Holy Days

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Yesterday was a special day.  It was our anniversary…of sorts.  Three years ago, yesterday, I was wheeled into surgery to remove a brain tumor.  It is, ironically, a day of which I remember very little…yet it is a day that I will never forget and a day that redefined my life and relationships forever.

Our lifespans are each filled with many special days.  Days of discovering a terrible illness, surgeries, births, deaths, and weddings.  If that weren’t enough we often find ourselves commemorating these special days year-after-year.  Yet, our lives are not only made up of “special days.”  A birth of a child is special, sure, but so is the next day as you hold that child or watch a grandparent hold the child for the first time.  A lost tooth, first crush, first day behind the wheel:  these special days begin to grow together.  We begin to realize that every moment of life is a celebration of that first breath and how we live our lives will give meaning when we come to our last breath.

The same is true of Christ.  His Easter resurrection could not have been without the last breath of Good Friday.  Good Friday’s meaning was amplified by a triumphant re-entry into Jerusalem which we celebrate as Palm Sunday.  None of the events from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday could be celebrated without a small child born in a manger.  But these special days would not have held so much meaning without the daily work of Christ: healing, loving and community building.

Too often, I think, we focus on Easter and Christmas to the detriment of Christ’s daily works. Christ’s life was not primarily about one or two days or moments.  These special moments shaped our relationship with God, certainly.  These days were pivotal in human history, absolutely.  Yet, these times are inexorably tied to the daily life and acts of Jesus the Christ.  These “special days” lack specialness without the daily work of the Messiah.

In fact we don’t have high holy days in the Christian tradition.  Each Sunday is an equally important Holy Day because we remember not just a Jesus on a Cross but also a Jesus by a well in Samaria, healing a man at the pool of Bethsaida, raising Lazarus from the dead and calling fisherman from their nets by the sea. Each sunday celebrates the specialness of Jesus Christ on Earth:  his birth, death & resurrection, of course, but also his life of love and message of peace & justice.

I pray that as we approach each new day of faith we would model our lives after Christ:  living each day in pursuit of love, peace & justice.  That we would strive, each day, for a closer relationship with God and celebrate that relationship week-after-week on Sunday mornings!

The Easter Vigil


Meet Dr. Jim Papandrea



Dr. Papandrea is an assistant professor of Church History at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary He is also an accomplished musician and brings Church History to life as a storyteller in the classroom.  He received his BA from the University of Minnesota, his Master of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary, earned a certificate in Classiscal studies at the American Academy in Rome, and his Ph.D. from Northwestern University.  I now welcome Dr. Jim Papandrea to my blog!


Think back to some of the parables Jesus told – parables about waiting, and watching. In the parable of the ten bridesmaids, for example (Matthew, chapter 25), the wise bridesmaids were the ones who kept their lamps burning through the night, and were ready for the return of the groom. The foolish bridesmaids were the ones who fell asleep, and let their lamps go out. In parables like this one, Jesus is teaching about his own return, the so-called second coming, and encouraging all of his followers to live in readiness, and in anticipation of the time when the Groom would return to claim his bride, the Church.

This concept of watching and waiting is embodied liturgically in the vigil service. Based on the Jewish tradition that a new day begins at sundown, the first worship services for a Sunday can actually be held Saturday night. There’s something special about an evening service – coming to the close of the day, with the sky darkening to twilight – it can heighten the sense of mystery in worship. And the liturgy that is arguably the most sacred and mystical is the Easter Vigil. This is an ancient tradition in which the first celebration of Easter begins late the night before, on Holy Saturday.

But the Easter Vigil doesn’t start out with celebration. It actually begins in darkness, with a small light, that expands to many candles, including the lighting of a new paschal (Easter) candle, and finally to the brightness of Easter. An Easter Vigil can last three or four hours, beginning in the late evening on Holy Saturday, and ending around midnight. It’s long, in part because there are many Scripture readings, telling the whole story of salvation history, from creation to redemption. By the time the vigil ends, the assembly has moved from the mourning of Jesus in the tomb to the joy of resurrection (Psalm 30:11).

The Easter Vigil also includes baptisms. In the ancient rite, that still continues in some traditions, adults who wish to be baptized and join the church community have been going through a catechism class, in preparation for their initiation into the Christian life. They have been waiting, waiting until Easter, when they are “born again” in the waters of baptism. And with them, the whole congregation renews their baptismal/confirmation commitment to Christ and his Church. So the Easter Vigil is an opportunity for the Church, the bride of Christ, to renew her wedding vows to her Groom. It’s an opportunity for every believer to experience a fresh start, to turn over a new leaf (an image that goes nicely with spring!). In the ancient Church, the concept of conversion was not thought of as a one-time decision, it was seen as an ongoing process, and the yearly tradition of the Easter Vigil was everyone’s chance to be converted again, through the renewal of their baptismal vows and through the recitation of the Church’s historic creeds.

The Easter Vigil symbolizes the time of waiting. On one level, it’s the time between Friday and Sunday – when Jesus was crucified and was in the tomb, and his disciples waited for the resurrection. On another level, it’s the time between his first advent and his second coming – when we wait for his promised return. It symbolizes – and it allows us to experience – that very moment when the Church goes from mourning into joy, from darkness into light.

Whether you celebrate Easter by attending an Easter Vigil, or the traditional Sunrise Service, or the big main service with all the trumpets, don’t let this Easter go by without making a conscious effort to rededicate yourself to Christ and his Church. As you wait for him, he is waiting for you, and he wants to give you a fresh start – no matter what the past year has been like for you.

Jim Papandrea
Associate Professor of Church History, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
www.JimPapandrea.com

Photo by Scott Carnes in France
New Seasons of Life
Yes, I’m a church nerd, but I always look forward to the season of Easter.  I look forward to a great Easter Sunday morning at church, yes,  but, then, I enjoy reveling in the ‘afterglow’ of the next few weeks.  I spend those weeks looking for signs of new life, reflecting on the experience of the cross, and expecting resurrection, not just because of old stories found in the Bible, but I expect signs of resurrection in the world around me.  I suppose signs of new life are always present, but I get excited about the season of Easter because it helps me to pay attention to the amazing things God is doing in this world.  This year, though, Easter wasn’t the season I expected it to be.
This year, I found myself tired as I came to Easter because I was doing a mandated (by the United Methodist Church) internship at BroMenn Regional Medical Center along with my full-time job.  Because of my exhaustion, I didn’t really take in Easter the way I ought to have, perhaps.  More devastating, however, was the abrupt end to our pregnancy after Carrie and I suffered a miscarriage.  A season that was supposed to draw my attention to new life became a season of loss and exhaustion.
Today, as I look toward Pentecost (this Sunday) and a new church season, I realize something, suddenly:  Even though I had a difficult season…there is hope.  I have an opportunity to let go of the troubled weeks of Eastertide and celebrate the hope of a new season in my own life.
You see, professionally, as I plan worship, I will set aside the themes and scriptures of Easter and I will prepare for a new season of different scriptures, songs, and worship themes.  I guess, in my personal life, I would do well to set aside the difficulties of these past weeks and months, in a similar way, and allow myself to focus on a new season and find hope for better weeks ahead!
For me, the hope that comes in a new season is:
  • the possibility of getting pregnant, again;
  • welcoming a new pastor to my church and fostering a new friendship;
  • renewing my own body and spirit this summer with exercise, right eating, and spiritual disciplines;
  • working on my relationship with my wife that the experience of this season would help us to deepen our relationship for the next.
As we leave the Easter season, we don’t leave behind the message of Christ or hope for the future.  Likewise, as we move from one season of life to the next we should never lose sight the experiences we have had, yet we have an opportunity to look for new life and experience resurrection.  Over these next weeks, I pray that we will continue to experience Christ’s resurrection and I pray that it will draw our attention to the resurrection all around us and help us to find renewal in our own lives!
blessings,
A Season of New Life

Today’s scripture:  1 Corinthians 15:1-11


Brothers and sisters, I want to call your attention to the good news that I preached to you, which you also received and in which you stand. You are being saved through it if you hold on to the message I preached to you, unless somehow you believed it for nothing. I passed on to you as most important what I also received: Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures, he was buried, and he rose on the third day in line with the scriptures. He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve, and then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at once—most of them are still alive to this day, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me, as if I were born at the wrong time. I’m the least important of the apostles. I don’t deserve to be called an apostle, because I harassed God’s church. I am what I am by God’s grace, and God’s grace hasn’t been for nothing. In fact, I have worked harder than all the others—that is, it wasn’t me but the grace of God that is with me. So then, whether you heard the message from me or them, this is what we preach and this is what you have believed.

This message of Paul is of Resurrection and New Life.  Paul is talking about Christ’s bodily resurrection, but he is also talking about his own experience of new life.  For Paul, experiencing Christ gave him something deeply personal and connected him with God in an incredible new way.  Most importantly this inward change brought an outward change as well.  He was convicted of the message of Christian-Jews, but he also changed the way in which he lived his daily life.  In fact, he became a wholly different person.

During the Season of Easter which starts on Easter Day (March 31) and runs through Pentecost (May 18) we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ.  What does that mean?  God came to experience humanity, to experience all the facets of human-ness in order to love and be loved in a deeper way.  The experience of Easter is about experiencing God’s love in a personal way and the freeing experience of a new life in Christ.

For the remainder of the Easter Season you will hear stories of Resurrection and New Life from me and my friends through this blog.  Perhaps over the next few weeks you will be impacted in some way by the message of Christ and experience, through these writings, New Life!

Blessings,

Graphic created by Scott Carnes for First United Methodist Church, Normal, IL.  Copyright 2013

The Greatest Independence Day, Yet!

My first summer as a pastor in Pontiac, I saw a sight that just tore me into pieces.  A local church had a float in the parade with soldiers holding weapons and a cross painted as or wrapped in the flag.  Why was that troubling?  Well, in my opinion, too much nationalism can be a dangerous thing when it obscures God’s message or when it is put above God’s Word.

I am a patriot.  Absolutely.  I love that I live in this country and I want the best for this country and everyone in it…but I firmly believe that we can not let that obscure that God is above any flag and loves the people under every flag!

God is above any flag and loves the people under every flag!

The message that I read in scripture is that God loves the world and wants the best for everyone in it, not just the United States.  In fact, in history it is the times when nationalism is put above the Word of God that people are hurt.  When the Hebrew people came into the land of Caanan with more nationalism and sense of entitlement than grace of God they slaughtered everyone and took the land by force.  When Europeans put nationalism and a sense of entitlement before God’s grace a native people were ravaged, their people killed, and cultures nearly wiped out.  When Medieval religious zealots put nationalism and a sense of entitlement before God’s grace a long terrible series of “Holy” Crusades tore apart Palestine and Europe and destroyed Muslim, Christian, and Jew, alike.  If you haven’t put it together on your own, let me point out what I see:  In each of these cases (and there are many more examples) religious rhetoric was used to mask what was clearly done out of a sense of selfishness, greed, and national/cultural/ethno-centrism.  Put another way?  Nationalism and a sense of entitlement were put above God’s Word and God’s apparent desires!

So, when I come to each Fourth of July I do feel pride in our nation and I do feel patriotism…but it also reminds me that we are one nation among many and we cannot forget our place and our greatness.  Our greatness stands under God’s and our needs and desires, while important, are not more important than others.  So we can and should love our nation and support our olympians, teams, and troops…but we should do so remembering that we do not have to diminish others or God in order to feel love for our own nation and our actions as a country are not necessarily righteous.

I write this blog out of a love for this nation and because I truly hope for greatness from our country.  I believe there are great things about this country and I believe greater things are possible for us and by us…if we can focus on the sacred worth of all people and ensure that the dignity of all people is upheld…if we look to the ‘least of these’ to provide love, health, hospitality, witness, and safety…if we find creative new ways to work toward peace and God’s-justice in the world!

I am a patriot, but some of the patriotic rhetoric and imagery that confuses nationalism with religion frightens me.  Let us consider, this Fourth of July, the greatness of this nation, but also God’s work we must accomplish to make it ever greater and more grace-filled.  On this Fourth of July let us remember that our forefathers were working to find new forms of freedom and find a more perfect government…and that work, in the history of America, is an unfolding one!!!  May this be the greatest Independence Day yet as we imagine not just an already-great nation, but an even greater nation under God.

blessings this Fourth of July!

Resurrection & New Life: The Waiting Game

Meet Rev. Cynthia Wilson

Rev. Cynthia Wilson is the Dean of Students at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. The Rev.Wilson is a native of New Orleans, LA. She is an Ordained Deacon in The United Methodist Church, a graduate of Dillard University and Southern Methodist University Perkins School of Theology and studied Liturgical Studies at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.  She is a sought-after worship leader, gammy-nominated musician, and preacher and I am honored (and humbled) to have her share with us, here on my blog this Easter season!






The Waiting Game
In the workplace, from Monday through Thursday, most employees anticipate the weekend. Then finally, TGIF!! Thank God it’s Friday!! Yet, for Jesus’ followers, Friday brought with it a sense of utter dismay, rejection, abandonment and hopelessness. Jesus had promised to be with them always. Later, he would announce his departure…but had given no indication that he would be murdered… lynched! So what was so “Good” about this Friday?  And then there was Saturday! How would they get through this in-between day? Would Sunday EVER come?
According to John’s gospel (14:18), Jesus had already promised to send help in his absence; a Comforter/ Mediator, the Paraclete. However, after his departure, the disciples were to do one thing and one thing only: WAIT! Have you ever been put on hold? How do you respond when asked to hang on, holdup, take pause, be patient? It is a grueling period of time; a delay when one is expected to be on the lookout for something or someone to arrive. The disciples are instructed to wait for the Promise. What was this promise? “John was baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”(Acts 1:4)
In retrospect, we know that from Crucifixion Friday to Resurrection Sunday, the disciples stood on the threshold of a new harvest. Yet, they still had to play the waiting game. It would be 50 days after Jesus was killed at the hands of the so-called powerful elite that his followers would truly recognize how good Friday had really been, and how Saturday had actually served as a bridge to a whole new dispensation. However, THIS time there would not only be the Feast of Firstfruits: Passover. Additionally,the Promise would yield a harvest providing power for those whom Jesus had called to help establish the Christian Church. This power would help produce the ultimate crop! In conjunction with the Feast of Passover, the Feast of Pentecost would call for a new table where “creators of justice and joy” could sit together irrespective of culture, creed, race, gender, economic status, doctrine, creed, pedigree, or political persuasion. This power would radically transform the world.
The disciples finally discovered how absence and presence are intricately woven together in God’s kin-dom. It is in the waiting game that God’s conspicuous absence efficaciously reveals God’s Divine Presence in our lives.
Let’s call an eyewitness to testify: “….we also have the Firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we are saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” Rom. 8:23b-25
I don’t mind waiting……how about you?
…………to be continued!
Resurrection & New Life:  Every Moment Counts! (Video)

Scripture:  Luke 22:63-65, 23:32-38

If this was the only moment that defined Jesus Christ, we wouldn’t have any hope, but his life was not defined only by his lowest moments, but also by the high moments of his birth, life, ministry and, later, resurrection!  Christ shows us that we can look forward to new life, even in our most traumatic moments!!!

Title Image found at:  http://www.wolfiewolfgang.com/2010/11/cartwheeling-back-to-health-and.html

Resurrection & New Life: God’s Word Is Yes!

Meet Rev. Cindy Watson

Rev. Cindy Watson is the senior pastor at West Heights United Methodist Church in Wichita, Kansas.  She has served in the Kansas West conference for almost 30 years and is a graduate of St. Paul School of Theology.  She is the vice chair of Inter-Faith Ministries in Wichita and I met her as we have served together on the General Commission of Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns of the United Methodist Church.  It is good to call her a friend and welcome her to be my guest blogger today!







God’s Word Is Yes!

A few years ago there was slogan, “love is not a feeling, love is a decision”.  The whole push behind the slogan was an understanding that love takes commitment and dedication.   Falling in and out of love was easy, staying in love was a way of life that lead one to stay the course and see what a long term commitment could mean in terms of the depth of one’s relationship and life.
For Christians, Easter is the same thing  Easter is not a feeling on one Sunday a year, it is a commitment to a moment, an experience, a season.  For the early Christians Easter became a moment and a promise the end was near and the reign of God was coming.  As the days turned into weeks, the weeks into months, the months into years and the years into decades, believers had to re-imagine what Easter meant for them and for the life of the Church.
Each person who embraces the Christian faith has to come to terms with Easter.  Christmas is easy.  Who doesn’t understand the birth of a baby.  Easter, though, requires a walk through the deep ugliest humanity offers: betrayal, lies, false arrests and capital punishment.  While it is not hard to admire Jesus facing all that hatred, intolerance  and ugliness with grace, forgiveness and love, Good Friday places him in the tomb and the hope and promise of a new day seems to die with him.
Easter is a testament to God’s unwillingness to allow evil, hatred, death and intolerance to have the last word.  God’s word is Yes.  God’s word is Life!  God’s word is Love.  God’s word is Grace!   Easter can not be celebrated in a day or even a season.  Easter invites a commitment to Christ as a way of life, as a way of loving and a way of affirming that despite everything to the contrary, Good will destroy evil, Love wins over hatred and God in Christ will bring all creation into a time of peace, grace and justice.  Christ is Risen!  Christ is Risen indeed!


** “Christ is Risen” top image from:  http://bromattisafoth.wordpress.com/2012/04/08/let-the-alleluias-ring-christ-has-risen/
**Picture of Cindy Watson taken by Scott Carnes, from his archives
Resurrection & New Life: New Life Springs Forth!




Meet RaeAnn Beebe!

Rev. RaeAnn Beebe is the pastor at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  Her church is related to the Northeast Wisconsin Association of the United Church of Christ.  She is a 2010 graduate of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois where she was a classmate of mine!  I thank RaeAnn for sharing this devotion and hope that you all enjoy it as much as I did!













New Life Springs Forth!



Scripture: Isaiah 43: 18-19 (Common English Bible)



Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth,
do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
(Isaiah 43:18-19)
This year I had a very bad case of Spring Fever. I’m not sure if it was because of the unseasonably warm weather early on or the fact that I love Spring and was excited that it was coming early. Whatever the reason, I found myself wanting to be outside getting my garden planted. Spring is an annual reminder of resurrection for me. Maybe not this year, but normally in Wisconsin winter is long and cold; a time when I just want to stay indoors and hibernate. Just when I think I can’t take it anymore, spring arrives to say that new life is possible. From the barrenness of winter new life springs forth – birds reappear and wake me up with their singing, buds appear on the trees and then begin to open, flowers sprout from the ground slowly and then suddenly burst out of the ground and the garden is full of color. One day winter and the next spring is here. I love it and am reminded of the new life we find in Christ.

We often think of new life encounters with God in just this way – bursting forth suddenly. One day our lives are in shambles, then we have an encounter with God and everything changes dramatically and suddenly. While this can happen, I think more often we experience new life in the ordinary passages of our lives. For me this occurred when my sons grew up and left home to go to college. I wasn’t needed by them in the same way and I found myself in a time of transition. My old way of life was gone and I had to find that new thing that God was calling me too. I had to find the way God had made in the wilderness. It didn’t happen overnight, but eventually, I found the way in the wilderness or the river in the desert that Isaiah talks about. I went to seminary and started on a whole new career path.

We experience many transition times in our lives. Maybe it is when you first move away from home or enter a new relationship or welcome a child to the family or lose someone you love. These times of transition can be very unsettling, but they can also be opportunities to experience new life when we are open to the places God is calling us to. Isaiah says that we should forget about what was and look toward what can be. And that is new life.
Scars

In the photo above you can see my incision that it is now beginning to heal. The trauma of getting that scar, twice, now, was extreme and, as you have read in this blog, I have many memories, both traumatic and good, from my time in recovery (both at the hospital and, now, at the Berry’s home). It’s crazy how this scar can be fading so quickly when the experience still feels so fresh.

I feel the scar and the people around me see it. It is a constant reminder of these complicated memories. Yet as the physical wound heals, fewer people now say, “oh my, what happened,” or, “how did u get that scar?”. The physical scar is less noticeable and far less commented on, yet my wife and I (& other family members) will always carry the emotional scars. My wife will always see the scar, whether actually visible or not, when she sees the back of my head.  For my part, I will always feel the scar.  Fortunately, we have a God who understands the memory that lives in scars.

We talk about Christ being on the cross, but that experience came with significant scars. Hanging on the cross, from the outside, seems like a wholly terrible experience, but that terrible moment was proceeded by a life that brought many blessings. The scars of Christ were not just a negative memory, but a reminder of the loving acts committed by Christ, as well. The scars of Christ are reminders of the good that came out of a bad situation.

I think that all of us are confronted by scars sometimes. We all find troubles that leave marks on us whether physical marks or emotional. It is up to us whether we will dwell on the passing negative experience or whether we will find good in the midst of angst and trouble. Christ endured the bad that we would all know the good (His Love). When we experience trouble we must look to Christ, so that through Christ’s wounds, we can experience joy even in the midst of our own pain, our own wounds, our own scars.