Monthly Archives: April 2017

Easter 2017 is Here!

It’s time to rejoice.

Easter has finally arrived with great joy for Christendom. Many Christians have trudged their way through Lent, thinking about the last days of Jesus and reflecting upon the life lived in the light of the knowledge of our Lord and Savior.

As you read this, many Orthodox Christians will have already celebrated Pascha at the midnight hour with great rejoicing. I experienced Pascha last year through the eyes of two Orthodox congregations. It was a real blessing to participate in their joy as the resurrection of Jesus was loudly proclaimed.  My ADN column of those experiences can be seen here. (see http://www.churchvisits.com/2016/05/reflections-on-orthodox-easter/)

Different faiths have different expressions of Easter joy. I enjoy experiencing them first hand to get a better understanding on how theologically accurate they are. In many congregations, Easter bunnies, Easter eggs, and frivolities are the centerpiece instead of Jesus Christ, Him crucified, buried, and resurrected. Skeptics rejoice to see such nonsense supported by those types of churches observing that nonsense.  We live in a different world, some would say, a post-Christian world. More than ever Christians should rejoice in the purity of our message of hope.

For many of my Church Visits writing years I’ve loved repeating a fantastic Wright quote from his book “Surprised by Hope” as it inspires a true re-examination of the way we celebrate. “Easter week itself ought not to be the time when all the clergy sigh with relief and go on holiday,” Wright says, “It ought to be an eight-day festival, with champagne served after morning prayer or even before, with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom?”

I conclude with theologian Walter Brueggemann’s Easter poem.

An Easter Prayer
…On our own, we conclude:
that there is not enough to go around
we are going to run short

of money
of love
of grades
of publications
of sex
of beer
of members
of years
of life

we should seize the day…
seize the goods…
seize our neighbor’s goods
because there is not enough to go around
and in the midst of our perceived deficit;

You come
You come giving bread in the wilderness
You come giving children at the 11th hour
You come giving homes to the exiles
You come giving futures to the shut-down
You come giving Easter joy to the dead
You come … fleshed … in Jesus

And we watch while
the blind receive their sight
the lame walk
the lepers are cleansed
the deaf hear
the dead are raised
the poor dance and sing.

We watch … and we take

food we did not grow and
life we did not invent and
future that is gift and gift and gift and
families and neighbors who sustain us
when we do not deserve it.

It dawns on us, late rather than soon, that
You give food in due season
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.

By your giving,
break our cycles of imagined scarcity
override our presumed deficits
quiet our anxieties of lack
transform our perceptual field to see
the abundance…mercy upon mercy
blessing upon blessing.

Sink your generosity deep into our lives

that your much-ness may expose our false lack
that endlessly receiving, we may endlessly give,

so that the world may be made Easter new,
without greedy lack, but only wonder
without coercive need, but only love
without destructive greed, but only praise
without aggression and evasiveness…
all things Easter new…

all around us, toward us and by us
all things Easter new.

Finish your creation…
in wonder, love and praise. Amen.

To all my readers, Happy Easter…He is Risen!

Good Friday has Arrived

For many Christians, Lent has been a lengthy time of reflection as the season of Lent annually provides. Last Sunday, Palm Sunday, I visited Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church for their 11 a.m. contemporary service.  The service, which I’ll recount in a future article, was attended by warm greetings, beautiful music, and inspiring preaching. Although there was not palm waving, there were palms. For me, it ushered in Holy Week beautifully.

Good Friday is a solemn day for many Christians, in that it commemorates the death of Jesus. Many churches will be conducting Good Friday services, traditionally at noon, but often in the late afternoon or early evening to accommodate workers.

I’ll be attending Good Friday services at First Christian Church of Anchorage (Disciples of Christ). They’ve asked me to present my versions of two older hymns but set to new music. Their service commences at 6 p.m. if you have no church option. This is a warm and friendly church. I enjoy their fellowship.

Blessings to you as this important weekend begins.

Lent Drawing to a Close

As Lent draws to a close, I’ve had a chance to reflect on its value to the Christian life. For me it has offered a time of personal introspection, something I don’t do enough of.  Ash Wednesday’s reminder of “Remember that dust you are, and to dust you shall return,” based on Genesis 3:19, are sobering words, not easily ignored. Ongoing events in my life are constantly reminding me of my mortality. Lent provided the proper framework to let it all sink in.  Maybe the same is true for you.

I’ve been blessed, as I wrote last week, by participating in a single church’s Lenten soup suppers and talks on Wednesday evening. St. Mary’s Episcopal Church offered great soup, incredible Christian fellowship, and meaningful talks. Last night, Rector Michael Burke concluded these Lenten evenings with a history-based talk about the meaning of Holy Week and the various days observed during it.  He began with a discussion centering around a handout relating to the liturgical calendar of the church year.  The various cleansing ceremonies in the early church were then explained including full immersion baptism after one learned more about the faith for three years.  Candidates renounced their sin, fears, and the evil powers of this world, and were immersed three times. This was done once a year at the time our current Easter falls. Rector Michael mentioned he tries to do the same at St. Mary’s each year, and if possible to lead the congregation in a renewal of their baptismal vows.

Burke concluded this informative time with the Eucharist. Using the rudimentary service contained in the didache, a brief anonymous early Christian treatise dated to the first century, we shared the bread and wine around the circle, a most meaningful experience.

A pastor friend introduced me to Rev Dr Jill F Bradway, First American Baptist Church’s new pastor, explaining she introduced her congregation to Lent starting with Ash Wednesday. She describes her experience with it at her church.

“I’ve been in Anchorage for 5 weeks. I came right at the beginning of the Lenten season. It has been a new experience for the congregation. I hope more will choose to make the journey next year.

“Lent isn’t something that most Baptists observe. We wake up to the season around Holy Week, celebrating Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter! And as wonderful as that is, it misses the opportunity to enter more intentionally into the disciplines of prayer, self-reflection, and repentance.

“While a Master of Divinity student at Colgate Rochester Divinity School, I saw my Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Episcopal counterparts participating in Lenten exercises. It made ask myself the question, “What do they know that I don’t?” And so, I began to ask questions of them, to observe their special services, and finally to look at Baptist polity to see if there was anything to keep me from adopting these practices into my own life and ministry. Expanding my understanding to include the significance of Lent has added an unexpected richness to my spiritual journey.

Many more Baptists and other evangelicals are exploring Lent and its meaning in the Christian walk. I wish Rev. Bradway and her congregation well as they do their own personal exploration. This year, Ash Wednesday at St. John United Methodist Church was my Lenten beginning. Many Anchorage churches have ushered this poor soul into the meaning of Lent for which I am truly grateful.