Saturday, March 31, 2018

He Is Risen!

 After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning and his clothing was white as snow. The guards were shaken with fear of him and became like dead men. Then the angel said to the women in reply, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ Behold, I have told you.” Then they went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples. Then they went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”- Matthew 28:1-10

Do not be afraid. We can trust and heed these words of both the angel and Christ precisely because of the words "he is not here, for he has been raised just as he said." The Resurrection makes all the difference in the world, for it means we do not simply follow a good moral teacher or enlightened guru but the Son of God himself, who has conquered both sin and the grave, who gave his life that we might live.

Do not be afraid. The empty tomb proves that everything else Jesus said during his earthly ministry is true. Not maybe true, or possibly true, but True. It proves that we can be reconciled to God and have everlasting life with him in Heaven. Knowing this, what have we to fear?

Do not be afraid. This Easter, as we celebrate the Resurrection of the Savior, do not let the moment simply pass by. Return to him who created you and loves you with a perfect and everlasting love. As the apostle John wrote, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear" (1 John 4:18).

Do not be afraid. Finally, in perhaps the best summation of all I have written, heed the words of Jesus himself: "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid" (John 14:27 ESV).

For He is Risen. He is Risen indeed!

Friday, March 30, 2018

Good Friday

So they took Jesus, and carrying the cross himself he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus in the middle. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.” Now many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that he said, ‘I am the King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four shares, a share for each soldier. They also took his tunic, but the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top down. So they said to one another, “Let’s not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it will be,” in order that the passage of scripture might be fulfilled:

“They divided my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots.”

This is what the soldiers did. Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I thirst.” There was a vessel filled with common wine. So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth. When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished.” And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.

Now since it was preparation day, in order that the bodies might not remain on the cross on the sabbath, for the sabbath day of that week was a solemn one, the Jews asked Pilate that their legs be broken and they be taken down. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and then of the other one who was crucified with Jesus. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs, but one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out. An eyewitness has testified, and his testimony is true; he knows that he is speaking the truth, so that you also may [come to] believe. For this happened so that the scripture passage might be fulfilled:

“Not a bone of it will be broken.”

And again another passage says:

“They will look upon him whom they have pierced.”

After this, Joseph of Arimathea, secretly a disciple of Jesus for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus. And Pilate permitted it. So he came and took his body. Nicodemus, the one who had first come to him at night, also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about one hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and bound it with burial cloths along with the spices, according to the Jewish burial custom. Now in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried. So they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day; for the tomb was close by. - John 19:16b-42

We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You.
Because by Your Holy Cross, You have redeemed the world.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Resurrection is No Fairy Tale

Holy Week has begun; this is the time each year we recall Jesus’ Passion, death and Resurrection. It will culminate on Easter Sunday, the day we celebrate Jesus' resurrection from the dead following his crucifixion. Hundreds of millions of people will fill churches on Easter morning and sing about the resurrection, but do they believe it? In America today, while most people believe in God, a significant number of people don't believe that the resurrection really happened. Amazingly, this includes people that consider themselves Christians.

The literal resurrection of Jesus is not something that can be accepted or rejected according to your personal interpretation of the Bible or view of Church teaching. There are many things we can debate, but this is not one of them;  for people who call themselves Christian, the resurrection is the single most important aspect of Christianity, and without it Jesus was simply one in a long line of "good teachers." So were Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Mother Theresa, but we don't build belief systems around them or consider them the way to salvation.

The various Christian denominations may argue about numerous points of doctrine, but none deny the importance of the resurrection in the plan of salvation. St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans that "if you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." He went on in his first letter to the Corinthians to say that "if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith." The resurrection is what sets Jesus apart from every religious teacher that ever lived and what gives believers their hope.

So I would like to make a very brief case for the historical reality of the resurrection, which isn't as complicated as it might seem at first. Without delving too deeply into various conspiracy theories that have cropped up in the last few centuries I will deal mainly with two key factors: the empty tomb and the deaths of the apostles.

1. The Empty Tomb
Let’s first remove the long-discredited argument that Jesus was alive when he was taken down from the cross and somehow escaped the tomb. This theory has always been nonsensical; Roman soldiers were well skilled in making sure a condemned person's sentence was carried out. And while Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ may have been too bloody for some people's taste, it was a very factual presentation of what happened to those sentenced to crucifixion. That's simply not something a person survived.

Another extreme theory was that the disciples stole the body from the tomb. This theory hinges on the premise that Jesus' followers (all of whom fled when he was arrested) returned to the tomb, overpowered a squad of Roman soldiers standing guard to prevent just such an occurrence, and then hid the body. All so they could proclaim the reign of a king they knew to be dead. This notion stretches the imagination even further than the idea of someone rising from the dead.

So if we know Jesus was dead, and the disciples didn't steal the body, then why didn't the Jewish leaders or the Romans simply produce the body when the claims of the resurrection were made? That would have been the simplest way to shut the whole thing down. They didn't because they couldn't; the body wasn't there.

2. The Deaths of the Apostles
There have been many followers throughout history who died for the leader of a religious movement, most often through mass suicide, but the deaths of the apostles fall into a different category altogether. Of the eleven apostles (Judas had committed suicide after betraying Jesus) only John died of natural causes. The other ten died while spreading the gospel, in the following ways:

Peter - crucified upside down
James, son of Zebedee - beheaded
Matthew - killed by a sword thrust
Philip - crucified
Andrew - crucified on a cross in the shape of an X.
Simon - crucified
Thomas - speared to death
Jude Thaddeus - killed by arrows.
Bartholomew - flayed alive and crucified
James, son of Alpheus - stoned to death

Both the violent nature of these men's deaths and the fact that they died at different times and in different parts of the Roman Empire is important. If they knew that the resurrection was a lie, which they would have if they had either stolen Jesus' body or not personally seen him after the resurrection, it is possible that one or two of them might have been deranged enough to die in order to keep the story going. There is no way, however, that ten of them would have endured excruciating deaths, completely separated from the others by years and thousands of miles, for something they knew to be a lie.

What we see in the apostles is an amazing change from the terrified men who fled at Jesus' arrest to men who did not shrink from death in proclaiming his resurrection. That is only possible if he really did rise from the dead.

Ultimately, the resurrection is something that cannot be ignored or treated like a fairy tale. It is either true or it's not, and the entire Christian faith rises or falls based on the answer to that question. There is much more that has been written on this subject (entire books, in fact), but the two reasons here should be enough to challenge any doubts you might have. Belief in the resurrection goes beyond a mere leap of faith. But in the end faith is still needed, and this Easter season each of us must ask ourselves if we truly have that faith.