Keep Celebrating

I hope that Easter has stayed with you this week.  I wish that I was one of those who could say that they celebrate Easter every week.  But I can't.  Perhaps I will grow closer to that ideal.  But for now, I am blessed to have reminders.  Church signs that declare: "He is risen."  Crosses draped in white or covered in flowers.  It is good to celebrate.  I'm reminded of NT Wright's suggestion that, for the week of Easter, morning prayers should be preceded by champagne. Here's a celebration poem by John Updike called "Seven Stanzas at Easter," from his collection, Telephone Poles and Other Poems.  Updike takes on our tendency to make a parable or myth out of Jesus' resurrection.  His point is that the strength of the Easter story is that Jesus was raised bodily from the dead-hence the warning, "Let us not mock God with metaphor." He is at his most powerful in reminding us that our deaths are not a metaphor (stanza 5).  They are all too real.  And they require a real resurrection.  Like the one that God performed for Jesus and will perform for us. So if your Easter hope has faded some.  I hope it will be renewed today.  Happy Easter everyone.

Seven Stanzas at Easter

Make no mistake: if He rose at all it was as His body; if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules reknit, the amino acids rekindle, the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers, each soft Spring recurrent; it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the eleven apostles; it was as His Flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes, the same valved heart that - pierced - died, withered, paused, and then regathered out of enduring Might new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor, analogy, sidestepping transcendence; making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded credulity of earlier ages: let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache, not a stone in a story, but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of time will eclipse for each of us the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb, make it a real angel, weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous, for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty, lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed by the miracle, and crushed by remonstrance.

Christos Anesti

--May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…(Galatians 6:14) --"Jesus, keep me near the Cross...let me live from day to day with it shadow 'oer me." (Traditional hymn) I've been seeing increasing reports of the theft of metals like steel, aluminum and copper. In a market like ours it's a good way to make some quick money. That's must be what was going through the minds of the thieves who stole a cross from Calvary Cemetery in Little Rock, Arkansas several years back. They cut the cross off at its base and hauled it away in a truck. Then they cut it into manageable pieces and sold the metal off for scrap. Police later discovered that the thieves probably made a total of $450 on the 900 pounds of metal that they got from the cross. It's hard to know what the true value of the cross was. But it had been installed in 1930 at a cost of $10,000. These thieves got less than 5% of the original price of the cross. But then, I suppose that's $450 more than what they had spent on it. I think there are some striking parallels at work here, especially in the value that we place on the cross. How precious is the cross to us? How much value do we place on it? It's often easy for me to undervalue it. Why? Perhaps because it has become too commonplace. There are crosses everywhere. To put it in economic terms, our market is saturated with crosses, so it becomes hard to appreciate the value of one. Or maybe it's that I forget the price that was paid at the cross. The thieves were willing to take $450 dollars for their cross, because they hadn't really sacrificed a great deal to get it. It's easy for us to forget that, in order for the cross to be a symbol of hope worthy of boasting, a great price had to be paid. An innocent man was wrongly executed. The Son of God experienced separation from the Father. Had this great price never been paid, the cross would have no more value to us than the guillotine or the electric chair. This morning, Easter Sunday, we'll remember the value of the cross. Not because of what it was, but because the person who was placed upon it. And because of what God did for him (and for us) through it. I hope you'll celebrate with me today. Christ has been raised!


Growing up in the CofC, most people would tell you that we don’t have a lot of ritual in our services. I think that’s kind of true. More likely, we should say that we don’t call it ritual. But really, from the way we prayed, to the way that we sang, to the way that the preacher talked. There was plenty of ritual. The fancy word for what I’m talking about is liturgy. It’s the way that “church” was (is) done. And we have our own liturgy at NCOC, we just might not say it that way.

And yet two rituals have stood out in the life of our church in this last week. The first was the “installation” of Mike Dossett as an elder. What a strange turn of phrase it is to say that we are “installing” someone. It’s like we were expecting a crew from Best Buy to show up and permanently fasten Mike to the wall like a set of speakers. Do we say that because we don’t want to say that he was “ordained”?

Anyhow. I heard more than one person comment (all in a positive way) on the reading that was used. The language was formal and kind of high-falutin’. It was a lot like a wedding ceremony. But it fit the occasion didn’t it? This is an important moment in the life of the church and (to borrow more nuptial language) “not to be entered into lightly.”

The other was last night’s Passover ceremony. [Thanks, BTW, to everyone who took care of business so we could participate in the ceremony. I hope that, if we do it again next year, we can make sure that those who were teaching our kids last night will be able to participate.] While last night could have been much more formal (I omitted the responsive readings) it was still a very ritualized event with all of the eating together and prayer and remembering.

Not something we typically “low church” informal CofC’ers do. But I think that both rituals were appropriate. Both provided a chance to experience something as a group.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on either of these events. Can anyone guess where the script for Mike’s ordination (There! I said it!) came from? Did you like it? Was it strange? How do you respond to formal ritual in a worship service? What about the Passover service last night? What was it like to take part in such a choreographed event?

I’d like to hear from those of you who grew up in the CoC and those of you who didn’t. Or maybe I should say those who grew up in High Church and Low Church traditions. My guess is that you’ll bring different perspectives.

Where else (if anywhere) might rituals like that be beneficial to the church?

On another note, for those of you who are into the whole “religious calendar” thing, let me remind you that tomorrow is Good Friday. I hope you’ll be aware of that throughout your day. We will celebrate on Sunday, but our celebration does not come cheaply.

Perhaps I could spend some time with this reflection on Good Friday from last year.

He Lives

I’m not much for creeds. The Churches of Christ have not traditionally given them much attention. Like I’ve said before, they seem to divide more than unify. They’re as liable to confuse as to clarify. One exception is the Apostle’s Creed. Even though it’s not without its problems, it gives a pretty basic and historical summary of what it means to be a Christian. Here are some excerpts:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the creator of heaven and earth.
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit…
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.

Let me stop here. If this was all that could be said of Jesus—that he was crucified, died, and was buried, his life would hardly be noteworthy. Granted, there are the claims to divine birth and sonship of God. But neither of these things was without precedent. As we’ve talked about before, the rulers of Jesus’ day (Egyptian, Roman, Persian, etc.) commonly made claims of divine birth.

And his crucifixion certainly wasn’t unique. Crucifixion was a favorite method of execution for the Roman Empire. Largely reserved for slaves and citizens of other nations, it was a shameful death that reinforced Rome’s claims to power. Rome frequently made this very public statement in order to maintain control. At the end of the slave revolt led by Spartacus in 71 B.C., 6,000 surviving rebels were crucified along the road between Rome and Capua. So what sets Jesus apart? Let’s go back to the creed:

…On the third day, He rose again from the dead.

It’s the resurrection that sets Jesus apart. Of the many thousands of people crucified by the Romans, Jesus of Nazareth is the only one to have been raised from the dead. The gospels and the writings of Paul testify that he appeared to his followers—one time as many as 500 of them (1 Cor. 15). Many of those witnesses went to their executions testifying that “Jesus is risen.”

It is why we are here today. We are followers because both facts are true. Jesus died and was raised by God. The resurrection makes a universe of difference. The question for us this morning is what does the resurrection mean to us right now? How is our day to day life different because of it? I hope it gives you hope and teaches you how to live. Happy Easter. Christ is risen.

Contemplation and Good Friday

I’ve been wanting to dwell on art that depicts Christ lately. There’s something about it that helps me focus. It helps me leave wherever I am sitting, usually at a desk in front of a computer, and place myself somewhere else. It allows me to stand before Jesus in a new way. For the most part, the only way I’ve ever been taught to come into Jesus’ presence is through prayer—a certain type of prayer, the kind of prayer that is dominated by words. I encounter Christ by going through everything like a list: “Lord, help me with this;” “Jesus, forgive me for that;” “Lord, please be with ________.”  And that kind of prayer does have an important place.

But if I think about my relationship with my wife, some of the most important moments in our relationship have been beyond words. They have taken place in silence. They have happened with glances, with held hands, with smiles, and sometimes through tears. Whatever they were, those moments defied words. And in those moments Rachel became more real to me.

I guess I’m seeking out some of those moments in my relationship with Jesus. I want him to become more real to me just by sitting with him. I think John would call that “abiding” in him (see John 15:4 in the King James Version). I also think (though I’m not sure) that this is partly what is meant by “contemplation.”

Likewise I’ve found that I can, if I’m not careful, go too long without noticing Rachel. Life becomes all about accomplishing tasks. We move from one chore to another--getting kids ready for school, figuring out what to do for dinner, scheduling events. And before long I have failed to pay much attention to her.

I think I’ve done this even more with Jesus. My relationship with Him has become (has always been, really) so task-oriented. But to work beside someone is just one way of getting to know them. The other way is to sit with them and look them in the eyes.

So today I would challenge you to sit with these images from Good Friday. Click hereClick here.  Click here.   Finally, click here.  Just a warning, though--they are not very comforting.  Especially the last one.  I find them challenging because they remind me of the severe ramifications of the cross. Like I said last Sunday, we move too quickly from Jesus’ crucifixion to his resurrection. But isn’t it possible that, in doing so, we somehow temper the joy of Easter? I’ll let you react to them in your way. But to me they are reminders of the death, the very real death, of the Son of God. May we have the courage to face the awful consequences of our sin, and then celebrate all the more God's immeasurable grace.