Sunday…

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! For 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!” he said. “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. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him.
Matthew 28:1-9 NLT

On Sunday of Holy Week…everything changed. The stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty. Death had turned to new life. Mourning to dancing. Grief to rejoicing. And sin to salvation.

This is why we celebrate. It is why we care about the story at all. It is why we sing and study and pray.

Because Jesus loved us enough to die. Because Jesus loved us enough to live..in order that we might live forever.

Christ is risen! Christ risen indeed.

Hallelujah!!

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Saturday…

Saturday of Holy Week is – in my mind – associated with silence. For the disciples this must have felt horrible. Their friend and teacher, the one they believed in as the Messiah, was dead.

I don’t know what they went through that day, but I can imagine it was not good. I imagine them feeling like the grief was crushing them. After all, it wasn’t just the death of their beloved teacher (which would have been bad enough) it was also the death of their hope in him…their hope of heaven and new life and the Kingdom of God.

I imagine that they must have been totally bewildered – wondering how all of the miraculous power, the paradigm-shifting teaching, and the deep love they had witnessed in Jesus, could end so horrifically. They must have wondered how it could have ended at all.

When I am feeling shocked, bewildered and frightened about the future, I have certain passages of the Bible that I turn to…words that help me remember to trust that God is in charge and that and that I am safe in Him.

So for this Holy Saturday, I am sharing one of my favorite Old Testament verses, which may have brought some comfort to the disciples, if they repeated it to themselves. I have used this verse before on my blog, but as far as I am concerned, it’s a classic that bears repeating.

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

Jeremiah 29:11 NLT

Friday…

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Good Friday is always a struggle for me. I love Jesus and I am so very thankful for all that he accomplished on the cross. I am glad we take time to remember and recognize his sacrifice. And I am not averse to sad stories and sad songs. In fact, people who know me well, know that my favorite movies, books and songs are the ones that make me cry a bucket of tears before they are through.

So you would think I would be in my glory on Good Friday. But I struggle this day. I think it is because the pain Jesus went through is more than any anguished character in fiction. Jesus wasn’t just living out a tragedy for the sake of a good story. He was defeating my sin. The things that I do wrong, the hurt that I cause in this world, the parts of me that are broken ad dark and horrible – those are the things Jesus faced and healed on the cross. Only – not just for me. For every person who ever lived. The burden is too big to imagine. Too vast to comprehend. And he didn’t deserve any of it – he was spotless, whole, clean.

This subject is so heavy, I can only dwell on it for a certain amount of time. It hurts my heart to think of it, and so once the worship service is over, I move on. Not in order to forget, but because I simply cannot dwell on the subject for too long. It’s too painful

My practice has been to spend Good Friday amongst friends. Today, I stood at the foot of the cross in the morning, and then laughed and cuddled and shared food and a silly movie with my friends and their children. I believe times like this are a gift from God, and I believe that Jesus was our honoured guest as we spent one together today.

Good Friday is a dark day in the Christian calendar. But it is also a good day. Because sin and death and darkness were defeated on this day. Because Jesus chose to love each of us more than his own life. And so every year I come, and I spend time at the foot of the cross, and I remember.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:6-8 NIV

Thursday…

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Thursday of Holy Week is called Maundy Thurday. Maundy means “mandate” and is a reference to the new commandment Jesus have his disciples while at table with them:

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
John 13:34, 35 NLT

This is also the night on which the first Communion (Lord’s Supper, Eucharist) was celebrated. It was the night during which Judas lead the chief priests to the garden of Gethsemane an betrayed Jesus with a kiss. It was during this night that Jesus healed the soldier’s ear. And it was during this night that Peter denied Christ three times.

These stories are so well known to me. And every year they bring me to tears. I believe it was all part of God’s plan from the beginning. I believe it all had to happen exactly as it did. I believe Jesus knew exactly what he would face in the final days of his life. And I believe he went there willingly, out of his deep love for humanity.

Still, it breaks my heart that his pain and suffering was necessary. And it continues to be necessary because of me…because of us.

This is a tough night for me each year, in my walk of faith, and tomorrow will be even more difficult. But you can’t get to the salvation am celebration of Easter without walking through the dark and difficult days leading up to it. And there are things to be learned on a dark night like this. Not the least of which is how very thankful I am that Jesus went there for me, and for you.

Wednesday…

On Wednesday of Holy Week we find this occurring:

Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests to arrange to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted when they heard why he had come, and they promised to give him money. So he began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.
Mark 14:10, 11 NLT

Judas’ betrayal is not spur-of-the moment. It is planned. “He began to look for opportunity…” Those words break my heart because they show that Judas has truly turned against Jesus, against his mission and ministry. Judas is no longer focussing on bringing the Kingdom of God into reality. He is looking for an opportunity to betray the One who fulfills the Kingdom.

I always find myself sort of outraged on Jesus’ behalf. I ask myself, “How could he?” How could Judas who was Jesus’ friend and disciple, betray everything that Jesus is about. Those of us who love Jesus in today’s age, WISH we could have had the chance to walk and to talk with Jesus as Judas did. How could he squander that opportunity?

And then I remember something Peter Wilson wrote:

Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think…

I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system.

However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.

And I realize that far too often I have stood in Judas’ shoes. Denying Jesus, betraying him, turning away from his mission and ministry in favor of my own desires.

I am humbled by this realization. And once again amazed that the power of Christ’s forgiveness is wider, deeper and more persistent than my sin.

Tuesday…

On the Tuesday of Holy Week – the final week of Jesus’ life on Earth – Jesus was feisty. He cursed a fig tree because it didn’t bear fruit, he tussled (verbally) with the priests and teachers of the law, he prophesied about the destruction of the temple.

Some of the toughest words of Jesus are spoken on this day, as the cross looms closer and closer.

Was Jesus just cranky? Was he just feeling the pressure of the ordeal he would face at the end of the week? Was he just sick of the people who didn’t listen and didn’t understand?

I think Jesus was passionate. I think he knew his time was short, and his message was incredibly important. So his words are strong, they leave an impression. He is not just saying nice things to comfort people. He is shocking people into hearing the message of Heaven.

As always, Jesus is absolutely committed to seeing people come into a living relationship with God. He wants people to get it, and to LIVE it. And I love that about Jesus.

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples,“The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach.”
Matthew 23:1-3 NLT

Monday…

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Holy Week has begun. Yesterday in churches everywhere palms were waved and people remembered how Jesus entered Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. I had the privilege of preaching yesterday and as I prepared, one of the things I was aware of was how that celebration was tinged with darker themes. The people shouted and cheered, palm branches and cloaks were laid down as a pathway for Jesus, it looked quite wonderful.

But less than 7 days later, those same people would call for the execution of the one they celebrated, the one for whom they cheered. And now, on the Monday of Holy week, I find I can’t quite shake the echos of that scene. I keep turning the world “Hosanna” over in my head. It is an exclamation of excitement, but it also can mean “Save us now” or “Save us completely.” Did the people know how prophetic their cheers were? Did they understand how desperately they needed a savior?

I don’t think so. I suspect, if they knew…if they recognized their own ugliness they wouldn’t have turned on him at the end of the week. I suspect they would have kept crying “Hosanna!” instead of exchanging it for “Crucify!”

This Holy Week I want to be one who continually shouts “Hosanna!” Both because I know I need a savior and because I am so excited about what Jesus has accomplished on the cross. I need to remember my own need for him, and celebrate the reality of having that need fulfilled.

The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city. A large crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him. They shouted,

“Praise God!
Blessings on the one
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hail to the King of Israel!”

Jesus found a young donkey and rode on it, fulfilling the prophecy that said:

Don’t be afraid, people of Jerusalem.
Look, your King is coming,
riding on a donkey’s colt.”

His disciples didn’t understand at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy. But after Jesus entered into his glory, they remembered what had happened and realized that these things had been written about him.
John 12:12-19 NLT

Kingdom Family

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One I the fun things about being an Associate Minister is that I occasionally get invited to preach at other congregations. My colleagues know that I don’t have to preach at my own congregation every Sunday, so I can spend some Sundays away. I love worshipping at St. A’s and I believe it is important to help lead worship and participate in worship even on those Sundays when I am not preaching. But still, it is a special thing to be invited to share my gifts with other churches.

This Sunday I will be preaching at Knox Presbyterian Church in Midland where my friend the Rev. Alton Ruff is minister. Alton has duties as an Interim Moderator at a two point charge in his Presbytery. So while he is leading those congregations in worship and Annual Meeting activities, I’ve been asked to preach at Knox.

I am excited about this. I love the drive up to that part of Ontario. I love that I will get to visit friends. I love that I will get to worship in another corner of
The Kingdom, before returning to the place to which God has called me.

Though I will be physically away from home, spiritually I will be right at home. Jesus prayed that all his believers would be one. Anytime I am with the church – I am home and amongst family. That’s one of the most precious things about belonging to God.

My prayer for you, wherever you worship this Sunday, is that you will know the joy that comes from belonging to the world-wide family of God. That whether you sit beside brothers and sisters who are well-known to you, or whether you are away from your usual church family, or even if you are not physically able to be in a sanctuary this Sunday – you would know you are part of something bigger than yourself and that you are loved by brothers and sisters who do not even know your name now, but someday will party with you in Heaven.

I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
John 17:20, 21 NLT

Breath of Spring…

Spring

I don’t think it is any huge secret that I am not a fan of winter. I do not like having to think about boots and scarves and mitts. I am not a fan of salt coating my boots. I can’t stand being cold. And then there is the darkness and the flu bugs.

So you can imagine how thrilled I was this weekend as Spring made an appearance in my neck of the woods. I spent Saturday in Toronto with a friend, walking around the city. On Sunday, I had a long drive to visit some friends. And I had to turn the heat in my car way down. Both days I got out for lovely walks with Koski. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.

And it wasn’t just me. There was more traffic on the roads, more pedestrians on the streets, more smiles on faces. There is something about this time of year that is special. It is like we are all waking back up. There is new life in the air. And it is joyful.

In the letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul writes:

…their evil intentions will be exposed
when the light shines on them,
for the light makes everything visible.
This is why it is said:
Awake, O sleeper,
rise up from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.

Ephesians 5: 13,14 NLT

I love the theme of Resurrection that runs through this time of preparation for Easter. I love the way that Spring reminds me of the new life that Christ gives to his followers.

I hope that you experience the beauty of Spring and that it lifts your soul and reminds you that we serve a God of new beginnings, in whom death is only a doorway to new life.

Best intentions & grace…

So clearly I have fallen off my pace when it comes to blogging. Just as I have struggled with more than my fair share of illness this winter, I am now struggling with finding my stride again. Despite my best intentions I have simply not been able to keep up to the pace I set for myself as Lent began. I want to be “back to normal,” but I am not. I am more easily tired than I was in the fall. And I am seriously paranoid about getting over-tired and that leading to another cold or flu.

All of that to say I am slowly (but surely) learning to have grace for myself. It’s amazing to me that I am a passionate believer in God’s grace for me (and all of humanity, actually), but I have a hard time forgiving myself for a missed workout or a string of nights when I am simply too exhausted to blog at the end of the day.

So this week has been a lesson on how to have grace for oneself. And, though such lessons always seem to come in times of struggle, I find I am still thankful for the continued act of learning how to live this faith.

Be gracious to yourself, my friends, as you are gracious to other and as God has first been gracious to us all.

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Romans 5:1, 2 NKJV