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
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

Moments of Panic

Scripture: Luke 2:41-52 (CEB)

“…but the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t know it. Supposing that he was among their band of travelers, they journeyed on for a full day while looking for him among their family and friends. When they didn’t find Jesus, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple.”  – Luke 2:43b-46

About a year ago I had a ‘moment of panic.’  I had just been diagnosed with a brain tumor, I was working with two families experiencing loss, and the Senior Pastor at my church was about to leave on vacation for a month.  When I got to Christmas Eve at my church in Pontiac and as I shook hands and greeted people I began to feel overwhelmed.  What was truly overwhelming was the way in which person-after-person cocked their heads to say, “are you okay?”

Each thing on its own would have been fine, but this perfect storm hit that night.  During that service as I sat up front, when my responsibilities were concluded and my mind drifted a bit, it all washed over me.  I knew I was going to fall apart right in front of the entire church.  I didn’t.  I made it to the back steps of the church instead of greeting people and I fell completely apart crying. I sobbed, alone, in the dark for the longest time.  I collapsed in a ‘moment of panic.’

Have you ever had a moment of panic?  It is different for everyone, but I suspect most of us have felt a moment like that.  It could be a missing child, a confrontation, a call from a creditor when you have no money to pay, legal trouble, abuse, job loss, divorce…  I don’t know what you have experienced (or maybe you are experiencing), but I suspect this is a pretty universal feeling.

In the scripture above,  Mary must have found herself in a moment of panic.  I can almost see it and hear it:  She is in the midst of a loud parade heading home.  There she stands with voices, laughter, and rejoicing as her community heads home from the festival. Can you imagine how the world must have become muted and far-off when she had her moment of panic? Can you imagine how her stomach must have twisted and fallen when she realized her son was not in this large parade of safety and happiness?

In a moment of panic: Mary & Joseph must have been frantic and must have hurried back to Jerusalem.  They found the boy, feeling at home, in the temple challenging others and being challenged, himself.  Yet, the story doesn’t end when the young Jesus is found. The story is about more than a young boy being physically found by his parents.

This story is about a messiah who took Mary and Joseph’s moment of panic and turned it into something else. They worried for their little boy’s well-being, but the Christ child saw it differently:  He asks, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” They had a moment of panic, but young Jesus turned it into a moment of clarity.

I wonder, though, it you’ll allow me to go off-point for a moment.  I want to talk about where this all happened.  It’s the end of a festival.  When Mary & Joseph return the temple must have been nearly empty compared to a day earlier.  For us, on the week after Christmas it isn’t much different: Christmas eve and Christmas Day have come and gone; Warm feelings were felt as we sang ‘silent night’ on xmas eve; and then everyone returns home.  The temple…the church…is empty.

The good news is that our God can take a quiet temple and turn it into a place of growth and faith.  For us, today, this text reminds us that when we face a moment of panic, pain, grief, trouble, strife…when the world becomes muted and joy seems distant…we are to face that panic and return to the temple.

We are to return to our community of faith and when we come to the otherside of our trouble, Christ may just help us see the world differently.  Our panic and trouble can become a growing faith: through scripture, challenging questions, the people around us, and, of course, God’s Holy Spirit.

Christ takes our human worries and pain and asks us to look at the world from another perspective.  We are shaken by our pain & worry, but God helps us to see more clearly.

For me on that Christmas Eve that filled me with so much anxiety? I don’t know if I made it about Christ the way I should have.  I don’t know what I did right or what I did wrong.  And am sure that my life is no more valuable than others who didn’t survive when confronted by illness.

But I know with certainty that I grew and, as I look back, I see that others grew out of my ‘moment of panic’.  I also know that my community of faith and my God: loved me, challenged me, prayed with me, and, ultimately, changed me.

I do know that on the other side of my own “moment of panic” I see the world differently and, I hope that,  I love more fully.  Oh, I’m not perfect – not even close.  I’m not even sure if I’m better than I was.  God doesn’t promise that, but in my moment of panic and struggle: God & my community helped me through that terrible time.  They helped me to look back with clarity and insight.

When you find yourself struggling, I want you to know that church should be a place to struggle.  When you feel lost or broken, I want you to know that you can be found.  When the world has taken something from you, or you feel loss: know that you can gain something from a community of people who live out their faith and, of course, from your God.

In your moments of panic and trouble.  Go with haste to your true home.  Find a church that cares and allows you room to struggle and grow.  I know you would enjoy mine

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

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.

Resurrection & New Life:  Hid In Christ

image from http://christianbackgrounds.info/the-cross-sunshine/





I’d like to introduce today’s guest blogger, Adrienne Trevathan.  She is the Director of Christian Education at Northminster Presbyterian (the church where I interned during seminary).  She is a 2009 graduate of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary where she attained a master of divinity.






Our lives are hid with Christ in God.
Scripture:  Colossians 3:1-3
There is a lot at stake when we talk about our beliefs about resurrection.  There are many different ways to speak of the resurrection of Jesus, and different meanings we attach to it.  What has struck me particularly this year is the idea that when Chrsit rises from death, we also rise with him.  In the same way that we observe Lent and remember the suffering of the cross, we ourselves “rise” in a sense as we welcome Easter.   There is something about our identity that is hidden in God, that we uncover (and continue to uncover) as we live as followers of Christ.

When we live as people with hope, who willingly follow someone who knowingly walked into death and danced right out of it, we come a bit closer to finding our true identity.

When we surround ourselves with others who join us in making this proclamation, “He is risen!,”

we are able to understand the deepest part of ourselves that God is preparing to use to address needs in the world; needs not only of our brothers and sisters, but of all creation.  The groaning of creation is matched by the longing within us to make meaning in life.  We have the responsibility of cultivating the Spirit in our lives so that we are able to recognize and respond those signs of new life when they spring up (often in unexpected places).

When Christ rises, we rise – together.  Our identity is no longer static or predictable; what we can become together is a mystery and possibility.  It is a reason to rejoice.
Resurrection & New Life: Power of Death & Resurrection


image found at:  http://www.romanempiretours.com/

Left, Tou Yang

Today I invite to my blog Tou Yang who will be my guest blogger.  He will take a few minutes to give you some background on the Roman world and what Resurrection means to him.  Tou is a student at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and an intern at Christway United Methodist Youth Ministries.



The Power of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection In Everyday Life

The Roman Empire used violence as a way to control large populations throughout their conquered lands. One example of this violence was through crucifixion on a cross such as endured by Jesus. Crucifixion was not only seen as a consequence for not conforming to Roman law but it was also a form of humiliation to the individual and the individual’s family. This act was meant to oppress the very spirit of the people and to dehumanize the non-Roman citizens. This made Jesus’ crucifixion not only physically painful but also psychologically painful to the local population and Jesus’ family.  

Jesus’ resurrection was proved God’s victory over death but just as important it gave hope to the followers of Jesus that victory was possible in the face of Roman oppression. “Carrying the cross” was no longer something to be feared but instead became an empowering image and a sign of hope over the punishment of death. Even though Jesus’ movement was broken with the death of its leader it was made whole again both physically and spiritually by the news of Jesus’ resurrection from the grave. The fact that Jesus’ death did not mean the end of his believers or the end of Jesus’ ministry gave inspiration to future apostles such as Paul to share Jesus’ message with full confidence.

Jesus’ victory over the cross and oppression is still a powerful and relevant message for today. Everyday hundreds of millions people all around the world face oppressive social and political systems meant to destroy the will and beliefs of the individual. Through Jesus’ example there is hope for redemption and restoration even in the worst conditions. Not that suffering should be a part of life nor that oppression is needed to understand the resurrection of Jesus but that suffering and oppression is not the end of life. That even when we face the brokenness of everyday life no matter big or small we can be reassured of God’s ever restoring power and victory over oppression. The power of Christ’s death and resurrection is not only connected to an event that happened 2000 years ago or a future apocalyptic event but can be understood and relevant everyday of our lives.  That is the true power of Easter. That is the true power of the love of God. 
Resurrection & New Life:  Live In Sunday!

Live in Sunday!

empty tomb image found at:  http://heavenlysprings.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/empty_tomb.jpg

Today’s guest blogger is Rev. Dave Wilkinson.  He is a deacon at First United Methodist Church in Green Bay, Wisconsin and is the founder and editor of an inspirational e-mail ministry and blog called “SOUND BITES: Something to Chew on That Is Good for the Soul.” It was begun in memory of his son, Dustin, on the first anniversary of his death.  You can follow SOUND BITES Ministry™at their blog:

www.SOUNDBITESministry.blogspot.com.




Trust In Christ:  Live in Sunday!

On Good Friday in 1998 my wife and I buried our son, Dustin. He had died at the age of 16 as a result of a brain tumor. His cremains were placed in the ground and we began our grief journey. No parent should have to go through that experience. The death of a loved one or close friend is hard enough. The death of a child is a pain like no other. So I had some sense that day of what the followers of Jesus must have felt. On the first Good Friday they buried Jesus in a tomb, sealed it shut, and began their grief journey. I can imagine that Saturday for the Christ-followers was a day filled with grief, bewilderment, hopelessness, numbness, and quiet conversation.

Fast forward, then, to January, 2009. I found myself leading a worship service at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem. We stood there in the beautiful surroundings with other Christ-followers from around the world. Our group pulled aside to spend some time in reflection prior to receiving communion. I shared with them some of the feelings the disciples must have felt on that Saturday. I explained that that particular day, January 21, was our son Dustin’s birthday and I shared some of his story with them.

I also shared that as Christ-followers we do not need to spend our time in the grief of the “Saturdays.” Instead, we 21st century pilgrims, just as the 1st century disciples, found the tomb empty. “He is not here. He is risen,” declared the sign at the empty tomb. He is risen indeed! And we can live in the grace and hope of Easter Sunday because Christ overcame the grave. He overcame the grave so that we might live… so that you and I might live… so that my son might live.
 

1 Corinthians 15:54b-57 reminds us: “‘Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Where do you find that you dwell most of the time? In the sorrow of Friday, in the hopelessness of Saturday, or in the victory of Sunday. Because I trust in Christ, I choose to live in Sunday.


The greatest love that anyone could ever know
That overcame the cross and grave to find my soul
And ’til I see You face to face and grace amazing takes me home
I’ll trust in You
(from “Till I See You” by Hillsong)

Today’s Scripture: 1 John 1:1-2:2

We will look more closely at just a few of these verses:

2 The life was revealed, and we have seen, and we testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us. 3 What we have seen and heard, we also announce it to you so that you can have fellowship with us. Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that our joy can be complete.

Think about it for just a moment. It would not have been very difficult to believe in Christ just after the resurrection. Oh, it might have been difficult to believe, i suppose, but it had just happened! I mean, if there was a time when it was easier to believe, that would have been the time, right? If we read the gospel of John we find that Christ has appeared to the disciples. It seems assured that Christ has, indeed, risen from the dead!

But for the next few generations of Christians it must have been increasingly difficult. There were not any gospels for a while and stories were handed down, but Christ wasn’t there to be seen or touched.

The problem that becomes apparent in this scripture is that people were mixing up the message of Jesus Christ and so 1 John attempts to put the message of Christ back into order. “We have seen,” and “we testify…to you.” Those who knew something about the life and death of Jesus are writing these words to ensure future generations of Christians will understand the message of Christ.

Resurrection and New Life is not just for one time or one group of people. The message of New Life in Christ is for all times and all peoples. This letter is written to us that we might know Jesus’ love. Christ overcame death and so might we!