Good Friday. Again.

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The boy entered the small candy shop with his mom, bright eyed and full of anticipation for a chocolate treat as most seven-year-olds would. He searched the store for just the right sweet morsel that would satisfy his desire. His eyes sparkled as they studied the bright, Spring colored wrappings of each box, bag, and foil wrapped chocolate. The eggs…the bunnies…the baby chicks…the pastel colored baskets. And then he stopped for a few moments. A box of chocolates with a cross pictured on the front caught his attention. A sad shadow dimmed the brightness in his eyes as he pondered the box with a cross.

The boy looked up and loudly asked, “Hey Mom! It’s almost Easter already, huh?”

His mom answered, “Yes, son.”

To which the seven-year-old complained, “Aww, Mom! Does Jesus have to die again?!?!?”

There were sounds of a few giggles from the other shop customers, as well as smiles of amusement, and a few looks of disapproval. As the shoppers returned to their activity and the sounds of bustle resumed, I noticed the young boy was still pondering the box with the cross pictured on front. He didn’t mean to be funny or disrespectful with his comment. It seemed that in the midst of all the bright Spring colors…the chocolate bunnies…the foil wrapped eggs…and the marshmallow chicks – the representations of new life…resurrected life…there was an understanding by the boy that death had to come first.

And not just any death.

The death of Jesus.

On a cross.

We call it, “Good Friday.” Like the young boy in the candy shop, it’s difficult to see the death of someone…especially Jesus…as good. But so it is. The ultimate goodness of a God who loves us so much that He would pay the ultimate and complete price for us to have a restored relationship with Him. In the midst of reflecting on the pain…the torture…the cruelty…the betrayal…the brutality of being crucified…we also reflect on how He took upon Himself everything we deserved because of our disobedience…our selfishness…our stubbornness…our blatant rejection of God…

Our sin…

And paid the price. For good.

In one sense I would have liked to tell the young boy in the candy store, “No, Jesus doesn’t have to die again. He paid the price once and for all.”

And in my rather small, simple (Dare I say, childlike?) understanding of what Jesus did on the cross I would be correct.

But then I look at my life since the first time I came to truly understand and believe that Jesus’ death on the cross brought (and bought) my salvation, and I have to accept the fact that I have continued to live a life of disobedience, selfishness, stubbornness, and blatant rejection of God. I’ve continued to sin…and so I need to revisit Jesus’ death on the cross. I feel as if I need for Him to die again…in my place…so that I can walk in a continued restored relationship with God. I feel as if I need His death again…and again…and again.

I often find myself wanting to skip the reality of the death on Good Friday and just celebrate the new, resurrected life of Easter Sunday. Like the young boy, I don’t really want to ponder the cross. I want to celebrate and receive the victory of the empty tomb!! The bright colors! The new life!! The joy that He is risen…indeed!!!

But Jesus had to die first before He could rise. He had to pay the price in order to set us free. He willingly submitted Himself to the torture and death for my (our) sake before He could celebrate the victory and defeat of death. Giving me (us) the free gift of a resurrected, restored, and victorious life.

So I say to that young boy in the candy shop, “Yes” and “No.” Good Friday helps us to see that it’s both/and. “No” – the price Jesus paid by dying on the cross was a once-and-for-all sales transaction. Jesus never has to physically ever be crucified again. Like the hymn says, “Jesus paid it all!” But it’s also, “Yes” – because of our continual weakness, rebellion, and tendency towards sin, we have to revisit Jesus’ death again…and seemingly ask Him to pay the price, again…and die…again. Perhaps not physically, and definitely not for the sake of salvation, but on a spiritual level…a sanctification level.

Good Friday is a time of reflection. We pause to, once again, journey with Jesus through the torture of being crucified. We come to the foot of the cross and revisit the fact that Jesus’ death on the cross was our fault…is our fault. And it’s the one thing…the only thing…that restores our broken relationship with God. We come to the foot of the cross…weeping…wincing…in anguish…realizing the price He paid for our sin…and say…

Thank you.

I (we) receive Your forgiveness…Your grace…Your unmerited gift of salvation. I’m sorry that it’s because of me You had to die; then…and now. But I thank You from the bottom of my heart…my mind…and my spirit…for taking my place. I thank You for restoring my relationship with God; then…and now. I take this time…this moment…this Good Friday…to let Jesus die for me…

Again.

– Richard Bannister

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Maundy Thursday

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Have you ever wondered how Jesus made all this happen? Could the owner of the house have been a follower? Some think the house owned by Mary, the mother of Mark. And, what do you think about the man carrying a jar of water? In that day, that type of work would have been reserved for a woman.

All of this allowed Jesus and his disciples to meet privately, away from the crowd. And it also prevented Judas from “leaking “the location to the Sanhedrin.

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After sundown on Thursday, Jesus and his disciples meet privately, perhaps even secretly, in the upper room of some unnamed house in Jerusalem. They take their place around a “U” shaped table which sets six to eight inches off the ground. They lay on their left on a cushion around the table.

This was much more than a festive meal, even more than a Passover meal. Jesus is the Passover Lamb, slain for the deliverance of his people. Three important things happen during the meal:

  1. Jesus washes the feet of his disciples
  2. The Betrayer is identified
  3. Jesus celebrates the Lord’s Supper with his disciples

Jesus is fully in control.  He executes the will of God, to whom he will soon return.

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The lesson should be simple: Jesus is the teacher. His students are not greater than he is, so if he serves in such a lowly fashion his disciples must be prepared to do the same. Today, we must be prepared to serve others as well. What do you do to engage and serve others?

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Even though Jesus and Judas know the score, the others are left in the dark. Judas was stripped of his office of Apostle and died a gruesome death.

Jesus went to the Cross.

The disciples went throughout the known world and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And today, we’re commanded to go throughout the world and spread the same Gospel.

For two thousand years now, the church of Jesus has reenacted and remembered his death. Strangely, divinely, this celebration connects Christians today with the past. It allows us to relive all the events that follow: Peter’s denial and Jesus’ death; the joy of the resurrection and the hope of Peter’s restitution.

After taking the cup, Jesus gave thanks and said, “Take and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until kingdom of God comes.” Then, while they were eating, he took the bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body given for you, do this in remembrance of me.

In the Last Supper Jesus is memorializing his death. Not his life, nor his miracles or his teaching. His primary purpose for coming to this world was to die for the sins of it. The word “Maundy” is derived from the Latin word for “command.” This refers to the command Jesus gave to this disciples at the Last Supper, that they should love and serve one another. And he commands us to do the likewise!

– Elder, Leroy Bell

Palm Sunday

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Psalm 118:28-29

You are my God, and I will praise you!  

You are my God and I will exalt you!

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good!

His faithful love endures forever.

How devastated I was when my husband broke the news to me that he had just been diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer.  I had just returned from a consulting job, it just happened to be my birthday, and I was ready to have a wonderful weekend with the love of my life.  We had only been married 3 years and looked forward to growing old together but that one day certainly changed our outlook.  I retreated to the bathroom to have a long cry and think about how I could get God to change what was ahead of us.  I started to bargain with God and suddenly this wonderful calm came over me and I just knew that the Lord would see us through what time we had together and would always be there for me for comfort and guidance. He has never left my side and is always there for me in good times and challenging times.

The Lenten season reflects how I feel about the Lord and my love for him grows daily as I delve more into his word and feel his guidance throughout each and every day. The season shows his Love for us and the tremendous sacrifices he is willing to make for us but can we say the same for our behavior toward Him?

My prayer is that we will take a good look at our behavior and start thinking about how we can all start truly loving one another  and speak only those words that are pleasing to God and perform those deeds that reflect Jesus. Let’s make this a time of thanks and praise for the great sacrifice our Father made by changing our lives to more reflect Him.

– Betty Hickey

Fifth Sunday of Lent

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A year or so ago I attended a weeklong leadership training retreat. Somewhere around the third day, after we had gotten to know each other a bit, the instructor/facilitator mentioned that I focus on “Titanic stories” instead of “Mayflower stories.”  The point was, this person thought I had a tendency to highlight and think about failures instead of successes. I fired back, “the arrival of the Mayflower wasn’t a celebration for everyone!” The instructor wasn’t amused.

One of the reasons I love the Lenten season is that it forces us to take inventory. Spiritual disciplines help us to look back to where we’ve come from, as well as forward to where we’d like to go. They help me to ask questions about where I am today and how I’ve arrived here. In Isaiah 43 we read that we shouldn’t dwell on the past. But the truth is, both as a church and as individuals, none of us would be where we are today if it weren’t for our histories.

We usually think of the narrative of Jesus’ resurrection as one sweeping historical event. And it is true — Jesus’ sentencing, execution and conquering of the grave is a defining moment. We should point back to it and say, “that changed everything.” But we shouldn’t be stuck there. The resurrection continues to change everything.

The key word in Isaiah 43:18-19a is dwell. If we dwell on our past, we stay stuck in it. We blame past events or continually define ourselves by pointing to something we did twenty years ago. By doing so, we ignore the present and don’t allow new things to come. We rob ourselves of having “resurrection moments” every day — those times where we can see God redeeming our past and giving new life. As we head toward Easter and look forward to the new life that comes with Spring, I hope we can be a community that both looks backwards with grateful hearts while looking forward for opportunities of resurrection in the present. May the image of the empty tomb that once held Jesus’ lifeless body guide us to new life in him.

– Pastor Dave

Fourth Sunday of Lent

 

lightbulbScripture.jpgFor our fourth Sunday of Lent, we will reflect upon 2 Corinthians 5:16-21. What a beautiful message Paul illuminates in his second letter to the church of Corinthians.  Would you in this moment take a step back, take a deep breath, and consider the enormity of the message Paul is expressing. That is, God our creator is inviting us into relationship with Him through the gift of reconciliation through His son Jesus Christ.  The result is that our insecurities, failures, and our sin do not define our existence, our story. Instead, our narrative finds new meaning when we strive to become so thoroughly transformed by Christ Jesus that we become as Paul writes a “new creation”.  To this end, I pray Christ ignites your soul today with hope, meaning, and purpose. Would you make a choice to pursue Christ this week and deeply consider what it means to be a new creation. In doing so, I am confident that the Holy Spirit will meet you in a tangible way.

It is important to note that Paul does not simply stop at the expression of our personal journey of faith. Rather, Paul writes that we are Christ’s ambassadors, and that we are to be part of Christ’s plan to reconcile the world to Himself. My prayer for you today is that you would ask God to allow you to have interactions with your co-workers, neighbors, strangers, friends, or even strained relationships you may have, that would allow you to take part in this important task. As you do so, would you consider the words of Dietrich Bonheoffer who wrote “Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”

My prayer is that we would continually strive to be known as a church that shows grace, love, and generosity to our community. Be mindful this week to guard your words, guard your actions, and deeply consider that no matter what stage of life you find yourself in, you are intricately connected to how our community sees Jesus. I pray that you actively pursue God this week, that you embrace what it means to be a new creation,  and that God uses you in a significant way in our community.

– Gordon Houston