He is Risen! Risen Indeed!

what is easter, easter meaning

As Christians celebrate Easter, it’s important to remember that Easter is the fundamental truth upon which Christianity rests. As such, we Christians should be Easter Christians daily, and not rest upon one day a year to celebrate our hope and salvation. Many have suffered losses worldwide during the Covid pandemic, especially losses of loved ones. Our strength lies in the blessed hope we shall see them once again in the earth made new, and Easter emboldens that hope.

At Easter time, I perennially share the beautiful N.T. Wright quote from his book “Surprised by Hope” for it inspires a true re-examination of the way we celebrate Easter.

“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?”

A beautiful poem, Easter Us, by renowned Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann is attached. Click here to view.

Blessings to all this glorious Easter!

ct

Good Friday – 2021 – Time to Reflect


It’s Covid Good Friday again. So many of us have been through the terrible scourge of pain, deprivation, lack of family contact, death of friends, and all the other disturbances that have marked our year plus of Covid. As we journey through Good Friday, it is important to reminisce about the terrible exile we’ve endured this past year as we contemplate the exile from the Father Jesus endured on our behalf.

Exile
(Poem by Walter Brueggemann from Prayers for a Privileged People)

Like the ancients, we know about ashes,
and smoldering ruins,
and collapse of dreams,
and loss of treasure,
and failed faith,
and dislocation,
and anxiety, and anger, and self-pity.
For we have watched the certitude and
entitlements
of our world evaporate.

Like the ancients, we are a
mix of perpetrators,
knowing that we have brought this on
ourselves, and a
mix of victims,
assaulted by others who rage against us.

Like the ancients, we weep in honesty
at a world lost
and the dread silence of your absence.
We know and keep busy in denial,
but we know.

Like the ancients, we refuse the ashes,
and watch for newness.
Like them, we ask,
“Can these bones live?”

Like the ancients, we ask,
“Is the hand of the Lord shortened,
that the Lord cannot save?”

Like the ancients, we ask,
“Will you at this time restore what was?”

And then we wait:
We wait through the crackling of fire,
the smash of buildings,
and the mounting body count,
and the failed fabric of
medicine and justice and education.
We wait in a land of strangeness,
but there we sing, songs of sadness,
songs of absence,
belatedly songs of praise,
acts of hope,
gestures of Easter,
gifts you have yet to give.

Paperback

Kindle

Great Pandemic Read for Christians & Free Class!

This powerful book by noted biblical scholar N.T. Wright, offers help for Christians thinking through their reactions and responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. By reflecting on scripture, prayer, and teaching from Jesus’ life, Wright offers help for Christians to think differently about disaster and their reaction to it. Unfortunately, the pandemic has divided many Christians and pulled them out of the arc of their spiritual progress.

Studying this book can help you answer these questions:

  • What should be the Christian response?
  • How should we think about God?
  • How do we live in the present?
  • Why should we lament?
  • What should we learn about ourselves?
  • How do we recover?

Free Zoom study class of God and the Pandemic
I am prepared to lead a class in a study of this wonderful volume. If you would like to study this slim book in a group format using Zoom remote meeting software, email your name and phone number to me at churchvisits@gmail.com. You will receive confirmation, study dates, and access information. If you do not have a copy of this valuable book, you can order it in Amazon Kindle or Paperback form. Links to do so are provided below. Just click on the format you would like. You will need the book in order to start the class.

Paperback Version

I look forward to this journey together!

ct

Kindle Version

Twitter Users Post “Give-ups” for Lent 2021-How Do You Compare?

source: https://www.openbible.info/labs/lent-tracker/2021

It’s always intriguing to view what Twitter users report what they are giving up for Lent each year. To my way of thinking, it’s foolish to think of giving up so many of these popular items as a way of penance and focusing on a Lenten journey. Many conflate Lenten give-ups with doing right for the sake of a spiritual experience.

For example, what good does it do to give up lying, hate, smoking, stress, sleep, power, and junk for the 40 days of Lent, when you will likely resume them after Easter.

The entire list of give ups is HERE, thanks to the Open Bible folks.

One rarely hears of taking up a new, encouraging habit during Lent, but my attention was drawn to one denomination’s practice which gives Lent a refreshing direction.

UMC Photo-a-Day
The United Methodist Church (UMC) has created a daily photo. Their website describes this project.

“Will you join this photo-a-day challenge and share with the community how you perceive each word of the day? No explanation needed. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. Tag us on your Instagram or on Twitter with #rethinkchurch. 

You don’t have to be a great photographer. This project is more about the practice of paying attention and being intentional. If you don’t have Instagram or Twitter, we’d still love for you to share your photos. Just share them on your Facebook page and tag us, or post them on our Facebook wall, in the comment section for each day.

Need a daily reminder? We’ll share them every morning on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Let’s start this 40-day journey together, sharing glimpses of our lives with one another. Let this be an intentional time, even for a few minutes a day, to pause, remember and reflect.

https://www.umc.org/en/content/lent-photo-a-day-2021

I applaud this approach and look forward to seeing what results from it.

ct

Ash Wednesday Reflection

Remember You Are Dust – Cross Ashes
Linda Russo

Ash Wednesday, Unshowered
by
Anya Krugovoy Silver

My hair’s pulled back to disguise the grime,
though maybe it’s well that I’m unclean,
since from dust you came, to dust you will return,
the priest recites, smearing my forehead.
Once, twice, and I’m marked, a lintel in plague years.
I’m invited to kneel and read the fifty-first Psalm,
recalling how David watched Bathsheba bathe.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Merciful one, save me from slight repentance.
I pierced the center of the white orchid, Lord,
and it was mud, blood’s cry, my body’s blighted tender.

Courtesy of Image Journal, Issue 88

ct

Lent 2021 – What Next in the Year of COVID?

Photo by Annika Gordon on Unsplash

Tomorrow, February 17, 2021, is the start of the season of Lent for non-Orthodox Christians. However, according to research, 76% of Americans do not observe Lent. However, 61% of Catholics, 28% of Evangelicals, and 20% of Protestants do.

Lent is traditional started with the giving the mark of the cross in ashes on ones forehead, tomorrow, Ash Wednesday. This starts a six-week season to prepare oneself for Easter Sunday. Many of these give up something during the period, such as food or activities. Food tops the list of give-ups.

The last year has been extremely difficult for many Christians, and it is difficult to imagine extending this period of suffering for another six-weeks. However, I suggest it is a great time to focus on the value of life. The overall direction of Lent is to reimagine the last days of Jesus, and prepare one’s heart to celebrate the joy of the salvation he brings to all. As churches begin to cautiously open to offer ashes, and meet in smaller capacities, this is also a time to celebrate that things are beginning to improve.

However, it’s also wise to keep in mind that the golden rule should be our guide. I can’t imagine any Christian who would knowingly treat their neighbor less than theirself.

An internet search using the terms “Ash Wednesday Services Anchorage” will reveal a large number of congregations offering in-person or in-car ashes.

Lenten blessings to my readers.

ct

Evensong Selections by Keith & Kristyn Getty Available to Watch, Courtesy of Getty Music & Christianbook.com

In the ancient tradition of Evensong, the church lifts its eyes from a troubled day and turns its heart to face the Lord in worship. The Evensong project by award-winning musicians Keith and Kristyn Getty is an echo of that precious tradition, born from the thoughts and conversations, prayers and songs that fill their home, particularly when the sun goes down. We pray that this special presentation with an exciting selection from the Evensong concert will help you feel the peace of Christ wherever you are.

Click here to access. https://www.revelationmedia.com/evensong/RM13498/

ct

The Power of Lament During the Coronavirus Pandemic

As we approach 2021, we are recovering from significant amounts of celebration during Christmas. Praise and celebration certainly have a rightful place in the Christian life, but during the pandemic, too much of the wrong kind of celebration is driving rates of infection through the roof. As mentioned in a recent post, lament is not much considered in the average Christian’s life. However, in perspective, one-third of the Psalms are focused on lament. I discovered a beautiful prayer of lament on the rzim.org website today to draw focus to the beauty of presenting lament to our creator.

A Prayer of Lament over the Coronavirus Pandemic
Trina Doffelmyer

Hear our cry, Almighty God. Listen to our prayer. How long will we have to hide in our homes from this invisible enemy? Where will it strike next? And whom? And what if…? Our screens relay a continuous escalation of suffering and death around the world. Panic and anxiety abounds. Our souls are weary from the strain of the life-altering unknowns.

Heavenly Father, from the depths of our pain and confusion, we cry out to You. From fear-filled hearts and anxious minds, we plead with You. Rescue us, Father of compassion and grace. We lift up our eyes to You, Lord God, the One who sits enthroned in heaven.

On all who have contracted the virus

Lord have mercy

On all who have lost loved ones to this sickness and are in mourning and anguish

Lord have mercy

On all who are unable to earn an income because their jobs have been suspended

Lord have mercy

We cry out for healing and needed resources

We cry out for comfort and peace

On all medical professionals and caretakers attending to those infected with the virus

Christ have mercy

On all scientists and technologists striving to find a vaccine and to make it available

Christ have mercy

On all leaders of institutions and governments as they make decisions to try and contain the virus

Christ have mercy

We pray for strength in the long and exhausting hours of labor

We pray for wisdom in the research and difficult decisions

On all who have not yet contracted the virus

Lord have mercy

On the most vulnerable of our society who are unable to buy extra food or get proper medical attention

Lord have mercy

On all disciples of Jesus Christ discerning how to reflect His love to others within this crisis

Lord have mercy

We plead for protection of health

We plead for all to remain calm and kind

The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the expanse of the universe. And yet this earth is no longer as You created it to be. Holy Father, our earth groans from the devastation caused by the curse of the Fall. My God, Your Word is true. One day You will liberate creation from its bondage to decay and death.

Life is sacred and precious in your sight. You are the God Who sees us and sustains us.Nothing can separate us from the Father’s unfailing love and kindness, not even sickness or the fear of tomorrow. You are our Light as we walk in this darkness. We will remember to celebrate the beautiful gifts You have given us in this present moment.

Almighty God, You are our Rock, our Refuge from the enemy, our hiding place.

You calm our frantic thoughts and fill our despairing hearts with joy and strength.

In Your Presence living water springs forth in the wilderness.

You restore our souls.

*Please note: this prayer may also be personalized by using “I” and “my” instead of “we” and “our.”

ct

Anchorage Christmas 2020 Is Here – Be Covid Careful!

A quick Google search using the search phrase, “Christmas services Anchorage 2020” yields many choices. Many services show as live services which is worrying. Since early on during the Covid pandemic, churches have demonstrated live services often become super spreader events. Unfortunately, many have died as a result. During His ministry, Jesus, responding to a question, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”, stated, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.’ 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40 NIV

I applaud those local churches who are streaming their services this Christmas, providing a safe haven for the celebration of Christmas. These are not times to be complacent. In a December 20, 2020 New Yorker article Michael Luo writes, “Many churches, particularly conservative ones, fought lockdown orders and rebuffed public-health warnings about large indoor gatherings. The virus has swept through houses of worship across the country. In the end, the lasting image of the Church in the pandemic may very well be that of an unmasked choir at First Baptist Church, in Dallas, led by the pastor Robert Jeffress, a staunch Trump supporter, singing in front of Vice-President Mike Pence at a “Freedom Sunday” service, as the county where the church is located reported a record high for covid-19 cases.”

In his most recent book, God and the Pandemic, noted theologian N.T. Wright, urges Christians to consider lament as an appropriate response to the pandemic.
He succinctly writes, “I have urged that we should embrace lament as the vital initial Christian response to this pandemic. Roughly one-third of the Psalms are lamenting that things are not as they should be. The words they use are words of complaint: of question, sorrow, anger and frustration and, often enough, bitterness.

They are all part of the prayer-book of Jesus himself, and the New Testament draws freely on them to express not only our own laments but the way of Jesus too. The Lord’s Prayer is our ‘norm’. Are we looking for sudden signs of the End? No: we pray every day, ‘Thy Kingdom Come on earth as in heaven’, and we know that prayer will be answered because of what we know about Jesus. Are we looking for fresh, sudden calls to repent? No: we pray every day, ‘Forgive us our Trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ We know that prayer will be answered, because of what we know about Jesus. Are we then looking for fresh reasons to leave our comfortable lifestyles and tell our neighbours the good news? Well, shame on us if it takes a pandemic to get us to that point. Why wasn’t Jesus’ command enough? ‘As the father sent me, so I’m sending you’; ‘Go and make all nations into disciples’. God and the Pandemic (p. 52). Zondervan.

I wish each of my readers wonderful days of celebration in honor of the Advent’s wonderful event, the coming of the King.

ct

New Service at St. Mary’s Episcopal Replaces “Blue Christmas” -Tonight, December 17, 2020 8:00-8:45 p.m. (UPDATED)

UPDATE:
I attended this online service and found it to be a great gathering! For online Zoom attendees, it was interesting to see each participant and attendee. In many respects this service seemed more personal than in previous years. St. Mary’s is commended to have presented this traditional service in an updated, and enlarged Advent form, while respecting Covid meetings concerns. I found it to be very assuring service for the Advent season.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, an active and vibrant congregation in Anchorage, is transitioning to a new and different format this year, enlarging their emphasis upon the traditional Blue Christmas service held in December.

“We have been been doing online services of Hope, Health, and Healing each month during the pandemic, and this is a continuation of that”, explains St. Mary’s Rector Michael Burke.  “The past year has brought us deep issues of grieving and loss, loss of our usual patterns of work and gathering, loss of loved ones, and loss of connection with one another.  This service gives us a place to come together in God’s holy presence.”

I’ve attended and written about several Blue Christmas services locally, such as https://www.churchvisits.com/2017/12/not-feeling-holiday-cheer-maybe-a-blue-christmas-or-longest-night-service-is-for-you/, but believe St. Mary’s, especially this year, is on the right track.

To attend this service virtually, just click here https://godsview.zoom.us/j/97258355536 to join this special service.

ct