The lambs of God: paschal and Paschal

Easter Sunday is, of course, the pivotal and most triumphant day in the calendar of the Christian Church. Interestingly however, no trace of an Easter celebration as we know it exists in the New Testament.

The celebration of Easter actually began with the early Jewish Christians who continued to celebrate the Passover, regarding Christ as the true Paschal Lamb. The original and prophetic sacrificial lamb had been the one eaten by Hebrew families their last night in captivity in Egypt.

An examination of rabbinic evidence from those days suggests that the paschal lamb, which had to be a perfect specimen, was arranged in the form of a cross before roasting. One spit went through the lower parts up to the head, and another across the back, to which the legs were attached. Furthermore, none of the bones were to be broken.

Sound familiar? To see the remarkable resonance here, compare the reading in Exodus 12:46b (“Do not break any of the bones”) with that from John 19:31-33:

Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.

For early Christians then, the Passover event naturally passed over into a commemoration of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

You can read an excellent related story by Rabbi Evan Moffic here: How Lent started with Passover.

Angst or peace: it's your choice

Based on a sermon by the Reverend Canon Anne Moore

“We live in a culture where snipers live behind laptops and smart phones. Fewer people are interested in debate and more are looking for enemies to eviscerate. Some have become unhinged and others are on the ledge.”

Anne quoted these words from a blogger (whose name she hadn’t taken note of) in a recent sermon. Do you feel you are among the ‘unhinged’? She confessed to the same feelings she sees affecting so many others these days: anxiety, despair, anger, fear, disgust, frustration, embarrassment, hostility, and panic. Perhaps angst best sums it up.

Upsetting and unsettling information bombards us from all directions, and as Christians we know we really can't, really shouldn’t, simply turn off the news. We need to be aware of what’s going on firstly, to pray, but also to be able to engage others in conversation.  

While we can never understand ‘what in the world is going on’ or how to fix it, we must refuse to be bent out of our Christian shape by it. None of the mess is of God, who is still in control and who alone has the solutions. Earthly governments can only put band-aids on people’s problems, Anne reminded the congregation. But the gospel can bring healing to souls.

Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.... Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God.” (Psalm 146:3,5)

“We want and need hope here,” she made clear after reading the above scripture. “Hope is not dreaming or a vague aspiration. It’s not simply wanting things to turn out well while remaining uncertain whether they actually will. Hope is the absolute certainty we have that God is good and that God’s promises are true.”

Further, we can use the hope we cultivate in ourselves to help the troubled around us. “The despair, anxiety and fear we see in people around us is the very opportunity we have to share the hope and good news of Jesus with them.”

The Almighty will accomplish His purposes, no matter the political leaders and disasters cramming our newscasts. We see in scripture how God has been able to use some exceptionally evil rulers such as Cyrus, Nebuchadnezzar, Caesar and Nero to fulfill His will. He has worked out His purposes under every condition imaginable, from Egypt through Babylon and onto Rome and beyond. We must keep the hope, and cultivate peace.

“We don’t need to pray for peace, we have it,” she concluded. “It is in us. We have that peace but must use it and share it.” 

Seek peace and pursue it.” (1 Peter: 3b)

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

A revolution in New Year’s resolutions

Few of us would disagree with the idea of New Year’s resolutions. They do seem to work for some people, sometimes. Did you make any? Break any yet?

Perhaps it’s the perfect time to remember that, for many of us, a major reason we decided to become Christian, to accept the help and spirit invasion of Jesus, was because we knew we couldn’t do it on our own.

Nowhere in the New Testament do we find admonishments to  'strive and make every effort’ to start and keep an exercise or eating program, begin a stringent daily Bible reading series, or whatever. We are told over and over, however, to ‘strive’ and ‘make every effort’ to be faithful followers of Jesus.  As we accept Christ and the realization we cannot do much of anything worthwhile on our own, he provides all the help we need to persevere, discipline ourselves, and so vastly increase the likelihood of successful resolutions.

As Mark Galli explains so well in Christianity Today:

“It also has to do with what enables people to do the very thing they fail to do when they strive to do it: freedom. You cannot enjoy freedom when you feel you have to do such-and-such to be good. That's not freedom but oppression. Only when you realize that you do not have to do or be anything can you know freedom, and only when you know freedom can you really choose the good.”

Paul in a number of his letters does seem to advise many personal resolutions for better, stronger lives. We’re to "put on the new self" (Col. 3:10), "put on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 13:14), "put on the whole armour of God" (Eph. 6:11), put on "the breastplate of righteousness" (Eph. 6:14), "put on … compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience" (Col. 3:12), and above all, to "put on love" (Col. 3:14). Sounds like an awful lot of effort, no?

Galli helps mitigate that by comparing it to how a store clerk gets us to try on something or other in the store.

“Why not try on the blue one?” he or she suggests, taking it off the rack and holding it open for you to slip your arms into. You button it up and have a look in the mirror. You’ve put it on, but really the clerk has put it on you.

“Work out your salvation,” says Paul, and in the next breath, adds, "for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12–13).

The Clerk approaches us daily. "Why don't you put on love," he says. "Here, let me get it for you. Just hold out your arms."

To read Mark Galli's entire article, please click here.

Creative Corner: the Call of Truth and Life

Take a few deep breaths, and moments, to savour a tremendous ancient poem by Welsh-born English poet, orator and priest, George Herbert. 

Herbert spoke and wrote in the English of his contemporaries, among whom were Shakespeare and King James 1.

In fact, when King James ordered a new, more readable translation of the bible, one of his main stipulations to the scholars—besides that it be true to the original Hebrew and Greek—was that it be written in the vernacular of the day. Could it be the clever king understood something a few of today's 'old-style' preachers and church goers—insisting as they do on sticking to that same ancient translation—do not?

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Thanks to Allan Halton for bringing this poem to my attention. Creator of The Mending Feast, Allan credits this poem as the inspiration for the title of his blog (and also sticks to the old KJV in his scriptural references) . 

FAMILY FIRST? Yes and no

[based on a sermon by Anne Moore]

Tough scriptures: to be glossed over or gleaned from?

I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. (Luke 12:49-53) 

How is a listener or reader to handle this one? What happened to the Christmas ‘Peace on Earth’ proclamations?

No one doubts the importance of families. Within and from them we learn right and wrong, the importance of relationships, social skills, handling conflict, and much more. So why this talk, by Jesus, promoting actual family division, not reconciliation? It seems to make no sense, especially coming from our loving saviour.

We do tend to gloss over the tough scriptures. Yet knowing they exist within our Bible, we should instead try to glean wisdom and truth from them.

As Anne pointed out in a recent sermon on the reading, these words of Jesus do not deal with internal family issues but, instead, with the division often caused by following him. Other scriptures back this up, as does history and current news reports. We need only look at the horrific outcomes in the Middle East for so many who choose to follow Jesus, right now.

In Luke, we have Simeon’s words to Mary when she and Joseph were presenting their new infant at the temple for his dedication:

Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too." (Luke 2:34-35)

And how about when Jesus' own hometown folk tried to toss him off a cliff right after his first recorded sermon (Luke 4:14-30)?

Later in his ministry, when Jesus’ mother and siblings waited outside after requesting he come out and speak with them,  Jesus redefined family:

While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" And stretching out his hand towards his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." (Matt. 12:46-50)

The family of God has no political, racial, socio-economic, gender, or whatever barriers.  In calling us to be his disciples, Jesus cares only that we trust in and follow him, even if it means persecution and messes. The call of Christ overrules all other commitments, relationships, and even logic. Joy overrides any fear, and this divine connection proves itself over and over to be infinitely better and more delightful than any personal relationship.