While we celebrate Easter on a certain Sunday, it is just the beginning of the liturgical season known as Eastertide, which is 50 days long sharing the time between Easter and Pentecost, when we celebrate the Holy Spirit coming down in Acts and the Church beginning.
Easter isn’t over.
So why do we rush through Easter so quickly? What do we miss by only celebrating the empty tomb for one day?
What is interesting is that some faith traditions didn’t even celebrate Easter Sunday for a long time because they felt that every Sunday and everyday should be as if we were celebrating the empty tomb. I think that this is in interesting way to think about it, but there is something I love about the liturgical flow of the year. We begin with Advent where we expectantly await the coming of the Savoir, and then we celebrate the birth of Jesus on Christmas for 12 days, which leads us to the season of Epiphany, where we celebrate the revealing of who this Christ child is. Shortly after that we enter into the season of Lent, where we empty our lives to create space for God and prepare for what God is calling us to. At the end of Lent, we observe Holy week- a time where we walk with Christ from shouting “Hosanna!” to only a few days later shouts of “Crucify Him.” And at Good Friday, Jesus is Crucified. But three days later, HE IS RISEN! It is Easter and nothing will ever be the same.
And this is the Season we find ourselves, in the Season of Easter where we are both incredibly joyful and also confused by this resurrection.
The original ending of the Gospel of Mark, which is believed to be the first of the gospels written, ends abruptly. We find the angels speaking to the women who discovered the empty tomb: ‘”Go, tell [Jesus’] disciples, especially Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.’ Overcome with terror and dread, they fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (Mark 16:7-8)
When you go and look this up, you will probably see other verses after this, many scholars have found that these later verses were added many years after the gospel of Mark was written because people were not comfortable with this ending. So there are actually two different endings you might find in your Bible.
But what if this is how everything ended? What if it was all just too much, too crazy, too scary for people to share, and everyone said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid?
I think this is the tension that we should find ourselves in the Eastertide, the tension of the empty tomb before the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
In this tension, we wrestle with fear, we wrestle with “Is Jesus who he said he was?,” we wrestle with doubts and confusion, but also we wrestle with hope.
This tension leads us to gather with others who are also wrestling, to share stories, to share hopes, and to walk with us in our fears. In this season, the idea of holy community is born. And it is out of this holy community that the Holy Spirit works to birth the Church.
So if we continue to celebrate the empty tomb, we also continue to wrestle with this tension.
What are you wrestling with? What tensions exist in your life? What doubts do you have?
Have you ever been a part of a really intense situation where the tension built up to a point where something had to happen? Walking with people through situations like this, I often find that laughter and joy is the result of the broken tension; and this is also part of Eastertide.
JESUS IS STILL RISEN, but the world is still broken. This is the tension we live with.
May we live in this tension being bearers of hope who fight our fears and share the joy of the empty tomb.
So, today we find ourselves on Tuesday of Holy Week.
It is one of the most amazing, dramatic and emotional weeks in the liturgical calendar. Often times, we rush to the resurrection and miss out on the journey that brought us there. Let us walk through it now..
PALM SUNDAY (Luke 19:28-40)
Holy week starts off with a celebration and parade into the Holy City, Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey as a conquering hero with crowds cheering him on all the way. This scene is in direct opposition to the Roman Empire of the day. The crowd believed that this was the moment when Jesus was to overthrow Rome and bring about God’s rule. With shouts of “Hosanna!” meaning “Save us now!” the crowds believed that this was the big moment everyone was awaiting from the Savoir.
Have you ever been part of a crowd that was excited about something, that ended up not happening? Maybe a sports team or election? How did it feel for what you had hoped to not happen?
HOLY MONDAY (John 12:1-11)
Here we find a story that both celebrates who Jesus is and what he will have to go through. It hints to us that just as Lazarus was raised from the dead, so Jesus might be too, but resurrection can only happen if death happens first.
Have you ever had a known you were going to go through something that would be difficult? How did you live differently because of it?
HOLY TUESDAY (John 12:20-36)
Here we see a crowd addressing Jesus with confusion. You see, it was believed that the Messiah would live forever and reign forever. "We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?"(v. 34) Even though Jesus has said many times that he must die, many were confused because of this belief. He reminds them that it is through death that true life might be found. “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (v. 25)
What might need to “die” in your life so that you might find new life in Christ?
HOLY WEDNESDAY (John 13:21-32)
It is here that we find out that Jesus knows not only what is to come, but who is going to start the wheels moving. Can you imagine what it would be like to be betrayed by a close friend? Have you ever been? It seems like Jesus isn’t angry at Judas, as if he knows Judas is being put up to this by something else.
Can you imagine forgiving the one who has betrayed you? Do you think Jesus forgives Judas?
MAUNDY THURSDAY (John 13:1-17, 31b-35)
Maundy is believed to come from the Latin word “Mandatum” meaning mandate or command reminding us of Jesus’ mandate to love and serve each other as he has loved us. Here we find where Jesus reminds his disciples one last time of our call to serve when he washes their feet. This is also a place where we are reminded of Christ at the last supper, offering himself for us and the world, mandating: “Do this in remembrance of me.”
How do you live out this commandment to love as we have been loved? How could you take steps to do this better?
TENEBRAE or GOOD FRIDAY (John 18:1-19:42)
Tenebrae is Latin for “Shadows.” Good Friday is a day of shadow and darkness. It is on this day that we walk through the last words and moments of Christ before his death. Can you imagine what it would be like to be at this scene not knowing what was to come in the following days? Darkness and shadow is a perfect description.
What is the darkest time you have had in your life? How did it feel? Where did you find hope? Have you?
HOLY SATURDAY (John 19:38-42)
On this day, which I think could be called Silent Saturday; is a day of fasting, even from words, as we still sit in the darkness but await and hope for what is to come. Imagine if you were there on the day after Jesus was Crucified. He was the One, right? Why didn’t he save us? Was he the one? So many questions…so much shock…silence.
What if we didn’t know that Sunday was coming? What would change?
EASTER SUNDAY! (Luke 24:1-12)
What?!?! Did you hear?! They said he was not there! The tomb is empty!!! What does this mean? How can it be? Christ is Risen!!!!
After going through the whole week, how much more does the empty tomb mean to you? After seeing the love, the truly selfless love, after the confusion and darkness, there is HOPE!
THERE IS HOPE AND THERE WILL ALWAYS BE HOPE, FOREVER AND EVER, AMEN!
It is too easy to skip to the end of the story, but it doesn’t mean as much unless we walk with Jesus through Holy Week.
How does resurrection mean more after you have walked through darkness into light? How can you share this with others?
May we all walk through Holy Week in a way that we might realize the amazing impact of the empty tomb.
My Lenten promise this year is to write more about the things that I have personally and/or seen a lot of people wresting with. Each week I will be writing a post on one of these topics.
Today I wanted to share something that has been stirring inside me for a while now.
GRACE and MERCY.
Now in the Christian circles, these two words are used a lot, and in most cases I have observed are used almost interchangeably. The reason I am wrestling with is that I think that they have one big difference that changes everything.
To start, I am going to define my terms so you know where I am coming from.
MERCY is an unearned and undeserved forgiveness that comes from God.
GRACE is an unearned and undeserved gift that comes from God.
Did you catch the difference? It is subtle but matters.
Mercy is forgiveness, grace is a gift.
Now, let me stop here and say that I believe that God offers both to everyone, but I think one or the other must be the foundational to a Christian belief system.
If Mercy is foundational, it starts with the understanding that we have done something that we need forgiveness from. We have messed up, but God stepped in through Christ and showed us mercy.
Now, while I believe that mercy is important, if it is our foundation it has its problems.
When Mercy is foundational we start with the premise that we are all bad people, we have to. When we do this the focus of our theology and practices are based on the idea that we must point out to everyone how bad they are in order to point them to how good God is.
It is very possible that this is the tradition you were raised in or have experienced. While none of this is bad in and of itself, what it does more often than not is create a sort of guilt Christianity where, even when we experience God’s mercy we always feel that we are bad and in need of saving and often never move beyond it on towards perfection.
So, what happens if Grace is our foundation?
First, Grace starts with the assumption that we are all created in the image of God, the Imago Dei. We get this from the creation story: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth.’ God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them.” – Genesis 1:26-27 (CEB)
Being created in the image of God is foundational to not only Christianity, but also Judaism and Islam. Whereas Mercy almost states that we are created in the image of sin and brokenness; grace says that we are first given the gift of grace through life and we are created “very good.”
If we start with this foundation of Grace then we can better understand that sin enters the story and blurs this image; but never erases it. God’s fingerprints are always and will always be on our lives, as Methodists we understand this at prevenient grace or the grace that is before we make any faith choices.
God makes the first step, always.
A foundation of Mercy is based on the idea that we are broken
A foundation of Grace is based on the idea that we are all created in God’s image.
A foundation of Mercy leaves us feeling like we will never be good enough
A foundation of Grace tells us from the beginning that God made us good enough.
One final thought about a foundation of Grace and Mercy. I believe that both are important and needed in a faithful life, but when we are founded in grace we are able move beyond our sin and into a life to the fullest. I believe that God wants us to do this, and Jesus says it over and over that he is the way to life and that he came to bring life to the fullest.
If we start with a foundation of grace and understanding that we are created in God’s image, we will be freed from being stuck to the hold of the guilt of sin and more open to turn our hearts to God.
Ash Wednesday is tomorrow, and many are thinking about the start of season of Lent. Honestly, sometimes it seems as if there is just a lot of confusion on the whole season.
I just wanted to take a second and share a little as to why I think the season of Lent matters for us today.
The Season of Lent is the preparatory season leading up to the celebration of Easter, much like Advent is the preparatory season leading to Christmas. But, where Advent might be likened to cleaning your house for a special house guest; Lent is more like a life yard sale where we dig through the mess and make space for God in our lives.
Lent is the 40 days, 46 with Sundays, in which we are called to work through the boxes of stuff in our lives that normally we might just shove in the attic. In these 40 days, we remember the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness fasting and praying in preparation for the start of his ministry. Likewise, we are called to upon to fast or take up something in our lives that will help us remember this time. This giving up or taking up should be something that impacts us every day, even several times a day, in order for us to turn our lives more towards God.
My friend Tyler has started a great hashtag for this season #makelenthurtagain I think this is both hilarious and makes a great point. The season of Lent is supposed to hurt a little. It calls us to a place where we have to deal with our stuff in the attic, lay these things before God and take up our cross.
Lent matters today because is it gives us an annual time to deal with the mess of life. I don't know about you but it seems like I am always so busy that I just don't have time to process and work through the messy parts of life.
Much like a yard sale, if we truly engage in the season of Lent, we will bring down the proverbial boxes collecting dust in our soul's attic and work through the stuff in them. While this is hard work, and will bring up good and bad stories, Christ will be present in the wilderness; walking with us.
If we can work through the mess, we will find we can have a yard sale of the soul and get rid of the stuff we have been holding onto for so long. We can be released from the bondage of our own mess and find freedom and life in Christ through the season of Lent.
And, if we can do that, then Easter will truly be a celebration of resurrection, which is why Lent matters. Because without the wilderness and cross; the empty tomb loses it's luster.
Yet even now, says the Lord,
return to me with all your hearts,
with fasting, with weeping, and with sorrow;
Tear your hearts
and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is merciful and compassionate,
very patient, full of faithful love,
and ready to forgive.
Who knows whether he will have a change of heart
and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain offering and a drink offering
for the Lord your God?
So, what boxes do you need to work through this season?
I don't know about you, but my life is busy and crazy, and quite frankly, I am done with it.
In our culture today, we have even glorified being busy. "How are you doing?" Busy "Well, that's good."
Are we called to be busy?
I think what I am missing is a rhythm, a heart beat to my life. Something that drives the ebs and flows in a more focused and patterned way.
The cool thing is that a rhythm of life already exists in our faith. I will lift up just two major ones here: Spiritual Practices and the Liturgical Calendar.
In many mainline churches the liturgical calendar is an annual rhythm. Each year we celebrate the new year, four Sundays before Christmas, on the first week of the Season of Advent; the season we find ourselves in now.
In the season of Advent, we are expectantly awaiting the coming of the Christ, not only the baby in the manger on Christmas day, but also awaiting the return of Christ again. It is in the tension of these two advents that we find ourselves; "the already and not yet"; Christ has come and Christ will come again.
I like to equate the Season of Advent to cleaning your house for a special guest. When I clean house, I usually ask these questions:
What things do I need to keep?
What things do I need to reorganize?
And what things do I need to give away?
Might we use these questions to guide us in the this season so that we will be more open to the rhythm of God's story in us and around us.
These are simple but profound ways that we can engage in a rhythm for our days and weeks. These can be as simple as taking a deep breath in the morning and offering a simple thank you prayer for life to God. These practices can also be as involved as long periods of time in silence and reflection.
Here is the intro video from a series we are doing called "Living Liturgically"
You can find the whole series HERE
Within the Liturgical Calendar and Spiritual practices, I know we can find our holy rhythm again.
Will you join me in this new year?