faith. I would argue that Christmas appears to be much more important to us than Easter. Looking at the preparation, the amount of gatherings, the type of decorating, and the amount of money we spend on Christmas, our behaviors give this indication.

On an emotional level, I get it. Celebrating a birth is much more uplifting and exciting than acknowledging a torturous death followed by the foreign concept of a full, bodily resurrection. The time of the year may also have some influence. Christmas is celebrated around the winter solstice which is a very dark, and in many parts a very cold, time of year. We all need something to lift our spirits and give us hope. Easter is celebrated in the early part of spring when we are seeing new life and warming temperatures, so we already are experiencing a renewal of hope.

On a theological level, I think the emphasis is backwards. While the incarnation of God is truly amazing and unique to Christianity, and while birth has to be necessary in Jesus’ story before the events around Easter can even happen, the impact of Jesus’ death and resurrection has much greater significance in our faith, life, understanding of God, and life after death. Without Easter, Christmas would be just a celebration of another human birth. Easter gives us the basis of the Christian faith. The message of Easter will be what Peter proclaims during the Jewish Festival of Passover which is considered the birth of the Christian faith. The message of Easter is an outward demonstration of the love and grace which only God could provide.

I realize that economic and traditional behaviors will not be altered by my thoughts here. I can only hope that for those who acknowledge their belief in the risen Jesus, the Christ, it will cause all to pause and examine the behaviors. Maybe even work to bring the level of our Easter celebrations up to the minimum of our Christmas celebrations.

New Life

While winter in Texas is not as cold or stagnant as winter in Iowa, over half of the trees are without leaves, the grass turns brown, and the color of flowers is limited. With the approach of spring, all this changes. Over the last few weeks, we have seen significant change in the landscape. Trees are flowering and budding. The garden centers are stocked with flowers ready to be planted. The sun has increased in its warmth. Rains are helping green to reenter the grass and other plants. New life is arriving daily.

Currently in the Christian Church calendar, we are in the season of Lent. Lent is a time for personal reflection, recommitment to spiritual disciplines, and a time to await new life. The new life which becomes a reality is found in the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday which is a reminder of our mortality and forty days later (Sundays are not counted) we are reminded of the truth of new life we share with Christ.

I am sure that the correlation of the transition from winter to spring and Lent to Easter is not coincidence. Just as spring provides new life for God’s creation, Easter provides new life for God’s children. As a child of God, I anticipate the fulfillment of the resurrection in me as much as I anticipate the witnessing of new life during spring. I yearn for both of them. Every Easter I celebrate the truth of my new life while I watch the promise of new life in creation.

What does spring mean for you? How does Lent and Easter create anticipation for you? Where do you see God’s promises fulfilled around you?

May the promise of new life in Jesus Christ fill you with anticipation and great joy. May the witnessing of new life in creation be a present reminder of this promise for you.

Not Just For Easter

Christ has risen! Christ has risen indeed!!!!

For centuries, this has been a greeting often used during the Easter season, especially on Easter morning, in the church. Not a lot of words but words with a profound meaning. Yet what do these words mean? Why do we say them? Do we believe them?

At first glance, these words easily appear absolute absurdity. One of my friends who is not a strong believer struggles with these words. He reminds me that no physical proof exists for these words. He reminds me that all we know about the human body and the rules of nature indicate that this is not a possibility. So how can one respond to a set of logical facts like these? Well, my response is grounded in faith. At first, I agree with my friend because according to logic and our understanding of the world, my declaration of Jesus’ resurrection is not supported. But since I believe in the God who created all logic and all that is in the world, I believe that was is impossible according to human standards is not impossible for God. So if God chooses to resurrect Jesus, then it can (and did) happen.

Another notable aspect of these words are that they are said with enthusiasm, hence the exclamation points above. Why should such words cause this type of response? Well, the reality of what those words proclaim is something that causes tremendous joy in those who believe them. For we know that since Jesus was resurrected, death no longer has any power. We also know that we share in that resurrection which means that life here on earth is not the only life. Our life here is a portion of our complete life. We will share in a never-ending life with our Lord. The joy that comes from this truth is one that cannot, and should not, be contained. Christians should be shouting from the rooftops. Our lives should show this great joy.

However, this prompts two important questions for me. Do I live my life in a manner which demonstrates my belief in these words? Second, do I limit my expressing of this belief to one Sunday a year?

The Church made a decision hundreds of years ago to refer to Sunday as the Lord’s Day. People began to think of the Lord’s Day as their sabbath. In fact, not that long ago in the history of the United States businesses were closed on Sunday, it was unacceptable to mow your lawn or hang out laundry on a Sunday, and only essential human/animal care need providers were allowed to work on Sunday. The Christian Church had adopted many of the rules of the sabbath from their spiritual ancestors, the Hebrew people. All this because Sunday was intended to be a day to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. Not one Sunday a year, but every Sunday. This leads me to wonder why in worship services we do not declare the same statement which we tend to use on Easter morning.

Taking the above thought a step farther, why do we limit the greeting to Sundays alone. If I truly believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead on Easter morning, and if this belief is something which brings me great joy and benefit, why would I not live every day in a way which demonstrates my belief. I will be honest, I am not truly sure how that might look since I have never tried to live this way before. I suffer from a behavior pattern which other believers seem to suffer from as well. I tend to compartmentalize my life so much that I have certain times for faith matters.

What would it look like if I lived my life in a manner which demonstrates my belief in Jesus’ resurrection?

This is a question to which I would enjoy hearing your responses. I will ponder this some and it will be the topic of a future blog. Please give me your ideas as catalyst to my future post.