Posts Tagged ‘Easter’

ADI hope you were among the many who watched the NBC mini-series A.D. The Bible Continues which premiered Easter Sunday.  This series, as you likely know, is a welcomed sequel to The Bible which aired on the History Channel in 2007 with extraordinary ratings.

Sherrylee and I did not see the first series as they aired, but we bought the DVD and used them as part of our devotionals for several weeks.  The only negative thing that I will say here about A.D. is that it is going to be much better when watched without all the commercial interruptions.  It’s pretty difficult to jump from the raw emotions of the crucifixion to car commercials appealing to your most materialistic pleasures.  We intend to DVR the program and skip the commercials in the future.

The executive producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey have kept the scripts well within the biblical context, while—and this is their genius—adding the creative imagination to the gaps in Scripture. Of course, the writers take some license with the biblical text, but not so much that most of us who believe are offended as was the case with some recent attempts of Hollywood to appeal to Bible-readers—think Noah (2014), which you may not have even seen.

Probably to take advantage of opening on Easter Sunday, this first episode rehearsed the entire Easter Story again. Fortunately in my opinion, while the horrific suffering of crucifixion is not mitigated in any way, the focus is more on the drama surrounding the death of Jesus and the struggle for faith of its witnesses.  Joseph of Arimathea must go against his own high priest to bury the body of Jesus in his tomb—because it is the right thing to do.  The few disciples who have even found their way back to the others wrestle with whether to wait three days and see if there is really any chance of His return—or not!  Even Pilate has to deal with his wife who is convinced by her dreams that Jesus is a good man.

But the Burst of Resurrection is the best moment!  I love the angels in these two series.  They are warriors!  We first see this in the two who go to Sodom to test and rescue Lot and his family.  The “wings” crossed over their backs are swords with which they fight their way through the wicked city.  On Resurrection Sunday the angel, standing in dazzling light, pulls his sword, challenging (unnecessarily) those who guard the tomb.  I love the show of strength and power as opposed to wispy, softly-blurred angels.

Just as with the angels, the other characters are a little stronger, a little more raw, a little more Middle Eastern than we have often seen—and it makes this production better!  I can’t wait to see what they do with Stephen and Paul and Simon Magus and Lydia.

In addition to the mini-series itself, NBC and the co-producers are launching what they call a digital talk show called Beyond A.D. , which will be taped with a live audience and will basically be a dialogue between audience participants and some of the cast, the producers, and other special guests.  The description says that both historical and spiritual topics will be discussed.  Beyond A.D. will launch next Sunday night April 12 and should create wonderful new possibilities for people to explore the Story.

Cynics will argue that NBC is just lining its pockets with a sure hit—taking advantage of the many American Christians starved for something decent to watch on television–and I’m sure there is some truth to the comment. Surely, however what St. Paul said to the early Christians in Philippi is true here also:

It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. . . . Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, . . . But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice.        (Philippians 1:15ff).

9.5 million people watched A.D. last Sunday.  That’s good!

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Rainy-Day-HD-ImagesI woke up this Saturday to a bright, sunny spring world—horribly incongruous to the reality of what happened on Friday.  If this were a movie—which it is not—Saturday would be overcast with a weepy downpour, not the crashing thunder of Friday evening, but the low rumble of distant disruption.  The creation would be mourning the death of its Creator.

The disciples were huddled together behind closed doors on Saturday.  A few were so weary with fear from Friday that they had slept. They had slept while Jesus prayed in Gethsemane—the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.  Some perhaps wandered in early Saturday morning after a sleepless night of hiding, lest they too be crucified.

Only John had actually been at the cross. Had he and Mary the Mother cried together all night? He was now responsible for her and he didn’t know what that meant.  Over and over he had had to tell the others what he had witnessed: the nails, the jeering, the darkness, the Words, the End. He told of the surprise that Nicodemus and Joseph had shown up to bury the Body.

The women disciples were with the men—all the Marys, Joanna, the others—they had wanted to finish annointing the Body, but they had not been prepared on Friday evening to finish before the sun set, so they would get it all together on Saturday, then go early Sunday morning and finish.

Peter—Jesus had called him a Rock, but it turns out he was just dust! He had been so brave when Judas and the others had shown up among the olive trees, but Jesus had healed the very one he had slashed.  How was he supposed to feel about that? It really took the wind out of his sails. He did follow as they led Jesus away, but he couldn’t—didn’t—follow as far as John had gone—and that had been when it happened.  He hadn’t meant to curse—it just came out of his fear!  When the rooster crowed, his heart broke.  He was no Rock.  He was as bad as Judas.

For three years this small group had been with Jesus.  For three years they had seen him do the unexplainable! He turned water to wine, walked on water, healed the lame and the blind—even raised the dead. They believed in him. He was the Messiah they had hoped for—though different from what they expected.  He had promised to be with them—but he had lived very dangerously, even talked about going away—about dying—as  if he expected this!  They  had tried to protect him, but when he headed toward Jerusalem—they knew it was trouble!

Now here they sat. He was dead, his lifeless body lying shrouded in a tomb, sealed with a stone and guarded by the Romans so that no one could steal him away and fabricate hope. They were alone—and afraid.  The Jews and the Romans could have saved the expense of guarding the tomb.  These disciples were not leaving the room! Saturday was a bad, bad day!

And what about Jesus?

On Friday afternoon, His Spirit had left His Body and gone into the Hands of God the Father. Peter would later write about Jesus preaching to the spirits in prison and there are several references to his descension, so perhaps He spent Saturday harrowing hell and bringing Good News to those who had longed for His coming, but died before the fullness of time.  Much we don’t really know, but this we know:

His body was in the tomb, but His Spirit lived. He knew He would be reclothed—the temple would be rebuilt—in three days, so He was obediently waiting for the plan of God to unfold and Resurrection power to be released.  Where He was on Saturday was not dark and hopeless, rather the Light was brighter than ever, just waiting to explode and blow away the stone and the darkness!

Now the brilliant sunshine of this Saturday morning is starting to make sense to me.

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The_Church_of_the_Holy_Sepulchre-JerusalemOne of my biggest disappointments on our visits to Jerusalem is that the traditional site of Golgatha and the garden tomb of Jesus are completely encased, totally overwhelmed and obscured, by the church that was built to preserve and honor them.

Not long ago, I was driving in Dallas with our grandsons after a hockey game, when I realized that we were not far from Commerce Street and Dealey Plaza, so spontaneously, I decided to drive by and give them a little glimpse of the history of what happened there in 1963.  Little has changed on that historical spot.  The “grassy knoll” is there, the overpass, and the street follows the same path, so you know as you drive over the marker on the street that you are passing over the very spot where JFK died.

What Christians have done in Jerusalem would be like Americans enclosing all of Dealey Plaza in one or more connected museums, covering the grassy knoll in marble to “preserve” it, and allowing tourists to peer through a window the size of a 1950s TV screen at the X on the street, marking where the first bullet struck.

It’s quite true that landmarks, especially open-air landmarks, if not protected, tend to erode and disappear.  Even the museums that are built to protect them cannot really prevent disaster. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem  has burned several times, was literally shaken to pieces by earthquakes, and has been severely damaged by wars over the centuries.

One conclusion, therefore, is that in our attempts to preserve, we obscure at best and perhaps destroy that which we seek to venerate.

Sometime before 1839, a workman placed a ladder on a ledge above the door of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Shortly thereafter, the Christian churches (and Muslims) who were fighting over political control of the physical site agreed to a status quo for the sake of peace.  Today, 175 years later, that ladder remains above the door of the church.  Once again, because of the extreme desire for preservation, which in this case meant maintaining the status quo in all respects, even the peripheral becomes “holy.”   The ladder is today called the immovable ladder and is pointed out by the tourist guides.  Though not yet holy, I have no doubt that someone will find a way to sanctify it.

Another conclusion is that preservation often leads to defending the status quo, which inadvertently can transform common elements into sacraments. 

Today is Friday, the Friday before Easter Sunday. We are remembering that Jesus was crucified.  For six hours, he suffered physically and spiritually because of our sins.

Finally, he died; the Son of God experienced the Curse in His flesh, but His Spirit passed into the hands of His Father who honored His death with Life.

It’s really not very important for Christians to preserve the hill or the cross or the robe or the tomb.  Preservation seems a dangerous and ultimately fruitless occupation.  It can lead to obscuring, even destroying that which is real!

What happened on that Friday really happened! Let’s don’t build museums around it; let’s don’t die warring over the status quo.

Let’s let the simple fact be true enough that we spend our lives believing it and living out its implications:

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. (Romans 5:8-11, NLT)

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Tomorrow is the day of crucifixion. Today, as I write, is a beautiful sunny morning, just cool enough to refresh everything living!  But tonight comes the darkness of betrayal, and whippings, and thorns, and curses, and lies.

And tomorrow will end in total darkness, utter depravity, the death of innocence, separation from God! We call it Good Friday!  I don’t think so!

Perhaps my atheist friend can find some good in martyrdom and be satisfied that Friday accomplished all that needed to be done. Many people’s deaths have changed history—maybe everyone’s death changes history.  But Jesus was not about changing history.

And why was the tomb sealed with victory on Saturday?  Was it to prove death to the superstitious and the unbelievers? Was it to prove death to the believers? Was it because Jesus had souls to preach to in the spiritual world (1 Peter 3:19)?

Perhaps so we could mourn for what we did on Friday!

But Jesus was not surprised by Sunday morning! The women were; the disciples were; but Jesus never doubted.  The earliest chronicler says, “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31).

Surprise, however, is not a prerequisite to joy!  He had told his disciples on Thursday, “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy” (John 16:22). When his followers wept, Jesus wept, so I’m quite sure that bringing eternal joy to his disciples brought Jesus himself great joy!

And what about Easter bunnies and eggs and little girls in frilly dresses and white shoes?

 Well, what about Spring? Does the cycle of seasons with death yielding to new life every Spring sound familiar?  Who do you think created the seasons in order to proclaim the Victory over Death?

On his first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas gave the first century pagans the same answer that we who doubt the source of our joy should hear: Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy” (Acts 14:26).

So I’m pretty sure Jesus would smile at baby chicks and bunnies and little boys with their hair spiked and in their first bow ties, and  say, “Don’t forget that life began on Easter Sunday! Don’t forget that there would be no beautiful Spring days without Easter Sunday! Don’t forget that there would be no joy and no empty tombs—ever—without Easter Sunday!

Would Jesus celebrate Easter?  He did, He does, and He will—until the very last Easter—Resurrection Day!

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dying-rose-bwc-big.jpgSince my Mom’s death in January, Sherrylee and I have spent five weeks in Europe, doing what we call site visits for the Let’s Start Talking Ministry

I think you will understand if I share with you that much of my thinking since January has been about death and dying.  I consciously decided not to write about it then because we Americans just don’t want to be reminded about our mortality too often.  We like happy endings.

The Germans even have the word Happy-end to describe American culture.  We like that—but they don’t really mean it as a compliment. They use that word more to describe Pollyannaism or a naïve positive bias toward life.

However, . . . .

Here we are just a few days from Easter, moving rapidly towards the Cross and the Tomb on Friday, so I suppose we must talk about death and dying.

The TV version of Bill O’Reilly’s book Killing Jesus was shown last Sunday. I didn’t watch it. I still haven’t recovered from Jim Bishop’s The Day Christ Died (1957) that preachers used over and over again to describe in lurid detail the horrors of the crucifixion.  You certainly haven’t forgotten the images of the savagely beaten and crucified Christ from Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2005).

But here is what I’ve been thinking:  the horrible physical suffering of Jesus was not the death that Jesus pled with His Father about in Gethsemane.  Other people have died more violently than Jesus did. Others have been tortured longer than the six hours that Jesus hung on the Cross.

Our fascination with the details of his physical death represent our own fears of death—especially a violent, painful death.

Three weeks ago, Sherrylee and I flew one stretch of our European trip on Germanwings, the same airline whose plane crashed in France last week.  That same co-pilot who on that day killed himself and all the passengers might have been sitting in the co-pilot’s seat of our flight the week before.

Should we be afraid to fly Germanwings?   Should we be afraid to fly?   Should we be afraid?

Jesus was not afraid of death.  He turned his face toward Jerusalem, saying “It’s time!”  He rode the donkey through the gates of Jerusalem amid the Hallelujah’s and the waving palm branches, fully aware that the next crowd he saw would be calling for his crucifixion.  He praised the anointing of his feet because he knew the poor would always be with them, but he would not be.  He broke the bread and drank the cup of Passover with his closest followers, knowing that his next drink would be vinegar.

Jesus was not afraid of death. He went to his death, not because of the scheming of the Jews, not because of the callousness of Pilate, not because of the cold-bloodedness of the Roman soldiers, but because He was obedient:  by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:8)

Jesus was not afraid of death.  He knew that Friday must come before Sunday, so every day of his ministry, really every day of his life, he walked deliberately toward Friday, not rushing, but at the appointed pace, and when the Friday had come, Jesus was there.

We should not be afraid of death. We have the same promise of Life that Jesus had, but as with Him, so with us, Friday must come before Sunday.  To walk in His steps means to walk deliberately toward Friday, not rushing, but at the appointed pace.

There is no promise of eighty years, no promise of a peaceful passing, no promise that we won’t die before or after someone we love, no promise of anything but that our Father will receive our spirits and keep us until Sunday morning when the dead in Christ will rise!

Life is more certain than death!  Don’t be afraid of death.

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MondayDid you know that many ministers/priests take the week after Easter off because they have had such an intensive preparation and celebration time, that they need some well-deserved rest and renewal?  Easter Sunday is Day One of the rest of our lives.

Sunday morning changed the history of the world. Without Sunday morning, the story that Christians would tell would be like the story in many great movements: an extraordinary teacher/leader, misunderstanding/persecution by those conserving the status quo, and eventual martyrdom.

Christians have a different story because Jesus died, was buried, but then rose by the power of the very Creator of Life itself. Jesus is not dead. Sunday morning changed the world—and the life of everyone who believes in the risen Lord.

Sunday morning was God’s part of the story. Monday begins our part!

Look at how the earliest disciples spent the time after the resurrection:

  • Two of them decided to go home to Emmaus, so disappointed—stunned—by the events of the weekend.  “We had hoped that he was the one . . . .” (Luke 24)
  • Some were sequestered in their room, trying to decide if they believed the story of the women.
  • Thomas was out, just trying to figure things out for himself—not with the others.
  • Even after Jesus appeared to them and breathed on them the Holy Spirit, some of them decided to do some fishing while they waited in Galilee (John 21)
  • The disciples went to Galilee (home for many of them), but then returned to Jerusalem to wait for further instructions. That’s a lot of walking in the 50 days between Passover and Pentecost.

What are you doing the day after Easter?

Of course you are putting away the Easter eggs and sending the Sunday clothes to the cleaners—just like the disciples going fishing.

But what are you really doing after Easter?

  • Are you waiting for Power?
  • Are you waiting for an assignment?
  • Are you waiting for instruction?
  • Are you waiting for an epiphany?
  • Are you waiting for the persecution to settle down?

Waiting is appropriate for a while!  We see that with the first disciples, but waiting was not the pattern for the rest of their lives?

The Easter story was the beginning for them, not the end of their ministry!  And so it should be for all of God’s people.  Sunday resurrection gives us a new life!  This new life is the same new life that Jesus received, or, as Paul said in Romans 6:13:

but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.

To “offer” is not to passively wait. To offer may be to actively wait, but in anticipation of a certain assignment.

The four Gospels all end with Monday assignments for these Jesus’ disciples and beneficiaries of the Sunday resurrection:

Matthew: 16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said,“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Mark: 14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Luke: 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

John:  21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 

What are you going to do on Monday?  Today?

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For our children, Easter has become more about baby chickens, bunny rabbits, and egg hunts and hardly anything about Jesus! Part of the reason is that the story is sad, brutal, and gory. We have sanitized the lives of our children to the point that the real Easter story just doesn’t work.  We need a Disney version for our young children.

On the other hand, my 8-year-old, 7-year-old, and 5-year-old grandsons have all seen Star Wars, and some of them have seen at least the first episode of Lord of the Rings. They have all seen the Narnia movies—and they have all been to funerals.  I think they can handle the basics of the passion story.

I’d like to just suggest to you today a schedule of possible readings and activities to do with your young children. You are the best judge about what age is appropriate to participate, but I think you can start younger than you probably imagine.

Each day will have four primary activities:

1.            Create a timeline and put it on the child’s wall or in a place where you do activities. These can be a sheet of paper for each day, or, if you can easily find it, a roll of paper that you can write/draw on.

2..           Read the story from the Bible, if appropriate. You can try the Children’s Bible version or some other easy-to-read version. You also can substitute a storybook version if the children are very young, but use the real Bible if at all possible.

3.            Have your child draw a picture to go with the story that they heard. Talk to them about their picture, letting them explain it to you.  Listen, don’t talk too much.

4.            Do the suggested craft or activity with your child/children and be sure to connect it to the story for the day.

I’ve arranged this so that you can start on Monday, even though the triumphal entry was on Sunday. This will give us an activity to do on Wednesday which was a day of retreat for Jesus.  I hope this adjustment doesn’t bother you. We will keep the timeline we make accurate.

Day Story/Scripture Activity
Sun Entry into Jerusalem  /Matthew 21:1-11 Child should sense joy—doing things that make God happy. Cut branches/tall grasses/have one parent be the donkey and let the child ride while the other parent or other children wave the branches.
Mon Cleansing of the temple/Matt. 21:12-17 Help child understand that Jesus was mad about people disobeying God, but he was not trying to hurt the people! Set up tv trays with coins or other objects “for sale” and let the child go through and knock them over.
Tues Widows Two Mites  /Luke 21:1-4 Your child can learn early to give “all” because you gave them to him/her. Give your child two pennies. You or other children then should drop 10+ pennies into a jar. Your child drops 2 and then you ask who gave more!
Wed (This happened Tues. night, which is Wed on Jewish time. Judas Betrays Jesus for 30 pieces of silver/ Matt. 26:1-5 & 26:14-16 Not only are you telling the story but you are teaching your child that money takes its moral value from how it is used, not how much one has. Bring out the two pennies from yesterday and then bring out 30 dimes or 30 quarters and put them in a sack or bag of some kind. Then ask the child which money was used for good and which for bad.
Thurs Last Supper /Luke 22:7-38  You can talk about how much Jesus loved his disciples. Eating together should be happy, but the one empty chair should be ominous, not mysterious.  Jesus knows what Judas is going to do. Find a recipe on internet and bake unleavened bread together.  If you want, get grape juice and have a little meal together—but leave one chair empty. One of Jesus’ friends with 30 pieces of silver got up and left—what is he going to do?
Friday Crucifixion / Matt. 27:33-50 What you are wanting to convey here is the sadness, not the grimness of Jesus’death. This is tricky and depends on your child/children. I suggest you find a small room which you darken as much as possible, then  light six long-life candles. Take the child in each hr and put out one candle. When the last candle goes out, explain that Jesus died—and it was dark!
Saturday Jesus was buried on Friday, but was in the tomb all day Saturday. The Tomb   John 19:30-42 Just make the point that Jesus was dead and in the grave just like all the dead people in the visited cemetery. Nobody really expected what was going to happen. It would be great to go to a graveyard and just walk for a while, reading what is on the tombstones. No need to make it heavier than the child will.
Sunday Resurrection/  John 20:1-18 Your goal is to create excitement that Jesus is not dead. He is alive! If possible, use the previous room that went dark. Just as the child wakes up on Easter morning, take him/her into the room, bright with sunlight and, if possible, lots of lit candles!

Even if you don’t use these exact activities, perhaps they will spark some ideas. I’d love to hear your ideas for sharing the Easter story with young children.  Let’s pool our ideas and reclaim Easter for Jesus!

This is a repost from 2011, but many new readers will be seeing it for the first time. 

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