Busy times

The last couple of weeks have been busy. Most of the busy-ness was unavoidable, but the net effect has felt (at times) overwhelming.

Most important, of course, were Holy Week and Easter. Special services for Good Friday and Easter are to be expected. We observed the anniversary of the Lord’s death in our place, conquering death and granting forgiveness and eternal life. Then we celebrated the anniversary of his resurrection, announcing his victory and establishing the guarantee of our resurrection to live in a new and perfect world.

On the morning of Good Friday, a member of the congregation died. He had been ailing for some time; given his faith, it even seemed appropriate for his to die on such a day. He was seventy-three years old, a lifetime member of the same congregation. One of the other members called him “a pillar of the church.” After the funeral service, one of his sons remarked to me, “Finally Dad got to fill the church.”

On top of that, a historical exhibition that I was assigned to create and assemble opened at my workplace the night of Good Friday. As soon as I realized that the opening date was a holiday, I alerted the other people involved that I would not be present for the opening. For them the date was set—the second Friday of the month is a given for such events, because of other plans involving the place where I work and its neighbors in the community. With help, I put together the elements of the exhibit on Monday afternoon, and a “soft opening” was held Wednesday night prior to the official opening. A “soft opening” is only advertised within the workplace, and there are no refreshments. Four people came into the exhibit during the hour of the “soft opening,” and two of them were casual visitors unaware that there even was a “soft opening.”

I had decided in March that my First Friday Fiction would be a story taken out of a novel which I started writing more than thirty years ago. When I made that decision, I did not realize that I would end up posting the story in six installments, bleeding into Holy Week. Nor did I anticipate that typing and updating the story would inspire me to complete it in two more parts. My draft of the six installments actually ended with discussion questions, intended to gather responses that might shape the rest of the story. Instead, I began answering the questions myself, which led to writing the final parts of the story.

Embedded in these busy times were three landmarks for this Salvageable blog. I passed the second anniversary of the beginning of the blog on April 14. Somewhere in there I published my four hundredth post (one of the story episodes—I haven’t bothered to see which of them was #400). Around the same time, I reached one thousand different visitors who have looked at least once at Salvageable.

That mark of one thousand different visitors might not seem impressive, but I am happy about it. After all, writing anonymously, I have not promoted the blog on Facebook or Twitter or any other social media. In the past two years I have made many good friends, even though we know each other only through WordPress. I am grateful for all my readers, and I also enjoy reading your writings.

Undoubtedly, the best is yet to come! J.

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The Strife is O’er, the Battle Done

The strife is o’er, the battle done;

Now is the victor’s triumph won;

Now be the song of praise begun. Alleluia!

 

The pow’rs of death have done their worst;

But Christ their legions hath dispersed.

Let shouts of holy joy outburst. Alleluia!

 

The three sad days have quickly sped,

He rises glorious from the dead.

All glory to our risen Head. Alleluia!

 

He broke the age-bound chains of hell;

The bars from heav’ns high portals fell.

Let hymns of praise his triumph tell. Alleluia!

 

Lord, by the stripes which wounded Thee

From death’s dread sting thy servants free

That we may live and sing to thee. Alleluia!

 

Symphnia Sirenum Selectarum, 1695

Cubs fans: “We won!”

This is a repost of my very first post on this blog, from April 2015:

Two special days happen every spring. Sometimes they are a couple of weeks apart, sometimes they happen the same week, but only rarely do they fall on the same day. This year, 2015, they fell on the same day.

One of those special days is Easter. Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. His resurrection provides hope of our resurrection. His resurrection provides hope that our sins are forgiven and that we will live forever in God’s new creation. His resurrection provides hope that all God’s enemies (who also are our enemies) have been defeated.

The other special day is called Opening Day. Specifically, Chicago Cubs Opening Day. After weeks of practice games that don’t count, on Opening Day the games begin to matter. In my lifetime, the Cubs have not played many post-season games. Every spring, though, has had an Opening Day to celebrate. On that day, it is possible to hope that the Cubs will have a good season, one good enough to bring them to the postseason. At the start of Opening Day, all the teams are equal. Every fan of every team can approach Opening Day with hope.

Both these special days in early spring deal with hope, but the hopes are not the same. If I say, “I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow,” I might get my wish, or I might not. If I say, “I hope the Cubs win the game today,” I might get my wish, or I might not. When I say, “Heaven is my hope,” I am talking about a guarantee. Jesus has lived a sinless life. He has suffered and died on a cross to pay for the world’s sins. He has risen from the dead. Our Easter hope does not disappoint us, because Christ has triumphed. Our Easter hope does not disappoint us, because God always keeps his promises.

Baseball is only a game. What Jesus did in Holy Week was no game. That week he fought and won the ultimate battle in the war between God and evil. Jesus took all the sins of history on himself and made them go away. Jesus faced the devil and crushed the devil’s head. Jesus died so he could remove the power of death and provide a resurrection for all his people, for everyone who trusts and believes his promises.

I truly hope that some year soon, some year in my lifetime, the Cubs win it all. I would like to see them celebrate a World Series victory. When the Cubs are champions, their fans all over the world will celebrate. Thousands of fans in the stands will cheer, and millions watching the game on television will cheer. All of us will shout, “We won! We won!” That shout is rather strange, actually, because the fans don’t win anything. Only the players on the team really contribute to the victory. The players who throw the ball, hit the ball, and catch the ball are the ones who won. Yet they don’t mind sharing their victory. They don’t mind that the fans say “we won” instead of “they won.”

Easter is much the same. All over the world Christians gather in churches and celebrate Christ’s victory. Essentially, we say, “We won! We won!” Yet only Jesus lived a sinless life. Only Jesus died on the cross to defeat evil in the world. Only Jesus rose from the dead on Easter to proclaim his victory. Yet Jesus does not mind that his people celebrate Easter and say, “We won.” Jesus wants to share his victory. He wants to make us more than conquerors—winners who did not have to fight to gain a victory. Jesus does not call us fans. He makes us members of his team. Then Jesus goes out and wins. And the win was provided, not by a home run, but by a sacrifice. J.

Holidays

Labor Day weekend led me to thinking about the many different holidays we observe. My initial thoughts about holidays became too complex and entangled to post. Here, then, is a summary of my remarks about holidays.

Some holidays are truly holy days. Christmas and Easter stand at the head of this class, although over two thousand years the Church has marked many other days and seasons for celebrations and commemorations. For this reason, I don’t take part in the seasonal objection to “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” The world’s recognition that a certain day is holy should be encouraged, not resisted.

Other holidays are national holidays. In the United States we mark Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving, among others. All of these are declared by the government to be holy, time for us to set aside work, to enjoy life, and also to consider the blessings we have s citizens of the United States of America.

In the United States, certain days have been set apart to reflect the various cultures of which the American experience has been built. Saint Patrick’s Day, el Cinco de Mayo, Juneteenth, and Octoberfest all have developed as holidays that call attention to one or another ethnic groups in the United States.

Some holidays reflect the seasons as they change. Most cultures have, in some way, observed the solstices and equinoxes. Many Yuletide customs reflect more the change in seasons than the Incarnation of the Savior. Celtic and Germanic groups in pre-Christian Europe also marked the half-way points between solstices and equinoxes, laying the foundation for Groundhog Day, May Day, and Halloween.

Not all holidays are widely celebrated. Some are personal, celebrated only with family and close friends. Birthdays and wedding anniversaries fall within this category, and some families have other special commemorations to recall past events in their shared lives.

Families and nations sometimes commemorate sad events. September 11 and December 7 are days that “live in infamy” for most Americans. Once again, families might commemorate the loss of their loved ones on the anniversary of their deaths, or they might remember other sad or frightening experiences they have shared.

On my personal calendar, I like to add a few celebrity birthdays to celebrate in my own private way. The four Beatles, the seven main cast members of the original Star Trek, and a few other entertainers are listed on my calendar. They neither know nor care that I remember them on their birthdays. No one else really cares either. I don’t make a major celebration to mark their days, but I do happen to remember them on their birthdays.

Do you have any holidays that are special to you or unique? J.

 

Second Sunday of Easter

Many Tuesdays I stop at the bank, which means that I have a different route coming home from work. Since late February, one of the houses I pass on that route had decorated a tree by the road—it was filled with plastic Easter eggs. All through March, every time I drove past that house I wondered how long into the Easter season that tree would remain decorated. As I suspected, when I drove past that house on Easter Tuesday, the tree was already bare of Easter decorations.

What is it with our culture? Why do we celebrate major holidays before they arrive, only to pack up our celebration before they have ended? Christmas decorations appear in November, even in October, but they are packed and put into storage before half of the twelve days of Christmas are ended. With Easter also, the anticipation of the holiday is filled with bright colors and springtime decorations, but once the last egg is found some time Sunday afternoon and the last Easter candy is eaten sometime Easter Monday, the holiday is over for another year.

The traditional Christian Church does not treat Easter that way. For forty days (plus six Sundays) the Church observes the solemn season of Lent—a time to repent of our sins and meditate on the price the Lord paid to redeem us from those sins. The songs in church are somber; the decorations are minimal. Then, Easter morning, sometimes before sunrise (in the earliest traditions, at midnight), the Good News is announced. “The Lord is risen.” “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” Flowers fill the church with color, hymns of joy and praise are sung with enthusiasm, and Christians rejoice in the news of Christ’s resurrection, a guarantee of our own resurrection.

Christmas lasts twelve days. Easter lasts seven weeks. Why seven? Seven is a number of completeness; as God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh (according to the book of Genesis), and as the Church on earth is represented by seven lampstands and seven congregations (in the book of Revelation), so seven weeks of Easter marks the completeness of joy Christians receive from the Good News of the Lord’s resurrection.

Christ was crucified and returned to life during the festival of Passover. For forty days he appeared to his disciples, strengthening them, preparing them to do the work of the Church. After he ascended into heaven, another ten days passed. Then, in Luke’s quotation of Jesus, the disciples were “clothed in glory from on high.” The Holy Spirit was poured out on them during the festival of Pentecost, a festival commanded by God through Moses along with the Passover festival and the autumn observances.

Easter is seven weeks long—forty-nine days—so it can be longer than the season of Lent. Christians repent of our sins, but our joy exceeds even our repentance. Darkness lasts a nighttime, but light prevails in the morning. On the second Sunday of Easter, Christians still rejoice that “Christ is risen.” “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”

I hope and pray that your Easter joy has not fizzled and been forgotten. In a sense, every Sunday is a miniature Easter, a weekly reminder of Christ’s resurrection. As the resurrection of the Lord happened on the eighth day of Holy Week, beginning something new, so the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples of Jesus on the eighth Sunday of Easter, beginning something new. In the Lord, we are new always. J.

 

Easter Tuesday

Yesterday I began publishing a harmony of the four Gospels regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This continues the harmony, picking up in the afternoon of Easter Sunday.

That afternoon two disciples of Jesus were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. One of them was named Cleopas; the name of the other is unknown. (It might have been the wife of Cleopas; we don’t know.) Jesus joined them on their journey, but they didn’t recognize him. At his urging, they reported to him what had happened in Jerusalem. Jesus took the opportunity to give them a thorough Bible lesson, showing how Moses and the prophets had described all the events of the weekend. Jesus explained how he accomplished the plan and the promises of God. Cleopas and the other disciple invited Jesus to stay the night at their place. When they sat down to supper Jesus took the bread and broke it, and they recognized him. Then he disappeared from their sight. In excitement, the two disciples ran back to Jerusalem to describe their conversation with Jesus (Luke 24:13-35).

It probably took them two hours or more to run the distance they had just walked. Meanwhile, Peter had a private meeting with Jesus (Luke 24:34, I Corinthians 15:5). We know nothing about what was said in that conversation. When Cleopas and the other disciple joined ten of the twelve apostles, they were hiding in a locked room (John 20:19). Some believed the accounts of the resurrection, but others doubted (Mark 16:13). As they were sharing their various accounts of the resurrection, Jesus joined them (Mark 16:14, Luke 24:36, John 20:19). He used the usual Hebrew greeting of “Shalom,” meaning, “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36, John 20:19). At first they were frightened, even after hearing from Peter and Cleopas that Jesus was alive. They thought they were seeing a ghost, and Jesus had to eat some fish to prove that he was physically alive (Luke 24:37-43). Then they worshiped him. Jesus again reminded them that Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms (the entire Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament) described his mission, now accomplished (Luke 24:44-47). He also breathed on them to grant his Holy Spirit. “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven,” he said (John 20:21-23). Then he told them to rest in the city until they were clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49). This instruction seems to contradict the earlier message to meet him in Galilee. Jesus was not forbidding them to set foot outside of the city; he was giving them a general instruction to rest until the next stage of their preparation was complete. (It is also possible that Luke combines all the meetings of Jesus with his apostles into one conversation, starting with Easter night and ending shortly before the Ascension. If that is the case, then the instruction to rest in Jerusalem was spoken only a few days before Pentecost and after the events in Galilee.)

Thomas was not with the other apostles that night (John 20:24). (Luke says that Jesus appeared that night “to the eleven.” Paul even refers to them as “the twelve” in I Corinthians 15:5. Both writers are using the numbers as titles for the group of apostles chosen by Jesus, not requiring their readers to believe that eleven or twelve of the apostles met Jesus Easter night.) A week later, the apostles were in the same locked room, still hiding out of fear, but Thomas was with them. Jesus returned and invited Thomas to inspect the wounds of his crucifixion to verify his resurrection. Thomas confessed his faith, saying “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28), and Jesus gently scolded him and the others for their lack of faith (Mark 16:14, John 20:29). Perhaps at this time he reminded them of his desire to meet with them in Galilee and explained that his instruction to rest in the city was not to be taken literally.

The third time Jesus met with his apostles was in Galilee. Some of them went fishing but caught nothing. Jesus met them on a beach in the morning and reenacted a miracle that he had first worked when he called them to follow him. Over breakfast they had a conversation in which Jesus gave Peter three chances to reverse his three denials (John 21:1-24).

Probably also in Galilee, Jesus met with five hundred disciples (I Corinthians 15:6). Quite likely, many of them had not been in Jerusalem for the Passover, but Jesus wanted to affirm their faith as well. Perhaps on this occasion, or perhaps in a fifth appearance, Jesus told his disciples to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them… and teaching them….” (Matthew 28:16-20). Jesus was with the apostles and other disciples a number of times during the forty days after his resurrection, strengthening their faith and preparing them to make disciples as he had instructed them (Acts 1:3). He also had a private meeting with his brother, James (I Corinthians 15:7), who would become the head pastor in Jerusalem.

By the fortieth day from the resurrection, the apostles had returned to Jerusalem. Jesus met with them one more time (I Corinthians 15:7) on a hillside not far from Jerusalem. From there he ascended into heaven (Luke 24:50-53, Acts 1:6-11). After his ascension, Jesus sent his Holy Spirit to empower the leaders of his Church (Acts2:1-13); yet the ascended Jesus also had the power to be with his disciples always, even to the end of the earth (Matthew 28:20). J.

Christ is risen!

The moon, two days past full, was hanging in the western sky as the women from Galilee left the place where they were staying. They had come to Jerusalem with Jesus, but on Friday he had been crucified. Joseph and Nicodemus claimed his body, burying it in a family tomb recently acquired by Joseph. They wrapped the body of Jesus with strips of linen, along with seventy-five pounds of myrrh mixed with aloe. The women watched the burial from a distance. They were not satisfied; they knew they could do a better job.

On the Sabbath the women rested. They arose before dawn, though, gathered their spices for burial, and began walking to the tomb. The sun rose while they traveled, and as it rose the earth shook, perhaps an aftershock from Friday’s earthquake. The women did not worry about the earthquake; their only concern was who would help them move the heavy stone away from the entrance to the tomb.

When they came close to the tomb, they saw that the stone had been moved—not merely rolled to one side, but thrown out of its place. One of the women abandoned the others and rushed into Jerusalem to tell Jesus’ disciples that something had happened. The other women went into the tomb. The strips of linen were there, but the body of Jesus was missing. The women saw a mystery. Tomb robbers would not have stripped the corpse bare in the tomb. Yet the evidence of a miracle did not, at first, convince them of anything.

Two angels appeared in the tomb and spoke to the women. “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” one asked them. “He is not here; he has risen.” The other angel added, “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that he Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” The women then remembered his words. They believed, not because of what their eyes saw or because of what their brains perceived, but because of the power of the words of Jesus as they were spoken to them.

Miracles do not create faith. They strengthen the faith of believers, but nonbelievers can always find another explanation for a miracle. Jesus said in one of his parables, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). Paul wrote to the Romans, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Thomas did not believe the news that Jesus was risen; he demanded physical evidence. When Jesus provided that evidence, Jesus added, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Faith is a blessing, a gift from God, which is granted to his people by the power of his Word.

“These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). We cannot travel back to Jerusalem this Easter Day to visit the empty tomb, to see the strips of linen, or to talk with angels. We do not need to make that trip. By his Word Jesus grants faith and strengthens faith. We celebrate his resurrection today, joyful and confident that all his promises are true. Our sins are forgiven. Our enemies are defeated. Eternal life is guaranteed. Jesus lives, and because he lives we will live also. J.

Easter and Opening Day

Two special days happen every spring. Sometimes they are a couple of weeks apart, sometimes they happen the same week, but only rarely do they fall on the same day. This year, 2015, they fell on the same day.
One of those special days is Easter. Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. His resurrection provides hope of our resurrection. His resurrection provides hope that our sins are forgiven and that we will live forever in God’s new creation. His resurrection provides hope that all God’s enemies (who also are our enemies) have been defeated.
The other special day is called Opening Day. Specifically, Chicago Cubs Opening Day. After weeks of practice games that don’t count, on Opening Day the games begin to matter. In my lifetime, the Cubs have not played many post-season games. Every spring, though, has had an Opening Day to celebrate. On that day, it is possible to hope that the Cubs will have a good season, one good enough to bring them to the postseason. At the start of Opening Day, all the teams are equal. Every fan of every team can approach Opening Day with hope.
Both these special days in early spring deal with hope, but the hopes are not the same. If I say, “I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow,” I might get my wish, or I might not. If I say, “I hope the Cubs win the game today,” I might get my wish, or I might not. When I say, “Heaven is my hope,” I am talking about a guarantee. Jesus has lived a sinless life. He has suffered and died on a cross to pay for the world’s sins. He has risen from the dead. Our Easter hope does not disappoint us, because Christ has triumphed. Our Easter hope does not disappoint us, because God always keeps his promises.
Baseball is only a game. What Jesus did in Holy Week was no game. That week he fought and won the ultimate battle in the war between God and evil. Jesus took all the sins of history on himself and made them go away. Jesus faced the devil and crushed the devil’s head. Jesus died so he could remove the power of death and provide a resurrection for all his people, for everyone who trusts and believes his promises.
I truly hope that some year soon, some year in my lifetime, the Cubs win it all. I would like to see them celebrate a World Series victory. When the Cubs are champions, their fans all over the world will celebrate. Thousands of fans in the stands will cheer, and millions watching the game on television will cheer. All of us will shout, “We won! We won!” That shout is rather strange, actually, because the fans don’t win anything. Only the players on the team really contribute to the victory. The players who throw the ball, hit the ball, and catch the ball are the ones who won. Yet they don’t mind sharing their victory. They don’t mind that the fans say “we won” instead of “they won.”
Easter is much the same. All over the world Christians gather in churches and celebrate Christ’s victory. Essentially, we say, “We won! We won!” Yet only Jesus lived a sinless life. Only Jesus died on the cross to defeat evil in the world. Only Jesus rose from the dead on Easter to proclaim his victory. Yet Jesus does not mind that his people celebrate Easter and say, “We won.” Jesus wants to share his victory. He wants to make us more than conquerors—winners who did not have to fight to gain a victory. Jesus does not call us fans. He makes us members of his team. Then Jesus goes out and wins. And the win was provided, not by a home run, but by a sacrifice.
J.