While Christmas was my favourite season in the Christian year, Easter has replaced it. Easter has not gained ascendancy in my life because as a Christian and a minister I am obliged to say so… I am someone who has grown into the wonder and power of Christ’s life, suffering, death and resurrection. It is an awesome, holy, and mysterious time which despite being shrouded in mystery brings to each believer a transforming experience of the presence of a risen Christ alive in his church and world even today.
Easter has been preceeded by the season of Lent for many of our churches. Much of the material we used as a resource came from Steve Simala – Grant from Laurier Heights in Edmonton. Some additional material came from Mark McKim at First Baptist Regina.
Phil Crump in Cold Lake, AB helped us understand (via videoclip) the importance of a systematic reading of the Bible (the Lectionary); several outlines of which are on our website. All these resources will be available next year plus an excellent introduction to Lent that my wife Kerry showed me of Jodi Spargur’s at Kitsilano Christian Community in Vancouver. The season began with Ash Wednesday for at least some of our pastors a the New Pastor’s Orientation in Calgary as Axel Schrober followed a tradition he established by administering ashes for, amongst other things, a sign of our repentance.
Good Friday will see many joint services take place; a most interesting one will be when Sam Chaise (our Baptist Union President) joins Olivet Baptist in New Westminster, BC in a joint church service at Erwin Swangard Stadium. A place normally known for its soccer will indeed be transformed.
Easter Sunday will see sunrise services by the Pacific, baptisms in several places, a wonderful Easter celebration by First Baptist Vancouver in the massive and historic Orpheum Theatre and over two hundred other moments of celebration as a family of God in the Baptist Union as we announce together the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
One of the Easter – Lenten readings this week is a play from the middle ages which takes us into an imaginative conversation between some characters you might recognize. The emphasis here is not the colourful “toughs” but on the wonder and power that the new age of Easter proclaims. This Jesus is the destroyer of death… he has set out to turn our own lives and this worlds experience of death upside down… as Paul would write “oh death? where is thy sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55) Or as Paul would later write in Romans 8:38-9 “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The second reading is a simple Easter poem. Please find the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed amongst the things you will bring to this Easter week.
I guess my journey towards a more meaningful Easter is summed up in two quotes. In Aslan who in the Narnia Chronicle The Last Battle says “The dream is over. This is the morning” and in the unlikely person of Karl Jung ( a quote from my friend Ted Cryer; when asked near the end of his life by a BBC reporter whether (the son of a minister) “Believed in God”. Jung replied “I don’t believe. More than that I know”. Even now, the Holy Spirit floods each of our lives with the experience and “knowness” of the resurrection.. the risen and living Christ amongst us.
The following passage is taken from chapters 15 and 16 of the Book of Nicodemus, one of the manuscripts circulated early in the life of the Christian Community. It is not, of course, accepted as canonical, but is rather in the style of the medieval mystery plays which teach through recounting the stories dramatically. This section, which may be used as a spur to meditation during the strange period of waiting between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, vividly illustrates the statement in the creeds that Jesus descended into hell, and imagines what happens when He gets there!
Satan, the prince and captain of death, said to the prince of hell: ‘Prepare to receive Jesus of Nazareth Himself, who boasted that He was the Son of God, and yet was a man afraid of death and said, “My soul is sorrowful even to death.” Besides He did many injuries to me and to many others; for those whom I made blind and lame and those also whom I tormented with several devils, He cured by his word; yea, and those whom I brought dead to thee, He by force takes away from thee.”
To this, the prince of hell replied to Satan, ‘ Who is that so-powerful prince, and yet a man who is afraid of death? For all the potentates of the earth are subject to my power, whom thou broughtest to subjection by thy power. But if be so powerful in His human nature, I affirm to thee for truth that He is almighty in his divine nature , and no man can resist His power. When therefore he said He was afraid of death, He designed to ensnare thee, and unhappy it will be to thee for everlasting ages.’
Then Satan, replying, said to the prince of hell, ‘Why didst thou express a doubt, and wast afraid to receive that Jesus of Nazareth, both thy adversary and mine? As for me, I tempted Him… I sharpened the spear for His suffering; I mixed the gall and vinegar, and commended that He should drink it; I prepared the cross to crucify Him, and the nails to pierce through His hands and feet; and now His death is near to hand, I will bring Him hither, subject both to thee and me.’
Then the prince of hell answering, said, ‘Thou sadist to me just now, the He took away the dead from me by force. They who have been kept here till they should live again upon the earth, were taken away hence, not by their own power, but by prayers made to God, and their almighty God took them from me. Who then is this Jesus of Nazareth that by His word hath taken away the dead from me without prayer to God? Perhaps it is the same who took away form me Lazarus, after he had been four days dead, and did both stink and was rotten, and of whom I had possession as a dead person, yet He brought him to life again by His power.’
Satan answering, replied to the prince of hell, ‘It is the very same person, Jesus of Nazareth.’
Which, when the prince of hell heard, he said to him, ‘I adjure thee by the powers which belong to thee and me, that thou bring Him not to me. For when u heard of the power of His word, I trembled for fear, and all my impious company were at the same time disturbed. And we were not able to detain Lazarus, but he gave himself a shake, and with all the signs of malice, he immediately were away from us; and the very earth, in which the dead body of Lazarus was lodged presently turned him out alive. And I know now that He is almighty God who could perform such things, who is mighty in His dominion, and mighty in His human nature, who is the saviour of mankind. Bring not therefore this person hither, for He will set at liberty all those whom I hold in prison under unbelief, and bound with the fetters of their sins, and will conduct them to everlasting life.’
And while Satan and the prince of hell were discoursing thus to each other, on a sudden there was a voice as of thunder and rushing of winds, saying, ‘lift up your gates, O ye princes; and be ye lifted up, O everlasting gates – and the King of Glory shall come in.’
When the prince of hell heard this, he said to Satan, ‘Depart from me, and begone out of my habitations; if thou art a powerful warrior, fight with the king of Glory. But what hast thou to do with Him?’ And he cast him forth from his habitations.
And the prince said to his impious officers, ‘ Shut the brass gates of cruelty, and make them fast with iron bars, and fight courageously, lest we all be taken captives.’
But when all the company of the saints heard this they spake with a loud voice of anger to the prince of hell:’Open thy gates that the King of Glory may come in!’
Taken the Celtic Daily Prayer from the Northumbria Community
Seven Stanzas at Easter
Make no mistake
if he rose at all
it was as his body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the
molecules reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as his Spirit in the mouths and
fuddled eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as his flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that – pierced – died, withered, decayed, and then
regathered out of his Father’s might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages;
let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse each of us
the wide light of day.
And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
John Updike – taken from the Lion Christian Poetry Collection
I’ve quoted this poem before, but believe it appropriate once again for this time.
From: The Rock
There shall always be the Church and World
And the Heart of Man
Shivering and fluttering between them, choosing and chosen,
Valiant, ignoble, dark, and full of light
Swinging between Hell Gate and Heaven Gate.
And the Gates of Hell shall not prevail.
Darkness now, then
T.S. Eliot – taken from the Lion Christian Poetry Collection