holy saturday // readings & silence {2018)


Holy Saturday: a day between the ages; a day of mystery, of unspeaking, of undoing, of unknowing.

Scripture Reading:
everything the gospels say was happening on this day

Matthew 27.62-66

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.

Luke 23:56b

On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

-silence-

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“Teach Us to Number Our Days” (Psalm 90) [a Lent sermon]


I had the privilege of preaching the Ash Wednesday service at one of my church’s campuses a few weeks ago. As is appropriate to that Holy Day and this Lenten season itself, we sat with words that drew us into a meditation on our mortality and death.

(I also talk about my grandfather’s death. For more about that, you can read my reflections.)

I help lead a Bible Study and sometimes, when I’m feeling artsy, to help us start a discussion on a certain text from Scripture, I’ll ask my group a question: what color is this text? As in, what’s the emotional tone? When you close your eyes, and let its words sit in you, what color are the images that come to mind? For me, sitting with this Psalm before preaching it, I felt it was a dull, pale blue–or maybe more like a burlap grey. And I have found that “hue” marking much of my time this Lent.

So even now, a few weeks in to season, I find myself returning to the themes of this Scripture text. I hope it might lead you to engage all the more deeply into this Holy Lent. The text is Psalm 90.1-12, and here’s the sermon audio. Feel free to send me any thoughts, questions or concerns:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast. If reading is more your style, here is my manuscript for your perusal. Continue reading

My Grandfather’s Passing (Hope in Death?)


peep-paul-dance-2Today is the sixth anniversary of my Grandfather’s death. I am reposting this reflection I wrote at the time.

This past Sunday, the day after Christmas, I watched my grandfather die. This is the first death I’ve experienced of someone very close to me. I’ve known people who had died, sure, but no one as close as this.

This man walked with me and I with him for my entire life. I sat on his knee and was tickled by his hands. I grew up hearing legends about him, and I walked in a general sense of awe and disbelief when in his presence.

His name was (is?) Lester Travis Williamson, or as I knew him for most my life: Peep (a mispronunciation due to the first grandchild’s toddler lisp).

Peep represented for me a tenacity and determinedness of love that great stories of tragedy and triumph are built upon. As their old pastor said during the funeral, he was a man that if you asked for a crumb would give you the entire loaf and then chase you out the door to give you another loaf for the road.

But this is not to be confused with the contemporary pictures of the sentimental, gratuitously giving man–cheerful, talkative, jocular, and always-optimistic. If Peep was anything, he was the quintessential man of his generation–America’s vision of a “real man”–quiet, determined, and strong. He spoke with intention in every syllable, meaning what he said and saying what he meant.

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New Seminary Post: Holy Week Music & Readings on Death


Jesus & The Cross

I have a new post on the site Going to Seminary. I am putting up occasional posts giving different things to read around the interwebs, and this week focuses on Holy Week and its theme of death–Christ’s Death, Our Death, and Death conquered. I also give some classical music suggestions for this week (more Lent music suggestions here). I link to articles about a sister in Christ who recently died well, a New York Times piece about watching family die, and some writings by non-Christians about death. It ends with one of my favorite quotes ever. May these writings help you press into this time and our Savior all the more deeply.

Read the full post:
“Around the Web: Holy Week Edition

Check out the rest of my Going To Seminary posts.

Some emotional outbursts at Esther. I don’t like this book. | Esther 9


Now in the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day, when the king’s command and edict were about to be executed, on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain power over them, but which had been changed to a day when the Jews would gain power over their foes, the Jews gathered in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus to lay hands on those who had sought their ruin; and no one could withstand them, because the fear of them had fallen upon all peoples. All the officials of the provinces, the satraps and the governors, and the royal officials were supporting the Jews, because the fear of Mordecai had fallen upon them. For Mordecai was powerful in the king’s house, and his fame spread throughout all the provinces as the man Mordecai grew more and more powerful. So the Jews struck down all their enemies with the sword, slaughtering, and destroying them, and did as they pleased to those who hated them. In the citadel of Susa the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred people. They killed Parshandatha, Dalphon, Aspatha, Poratha, Adalia, Aridatha, Parmashta, Arisai, Aridai, Vaizatha, the ten sons of Haman son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews; but they did not touch the plunder.
Esther 9.1-10

What on earth? No gonna lie, this is maybe the first real deep reading I’ve given to Esther. I never internalized that this part was here. This is always skipped in popular retellings of this story. And I can see why. What was the point of this stuff? Save the Jews just to kill an even greater number of people? I can see why this book was so despised by many Jews. Once again, Esther is no model to follow after. I genuinely have no idea why this book is in the Bible. What little research I’ve done has said that there’s no evidence that this meant to be taken historically, so what purpose would this book have played in the community? Anti-imperialist wish fulfillment? A giant cathartic “what if?”

That very day the number of those killed in the citadel of Susa was reported to the king.The king said to Queen Esther, “In the citadel of Susa the Jews have killed five hundred people and also the ten sons of Haman. What have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces? Now what is your petition? It shall be granted you. And what further is your request? It shall be fulfilled.” Esther said, “If it pleases the king, let the Jews who are in Susa be allowed tomorrow also to do according to this day’s edict, and let the ten sons of Haman be hanged on the gallows.” So the king commanded this to be done; a decree was issued in Susa, and the ten sons of Haman were hanged. The Jews who were in Susa gathered also on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar and they killed three hundred persons in Susa; but they did not touch the plunder.

Now the other Jews who were in the king’s provinces also gathered to defend their lives, and gained relief from their enemies, and killed seventy-five thousand of those who hated them; but they laid no hands on the plunder. This was on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, and on the fourteenth day they rested and made that a day of feasting and gladness.

Esther 9.11-17

What? Oh, and 75,000 people killed? Yeah right. This is a despicable book.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

The King’s Authority: more Christian lessons from Esther | Esther 8.7-8


hen King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther and to the Jew Mordecai, “See, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and they have hanged him on the gallows, because he plotted to lay hands on the Jews. You may write as you please with regard to the Jews, in the name of the king, and seal it with the king’s ring; for an edict written in the name of the king and sealed with the king’s ring cannot be revoked.”
Esther 8.7-8

Oh the beauty here. Look at this. This is the king who had conquered the enemy of God’s people, sitting down and lending his authority to the very people that he was previously in a contract of anger and condemnation towards. He lends them his very authority and gives them the responsibility and freedom–based on what they know of the world and culture around them–to proclaim the good news to their people with the king’s authority. Sound familiar? This is what we do as Christians, and we strive to do that faithfully.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Death as home; Death as gift | Esther 8.1


On that day King Ahasuerus gave to Queen Esther the house of Haman, the enemy of the Jews; and Mordecai came before the king, for Esther had told what he was to her.
Esther 8:1

Continuing the theme from an earlier note which compared Haman, the enemy of the Jews, to our enemy, sin and death. Here, we see that after the King has conquered our enemy, we’re then given the house of the enemy. In our case, the house of sin and evil is death itself. But because of the Resurrection and God’s victory over death, death is now given to us as a gift. A place of rest, and the doorway to help.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Why was Obamacare necessary? Christians, it seems.


nyt-flowers-medicine-bw{abstract: My point in this post is pretty simple. Christians seek radical end-of-life care dramatically more than non-religious people, and this accounts for a huge portion of American Health Care cost. In this piece, I ask if this drove prices up, therefore creating the situation where, ironically, Obamacare (a policy Evangelicals widely despise) was necessary.}

I wrote a while ago about my own current preoccupation with my fear of death. It caused me to read several related things, including the amazing book, The Art of Dying. In it, Rob Moll carefully helps guide Christians back toward embracing death for what it is: our greatest enemy, yes, but an enemy whose sting has been turned into a doorway to Glory Itself.

And so, as the horror-turned-beauty that Death is, the book encourages us to spend our energy preparing for Death more than avoiding it. He encourages Christians to recapture the doctrine of the “good death”.

And yet, it seems that American Christians are prone to do everything but that.

Moll talks of a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that found that Christians were three times more likely than those without religious faith to pursue aggressive end-of-life care, even though they fully understood they were dying and that the treatments would most likely not add any time to their lives.

One researcher told Moll, “patients who received outside clergy visits had worse quality of death scores than those who did not.” And if you have problems with this particular study, know that the book is full of research, studies, and interviews that lay out the pretty clear case that American Evangelicalism widely avoids preparing for death.

Now, we can talk about why this is and whether or not this is a sound Christianly posture another day (I happen to think it is not). Hopefully I’ll write a full review of the book in the weeks ahead. Today, though, I wanted to point out a huge irony this made me think of.
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Diving into Death


books-death

It’s always difficult to talk about one’s own fear of one’s own death. It usually comes across as a little melodramatic and seems to carry with it the appearance that somehow your fear of your death is somehow felt more deeply, analyzed more fully, or experienced more truly.

In short, when people start whining about their fear of death. It can be annoying. I acknowledge this. And yet, here I am, telling you all that I am really, really scared of death.

When I mention this to people that know me as the guy who writes a lot about faith and seems to believe these things pretty deeply, people are (for some reason) shocked to hear me explain just how deep my fear of death goes. I know it’s not logical, but I somehow find the past works of God more easily believable than the future acts of God. I know you can’t have one without the other, but the human heart is a storm of contradiction and paradox.

And for some reason, Death has occupied my thoughts of late. Sure, I’ve wrestle with it’s reality, thought through it’s theological origin, seen it in the faces of the hurting, wrote about how to live in spite of it, and even engaged it in poetry and in song, but something has really captured me recently. I’ve been sitting in the presence of this fear.
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Trickle-Up Resurrection (Guatemala Lessons)


Rothko-easterMy church is currently in a series called “Resurrection Stories” in which we’re going through each of the non-Jesus stories of resurrections (or “resuscitations”—whatever) found in the Bible. It is, after all, still Easter.

A few weeks ago, as we were talking about Elisha raising the Shunnamite’s son, our pastor pointed out that most of these resurrection stories seem to center more on the people around the dead person than the dead person themselves. And so, in a sense, these resurrections are more for the people affected by death than the one dead; the ones that “receive” the true resurrection power are mostly those around the resurrected one.

Further, as he pointed out, most all of these people that “receive” the truest benefits of these resurrections are women—the most alienated and disempowered group throughout world history.
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Death & Dignity: what’s the point?


philly-life-wall

Next week I head to Guatemala for the Lemonade International Blogger’s Trip. Having been introduced to this organization, I’ve been following their blog closely, trying to get to know them more and more.

A couple of days ago, they posted about a tragic loss. A member of their school, Herber Giovanni Sandoval, died a couple of days ago at the age of 17. In the conclusion of their post, they said this:

“We are especially grateful to the youth group at Lifepointe Church in Raleigh, NC for sponsoring him while he was still attending the Limón Academy.”

I immediately had the image of the youth group kids or sunday school class at that church who probably spent years following the story of Herber. I wondered how they would feel and respond to this news. How would the leaders help them process this? Would it impact the kids at all or would they be too removed from it?
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On Easter Sunday: “Oh Death” [a song]


[I wrote this after my grandfather died in 2010 after a long battle with throat cancer. It really affected me, and I wrote this to redeem this moment for him and me. You’ll find a recording of the song below. It’s simply a piece of cathartic lament in light of pain, and is not meant to be “high art”.]

I here your footsteps coming
The floorboards they scream
I pray to my Father
to wake from this dream

I’m tired, so tired
when will this end?
I’m tired, so tired
Your strength, won’t you lend?

Oh Death, here is your sting
Oh Death, I hear your voice ring
Through echoes and ages and days gone past

Oh Death, here is your sting

This breath, you can take it
This body, is yours
This voice you have stolen
My eyes are now dim.

Oh this sweetness you’ve taken
I taste life no more
This life, I release now
But this love you can’t have!

But I’ll rise….
But I’ll rise…

I’ll awake from this nightmare as daylight draws nigh
The tension of ages breaks before my eye

This breath I’ll take back. This life will be His.
That body, you can keep; I’ll get a new one from him

Like daybreak it’s new and as strong as fired steel
The demon like dew is gone, ’cause I am healed.

His vict’ry now better: of this conquest we’ll sing
Your vict’ry now bitter:you will taste it’s last sting.

Because…

Oh Death, you’ll taste your last sting
Oh Death, I’ll hear your voice scream
Through echoes and ages
and days gone past

Oh Death, here is your sting.

Oh Death….
taste it and weep,
for oh Death,
I no longer sleep.

Because, Oh Death,
I’m no longer thine;
And, Oh Death,

The vic’try’s now mine.

[read my other Holy Day poetry here]
all writings licensed: Creative Commons License

Palm Sunday: Future-Tense [photo sermon]


church-easter-tree

Continuing WordPress’ uncanny timing of photo challenges with the Christian Church calendar, this week’s theme is “Future-Tense“. In essence, they’re wanting pictures that anticipate something to come; something that’s being waited for; some future thing who’s presence is felt in the picture, even in its absence.

This is most appropriate today, as it’s Palm Sunday of 2013.

It takes some real significance for an event from the Bible to find itself as a major Church Holiday. Considering that, it can be odd that Palm Sunday is one of these: there’s nothing really unprecedented or special about it in and of itself.

There are other places in the gospels where Jesus is proclaimed king, proclaimed Messiah, prophecies are fulfilled, large groups believe in him, and even several times he enters Jerusalem. So what’s so special about this moment?

The future.
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Resurrection Gives Us Joy in Lent & Death


La-Pieta-IYes, as cliché as it is, I’m watching the new Bible mini-series on the History Channel. I’m actually enjoying it. A few things are odd (the ninja angel, for one), and they made some interesting choices on what to leave out (was the extended Sodom sequence really worth cutting out the entire Exodus story, Wilderness wandering, and golden calf rebellion?). But there is still a sense of ownership, that this is our story.

(Side note: for those of us that study the Bible and don’t necessarily think historicity is the highest purpose for which it was written, it’s encouraging to still feel that feeling of identity-formation when encountering our story–even when it’s seen as “just” a story.)

Anyway, a review of the show is not why I’m writing today. I just had a brief thought I wanted to share.

In Episode 1 of the mini-series, we see Pharaoh’s son die at the end of the plague sequence. Watching him carry the pale, lifeless body of his son, it reminded me of Michelangelo’s la Pieta (a version of which you can see above). It was actually quite moving, and I was surprised that I only realized now the sadness of this part of the story. Continue reading

Marveling in the Cross: Lost in the Details [photo sermon]


pma-cross-skull-pma

For several months now I’ve been doing the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge. Honestly, I’ve gotten a little tired of that, so I’m going to start mixing it up with some weekly “photo sermons”, taking the weekly theme, picking an appropriate photo, and writing up a short meditation on the theme. We’ll see how it goes. This week’s theme is “Lost in the Details“.

One of my best (and oldest) friends is named David Schrott. He’s an incredible photographer, and an even more incredible man of God. He’s currently been spending an extended period of time back in his hometown of Lancaster, PA, recovering from surgery.

In this time of recovery, he’s only grown in his intimacy with God, his love as a friend, and the depth of his experience of spirituality. Recently, when I asked how he’s seemingly unlocked this door to the depths of the spirit and, as he puts it “longing for the resurrection in ways I never have”, he simply said this:

“Suffering! Without it, it is hard to long for anything but immediate pleasure.”

I love that guy.

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