In the Christian Church Calendar, we are currently in a season that is numbered according to the Holy Day of Pentecost, the day we celebrate the Holy Spirit falling on the apostles fifty days after Jesus’ death (hence the name Penta-cost).
Jesus had told the disciples to go out into the world ministering this Gospel to the world, but first, to wait. What would be so important as to put the brakes on the mission of God in the world?
I’m really looking forward to doing a happy sermon sometime soon. But alas, I find myself preaching on both Ash Wednesday and Good Friday this year–not the happiest of Church Holy Days.
And yet there is hope.
It’s fashionable to emphasize the narrative nature of God’s work in the world. And yes, it’s true–there is a progressive nature to Redemption, with a beginning, middle, and end.
But God’s work is also often cyclical, with certain rhythms and movements that return, repeat, and fold within one another.
I had this in mind as I went into this sermon. Yes, we ought to press into the darkness and doubt of the Cross without just quickly comforting ourselves with the Resurrection–we have to sit there for a bit–and yet the Church Calendar gets into our bones and souls to such an extent that it transforms the darkness. We can never sit in the Cross’ forsakenness without feeling the spiritual muscle memory of previous Easters gone by. And in that is hope.
This realization led me to largely do away with my notes (which you can find below) when giving this sermon and largely ad-lib, speaking from the heart as I wrestled with this stuff in real-time. The text selections came from Matthew 26-27, and here’s the sermon audio. Feel free to send me any thoughts, questions or concerns:
Today in the Christian church calendar is Ascension Day, the day we celebrate Christ ascending into heaven 40 days after his resurrection and now sits at “the right hand of God the Father.” (You can read a prayer and poem I posted earlier for this Holy Day)
The Useless Ascension
The idea of “Ascension” doesn’t seem to get a lot of play nowadays in the Church. This, in spite of the fact that it is an essential part of all the Church’searliestdoctrinalformulations, and the subject of the most-quoted Old Testament verse in the New Testament:
The Lord says to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.”
Compared to other, non-creedal things like Hell, homosexuality, and “attacks on biblical authority”, the Ascension isn’t really talked about. Maybe this is because the Ascension isn’t really a “doctrine”–it’s an “event” and a “declaration”.
And we western Christians love our systematic “doctrines” that we can pick apart as nauseam and/or figure out how we can “apply it to our lives” in such a way that we can feel like we’re “good Christians.” But honestly, the Ascension doesn’t have many direct applications for today. Continue reading →
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.
Lent is a time that we dwells a lot on Sin. It’s a preparation for Easter and celebrating the Resurrection, and so to prepare for this, we must meditate on those things that Resurrection itself addressed. Resurrection was a response to Sin and Death. The more we feel and dwell in the reality of our Sin and Death, the more tangible Resurrection becomes.
This can seem morose, annoying, unnecessary, or not in line with our identity as Christians. Should we do this though it might make us depressed, feel like self-focused navel-gazing, or if it distracts us from much of the rest of our Christian living?
There’s definitely a time and place for it and a degree after which it becomes unhealthy, but more than what this does for/to us or our emotional state, could I offer another reason that it’s good to have times where we bring our focus to our weakness and sinfulness?
If you don’t care about the commentary, and just want the amazing music, you can get it at Noisetrade. If you’d like to listen to the album first, just press play:
Someone’s “favorites” are a weird thing to define. They are prone to fickleness, are tied so closely with whatever else is subjectively happening in one’s life, and usually bear little resemblance to what that person would consider as the technically “best” of any particular thing. So when you have a “favorite” that sustains that title for years–decades, even–it’s a big deal.
Since high school my favorite band has been Cool Hand Luke. Back then they were a little hardcore screamo band. At that time, to get their CD, you had to mail a check to the lead singer’s house. As time when on, their style changed at the very same time and in the very same way as my own. It felt like we were growing together.
Around my senior year of high school, they came out with an album called Wake Up, O Sleeper. Anyone who’s heard of CHL probably knows them from this stunningly powerful work of art. It quickly became the most influential and “favorite” album of mine. And it has been ever since.
Towards the end of college, I became pretty good friends with the lead singer. For a while, every few months, we’d talk for a couple of hours on the phone. He was discerning whether to go to seminary and what to do about the financial mess their shady manager had left the band in. I got to see his heart and the heart behind the beautiful music they made.
Eventually, he got married, I started seminary, and he decided it was time to end the band and begin seminary himself. But there was one last project he felt he had to do.
Today is Ash Wednesday. In just under two months from today we’ll come to the highest point in the Christian Church calendar, Easter. That is where we’ll celebrate Christ’s Resurrection and how God’s perfect world broke into the present and our greatest enemies–sin and death–were conquered and shown to have no more dominion over us and the rest of the world. It’s meant to be the most effusive, overflowing, even ridiculous time of joy.
And yet, when we look at Jesus’ Resurrection, we see that before it ever took place, there was Death. And before that, there was an entire lifetime of loneliness, pain, suffering weakness, and isolation. We see that it was a life surrounded by evil forces and whispers that haunt and hurt Jesus and the people he loved.
And so, our early Church Mothers and Father thought it would be wise to have this time before Easter to prepare, so we might end up celebrating during Easter all the more.
Resurrection was itself a statement against our two greatest enemies: Sin and Death. And so to participate in Resurrection, we take the time of Lent to meditate and press into those things to which Resurrection was the response. We do this not out of morbidity, but out of anticipation.
I grew up in a church tradition that did not take seriously the Christian Church Calendar. Even as I went to college and moved into communities that took some level of tradition more seriously (which was usually limited to quoting Puritans and Reformers in sermons), the Church Calendar wasn’t that big of a deal. It was seen as something sort-of cool that could be incorporated into the already established life of the Church; a buffet from which leaders could pick and choose some aspects that might be helpful in organizing some sermon series or songs. But it certainly wasn’t seen as something that a church should actually incorporate itself into, or build it’s own rhythm around.
I’ve had the privilege of having this paradigm rocked the past several years at my church, and have fallen in love with the Church calendar. It influences much of the rhythm and timbre of my everyday life–both ecclesial and otherwise. I find such life in living within a stream of thought that was not simply created within the past generation by baptizing modern Western American cultural ideas.
I love finding myself as embedded within the cloud of witnesses that have gone before me as possible–even those I may disagree with passionately and fundamentally. Because, at the end of the day, they are my family, and families have traditions. Sure, you can be “that guy” that does his own thing and doesn’t participate in the family rhythms, but where’s the life in that?