In spite of the storm…

So, I know this winter hasn’t been so bad. It’s been much warmer and less snowy than usual. And I know I’ve been away to sunnier/warmer destinations twice this winter. I really have no reasons to complain at all. 

And yet. 

It’s snow/sleet-ing out this evening. Possibility of extended freezing rain overnight. And it just…bums me out. 

I struggle with winter from about January 2nd until the last of the white stuff disappears completely. Even in a relatively easy winter season, I’m done with it long before the Weather Network finishes publishing winter weather warnings. And on a night like this, when winter is getting (I hope, I pray) one of its last storms out of its system, I find it hard to believe that Spring  is really on its way. 

(Maybe that sounds like a whole lot of unnecessary whining, but it’s where I’m at on a night like this.)

But the Bible says:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”

‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭1:3-5‬ ‭NIV‬‬

In other words: there’s a better day coming! Our hope isn’t a thing that dies – it is a living hope. A thing growing and being made new with each sunrise. A thing stronger than the cold and snows of winter. A thing that cannot be spoiled by a hard season or a dark day. 

Our hope is in the Lord, who broke the bonds of sin and death forever,  and he is the one we must cling to in the midst of a storm that threatens to overwhelm us. 

This Lent, may you stay the course. May you know the great mercy of God that gives us living hope in Jesus Christ. And may it sustain you even when the day is dark. 

Finished…

14 He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.

Colossians 2:14 NLT

 

Tomorrow is the final class of a Bible Study series that I have been running with my friend and co-worker-in-the-Kingdom, the Rev. Rosemary Doran. We’ve been looking at the seven words from the cross – the things Jesus said in his final moments.

It’s been emotional and sometimes draining – to keep our eyes trained on Jesus during his suffering. To come back each week, to this horrible ending to his beautiful life. To keep him there, pinned and in pain, and not look away.

I think sometimes we avoid that. Who wants to focus on the suffering, after all? We know that the cross was a torturous way to die. We give thanks for what Jesus accomplished through it, but we don’t like to dwell on it too long. Good Friday service once a year is enough of that, thank you. As a congregant I know of once said, “It’s a bit of a downer.”

Yes. It is.

But there are also some incredibly beautiful lessons to be learned if we don’t shy away. And it has been profound to journey through Lent with these lessons confronting us each week.

This Lent, may you not shy away from the agony of the cross. May you know Christ suffered because his love was greater than all the pain he endured. May you know you are forgiven because he endured it.

 

Blessed..

I’ve taken a few days off from blogging as the dreaded jet lag and the last dregs of the cold I’ve been battling got the better of me. I find I write at night and the reality is that the past few nights sleep caught up with me too quickly! I’m going to trust that the rest I’ve taken was what I needed and was it’s own holy observance.

Today I feel blessed – sometimes in the life of faith we get used to all the good things that God brings our way and we kind of forget how blessed we are. It’s nice to be reminded.

It’s nice when that reminder comes from something that happened in your community of faith that you didn’t make happen – when you are blessed by the efforts of another leader. Today while I was preaching and leading worship with Geoff, our youth – under the leadership of one of our sustaining elders who has taught that age group faithfully for many years – were making an art installation.

They used Kraft paper and made a giant name-of-Jesus covering for the window in the youth room in our Christian Education wing. Coming home from another engagement this afternoon, I could see the letters from one of the upper windows in my house.

This is what it looks like on the inside:

The light shines in the darkness, my friends, and the darkness cannot put it out.

This Lent, may you know that you are blessed. May the name of Jesus show up in unexpected and beautiful ways in your life. May you continue to journey in His light.

Transformation…

“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.”

‭‭Ezekiel‬ ‭36:26‬ ‭NLT‬‬

I had the opportunity to see Beauty and the Beast with friends this evening. I loved the 1991 animated Disney feature and have been excited to see this live action recreation for at least a year.

Sometimes, when you’ve anticipated a movie for that long, the reality falls far short of your hopes. I’m so very happy to say that this was NOT the case this time. The movie was every bit as enchanting and beautiful as I’d hoped it would be.

As a pastor, I tend to watch movies with one eye trained to see any glimpses of the Gospel that might occur. You’d be amazed how very often theological moments show up in film.

And I found myself deeply touched by the message of the transformative power of love in this movie. When Belle declares her love for the Beast, everything changes. The beast himself becomes human again, and the ruined, frozen wreck of his castle is restored to wholeness as the shimmering rays of the sun bathe it it golden light.

I admit it – I was moved to tears. It was an Easter Sunday moment. When love – the self-sacrificing love of Jesus – overcame the power of sin and death forever.

This Lent, may you know the transformative power of God’s love as embodied by Jesus, who is the Christ. May you journey through the sometimes dark and frozen days, with the confidence that Easter Sunday is coming…and it changes everything.

Home…

“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

‭‭John‬ ‭14:2-3‬ ‭NIV‬‬

There is something about the Holy Land. It is precious and special to me. It is a place I hope to continue to  visit throughout my life. 

So coming to the end of our tour is a sad thing. Because I love it here. And the time we’ve spent here has been beautiful. 

At the same time, today I have felt a tugging in my heart – a longing for my own bed, my own house, the sweet doggy who lives with me there. I am ready to return to my country, Canada. 

It turns out that I love to travel. (This has come as a surprise to me over the past few years. Travel usually involves flying and I hate flying, so I thought I hated travel. It turns out that I love travel enough to tolerate the flight!)

 I love to go new places and have new experiences. I love to go away. I love to explore. But part of what I love about all of that, is coming back home again. Knowing that though I may wander, there is a place that is my own, to which I will return when the wandering has come to a close. 

Jesus promised his disciples that tough they would be parted, he was going to prepare a place for them. He promised them that he was making a home in his Father’s house, a place where they would all be together again.  

This Lent, may you know that the sense of home you have on Earth doesn’t compare with the sense of home you will have in Heaven. May you know that Jesus goes to prepare a place for you, and he will come again to bring you to where he is. 
Above: The sun over Jerusalem. View from my room in the Dan Boutique. 


Above: Mom, Dad, Andrew and Sarah enjoying shopping in the Old City. 
Above: I didn’t know we had a park here! 
 

Above: Ridiculously good gnocchi at the Train Station near our hotel. 

Treasuring these things…

Today we started out with time in the private Garden at Gethsemane, visited the Church of All Nations, made our way to the pools at Bethesda and sang in the beautiful Church of St. Ann, walked the Via Dolorosa, explored the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and we travelled to Bethlehem to the Church of the Nativity.

Another amazing day. I always touched by the grotto of the manger in the Church of the Nativity. In our Christmas cards in North America, we imagine a wooden stable. But Israel is a land of stone. And it only makes sense that the manger would be a grotto – a small cave.

To be there again, to sing Christmas carols right inside the grotto, to share prayer beside the manger with the pilgrims who have made this journey, is such a beautiful thing.

My favourite part of the Christmas story is this line found in the Gospel According to Luke:

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
‭‭Luke‬ ‭2:19‬ ‭NIV‬‬

I have this image of Mary making dinner or hanging out the wash and finding herself reliving the night that her first son was born, and wondering at it all, all over again.

I find I do that with my memories of Israel. I’ll be preparing a Bible Stidy or choosing a hymn or writing a sermon and I’ll trip over something that brings me right back to this place, and I’ll feel the wonder of it.

We’ll sing a carol at Christmas and I’ll have images of the very place the lyrics are describing, because I have been there. And it’s no longer something I have to try to imagine or something I’ve simply decided to put my trust in. I know what the stone grotto looks like, I’ve laid my hand on the bedrock there.

I wish I could bring everyone who believes in Jesus to this place. I urge you – if you get the chance to come on a pilgrimage to the Hoy Land, do it. It will be the best thing you could ever do for your faith.

This Lent, may you have experiences that strengthen your faith. May you treasure up all these things and ponder them in your heart. And may you know it’s not just a story. It all happened. For real. Right here.

(PS The only bad part of today was that my Dad was not feeling well and needed to return to the hotel for rest for most of the day. I’m sure he’ll be fine, but prayers are always appreciated!)


Above: the Church of All Nations.


Above: Pilgrims in the private Garden at Gethsemane.




Above: Station 8; Sign pointing the way to the Holy Sepulcher; pilgrims walking up to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (grey dome with the cross on top); our pilgrims on the steps outside the Holy Sepulcher.


Above: a pilgrim prays in the grotto of the manger.


Above: marks left by pilgrims over the centuries at the grotto of the manger.


Above: interior shots of the Church of The Nativity.


Above: the Shepherds’ fields surrounding Bethlehem.

Sustaining faith…

Today we walked the tunnels under the Western Wall of the Temple, visited the Western Wall (where Jews go to pray), went to the Temple steps, walked on a Roman Cardo (road) from Ancient Jerusalem, visited the Upper Room (where the last supper and Pentecost took place), and visited Yad Vashem (the holocaust museum). 

Another amazing day in an astoundingly beautiful and deeply spiritual city. For me, the Temple Steps were the highlight of the day. We know that Jesus visited the Temple. 

The Gospel According to Luke tells us: 

“Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover.”

‭‭Luke‬ ‭2:41‬ ‭NIV‬‬

So the Temple was well known to Jesus. He went there during his childhood with his parents for Passover and he continued this practice into adulthood. 

The thing is, there is only one entrance to the Temple. You either go up the Temple Steps and in or you don’t go at all. 

So while scholars might argue about whether the other places are exactly right, no one argues about the Temple Steps. He was there. Period. 

Last time I was in Jerusalem, my parents and I took a photo of the three of us touching one of the exposed (ie original, or not-reconstructed) steps. It was our great joy to do so again today. 

For me, the first photo of our hands on those steps was a great comfort while my Dad underwent treatment for cancer last year. To recreate the photo today was a declaration of victory over the disease and of how our faith continues – changed by the experiences of the last two years, I’m sure, but still strong and vital. 


This Lent, may you take a look at the things that have sustained your faith during trying times. And may you find that your faith is alive and well today. 

Above: St. Andrew’s pilgrims praying at the Western Wall. 


Above: Mom, Dad and I on the Temple Steps. 


Above: Sarah and Andrew McCaig on the Temple Steps. 


Above: a chance meeting with the guide from our last tour! How lovely it is to meet friends in Jerusalem!


Above: The Roman Cardo. 


Above: shops from ancient times along the cardo. 


Above: Pilgrims walking the Cardo. 

The pit…

Today we started the day at Masada, traveled to Jerusalem and went to Caiphas’ house to see the pit where Jesus was held before his trial, went to Genesis Land where we endjoyed the hospitality of Abraham, and visited the Museum of Israel to see the scale model of Jerusalem as it was in Jesus’ day and the Shrine of the Book (where the scroll of Isaiah, as discovered in Qumran, is on display). 

The most impactful moment for me today was the time we spent in the pit in Caiaphas’ house (the church of St Peter in Gallicantu). We read the account of Jesus’ arrest (Matthew 26:57-68) and then Psalm 88. 

One of the things that modern Christianity struggles with is dealing with the ugly parts of the story. We want to rush to the point where Jesus is risen and all is well and we are forgiven. It’s the main  point of the story, to be sure, but we do Jesus – and ourselves – a disservice when we look away from the pain it cost him. 

It wasn’t easy to do what he did. He suffered for it – physically, mentally and emotionally. And we can’t just breeze past that because it makes us uncomfortable. When we hurt because of the things Jesus went through, we draw closer to him. 

The pit in Caiaphas’ house is an ancient cistern. Carved to hold water in a desert country. It had not windows, no doors, no stairs. The only way in was to be lowered on a rope through the hole at the top. There was no escape. 

In the pit we read a psalm of lament –  Psalm 88 (here are some verses from it):

“You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.

You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them. I am confined and cannot escape; my eyes are dim with grief. I call to you, LORD, every day; I spread out my hands to you.

Your wrath has swept over me; your terrors have destroyed me. All day long they surround me like a flood; they have completely engulfed me. You have taken from me friend and neighbor— darkness is my closest friend.”

‭‭Psalm‬ ‭88:6, 8-9, 16-18‬ ‭NIV‬‬

As one of my favourite Christian singers writes, “you did that for me.” For us he suffered. For us he was outcast. For us he bore a pain we cannot fathom. 

This Lent, may you not turn away from the suffering of Christ. May you know that he did it for you, and for me, and for all.  And may you know that because he did, you are forgiven. 

Above: Riding the cable car up to Masada. 


Above: Looking down on Herod’s quarters at Masada. 


Above: I can’t believe I get to be in these amazing places with my folks! 


Above: The beautiful city of Jerusalem. 


Above: Riding a camel with my Dad!


Above: The scale model of Jerusalem as it would have been in Jesus’ day.