Tag Archives: Easter

The Real Breakout King

There is a new TV show on this year called Breakout Kings.  The premise of this  show is that a small group of inmates are given temporary leave from prison in order to put their unique skills into finding and catching escaped prisoners.  Yesterday at our communion service our minister spoke on the theme of breaking out and even as he was doing the children’s story I was sneaking out my note pad and writing down, “Jesus: The Real Breakout King.”


As people have stated for ages, there are two things that are inevitable; death and taxes.  From the day we are born, we are moving towards our death.  A chalenge with helping children to understand death is letting them know that it is permanent, the goldfish, other pet, or loved one will not be coming back.  We all know this.  That is why it was so amazing when Jesus was able to call a young man being carried to his grave, a young girl who had died, and finally Lazarus who had been in the tomb four days back from death.  This was amazing enough but Jesus actually broke out of his own death.  He was dead, he was layed out in the tomb and sealed in, and he broke out on his own!  


Jesus is truly the breakout king, and through his resurrection we not only see his power over death for himself but for us as well!   Through his death for our sins, we are forgiven, we have not yet died physical death, but we are already living our eternal life.

Lent Ends: Do We Take Up Our Habits Again?


Today was Good Friday.  Depending on the way you view the liturgical calendar Lent either ended last night or tomorrow, the day before Easter.  This leads to my quandary of the day…do I go back on Facebook and Twitter? 


If you count Sundays, I have not logged on to my FB and Twitter accounts now for 45 or 46 days.  In some way I didn’t really miss it.  I didn’t feel tempted to log on.  I took them off my home page list on my browsers and my BlackBerry and I guess the old out-of-sight out-of-mind thing works.  On the other hand I had many bouts of feeling isolated which I can only attribute to that lack of interaction which comes from at least keeping up with the doings of my friends. 


Did I make use of the time I saved and the loss of distraction throughout Lent in order to spend more time in prayer, study and reflection on God?  I did a really good job of it for a while at least.  I did, as I planned, spend more time reading books and doing cross word puzzles.  I completed my on-line course and prepared two services.  I’m really glad I decided to make this sacrifice and it is really hard to believe it has really been so long. 


How did you make out?  Did you give something up for Lent?  However we spent Lent, Sunday morning it is time to celebrate the risen Christ.  Sing songs! Shout hosannas! Give thanks that God has given this amazing free gift to all of us!


Whose Feet Have You Washed? Whose Bread Have You Shared?

Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday is here.  This is the night on which Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and instituted the Eucharist or communion which we still celebrate to this day.  It is also the night on which he was betrayed in the garden of Gethsemane.

“And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table,took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ 7Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ 8Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ 9Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ 10Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean.” (John 13:2 b- 10)

Other than when we are babies and later possibly under nursing care, we don’t often have someone bathe us.  One of the early signs of separation from a parent is when a young child starts to want to wash on their own or even want privacy in the bath.  In Jesus’ day, people’s feet got dirty every time they left the house.  Servants would wash people’s feet when they entered the house.  Jesus took this servant role in the story above and it embarrassed the disciples who were lower on the social hierarchy than Jesus.  In the absence of servants it should have been one of them washing Jesus’ feet.  When Simon Peter hears that he must be washed clean in order to share with Jesus he asks for even more.  

Several years ago my Bible study group were involved in planning the service for Maundy Thursday.  We usually have a pot luck dinner on that evening prior to the service.  We were very interested in the foot washing part of the story and decided we wanted to include this in some way.  People were too uncomfortable with the idea of actually doing foot washing and we ended up setting up two hand washing stations.  People came forward and one of us dipped their hands in a bowl of warm water, and the other had a soft towel and dried their hands.  I was at one of the stations doing the hand drying and I have to say that it was a most amazing experience of intimacy with members of my church family and one I will never forget!

” While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ 27Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; 28for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’” (Matthew 26:26-29)

Tonight as we reenact this meal shared by Christ and his disciples I pray that we are granted that sense of intimacy as we allow him to wash us clean once again.

Today’s readings were found through a web-based Bible search tool with the New Revised Standard Version.  http://bible.oremus.org/

Santa Claus, Christ, And The Easter Bunny

Bonnets and Baskets Tea

What events do your family celebrate?  Many families celebrate birthdays and  anniversaries as important family milestones.  For Christian families we celebrate Christmas and Easter, Muslim families Ramadan and Eid, Jewish families Passover, Chanukkah, etc.  For the purpose of this post we are going to focus, as I usually do, on the Christian traditions.


What is the first image that comes to mind when you hear the word Christmas?  I’m willing to bet that for a number of you it was either a tree or Santa.  Sure, lots of people would have pictured a manger scene, a star, an angel, or maybe an Advent wreath, but for every one of those I bet there are two people out there wishing they could have a do-over.  How about Easter?  Images like crosses, palms, nails, empty tombs, mix in with brightly decorated baskets filled with chocolate and candies, bunnies, and chicks.


Both of these celebrations have, at their hearts, the life of Jesus Christ.  Christmas celebrates Jesus taking on human life in the unlikely form of a helpless infant who was almost immediately the focus of a plot to kill him.  Easter celebrates Christ’s rising from the dead, but not without the pain and sacrifice of his arrest, and crucifixion.


The other day I was surprised to hear students in my class discussing Easter gift giving.  I don’t mean asking what their family puts in the Easter basket/ what the Easter Bunny brings, but actually discussing the exchange of Easter gifts like we do Christmas gifts.  It seems silly that the idea bothered me a bit, after-all I really enjoy buying Christmas gifts for people, and of course opening mine.  It just doesn’t seem to be a part of Easter. 


My husband and I have drawn some odd lines with our family traditions. We told the kids all about Santa Claus and even now read The Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve, after getting home from the midnight communion service.  We decorate extensively (well, I do), have stockings, and exchange gifts.  Somehow this doesn’t seem to lessen the event as a celebration of the birth of Christ.  Easter on the other hand is all about church.  I put up a few decorations like spring flowers to brighten things up after the long winter, but we have never pretended even for a moment that there was an Easter Bunny.  We coined the term Easter Parents to explain who put out the tiny pile of treats on Easter morning (not to be touched until after church). 


It seems hypocritical to “lie” to our kids and tell them about Santa Claus, the spirit of Christmas who enters into people and makes them more giving, and then not follow along and tell them about a bunny who delivers treats to children on Easter.  I’m sure no real harm would be done.  It is just that while at Christmas we are celebrating an entirely happy event, the birth of a child, Easter is much more complicated.  Jesus was a gift from God.  Like the birth of any child this is a joyous event.  Theoretically, our gift giving is inspired by this gift. 


Easter is about a huge sacrifice made by an innocent man to take away the sins of others.  Jesus bled, was ridiculed, and died a shameful death.  That is the most amazing gift anyone could give to another, but it is not easy to deal with.  We celebrate Christ’s defeat of death when he rises on the third day, but the celebration is necessarily coloured by the events of the previous week.  I see no role for a bunny carrying a basket of eggs here.


Don’t get me wrong, I think bunnies are adorable.  I have a couple little ceramic bunnies on my mantle along with a jug of artificial spring flowers and palm branches.  My kids will get a few chocolates, a book, and new socks or something on Sunday morning.  I love Cadbury Easter cream eggs, and think the ads with the bunny clucking like a chicken are brilliant.  But Easter is about church, services like Good Friday complete with the somber reminder of the cross, as well as Easter worship with communion. 



Palm Carpet Part Two

The other day when I wrote my blog it was as part of preparation for today’s sermon.  I thought I would post some of what came from that beginning today… 


Are you a royal watcher?  There is an exciting week coming up for people who follow the lives and activities of the British royal family.  There are many websites devoted exclusively to the upcoming wedding of Prince William and his fiancée Kate Middleton.   At 4 AM Atlantic Time on April 29th people like my sister-in-law will be awake watching their TV sets to see full coverage of this bit of history being made.  They will be watching the “pregame show” and then Kate arriving at the church in a car and Lady Catherine and her husband driving away in a glass coach.  The red carpet will be out for all the dignitaries who will be at the wedding, most notably Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.  Crowds will have gathered along the route from the palace to the church as much as 24 hours in advance in hopes of getting a glimpse of the royals and their guests. 


Today is Palm Sunday and we are looking at another big day, a procession of an important person and people all lined up to catch a glimpse.  The story that begins Matthew’s account of the passion story serves the purpose of showing Jesus’ royal status publicly.


First, palm branches were a symbol of triumph and victory to the Jewish people for instance, in Leviticus 23, they were instructed to celebrate the triumph of God bringing the people out of Egypt with branches of palm and leafy willow. It was a custom in the Middle East to cover up the paths of people worthy of the highest honour. In 2 Kings 9:13 (dated in approximately 830 BCE) when Jehu, son of Jehoshaphat, was declared king, the people spread their coats on the ground in front of him. This may have been a precursor to the red carpet which at one time was rolled out only for heads of state though now this extends to include famous people of almost any sort. “The earliest known reference to walking a red carpet in literature is in the play Agamemnon by Aeschylus, written in 458 BC. In this story Agamemnon’s wife has servants spread out a “crimson path” for him to walk over when he returns from Troy. He is reluctant due to “knowing that only gods walk on such luxury…”


The main connections between the Old Testament and Palm Sunday come from Zechariah 9:9 which is quoted in Matthew 21:5 where it prophesies, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. and Psalm 118 which we read today, from which came the words people were chanting, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” and another mention of laying down branches, “Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar.”


For those of us who have the benefit of hindsight in this matter, the perceptions of the people of Israel in Jesus’ day don’t make much difference.  Regardless of the size of the crowd none of the people really knew what was going on.  The disciples had a fair hint at what was going on after Jesus told them that taking the donkeys was to fulfill the prophecy from Zechariah and yet even they were surprised by the events of the coming week.  We know that he was not the king they had been hoping for, entering to get rid of Herod and the Romans.  We also know that he was much more than they could ever have imagined.  Jesus was not entering as a king of one small area in Israel; he was really the king of heaven.  His task, while it would have been confusing to them, was much greater than grasping for political power and improving the lives of the people of the city and surrounding area during his lifetime.  He was coming to improve the lives of all the people of the world for all time.


Our current reality in Canada is a battle for power between our political parties.  In Egypt power was just taken away from a dictator by the people.  In Libya there is a civil war in progress to try to eliminate another dictatorship.  Let’s take comfort in the greater reality that the ultimate king is on his throne and he will be coming again.

Getting Ready to Roll Out the Palm Carpet!

The best experience I’ve ever had with palm trees was a few years ago when my sister and I went to Cancun.  We spent hours sitting under the shade of palm trees reading the books which had weighed down our suitcases on the trip down.  It was peaceful, it was beautiful, and most importantly right now, it was warm!


For most kids who grow up in New Brunswick (those who don’t travel south on vacations) their experience of palm trees is limited to the occasional house plant, and the palm fronds that are passed out to the children in churches on Palm Sunday. In churches around the world palm branches will be passed out to children this Sunday in commemoration of Christ’s triumphal entrance into Jerusalem which began what we call Holy Week.


I started thinking about what we do with the branches in relation to what was actually done on that first day.  I always assumed that the children waved the branches in the air, which may be the case for some, but mostly they laid them down on the ground in front of him, creating a carpet of green, a palm carpet. As far as the people were concerned, Jesus was entering Jerusalem as a king and deserved special attention.  They gave him the “red carpet” treatment on Sunday and then by Friday they were crying for his death. 


My dad was saying the other day that it seemed strange that we consider Palm Sunday as a celebration when it really is the beginning of the end for Jesus and based on the Jew’s misinterpretation of Jesus’ role as the Messiah.  He wasn’t here to be an earthly king who would defeat the Romans and seize control.  That is the person they were dancing, cheering, and quoting scripture about, but it wasn’t the man on the donkey. 


By Palm Sunday word was definitely spread wide about all the miracles that Jesus had been doing, all the radical ideas he had been preaching, and definitely the news that he had just raised a man who had been dead for four days!  This was, to borrow from the popular rock opera of the 70’s, a Superstar entering the temple city!  Jerusalem was already filled to overflowing with people who had come to celebrate the Passover at the temple.   Everyone wanted to see him.  For our politicians today it would have been a photo-op and media  event for which they could only wish! 


 I think the reason we celebrate Palm Sunday isn’t that we are commemorating the erroneous reason from Jesus’ day, but celebrating the true meaning of the entry of the Messiah.  Jesus was entering Jerusalem as the man who would not conquer the Romans, but would conquer death itself!  So, get out your palm branches, or whatever materials you choose, and make a carpet for our king. “With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.” (Psalm 118: 27)

Path To The Cross: Hard Decisions

Jesus chose to follow a path that would certainly lead to his death. Others, like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi have also made those hard choices. It is popular these days to tell people if they just accept Jesus as their personal lord and saviour, they will then have it easy.  They neglect to mention the weight of that cross that we are then to carry on our shoulders.  So, in a world looking for the easy way, why would we choose a path that might lead to danger or death?  Why would people go into Haiti, Indonesia, India etc. to help the people there recover and rebuild, knowing that there was a chance that they would not be living in comfy hotel suites, might not have all they were used to eating, or might be killed in an aftershock, or a building collapse? It is one thing to put ourselves at risk to save the lives of friends or family members, but total strangers?  Don’t we have enough to worry about on our own?

These examples may be too extreme for us.  After all, how many of us are likely to be assassinated or executed for our work in the name of God?  We live pretty simple lives.  But even within these simple lives we face tough decisions that take courage;

  • Moving to be closer to family members or away from family members

  • Choosing between personally taking care of a family member with Alzheimer’s, or AIDS(with all the sacrifices involved in such a decision) or seeking the best long-term care situation for them

  • Accepting employment in another city, province, or country

  • Quitting a job that pays well, perhaps for a job that is less certain or less lucrative in order to fulfill a calling

  • Confronting local injustices

  • Crossing the “racial divide”

  • Volunteering for military service

When we, “believe that [we] shall see the goodness of the Lord…”,  “Wait for the Lord; [are] strong, and let our heart take courage;” we face our challenges under the protective wings of God. When we hope, pray and listen we will be able to discern and choose to follow the will of God.  Let us follow in the steps and words of Abram and David as we, “offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; [and] sing and make melody to the Lord.”

Genesis 5:1-12, 17-18
Psalm 27
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 13:31-35

Half-way: How Goes The Fast?

If you have been following my blog for a while you may recall that I made the decision to give up the distractions of Face Book and Twitter for Lent.  Last Sunday was the third Sunday of Lent, two more Lenten Sundays and we will be at Passion Week beginning with Palm Sunday. We are basically half-way to Easter and can begin to see the end of our fasts (not all fasts involve food and many people don’t give something up for Lent at all).  I thought it was a good time to touch base.

I didn’t realize before that the primary use of my Black Berry was checking FB and Twitter, but I can go days without recharging it now.  It isn’t very draining to check my email and blog stats and after that is done there isn’t any other reason to have the screen on.

So, has this change in my habit made a difference in the amount of time I have my focus on God?  Yes and no.

I have done pretty well at keeping up with Bible reading and reflections and blog postings.  I had time and focus for preparing a couple of services I led recently and for the course on church polity which I am taking. Less time with social-media distractions has led to more time spent on the crossword puzzle book I got for Christmas several years ago and more time spent hanging out with my kids watching TV.  I’m not sure they are thrilled, but I need the social contact.

I am an extrovert in many ways.  I gain my energy and strength from contact with other people, although I can be very quickly drained by negative contact.  While I am with people at work all day, when I leave I only have one or two built-in social activities in my week.  I now realize to what extent I have come to rely on social media to give me that feeling of connection with others.  I have not yet concluded whether or not this is a good thing.

More quiet time has also given me time to run things over (and over) in my head.  This is almost always a negative thing.  One might think it was good, as solutions might be found that way, but it doesn’t tend to work that way for me.  I am more likely to find solutions in discussion while in my head I just run around in circles.

Overall I would say that I’m doing ok with Lent this year.  I’m not totally focused on the spiritual realm, but then meals need to be cooked and work done.  I’m not sure if I will go back to my social media sites as much after Easter.  It has been interesting to note that with no Twitter presence other than one post to announce my blog each day, I have been gaining followers in the past couple weeks.  Maybe it is true that less is more?

Advent Talks in Lent?


As Lent begins and along with it a series of noon time talks by Bishop Bill Hockin and Dr. Barry Craig, I am listening to their series of talks from this past Advent.  With their talks being at noon, my parents are able to attend and I am not.  So here I am listening to talks about Advent (a season of  expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of Christmas) during the second week of Lent (a season of fasting and reflection and repentance between Ash Wednesday and Easter).  The series is called Shopping for a Messiah: The Eternal Search for a Better Life and is available at billhockin.ca and I highly recommend you check them out at billhockin.ca.   The first week’s topic is A Messiah Who Takes You Home to Dinner, the second is A Messiah Who Loves the Loser, the third A Messiah Who Switches the Price Tags, and finally there is a reflection on A Messiah Who Turns the Tables on Religion.


I realize that it sounds rather odd to be listening to Advent reflections while reading Lenten devotions.  The thing is that Advent and Lent are not as different as they may seem.  “Jesus is the reason for both seasons!” 

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” John 3:16   Jesus is the Messiah whose coming we anticipate during Advent, upon whose life and ministry we reflect during Lent, and who ultimately took all our sin on his shoulders through his death on the cross and rising at Easter.

A Bookmark In Your Bible Or A Nail In Your Pocket

People handle the period of Lent in different ways.  First, I realize of course that many people are not Christians and wouldn’t even know what Lent and Easter are all about. 


My husband and I were talking about Lenten sacrifice at lunch today.  He was saying that he always figured that Lent was a Roman Catholic thing and that the Presbyterians weren’t into that sort of thing.  He said he didn’t understand the point of giving something up.


When we were growing up we didn’t hear much about the liturgical year.  This has been shifting in the last ten years or so, and I think it is a good change.  My response about the point was that it was about giving up the distraction that took my attention off of spiritual matters.


We usually get a booklet from the church with devotions for each day of Lent, or a bookmark with the lectionary readings for the season.  This is a great way of focusing on the scriptural story of the life and mission of Christ.  One year we were each given a horseshoe nail to carry in our pockets throughout the season.  Every time you reached into your pocket or purse you were reminded of the great sacrifice that Jesus made for you,  for all of us.