Giving thanks…

On Easter, I challenged myself and the congregation of Graceview, to give thanks. That might sound like a message more suited to a time of year when the leaves are changing and the harvest is being reaped. But the message and the challenge came from a conversation with a colleague in which we both felt that everything – absolutely everything – we have to be thankful about, comes from the resurrection. That moment when the tomb is empty, when life has triumphed over death, when we are reconciled to God, that moment when the world is made new.

Worship was wonderful on Easter Sunday, and then I got some time off to rest and recuperate (Easter takes a lot out of us clergy folk!). And as the week progressed, I realized over and over again how much I had to be grateful for – how many moments in which and for which I could give thanks.

Here are a few of the highlights:

Driving to my folks’ place for Easter dinner with my dear friends, Luke and Naiel (and Koski, of course!):

Easter dinner with family and friends:

Walks with Koski and Gambler and Luke and Naiel:

Singing with Dad:

Celebrating a friend’s birthday:

Worshipping at The Meeting House Uptown Toronto:

And the unexpected gift of spending an afternoon singing with friends:

These really are just the highlights. There were also wonderful naps (rest!), movies enjoyed with friends, some hard workouts at the gym (getting stronger!), Starbucks runs, time to veg on the couch at home, and time to prepare healthy food for the week ahead.

My cup runneth over with good things.

And I find myself back to more normal routines and ready to serve God with energy and joy that only comes from having some down-time.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James‬ ‭1:17‬ ‭NIV‬‬

So, quite simply, I say: thank you, Lord.

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Risen, indeed…

So here’s the thing: I’m not a morning person. I’ve seen a number of sunrises in my life, but given the option I’d prefer a sunset any day. I admire people who rise early and get a start on the day, but I’m not one of them.

And yet, my alarm went off at 5:30am today. I got dressed, got breakfast into my dog and headed out the door with the things I needed to make it through the morning. I arrived at the church by 6:20am and was climbing the hill in Centennial Park by 6:30am. The moon was still up, and bright, though the eastern sky was glowing with pre-dawn light.

It was cold, and there was a bitter wind that made it colder. But as we gathered and as we began to read the story, as we sung the Easter hymns and the sun shone on the faces of those in attendance – it was worth it. It was not only beautiful, it was holy.

To be there. To be together. To be proclaiming what the followers of Jesus have been proclaiming since that very first resurrection morning more than two thousand years ago: Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!

And that was just the beginning of day.

A wonderful (much warmer and also holy) service took place at Graceview at 10:30am. Complete with a flower cross and a presentation by the children. The music was beautiful, the fellowship warm, and thinking on it many hours later – I just cannot stop smiling.

Once the service was over, my friends and I stopped by my condo to pick up my dog and my luggage. Then we road-tripped out to my parents’ place where we shared a glorious turkey dinner, lots of laughs, and time spent with family (chosen and blood).

I am blessed. This entire day has been blessed. All because He is risen!

The Lenten season has come to a close, the Easter season (50 days after Resurrection Sunday) has begun!

Good Friday…

One of the write-ups at one of the stations of the cross in Graceview’s Maundy Thursday prayer vigil, had a line that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. It was once Jesus had been nailed to the cross, it said: the cross is his pulpit now.

And at first I didn’t quite get it. But when I got back into my my car, this song by Andrew Peterson began to play:

Last Words (Tenebrae)

And as the last words of Jesus washed over me in song, I thought, “Oh, the cross is his pulpit and these words are his sermon.”

Even as he died a painful, public, torturous death, Jesus spoke words that showed who he was.

“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

“Today, you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:34)

These two show us his mercy – that he would extend forgiveness and comfort even here, even under these circumstances.

“Behold your mother, behold your son” John 19:27

“I thirst.” John 19:28

These two show us his humanity – he knew that John and Mary would need each other throughout the years after his death. He knew what it was to have family, to need family, and so he commands that they be family to each other. And then those two simple words – I thirst. Because having gone through the trauma his very human body needed hydration.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34

This one shows the lengths that love will go to – even so far that Jesus would willingly be split from God the Father, a part of himself, one with whom he had the closest of relationships since before the dawn of time, if that’s what it took to win forgiveness for the human race.

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Luke 23:46

“It is finished.” John 19:30

These two show his commitment, the sense of relief that he has been able to stay the course. To do what must be done. To see it through.

As horrible as the events of this day were, God worked it together for the good of humanity.

I am humbled. And I am more thankful than words could express.

Maundy Thursday…

It is a hard night. A night on which Jesus was betrayed. A night on which he told the disciples one of them would betray him. A night on which Peter would deny him three times.

It begins with a little comfort – supper among friends. But even here, the discomfort sneaks in. Jesus passes bread and wine around and speaks of his suffering to come, his imminent death. He speaks of betrayal and denial. All of what he says will come to pass. At the table, he speaks the truth, though the disciples cannot quite believe it.

Jesus is alone. Among his friends, he alone knows what must happen. How hard it will be. What it will cost him.

It must have broken his heart. And yet, he is resolved. Determined. Purposeful.

For he knows how desperately the human heart needs forgiveness. How incapable it is of saving itself. How far we are able to fall and how fragile our efforts at reconciliation.

And so, in the midst of all that was taking place, he gave commandments: this do in remembrance of me; love one another that your joy may be full; serve each other, as I have served you. For if his friends would abide these commandments, they would draw close to him, they would be his church.

So it is with you and I – through all the centuries that separate us from the night on which he gave these commandments (Maundy comes from the Old English for Commandment) – when we abide by his instructions, when we live our lives in The Way, Jesus draws close to us (and us to him).

So friends. Remember. Love. Serve.

In Jesus’ name.

In remembrance…

Our Lenten journey is drawing to its end. In the next few days, all over the world, brothers and sisters in Christ will observe the final days of Jesus’ life.

Some will gather at a table and share bread and wine, remembering that it calls to mind his blood shed for us and his body broken for us. Some will sit silently keeping prayerful watch throughout the night. Some will walk the path that Jesus walked through Jerusalem as he carried the cross to Calvary. Some will recreate that walk in their own context. Some will sing mournful songs and weep bitter tears.

In whatever way we go about it, Jesus is the focus of our observances this week. He is center stage, and though what he goes through is difficult to witness, we dare not look away.

For he goes through all of it for us. Every moment of pain, every mocking word, every lonely step. He goes for you and for me.

So that we could never say that we had been unloved. So that the distance between our Creator and ourselves – the distance brought into being by our sin – would be closed forever. So that death and sin could no longer have any power over us. So that we would be forgiven. Utterly. Completely. Evermore.

We dare not look away.

This we do in remembrance of Him.

Hosanna…

Yesterday we celebrated Palm Sunday at Graceview. I am sure we sang the word “Hosanna” more than 50 times. It was in three of our four hymns, the choir’s introit and anthem, and the special music shared by one of our youngest, a wonderful girl named Isabel.

It was a number of years ago that I learned (through the music of Andrew Peterson, who continue to mentor me in my faith, even though I’ve never met him) that Hosanna is a shout of praise, but also a cry for help. It means, “save, I pray.”

I love that duality – that our shout of praise can also be a cry for help. That God invites both – our worship and our need. That the crowd that celebrated him, also beseeched him.

As we begin our final week of the journey to the cross and then the resurrection, may we remember that we love Jesus, we revere him King of Kings, but we also need him as Saviour.

It is the deepest cry of the human soul – salvation and reconciliation with our Creator.

It’s coming…

It’s almost here. In fact, it begins tomorrow.

Holy Week: in which we observe and remember the last days, hours and moments of Jesus’ earthly life.

It’s both a beautiful remembrance and a time of real stress for my colleagues and I. We have more services to prepare this week. More messages to write. More expectations to meet.

For some, this robs the week of its spirituality, of its grace, of its celebration. I understand how that happens. But I also fight against it.

I am, first and foremost, a fellow followers of The Way. Even as I seek to lead others into His presence – I, too, want to see Jesus.

So for myself and for my colleagues I offer the following verse to sustain us in the days to come. What we do, is never by our own merit or strength friends. It is simply the flow of God’s endless mercy and grace.

The final word…

I love this Bible verse. I find in refreshing and comforting that Jesus doesn’t offer platitudes. He straight-up says that we will have trouble in this world. No sugar coating, no ignoring the realities of life.

Jesus said this because he knew trouble better than anyone – he was tempted by the devil for 40 days, his hometown rejected him, his closest friends abandoned him, the authorities of his day plotted his death. He was beaten, mocked, left to die a tortuous death on the cross.

Jesus knew trouble.

Be he doesn’t leave us without hope – he acknowledges that we will have trouble in this world, but he encourages us to take heart because he has overcome the world.

On the cross, he broke the power of sin and death forever. All the things that give us trouble, Jesus has already conquered. We are safe with Him. And ultimately, when our time in this world comes to an end, we will be home with him.

Because He has overcome the world.

This Lent, may you know that when you put your faith in Jesus, the trouble you face in this world will not have the final word. May you know that Jesus IS the final word. And in Him, we will always find compassion, mercy, grace and steadfast love.