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
Warm Weather & Raised Spirits

As I feel the longer days, the warmer weather, and the abundant life of birds flying and people walking their dogs I can’t help but feel…lighter, happier.  Even in the midst of miscarriage, Carrie and I were able to go camping one evening in mid-May and have been taking the dog on very enjoyable, long walks.  Although we found ourselves in the midst of a struggle, the season lightened our load, I think.
I suspect that it wasn’t just the weather.  It was also activity.  This is confirmed by the CDC, which reports:
…Regular physical activity can help keep your thinking, learning, and judgment skills sharp as you age. It can also reduce your risk of depression and may help you sleep better. Research has shown that doing aerobic or a mix of aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities 3 to 5 times a week for 30 to 60 minutes can give you these mental health benefits….
When I’m feeling upset, depressed, or just a little bored or sad, my body tricks me.  My body ‘tells me’ that I want to sit in front of the tv or eat my feelings or mope about, but what my body wants will just make my mood worse.  I have found that if I get up off the couch and take a walk, even the shortest little walk around the block, my mood will improve and I will feel mentally, physically, and spiritually better than I did before.
My hope for all the people of this church is that we would take advantage of the beautiful weather, but not just watch it through the window.  Let’s find safe and age-appropriate avenues for holistically strengthening our health with a little bit of activity.
blessings,









*This blog has been reprinted from the Normal First United Methodist Church’s June Newsletter.

Confused about Race.
I grew up in a small town which was very insulated.  It was a predominately white town in a predominately white county.  Actually, not just predominately…overwhelmingly: the county is currently a little over 97% white and I’m guessing that figure is down from when I lived there.  I am proud to say that my parents, in that environment, tried to instill tolerance for people unlike me.  In the process of attempting to instill tolerance, I heard statements like, “There is no difference between us and black people.”

When I arrived in Carbondale at Southern Illinois University I was confronted by  evidence that proved those statements fallacious.  For instance, the suitemates assigned to share a bathroom with me and my roommate were big, black guys from the South side of Chicago who sold drugs out of their room.  These people were not the same as me and they were reinforcing every stereotype that my parents had discounted.

During that first year of college I began to experience race in a different way.  It was uncomfortable and troubling.  At times, it seemed, the things I had been taught in childhood were lies told out of ignorance.  Fortunately, these uncomfortable new truths were not the only thing forming me.

During the course of that first year, and all of my college career, actually, I also met black folk and people of many other ethnicities/cultures who were different in good exceptional ways.  I became close friends with a strong black woman who was a single mother who had come back to school to work on her PhD.  Not only was she caring for her own daughter, but she had taken in her infant nephew who did not have a stable home.  She was a hard-worker, she was dedicated to her family, she was incredibly smart and she was compassionate: I could understand those things. Another friendship that developed over time was a man, about my age, who is also, now, a pastor in the United Methodist Church.  But, unlike me, he was black, from the South, from an urban area, and had sweet dreadlocks.  He was so much unlike me in several ways, yet when together we could stay up half the night, with a group of friends, talking about culture, politics, church, and theology.

These relationships were teaching me that I could experience, and, even, celebrate cultural differences and find meaningful commonalities.  It isn’t about being the same or different, it is about growing in relationship and celebrating who we are and how we are in relationship with other people.

blessings,
Where Have All The Students Gone?

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This song has been in my head most of the afternoon.  Not sure why this song popped in my head on this day…but, then, as I looked out my office window I began to think about the emptiness of our campus.  With classes out and students on break, it is eerily quiet in the student center, on the quad and even around town.

I have occasionally heard ‘townies’ (as we used to call them when I was in school and I guess that includes me, now) complain about the students.  I have experienced some of those frustrations, too, for sure.  There were times during move-in and move-out weekends that I sighed with disgust as I navigated traffic.  My wife and I, while living in Pontiac, once made the mistake of going to Station 220 on a parent’s weekend and found ourselves crammed into a noisy dining room.  And, yes, I have felt disdain when I find nowhere to park or students walking on a street or through a parking lot in a way that leaves it impassable.

Yet, the experience of being on campus is predominately a good experience, for me.  Walking across the quad takes me back to my own days of going to class (or not going, as the case might have been).  When I go to lunch at the Bone Student Center and see the students and feel the energy of the place, it energizes me.  When I meet with students over in the Campus Café at Heartland I am amazed by the depth of community that exists there.  Most importantly, being on these campuses makes me feel younger than I really am.

I suspect that having a major University and Community College has had a profound affect on this community in ways we will never even know.  I think, though, it keeps us young and vital (and thinking) in ways we wouldn’t be otherwise.  First United Methodist Church, I am very sure, is affected.  Perhaps we are affected, because of our proximity, even more than most of the surrounding community.   For this pastor, I am most impressed by the possibilities that exist here on campus in communications, programs, and worship: for which most United Methodist Churches would be envious.

I am thrilled to live in Normal, to be in a community with Heartland, Illinois State, and nearby to Illinois Wesleyan (in Bloomington).  I think that the students and faculty (and wider community) have enriched me already and I look forward to the ministry to come!  So, today, as I look outside my window and listen to a Peter, Paul and Mary song playing on a loop in my head,  I wonder with longing, “where have all the students gone?”

blessings,

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,
New Life
babycarnes

My wife and I have been wanting to get pregnant since late last summer.  It was frustrating month after month without the results for which we yearned.  One morning in February my wife woke me up with the exclamation that she was pregnant.  I was glad, but it didn’t seem real.  The only indication was a stick with a symbol on it.  I waited for it to ‘feel real,’ but the feeling didn’t come, at least right away.  I went with my wife to see our OB doctor a few weeks later but wasn’t expecting too much.  I had seen many people post those black and white sonogram pictures on Facebook and I have never been able to make out anything that resembles a life-form.  My lack of excitement had been a let-down and I expected to be equally underwhelmed by that visit.

My experience at the doctor’s office was very different from what I expected.  As the baby became visible on the screen, I was mesmerized.  I could actually see the little heart beating!  My heart leapt.  The doctor put the heartbeat on speaker while she measured it.  I could hear and see the incredibly fast thumping of that little heart.  My eyes were glued to that screen and when the doctor told us that our baby looked very healthy, so far, and that its heartbeat was very strong, I felt pride and joy all at once: It flooded over me in a totally unexpected way.

New life comes to us in very unexpected ways and seldom on our terms.  When we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit we can experience a newness of life: we can experience God in all new ways.  But it can be frustrating when it doesn’t happen right away:  there have been times that I prayed…fervently…yet I didn’t feel God in the way I expected.  But, experiencing God requires us to learn about ourselves and practice faith.  Much like those months of trying to become pregnant, It can take some time to experience God more closely way, but, once we are open enough to God it will just happen.  And when it happens, you will feel it.

For me, I didn’t experience the joy of new life when I expected to: at that first moment of finding out about the pregnancy.  No, I experienced overwhelming joy much later in front of an ultrasound machine.  Yes, the joy of new life often catches us unaware.  Week after week and month after month I pray that you will go to scripture, join together with other people of faith, worship God, and be in prayer.  When we become committed to these practices we will eventually and unexpectedly experience a new life for ourselves and grow in faith and with God.

Blessings,

A Personal Experience

I am a pastor in the United Methodist Church and how we become pastors is way different than in other denominations.  After seminary I was “commissioned.”  If you don’t know what that means…well, you are in good company: join those of us in the United Methodist ministry process.  It is usually defined by what it isn’t.  What we know is that commissioning gives us the authority of pastors, but it is not ordination.  Two years after being commissioned can then come ordination.  In our system, that gives a pastor “tenure,” you could say.

Okay, I share all of that in order to explain that I am commissioned as a pastor in the church, currently, and next year I hope to be ordained.  Before being ordained, though, a pastor is required to go through Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) in order to hone pastoral care skills.

I have just concluded my chaplaincy internship at BroMenn Regional Medical Center.  It was twelve weeks that was intense.  It was emotionally intense as the process forced us to delve into our pasts and innermost feelings.  It was also intense because I was burning the candle at both ends and exhausted as I tried to be in two places at once:  church and hospital.

I hope that as I come come through this week I can begin feeling “caught up” and “back-on-track.”  Rather than an intense feeling of disorganization and chaos, I hope that my focus and commitment to ministry is the part of my life where I will experience intensity.  So that is the course I am on now as I look back on CPE and look forward to full-time and fully focused church ministry!

Blessings,

The above video was produced by Scott Carnes, April 2013.

Living God’s Grace into the Future!


Today’s Scripture: Ephesians 4:17-24

  So I’m telling you this, and I insist on it in the Lord: you shouldn’t live your life like the Gentiles anymore. They base their lives on pointless thinking, and they are in the dark in their reasoning. They are disconnected from God’s life because of their ignorance and their closed hearts. They are people who lack all sense of right and wrong, and who have turned themselves over to doing whatever feels good and to practicing every sort of corruption along with greed.
  But you didn’t learn that sort of thing from Christ. Since you really listened to him and you were taught how the truth is in Jesus, change the former way of life that was part of the person you once were, corrupted by deceitful desires. Instead, renew the thinking in your mind by the Spirit  and clothe yourself with the new person created according to God’s image in justice and true holiness.


This scripture comes across as being a little holier-than-thou, doesn’t it?  It reminds me of those preachers who prey on people’s guilt:  “You’re a dirty rotten sinner, now let me tell you how I think you ought to act.”

But as I read this, I read something else in the scripture:  The old life is one of pointlessness, is dark, disconnected, hard-hearted, and filled with ignorance.  I can think of many times in my life when I experienced those things.  I hated it. Even the times that I didn’t recognize the darkness and trouble in my life, I look back now and remember the empty feeling.  I don’t think people want to live in darkness and pain.  I think people want a hope-filled and focused life filled with love.

We have a way out of the trouble and darkness.  Christ has shown us glimpses of what this world can look like and Christ shows us what love looks like.  The writer of Ephesians is inviting us to that freeing love.  We can let go of the problems and pain of the past and we can act with Christ’s love and experience freedom.

For me, this is the Easter experience and that is what I want my life to look like going forward.  I hope you’ll join me this easter as we let go of acting in ways that hurt (us and others) and will strive to live God’s grace into the future!

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

United We Stand.



Not long ago I went away for the day and met a friend in Springfield for a tour of the Lincoln Museum.  One of the movies perfectly captured the polarization of America during that time and the tense and fractured political landscape of the country at the time of Lincoln’s election.  My friend looked at me as the movie ended and exclaimed, “…it’s like history has repeated itself! That’s like when Obama was elected!”


A few weeks later I sit on the other side of yet another election.  This election has left the country polarized in a way that is only rivaled by 1860, I fear.  Just as then, it isn’t about any one issue.  It isn’t just slavery or gay rights.  It isn’t just liberal versus conservative.  It isn’t just about state’s rights or the debt ceiling.


The polarized political climate reaches beyond national advertisements, party platforms, and speeches.  Polarization happens over the “water cooler” in the workplace, across the dinner table, in the comments on youtube, and in timelines on facebook.  The polarized political landscape is as personal as it is national.

Yesterday after I voted, I sat at the Bone Student Center (Illinois State University) doing church work.  At the table behind me I overheard a student asking another student who he had voted for.  The second student replied that he voted for Obama.  Before storming off, the first student exclaimed, “What?! Are you an f-ing idiot? You know you’re either an American or a democrat!’”

Wow. I feel as though we have come to a time in American politics that we must be very, very careful.  It isn’t that the issues before us aren’t personal, they are.  Yet, this country and, therefore, politics is, in the end, about people.  We disagree.  We have different perspectives.  We may even stand completely opposed to one another.  We cannot, however, forget that we are brothers and sisters.  We cannot forget that we have a mandate from history (and our constitution) to stand united and we have a Biblical and moral mandate to love those who are our neighbors, even our opponents.

I don’t have a political answer for this divided country.  I know not how to bring all of this nation together through some program, initiative, or (God forbid) war, but I think that much of the solution starts in learning, again, a thing called civil discourse.  I think that we must learn to recognize the goodwill of the person across the aisle (or table) and remember that any mess (political or otherwise): we are in it together.

Today is not about gloating or finger-pointing.  Today is not about who won or who lost. And, most importantly, today is not about right or wrong, righteous or unrighteous.  Today is about healing and moving forward.  Let us pledge to look for injustice in the world and, hand-in-hand with the people around us (Dem, GOP, Green, or other), let us find ways to work to make this world better than when we found it.

blessings,














cover image from: http://www.bizjournals.com/triad/blog/morning-edition/2012/10/ways-to-avoid-political-divisiveness.html