Posts tagged ‘Easter’

Blogging Hiatus

Lamentation at the Tomb, 15th century.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Lent season, which begins a 46-day countdown to Easter Sunday. Although many associate Lent with Roman Catholicism, it is also celebrated by Protestant denominations such as the Church of the Nazarene, Methodists, and Lutherans. Lent is traditionally marked by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. As someone who grew up in a Jewish household, I find these traditions familiar. They remind me of the practices which Jews engage in during the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, as we daven (pray) and fast; they also bring to mind the Jewish practice of tzedakah, obligatory acts of charity.

Lent is more than simply traditions. Lent is a time which spiritually prepares us to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. Spiritual preparation can often come through exercising spiritual disciplines, practices which aim at bringing Christians into a state of holiness and purity. I think it is safe to say that throughout the history of the Church that such practices have not been necessarily easy to engage in, nor have they always enjoyed popularity. My friend David Brickner, executive director of Jews for Jesus, has for years engaged in the spiritual discipline of reading one chapter from Psalms each morning and meditating upon it. I have tried this discipline myself on and off over the years since he first shared it with me, and cannot say that I have had the discipline to maintain it.

Growing to maturity as a Christian requires more than simply proclaiming oneself a Christian. One must engage in spiritual disciplines designed to focus one on Christ, rather than on the things of this world. John Wesley devoted his life to the practice of such disciplines in his personal life, and to teaching others to engage in such practices themselves. Among the spiritual disciplines Wesley practiced and taught were: public worship of God, regularly searching the Scriptures, regularly participating in the Lord’s Supper (communion), private and family prayer, fasting or abstinence, feeding the hungry, welcoming in strangers, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison, and sheltering the homeless.

I think it’s interesting to note that some of these disciplines directly benefit us in our walk with Christ, while others of the disciplines seem to directly benefit others (feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, etc.). Perhaps the message in that is that it isn’t about us, rather that it is about Jesus and doing the things He did, and treating others the way that He did. As Lent begins, I am beginning a fast from social media such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as placing this blog on hiatus. God has laid some exciting ministry opportunities (or may they are challenges) before me recently, and I choose to take Lent as a time to remove distractions in order that I might focus fully on Him, and on preparing myself to celebrate the Resurrection of His Son.

Whether you fast during Lent or not, I pray you too will engage in some sort of spiritual preparation. See you after Easter!!

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Passover and Holiness, Part 4

To wrap up this series on Passover and holiness, I want to reflect a bit on some historic connection between the Passover story and the Holiness Movement.

The story of Passover is contained in the book of Exodus, and although when we talk about Passover we most often think of God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt, we should not forget that the Passover is merely part of the tale of Exodus. The early proponents of the American Holiness movement did not miss this, and they were able to use the story of the 40 years that Israel spent wandering in the desert as an analogy for the spiritual journey that the individual Christian took to get from justification –their initial salvation experience — to entire sanctification.

In the early 19thcentury, the holiness teachings that American Methodism had received from John Wesley had begun to be abandoned. Timothy Merritt, a Methodist Episcopal minister in New England, was an early voice to reaffirm the doctrine of entire sanctification as essential to those seeking holiness.

In his The Christian’s manual, a treatise on Christian perfection: With directions for obtaining that state, Merritt drew parallels between the Exodus and the spiritual journey a Christian must make to achieve entire sanctification. He posits the connection as being obedience to God:

“The distance between justification to sanctification is not great, and it is soon passed over, if we be obedient to our spiritual guide, and do not fall into idolatry, nor turn back in our hearts to spiritual Egypt. The children of Israel came to the borders of Canaan within a year and a half from their leaving Egypt …But those who could not trust the Lord were easily discouraged by the difficulties which lay in their way … God was displeased and ordered them to turn again to the wilderness, where they were doomed to wander forty years. This was not in the original design of God concerning them. Had they been obedient to his command, they might have been in their possession of the promised land forty years sooner.”

As the Holiness revival bloomed fully in the 19th century, the Exodus continued to have meaning to those who sought to be sanctified. This was particularly important during the era of the holiness camp meeting. The first such meeting, labeled the National Camp Meeting, was held July 17-26, 1867 in Vineland, New Jersey, and resulted in the birth of the National Camp-Meeting Association for the Promotion of Holiness. In years to come, this ecumenical organization would oversee a transformative movement that grew rapidly and fruitfully. Seizing upon a tide of interest in holiness, the Association formed a publishing venture, the National Publishing Association for the Promotion of Holiness, which launched the Methodist Home Journal and a host of other inexpensive holiness literature.

A dominant image preached at the camp meetings and promoted through literature was that the sanctified Christian might encounter a small piece of heaven while still on earth. Drawing from Scripture and the writings of John Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress, the camp meetings developed a metaphor in which, according to Charles Edwin Jones, “holiness writers established between the pilgrimage of Bunyan’s Christian and the Exodus; between the Wesleyan theology of salvation and Israel’s journey from Egypt to Canaan; and between the experience of entire sanctification or perfect love and the believer’s residence in the Promised Land, also referred to as Canaan or Beulah.”

Holiness songwriters seized on this metaphor, most notably in Edgar Page Stites’ “Beulah Land” (1875):

O Beulah Land, sweet Beulah Land,
As on thy highest mount I stand,
I look away across the sea,
Where mansions are prepared for me,
And view the shining glory shore,
My heav’n, my home, for evermore!

These are metaphors that are seldom heard in holiness circles these day, but should perhaps be revived. How does your journey of sanctification relate to such metaphors? Have you been obedient, or have you had to tarry in the wilderness with the Promised Land in sight?

Passover and Holiness, Part 3

In Part 2 of this series, I talked about the significance of the matzah, the unleavened bread which is eaten as part of the Passover seder, or meal. This third post will examine the importance of the matzah for what it can tell us about God.

One of the items that is found on the Passover table is called the matzah tosh. This is a pouch, separated into three layers, into which three sheets of matzah are placed. During the seder, the middle layer of matzah is removed from the pouch, and after a blessing is recited it is broken in half. One half is set aside and the other half is given a special name: afikomen. The word is a Greek term which means “that which comes later,” which is an excellent description, since that is exactly what happens. The afikomen doesn’t get eaten at that point; it is kept for later. At that  point in the seder, it is hidden away, or buried.

Much later in the seder — usually after a fantastic meal has been consumed — any children present are sent to search for the afikomen. That which was broken and buried is brought back, and in this customer of the afikomen we can see a picture of Christ. He too was broken, buried, and brought back.

And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him.” (Mark 16:6)

The matzah itself — being unleavened, and therefore symbolizing a sinless nature — speaks to us of Jesus. Jewish rabbis long ago set forth the regulations by which matzah is acceptable for use at Passover. One of these is that matzah must be pierced. Jesus was pierced. God spoke through the prophet Zechariah, saying:

“And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.”  (Zechariah 12:10)

Wondering what any of this has to do with the matzah tosh? Read on!

Judaism has always had a fair bit of disagreement about the meaning of the pouch, and its nature as three in one.  Some rabbis and sages have taught that the matzah tosh symbolizes the three Patriarchs of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  This is plausible, but fails to account for why the middle matzah is broken, buried, and then brought back.  Other teachers within Judaism have said that the matzah tosh represents three divisions of worship in the ancient kingdom: the priests, the Levites, and the people of Israel.  This too is plausible, but again fails to explain the middle matzah is  broken, buried, and then brought back.  Yet other Jewish sages and scholars have taught that the matzah tosh symobolizes three crowns: the crown of learning, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of kingship.  Once more, this gives no explanation as to why the middle matzah is broken, buried, and then brought back  In contemporary Judaism, there is no recollection of the origin of the traditions of the matzah tosh and the afikomen.  Thus we can see numerous and sometimes competing explanations.

There is, however, an explanation whose roots go back to the 1st century. The matzah tosh contains three layers that form a unity — the matzah tosh is triune.  There is a Hebrew word, echad,  which can be used to describe just such a unity. In Scripture, it is found in some important places, such as the central prayer of Judaism, the Shema, found in Deuteronomy 6:4.

Shema Yisrael Adonai Elohenu Adonai echad

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” 

The word used for “one” in the Shema sentence is “echad” –a unity.  During the Passover celebration, the middle layer of this unity — this echad — is made visible to us, while the other two remain hidden from our view. This should resonate with Christians when we consider the New Testament’s statement of the Godhead:

“In the beginning was the Word.  And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1,14)

 The  unity of the matzo tosh can bear testimony to the triune nature of the one God who has revealed Himself  to mankind in three persons:  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy  Spirit.  The explanation of  the  middle matzah being broken, buried, and then brought back is as  a symbol of Jesus, the Son, who was    broken, buried, and then brought back. We have just memorialized this glorious Resurrection, as we do each  year at Easter.

A Hymn for Easter

Christ the Lord is ris’n today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heav’ns, and earth, reply, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!
Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
Foll’wing our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

                                                                       (Charles Wesley)

The Best Laid Plans …

I had intended to dive right back into regular posts to this blog after my recent move and surgery. I definitely had planned originally to post on Ash Wednesday. Fast forward past a couple of bumps in my recovery, and getting used to a radically new shift at work, and here I am.

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the season of Lent, the beginning of a roughly 40-day countdown to Easter Sunday. Although many might associate Lent only with Roman Catholicism, it has also traditionally been celebrated by Protestant denominations such as the Methodists, Lutherans, and my own Church of the Nazarene. Lent is often marked by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. I have previously  posted on the importance of Lent as a time of spiritual preparation, getting Christians ready to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday.

Confession: every year, I struggle with choosing what I should fast from. Due to medical reasons, I am not permitted to fast from food, so I have tried to fast from things which can be a big part of my life. One year it was T.V. I failed miserably on that one. Last year it was Facebook, at which I fared only slightly better. This year, I made the decision that rather than trying to fast from something, I would instead concentrate on my prayer life.

Curiously (or maybe not so much), I am finding that focusing on doing something seems easier than not doing something. In just four days, I have found that increasing the time I spend in prayer is having the unforseen result of drawing my attention away from the things which distract me from God. This is precisely what I always imagined fasting to accomplish. It occurs to me that perhaps the Apostle Paul would not have been surprised by this.

“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth …” (Colossians 3:1-2)

This was a sentiment that Thomas a Kempis echoed in his classic devotional, The Imitation of Christ.

“Fix your mind on the Most High, and pray unceasingly to Christ.”

As I discipline myself to intentionally set aside time for prayer, I experience God responding to me. Will you join me in seeking Him during the Lenten season?

Spiritual Preparation

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Lent season, which begins a 46-day countdown to Easter Sunday. Although many associate Lent with Roman Catholicism, it is also celebrated by Protestant denominations such as the Church of the Nazarene, Methodists, and Lutherans. Lent is traditionally marked by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. As someone who grew up in a Jewish household, I find these traditions familiar. They remind me of the practices which Jews engage in during the High Holy Days, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, as we daven (pray) and fast; they also bring to mind the Jewish practice of tzedakah, obligatory acts of charity.

Lent is more than simply traditions. Lent is a time which spiritually prepares us to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. Spiritual preparation can often come through exercising spiritual disciplines, practices which aim at bringing Christians into a state of holiness and purity. I think it is safe to say that throughout the history of the Church that such practices have not been necessarily easy to engage in, nor have they always enjoyed popularity. My friend David Brickner, executive director of Jews for Jesus, has for years engaged in the spiritual discipline of reading one chapter from Psalms each morning and meditating upon it. I have tried this discipline myself on and off over the years since he first shared it with me, and cannot say that I have had the discipline to maintain it.

Over at United Methodeviations, Dan Dick has been talking about such disciplines and whether or not church members practice them or not. Shockingly, he reports being told by a clergy leader, “we can’t expect people to practice spiritual disciplines.  They are relics of a bygone age.”  Not surprisingly, Dan asks what type of faith this will lead to:

Really?  And what kind of faith will this leave us with?  When I don’t exercise, I get fat.  When I don’t practice on an instrument, I get rusty.  When I don’t study, I don’t learn as much.  To become Christlike, won’t I have to do something?

Dan’s point is well made; in order to grow to maturity as a Christian, more is required than simply proclaiming oneself a Christian. One must engage in spiritual disciplines designed to focus one on Christ, rather than on the things of this world. John Wesley devoted his life to the practice of such disciplines in his personal life, and to teaching others to engage in such practices themselves. Among the spiritual disciplines Wesley practiced and taught were: public worship of God, regularly searching the Scriptures, regularly participating in the Lord’s Supper (communion), private and family prayer, fasting or abstinence, feeding the hungry, welcoming in strangers, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison, and sheltering the homeless.

I think it’s interesting to note that some of these disciplines directly benefit us in our walk with Christ, while others of the disciplines seem to directly benefit others (feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, etc.). Perhaps the message in that is that it isn’t about us, rather that it is about Jesus and doing the things He did, and treating others the way that He did. As Lent begins, I plan to abstain from several things which can normally prove to be distractions from my spiritual life. I’ll also be praying about whether it’s enough to give them up for a 4-week period, or whether they are things that simply don’t need to be in my life. If the goal is to prepare myself to be in a state of readiness to celebrate the holiness of Resurrection Sunday, and to be more Christlike, why should I stop once Easter is done?

Will you join me in spiritual preparation?

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