Feast of the Ascension 2020: N.T. Wright on the Ascension of Jesus

The idea of the human Jesus now being in heaven, in his thoroughly embodied risen state, comes as a shock to many people, including many Christians. Sometimes this is because many people think that Jesus, having been divine, stopped being divine and became human, and then, having been human for a while, stopped being human and went back to being divine (at least, that’s what many people think Christians are supposed to believe). More often it’s because our culture is so used to the Platonic idea that heaven is, by definition, a place of “spiritual,” nonmaterial reality so that the idea of a solid body being not only present but also thoroughly at home there seems like a category mistake. The ascension invites us to rethink all this; and, after all, why did we suppose we knew what heaven was? Only because our culture has suggested things to us. Part of Christian belief is to find out what’s true about Jesus and let that challenge our culture.

This applies in particular to the idea of Jesus being in charge not only in heaven but also on earth, not only in some ultimate future but also in the present. Many will snort the obvious objection: it certainly doesn’t look as though he’s in charge, or if he is, he’s making a proper mess of it. But that misses the point. The early Christians knew the world was still a mess. But they announced, like messengers going off on behalf of a global company, that a new CEO had taken charge.

What happens when you downplay or ignore the ascension? The answer is that the church expands to fill the vacuum. If Jesus is more or less identical with the church—if, that is, talk about Jesus can be reduced to talk about his presence within his people rather than his standing over against them and addressing them from elsewhere as their Lord, then we have created a high road to the worst kind of triumphalism.

Only when we grasp firmly that the church is not Jesus and Jesus is not the church—when we grasp, in other words, the truth of the ascension, that the one who is indeed present with us by the Spirit is also the Lord who is strangely absent, strangely other, strangely different from us and over against us, the one who tells Mary Magdalene not to cling to him—only then are we rescued from both hollow triumphalism and shallow despair.

Conversely, only when we grasp and celebrate the fact that Jesus has gone on ahead of us into God’s space, God’s new world, and is both already ruling the rebellious present world as its rightful Lord and also interceding for us at the Father’s right hand—when we grasp and celebrate, in other words, what the ascension tells us about Jesus’s continuing human work in the present—are we rescued from a wrong view of world history and equipped for the task of justice in the present. Get the ascension right, and your view of the church, of the sacraments, and of the mother of Jesus can get back into focus.

— N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope.

Feast of the Ascension 2020: Pope Leo the Great on the Ascension of Jesus

With all due solemnity we are commemorating that day on which our poor human nature was carried up, in Christ, above all the hosts of heaven, above all the ranks of angels, beyond the highest heavenly powers to the very throne of God the Father. And so our Redeemer’s visible presence has passed into the sacraments. Our faith is nobler and stronger because sight has been replaced by a doctrine whose authority is accepted by believing hearts, enlightened from on high. This faith was increased by the Lord’s ascension and strengthened by the gift of the Spirit.

Richard Bauckham (Psephizo): Facing Death with Easter Hope

The eminent professor hits a home run. Worth your time and reflection.

…death is the subject that unavoidably confronts us all in a pandemic. Modern societies tend to avoid thinking about death. By comparison with the ways death happened in all pre-modern societies, we mostly give no more attention than we need to death. Most deaths happen in hospitals. Far fewer people die young or in the prime of life, and so death in general seems more like a natural end to a long life. Little is left of the rituals with which societies used to mark and deal with death, when people were expected to mourn in very public ways and for a conventional length of time. A black tie for a funeral is about all we have left. The accent has shifted from mourning to celebrating the life of the deceased, something that perhaps has value, but which helps us to ignore rather than deal with the stark negativity of death.

Of course, we know, if we think about it, that people are dying every day, every hour, every minute. But we do not think about it. Now we are confronted daily with that day’s toll of deaths to Covid-19 and the steadily mounting total. We have become aware of what a sad and lonely way of dying it is for many of those who die in intensive care. Death is always a solitary experience: only the dying person experiences dying, though others may suffer that person’s death. But the essential aloneness of death is terribly aggravated in these conditions. We are grateful that nurses in ICUs are able to give some human attention (not just medical) to their patients, but it is a harrowing experience for them. We seem to hear very little about hospital chaplains in the UK, and I simply do not know how far they are permitted access to those dying in ICUs. (By contrast a recent newspaper story about Italy highlighted the heroism of many priests, monks and nuns who put their own safety at risk in order to be with the dying.)

Read it all

Justyn Martyr Explains Why the Eucharist is not Offered to Unbelievers

No one may share the eucharist with us unless they believe that what we teach is true, unless they are washed in the regenerating waters of baptism for the remission of sins, and unless they live in accordance with the principles given us by Christ. 

We do not consume the eucharistic bread and wine as if it were ordinary food and drink, for we have been taught that as Jesus Christ our Savior became a human being of flesh and blood by the power of the Word of God, so also the food that our flesh and blood assimilate for their nourishment becomes the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus by the power of his own words contained in the prayer of thanksgiving. The apostles, in their recollections, which are called gospels, handed down to us what Jesus commanded them to do. They tell us that he took bread, gave thanks and said: ‘‘Do this in memory of me. This is my body.” In the same way he took the cup, he gave thanks and said: ‘This is my blood.” The Lord gave this command to them alone. Ever since then we have constantly reminded one another of these things. The rich among us help the poor and we are always united. For all that we receive we praise the Creator of the universe through his Son Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.

On Sunday we have a common assembly of all our members, whether they live in the city or in the outlying districts. The recollections of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as there is time. When the reader has finished, the president of the assembly speaks to us urging everyone to imitate the examples of virtue we have heard in the readings. Then we all stand up together and pray.

On the conclusion of our prayer, bread and wine and water are brought forward. The president offers prayers and gives thanks as well as possible, and the people give their assent by saying: “Amen.” The eucharist is distributed, everyone present communicates, and the deacons take it to those who are absent.

The wealthy, if they wish, may make a contribution, and they themselves decide the amount. The collection is placed in the custody of the president, who uses it to help the orphans and widows and all who for any reason are in distress, whether because they are sick, in prison, or away from home. In a word, the president takes care of all who are in need.

We hold our common assembly on Sunday because it is the first day of the week, the day on which God put darkness and chaos to flight and created the world, and because on that same day our savior Jesus Christ rose from the dead. For he was crucified on Friday and on Sunday he appeared to his apostles and disciples and taught them the things that we have passed on for your consideration.

—Justyn Martyr [d. ca. 167 AD], First Apology 66-67

Reflections for Easter Week: Helping You Focus on Christ and Heavenly Realities—Saturday

Your daily dose of encouragement to seek Christ and the things of heaven during the midst of pandemic and fear.

Reading for Saturday of Easter Week: 1 Corinthians 15.51-59

51 But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! 52 It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. 53 For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

54 Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
55 O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

56 For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57 But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58 So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.

Today we conclude our look at St. Paul’s masterful teaching about the resurrection of the dead. He begins by reminding us that resurrection is fundamentally about transformation: from death to life, from decay to vitality, from darkness to light, all made possible by the love and power of God the Father made known in the saving work of God the Son.

God’s new world will come in full in an instant and those who are still living when Christ returns to finish his saving work and finally judge all evil and evildoers, human and spiritual, will find their mortal bodies transformed along with the dead who are raised to new life. So whether living or dead, for those who belong to Christ, the end result is life eternal.

Again St. Paul tells us that Death is the last enemy to be conquered. We looked at his reasoning on Wednesday. Here he reminds us that immortal bodies along with God’s new world have always been God’s intention for his creation and creatures, especially his image-bearing creatures. God created everything good and intends to rescue and restore it, humans included. It’s the overarching story of Scripture. Our rebellion would have undone us permanently had it not been for the great love and mercy of God our Father who sent his only Son (or became human) to die for us so that God could finally undo death. For those who belong to Christ, the power of Sin cannot and will not prevail. Our future is secured. At the resurrection of the dead the last enemy is defeated and God’s saving work will be completed, thanks be to God!! (As a sidebar for you pet lovers, given the transformative nature of God’s new world, I see no reason why the non-human creatures that we loved will not also be present in the new heavens and earth. The logic of new creation points to it, even if Scripture for the most part remains silent about it. After all, animals belong to the created order and God has declared his intention to redeem and restore the entire created order, not just parts of it.)

But here’s the punchline. Notice carefully how St. Paul concludes his teaching on the resurrection. He doesn’t tell us to party like it’s the end time or focus entirely on the future, massively important as that is. No, St. Paul tells us to be strong and immovable, always working enthusiastically as God’s people because we know that nothing we ever do for the sake of Christ is ever useless or in vain (v.59). What a remarkable conclusion! St. Paul reminds us here that we are to leverage our future hope to help us live faithfully in a world surrounded by darkness and infested by human folly, sin, and the powers of Evil. Of course there are glimpses of God’s truth, beauty, love, and goodness all around. We can’t look at the beauty of nature or human relationships when they operate as God intended and not see that. But there is also much that corrupts and destroys the goodness of God’s world and our lives. St. Paul knows that it can overwhelm us and cause us to fall away from our faith in Christ. Don’t let that happen, he warns. You can’t always see or know the good you do in Christ’s name and for his sake. Don’t let it discourage you because your present and future are secure, and nothing in all creation, not even death, can separate you from the love of God made known in Jesus Christ our Lord (see Romans 8.31-39).

Of all the things St. Paul has talked about, this last verse might be most practical in helping us cope with the darkness of pandemic and our lives. Don’t give up hope. Don’t fall into despair. Keep on being faithful, even when it looks like nothing is happening. Jesus Christ is raised from the dead and Death is defeated. We can’t see that yet either, but we know it’s coming! So trust God based on an informed faith. Think about and ponder this hope that is yours. Talk to other Christians about how to encourage and support and love each other during these dark days. And then get to work because you know the world in which you live is important to God, who has moved to heal and redeem it through the power of suffering love. Get to work, even in the face of the darkness that confronts you, because you know that nothing you do in the name of the Lord is ever wasted or in vain, thanks be to God! Christos Anesti. Alithos Anesti!

Reflections for Easter Week: Helping You Focus on Christ and Heavenly Realities—Friday

Your daily dose of encouragement to seek Christ and the things of heaven during the midst of pandemic and fear.

Reading for Friday of Easter Week: 1 Corinthians 15.35-50

35 But someone may ask, “How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?” 36 What a foolish question! When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. 37 And what you put in the ground is not the plant that will grow, but only a bare seed of wheat or whatever you are planting. 38 Then God gives it the new body he wants it to have. A different plant grows from each kind of seed. 39 Similarly there are different kinds of flesh—one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish.

40 There are also bodies in the heavens and bodies on the earth. The glory of the heavenly bodies is different from the glory of the earthly bodies. 41 The sun has one kind of glory, while the moon and stars each have another kind. And even the stars differ from each other in their glory.

42 It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. 43 Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. 44 They are buried as natural human bodies, but they will be raised as spiritual bodies. For just as there are natural bodies, there are also spiritual bodies.

45 The Scriptures tell us, “The first man, Adam, became a living person.” But the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit. 46 What comes first is the natural body, then the spiritual body comes later. 47 Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth, while Christ, the second man, came from heaven. 48 Earthly people are like the earthly man, and heavenly people are like the heavenly man.49 Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man.

50 What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever.

Today we come to the heart of St. Paul’s teaching about the resurrection of the body. St. Paul begins by asking the skeptic’s question: How are the dead raised, i.e., how can God possibly do that? We just can’t imagine it! What about, e.g., those whose bodies have been obliterated or lost at sea so there are no tangible remains? What about those who have been cremated? What a foolish question, St. Paul declares. Just because you can’t imagine resurrection doesn’t mean God doesn’t have the power to accomplish it. After all, God is the God who creates things out of nothing (the cosmos) and raises the dead to life (Romans 4.17), Jesus being the most important example! What is too hard for God to accomplish? In other words, St. Paul tells us that resurrection is God’s problem, not ours, and we shouldn’t worry about how God will pull off the resurrection of the dead and transform the old creation into the new. God has promised to do it in raising Christ from the dead and God will accomplish what he promises, so chill out, baby. St. Paul then continues his argument for bodily resurrection by declaring that there are different types of bodies in the created order. He is laying the foundation to talk about the difference between our present mortal bodies (psychikon soma) versus our future spiritual bodies. Below I post a short video by Dr. Ben Witherington, where he explains clearly and concisely what St. Paul meant by a “spiritual body” (pneumatikon soma). Listen to him now.

What I want to reemphasize here is that when St. Paul speaks of resurrection he is clearly speaking about bodily resurrection and affirming the goodness of the created order. Our mortal bodies will die because we all belong to Adam and have been afflicted and enslaved by the power of Sin, which leads to our mortal death. If you have ever seen a dead human body before the undertaker has prepared it for viewing, you know exactly what St. Paul is talking about when he speaks of our mortal bodies being buried in weakness and brokenness. I had never seen a dead body outside a funeral home until I served as a chaplain intern in preparation for my ordination to the priesthood. I’ll never forget the night I was called to the hospital to attend to a person to whom I had ministered in life who had just died. It was night, which only added to my apprehension as I walked into the dimly-lit room to see the person’s dead body lying there. An awful look had come over it, like an alien and hostile force had taken ahold of it, and I hardly recognized the person. I observed an ugliness that had never been there in life. It was very disconcerting and I realized that this is not what God ever intended for his image-bearers. Had it not been for me knowing that this saint was safely with the Lord and that the person’s mortal body would be raised and healed and transformed into a thing of astonishing beauty, even more beautiful than the person’s mortal body had been, I would have become completely unnerved and overwhelmed by what confronted me. I experienced first-hand what St. Paul was talking about in the passage above about the weakness and brokenness of our mortal bodies. Death is not pretty. It is not our friend, but our enemy.

But thanks be to God we also belong to Christ by baptism and faith so that we can look forward to having resurrected bodies like our crucified and risen Lord has now. Those bodies will be adapted for immortality because God’s new creation will be eternal when it comes in full at Christ’s return. In telling us that mortal bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God (the new creation when it comes in full), St. Paul is not denigrating bodily existence. He knew bodies matter to God! St. Paul is simply affirming that what is temporary (our mortal body) is not suited or equipped to inhabit that which is permanent and eternal (the new creation). Our mortal bodies die because we belong to Adam. Or resurrection bodies will never die because we belong to Christ.

As we are bombarded with news about COVID-19 and the rising death count, how can you use this passage from 1 Corinthians 15 to help you keep perspective and prevent you from falling into fear and despair? Perhaps the story I shared with you will also help guide your reflections. Think through what Paul is saying and then talk about it with fellow Christians. It is critical that we answer these questions. In doing so, we will find God gives us new power and resolve during this time of death and despair. Keep your focus where it should be—on Christ’s love, light, and power. Christos Anesti!

Tomorrow: Conclusion—1 Corinthians 15.51-59

Reflections for Easter Week: Helping You Focus on Christ and Heavenly Realities—Thursday

Your daily dose of encouragement to seek Christ and the things of heaven during the midst of pandemic and fear.

Reading for Thursday of Easter Week: 1 Corinthians 15.29-34

29 If the dead will not be raised, what point is there in people being baptized for those who are dead? Why do it unless the dead will someday rise again?

30 And why should we ourselves risk our lives hour by hour? 31 For I swear, dear brothers and sisters, that I face death daily. This is as certain as my pride in what Christ Jesus our Lord has done in you. 32 And what value was there in fighting wild beasts—those people of Ephesus—if there will be no resurrection from the dead? And if there is no resurrection, “Let’s feast and drink, for tomorrow we die!”33 Don’t be fooled by those who say such things, for “bad company corrupts good character.” 34 Think carefully about what is right, and stop sinning. For to your shame I say that some of you don’t know God at all.

So far in this chapter, St. Paul has laid out the historical basis of Christ’s resurrection and the certainly of the future hope of resurrection for those who belong to Christ. Here he gives two more examples in support of his argument. Whatever was behind the purpose of being baptized for the dead—this is the only reference to it in the NT and other ancient Christian literature—we mustn’t let it distract our focus on resurrection. St. Paul mentions it simply to reinforce his argument that Christ has been raised from the dead and that the Christian hope of resurrection is based on that reality. If Christ isn’t raised, why conduct baptism by proxy for the dead? Makes no sense.

Likewise, if Christ isn’t raised and our future resurrection isn’t assured, why would St. Paul risk his own life and suffer what he had endured for the sake of proclaiming a false gospel (as some of his opponents had claimed in denying the resurrection) that Jesus Christ was crucified and raised from the dead to announce the forgiveness of sins and the partial in-breaking of God’s new world on the old? We could ask ourselves the same question. As we saw previously, if there is no resurrection, we have no hope for a real future beyond our mortal life and we’d better be about grabbing all the gusto and fun we can selfishly hoard (toilet paper anyone?) because our days are numbered.

St. Paul then scolds those in the church at Corinth (not unbelievers outside the church) who have caved to the cynical darkness of the world and taught wrongly and falsely that there is no resurrection of the dead. Those people, roars St. Paul, do not know God at all! To add to their foolishness and folly, they are trying to bring down others by denying the bodily resurrection of Christ. Yikes! If that is not enough to make us shudder as Christians, I don’t know what can.

Here’s an example that I hope illustrates what St. Paul is talking about. I read yesterday that a famous preacher in Virginia had died from COVID-19 after refusing to stay at home and preaching that “God is larger than this dreaded virus.” One of the commenters on the story sneered that karma was greater than the pastor’s God. I do not comment on the pastor’s decision. He has paid for it with his life; may he rest In peace and rise in glory. What I do comment on is the commenter’s sneering remark because it reflects pretty well the ethos of the world of Adam, the current Age in which we live, an age where the world is fundamentally hostile to God. When I read it I wondered how karma will work out for him on his deathbed as clearly he didn’t have a clue about the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has the power to create things out of nothing and raise the dead (Romans 4.17). Despite his tragic mistake, the Virginia pastor has a future awaiting him. The sneering commenter? Not so much unless he abandons his foolishness, and I pray to God that he will. This is what St. Paul is getting at in this section of 1 Corinthians 15. We have been given a great gift and treasure in the hope and promise of resurrection. Let us not feed our pearls to the pigs, but instead pray for those who do not have the treasure for themselves. The resurrection for St. Paul and countless other Christians over time and across cultures has made all the difference in the world for them and how they live(d) their lives.

How do you make your resurrection faith real as you cope with this pandemic? What makes you want to abandon it or deny the reality of your future? What do you do when that happens to resist the temptation? Think these questions through and talk to others about it. Encourage each other as needed. Doing so will help you refocus where your attention should be, on God’s new world, not the darkness of this world, and you will discover God’s blessings afresh. Christos Anesti!

Tomorrow: 1 Corinthians 15.35-50

Reflections for Easter Week: Helping You Focus on Christ and Heavenly Realities—Wednesday

Your daily dose of encouragement to seek Christ and the things of heaven during the midst of pandemic and fear.

Reading for Wednesday of Easter Week: 1 Corinthians 15.20-28

20 But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.

21 So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. 22 Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. 23 But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back.

24 After that the end will come, when he will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power. 25 For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. 26 And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For the Scriptures say, “God has put all things under his authority.” (Of course, when it says “all things are under his authority,” that does not include God himself, who gave Christ his authority.) 28 Then, when all things are under his authority, the Son will put himself under God’s authority, so that God, who gave his Son authority over all things, will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere.

St. Paul has built a case for the historical reality of Christ’s resurrection in the previous verses. Now he draws his conclusion. There’s going to be a general resurrection of the dead and Christ’s resurrection signals that reality. In other words, there’s going to be a new physical reality beyond the scope of history. Why is that important? Because the world is tied to Adam and its end is death and destruction. Why? Because everyone sins, which alienates us from God and excludes our presence with his. The profane (fallen humanity) does not fare well when it meets the holy (God). We, like our first ancestor Adam, are fundamentally flawed and have become slaves to the power of Sin; and as St. Paul writes elsewhere, sin leads to death. Without help from an outside Power, the world of Adam of which we are a part is bound to lead to suffering, sorrow, alienation, decay, and ultimately death. We see it swirling around and within us all the time. COVID-19 is a classic example of what’s wrong with Adam’s world, the current world in which we live. This is where the world and our lives are headed without outside intervention.

Fortunately there is a power greater than the power of Sin: The love and power of God made known to us in Jesus Christ and him crucified. Those who belong to Christ, who by baptism and faith believe him to be the Son of God and the Resurrection and the Life (John 11.25-26), will share in his risen life, even though our mortal body must die (because we formerly belonged to Adam).

But here’s the kicker for St. Paul. While most first-century Jews believed in a general resurrection of the dead at the end of history, nobody expected or anticipated a one-off event in the middle of history—until Christ arose from the dead, that is. So here we see St. Paul adjusting his theology to match the new reality that Christ has been raised from the dead to inaugurate and give us a glimpse of God’s new world and new life, all made possible by his death on the cross. He tells us that when Christ returns to usher in God’s new creation in full with its abolition of all things evil including Sin and Death, those who belong to Christ will be raised to new life.

The course of history, says St. Paul, has been radically altered from death to life.

Heaven and earth will be joined together and the goodness of God’s original creation will be restored, only on steroids. We can’t imagine what this looks like because it comes from God’s realm, heaven (that’s why we are to put our focus there). Whatever it looks like, it will reflect the love, beauty, and power of God, just as God’s current world partially reflects these things. Sins will be forgiven forever, memories and bodies healed, all things destructive will be banned so as not to harm us or God’s creation ever again (see Revelation 21.1-8). We can only imagine—and hope with eager anticipation.

But why is Death the last enemy to be destroyed? Because until Christ returns to raise the dead, folks are still dead! To be sure, the souls of the dead who belong to Christ are resting with him in heaven right now, aware of his loving presence (cf. Philippians 1.23-24), but until they are reunited with their body, they are still dead. Here we find another robust endorsement of the created order and a very high view of human beings. Bodies matter to the Lord! He created them and has redeemed them in Christ’s death (Romans 8.1-4), and he intends to restore them one day to their full glory at the resurrection of the dead. But until all the components that make us human are reunited, we are still dead and death still remains.

How can the promise of new creation and new indestructible bodies help you understand the importance of your own humanity in this life? How can the promise of an evil-free and perfect world where you can finally enjoy life fully as God created and intended for it to be help you cope with the darkness of your life? Why is the prospect of new creation so much better and more exciting than existing in a disembodied state for all eternity? How can the hope of resurrection and new creation help you cope during this pandemic with all its attendant bad news? Apply St. Paul’s teaching today to these questions. Think about it and reflect on it with other Christians and expect God to bless you as you do. After all, the blessing itself is a sign of new life in the midst of a death-dealing world! Christos Anesti!

Tomorrow: 1 Corinthians 15.29-34

Reflections for Easter Week: Helping You Focus on Christ and Heavenly Realities—Tuesday

Your daily dose of encouragement to seek Christ and the things of heaven during the midst of pandemic and fear. If yesterday you missed why I’m do this, you can read about it here.

Reading for Tuesday of Easter Week: 1 Corinthians 15.12-19

12 But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? 13 For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. 15 And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. 16 And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. 18 In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! 19 And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.

As we saw yesterday, resurrection is hard for us to imagine because it comes from God, not humans, and so it shouldn’t surprise us to see that even in St. Paul’s day there were folks who struggled to believe that Jesus Christ is raised from the dead. Here he tells us that our future resurrection is based on the fact that Christ is raised from the dead because our life here and hereafter are inextricably linked to his. No resurrection for Jesus, no resurrection for his followers.

Second, if the resurrection is a myth, then the things St. Paul and the other apostles had been preaching about the saving power of the cross were a lie. Without the resurrection, Jesus would have died the death of a common criminal and the cross would have remained a sign of shame and degradation rather than of God’s forgiveness, healing, and redemption of our sins and brokenness. If that were the case, then our sins have not been forgiven and we remain hostile and alienated from God. The trajectory of this world and our mortal life remains decay and death. We have no hope, no future. We are dead people walking.

Third, if we have no hope or future, we are living a lie and those who preached Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead are liars themselves. They lied about God, about life, and about death. No Good News there.

And finally, if there is no resurrection, anyone who follows Christ with his demand to us to deny ourselves and take up our cross is a fool and should be pitied. If we have no future other than this mortal life, we’d better be grabbing for all the gusto we can get (and other earthly things) before we die. With no real future, self-giving love is a farce and a delusion.

St. Paul’s point is that the resurrection was the course-changing event in history. It proclaims that we have a future and that even though we suffer mortal death and are afflicted by all kinds of evil, our future is life, not death. That’s why we have hope, the sure and certain expectation of things to come. We have this sure and certain expectation because we believe that Christ is alive, and because he is, we are taught that those who follow him are promised a share in both his life and death.

How can/does this hope (the sure and certain expectation of resurrected life in God’s new world) help mitigate the death dealing news of COVID-19 or other death dealing events in your life? What signs of new creation and new life do you see breaking through around you? Think it over and think it through. Then talk to other Christians and see what you come up with. This is keeping your focus on Christ and things of heaven. God in his grace and love for you will surely bless your efforts.

Tomorrow: 1 Corinthians 15.20-28

Reflections for Easter Week: Helping You Focus on Christ and Heavenly Realities—Monday

Yesterday in my sermon I talked about the practical advice St. Paul gave us to help keep us focused on the reality and promise of bodily resurrection, especially during these dark days of pandemic. This is what the apostle said:

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand.Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.

Colossians 3.1-4

It is easy for us to be uplifted during worship where we set our sights on the love and goodness and justice of God made known supremely in Christ and the realities of God’s space (heaven), and then get bogged down with the realities of the world after worship is over. But Christians are people of power and freedom, and we can choose to think about (or focus our attention on) things of heaven anytime we choose, things, e.g., that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and admirable.

One way for us to focus our attention on the truth of the heavenly reality of bodily resurrection that will be part and parcel of God’s new heavens and earth is to read and reflect on Scripture that talks about resurrection. During Easter Week, Common Worship’s Daily Lectionary assigns readings from St. Paul’s masterful treatise on resurrection found in 1 Corinthians 15. So to help you focus your attention on Christ and the heavenly realities this week, I offer you the assigned reading each day along with a very brief reflection. I use the NLT version of Scripture. Feel free to use your favorite translation if the NLT doesn’t float your boat. May God bless you and encourage you, may God equip you to be his resurrection peeps as you do.

Reading for Monday of Easter Week: 1 Corinthians 15.1-11

Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place.

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church.

10 But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me—and not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace. 11 So it makes no difference whether I preach or they preach, for we all preach the same message you have already believed.

It is hard for us to imagine bodily resurrection because resurrection doesn’t originate from the human realm; it comes from God. For us to believe in bodily resurrection we must be convinced that it is rooted in human history, that Jesus of Nazareth really was crucified, died, and buried, and that he rose again on the third day. Here St. Paul reminds us of the historical basis of the resurrection. First, he tells us that Christ died for our sins, a conclusion the early Church drew based on the reality of the Resurrection. Why is that important? Because when Christ died for our sins he made those who believed in him ready to live in God’s direct presence in God’s new world. This is why Christ’s death and resurrection mark the turning point in history. Up to that time, our world and all that is in it were sin-corrupted and afflicted by the power of Evil, destined for decay, corruption, and death. We had no hope of ever living in God’s presence and enjoying sweet fellowship with him as our first ancestors did before they rebelled against him in paradise (Genesis 3). So the present age’s trajectory was decay and death before Christ.

But God changed all that by becoming human and dying for us to atone for our sins, thereby making it possible for us to be reconciled to him and ready to live in his promised new world. As we’ve just seen, Christ died for our sins as the Scriptures said he would. When God raised Jesus from the dead, God gave us a glimpse of life in God’s new world and proclaimed to us in this mighty act of power that Death would ultimately be defeated. The trajectory of God’s good but corrupted creation and our mortal lives therefore changed from death to life. This is news, my beloved. Good News. That’s why we call it the gospel or Good News of Jesus Christ. Everything has changed. To be sure, Sin and Death are still awful realities in this world and the power of Evil still makes itself known all too regularly. But for those who have a real relationship with Christ, our destiny is no longer death but life, bodily life, not some spiritual existence. In Christ’s death and resurrection God affirms and honors our humanity. And why wouldn’t he? After all, God made us in his own image to run his good world (see Genesis 1-2)!

St. Paul then established that the resurrection isn’t some made up baloney or a figment of human imagination. He tells us that he had passed on a well-established oral tradition, carefully preserved from the beginning so that future generations who weren’t eyewitnesses could be taught about this mighty and totally unexpected act of power and grace on God’s part. There were all kinds of eyewitnesses who had seen Jesus after his resurrection, including Paul. This was an event so important that those eyewitnesses made sure that their testimony would be transmitted faithfully and accurately to future generations after the eyewitnesses had died.

This was St. Paul’s point. The resurrection happened. It was an historical fact and reality, unbelievable as it sounded. It really was too good, but it was also true, which made it even better! How can that knowledge help lift and strengthen you to face the death-dealing stories that come from COVID-19? Think on these things today as they apply to your life and your situation and then talk it over with other Christians. As you do, know that you are focusing on things of heaven and God will surely bless your efforts.

Tomorrow: 1 Corinthians 15.12-19.

Eastertide 2020: N.T. Wright: Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?

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Wonderful stuff. The video is over an hour but you don’t have over an hour to watch it. Do yourself a favor and watch it anyway.

And if you are the reading type rather than the viewing type, pick up Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope, and read chapter 4 because it essentially contains the contents of this lecture.

Good Friday 2020: An Account of How Good Friday was Observed in 4th-Century Jerusalem

[On Good Friday] following the dismissal from the Cross, which occurs before sunrise, everyone now stirred up goes immediately to Sion to pray at the pillar where the Lord was whipped. Returning from there then, all rest for a short time in their own houses, and soon all are ready. A throne is set up for the bishop on Golgotha behind the Cross, which now stands there. The bishop sits on the throne, a table covered with a linen cloth is set before the bishop, and the deacons stand around the table. The gilded silver casket containing the sacred wood of the cross is brought and opened. Both the wood of the cross and the inscription are taken out and placed on the table. As soon as they have been placed on the table, the bishop, remaining seated, grips the ends of the sacred wood, while the deacons, who are standing about, keep watch over it. There is a reason why it is guarded in this manner. It is the practice here for all the people to come forth one by one, the faithful as well as the catechumens, to bow down before the table, kiss the holy wood, and then move on. It is said that someone (I do not know when) took a bite and stole a piece of the holy cross. Therefore, it is now guarded by the deacons standing around, lest there be anyone who would dare come and do that again.

All the people pass through one by one; all of them bow down, touching the cross and the inscription, first with their foreheads, then with their eyes; and, after kissing the cross, they move on. No one, however, puts out a hand to touch the cross. As soon as they have kissed the cross and passed on through, a deacon, who is standing, holds out the ring of Solomon and the phial with which the kings were anointed. They kiss the phial and venerate the ring from more or less the second hour [8am]; and thus until the sixth hour [noon] all the people pass through, entering through one door, exiting through another. All this occurs in the place where the day before, on Thursday, the sacrifice was offered.

When the sixth hour is at hand, everyone goes before the Cross, regardless of whether it is raining or whether it is hot. This place has no roof, for it is a sort of very large and beautiful courtyard lying between the Cross and the Anastasis [the Lord’s tomb]. The people are so clustered together there that it is impossible for anything to be opened. A chair is placed for the bishop before the Cross, and from the sixth to the ninth hours [noon-3pm] nothing else is done except the reading of passages from Scripture.

First, whichever Psalms speak of the Passion are read. Next, there are readings from the apostles, either from the Epistles of the apostles or the Acts, wherever they speak of the Passion of the Lord. Next, the texts of the Passion from the Gospels are read. Then there are readings from the prophets, where they said that the Lord would suffer; and then they read from the Gospels, where He foretells the Passion. And so, from the sixth to the ninth hour, passages from Scripture are continuously read and hymns are sung, to show the people that whatever the prophets had said would come to pass concerning the Passion of the Lord can be shown, both through the Gospels and the writings of the apostles, to have taken place. And so, during those three hours, all the people are taught that nothing happened which was not first prophesied, and that nothing was prophesied which was not completely fulfilled. Prayers are continually interspersed, and the prayers themselves are proper to the day. At each reading and at every prayer, it is astonishing how much emotion and groaning there is from all the people. There is no one, young or old, who on this day does not sob more than can be imagined for the whole three hours, because the Lord suffered all this for us. After this, when the ninth hour is at hand, the passage is read from the Gospel according to Saint John where Christ gave up His spirit. After this reading, a prayer is said and the dismissal is given.

As soon as the dismissal has been given from before the Cross, everyone gathers together in the major church, the Martyrium, and there everything which they have been doing regularly throughout this week from the ninth hour when they came together at the Martyrium, until evening, is then done. After the dismissal from the Martyrium, everyone comes to the Anastasis, and, after they have arrived there, the passage from the Gospel is read where Joseph seeks from Pilate the body of the Lord and places it in a new tomb. After this reading a prayer is said, the catechumens are blessed, and the faithful as well; then the dismissal is given.

On this day no one raises a voice to say the vigil will be continued at the Anastasis, because it is known that the people are tired. However, it is the custom that the vigil be held there. And so, those among the people who wish, or rather those who are able, to keep the vigil, do so until dawn; whereas those who are not able to do so, do not keep watch there. But those of the clergy who are either strong enough or young enough, keep watch there, and hymns and antiphons are sung there all through the night until morning. The greater part of the people keep watch, some from evening on, others from midnight, all doing what they can.

—Egeria, Abbess and Pilgrim, Pilgrimage 17