Tag Archives: Easter

“If Christ Has Not Been Raised . . .”

 

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Easter, like Christmas, is not just a day; it is a season.

A day is probably enough if you’re just talking about bunnies and eggs. But I like them, too—particularly the chocolate ones—and I hope your bunch enjoyed an Easter egg hunt. We had a good one! (Not, I trust, like the year one Easter egg hidden indoors behind our couch stayed hidden until well after Pentecost when its smell betrayed its presence.)

But if our spirits also rise higher, and Easter for us centers on the risen Lord, a full season of reflection is sweet and good and important. The Apostle Paul warns, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Cor. 15:14). But if Easter really happened, that changes everything. With all of my heart, I believe that Christ was indeed raised from the dead. But I admit . . .

Believing anything with complete sincerity proves precisely nothing except that you are seriously sincere. You may also be seriously mistaken. We all know folks who always believe each of their feelings extremely sincerely, even religiously. But their feelings, sadly untrustworthy, betray them and lead to wreck after wreck.

Notice also the necessary word here: “believe.” I believe that the Resurrection happened. Not just as a metaphor for new birth and hope and life; though it is that, it is much more. I don’t adopt a “belief” in the Resurrection that is largely symbolic and sentimental, a tip of the hat to ancient folks who just didn’t know any better, but now we do, and we’d still like the comfort of religion, shorn of much that is embarrassingly supernatural. No. I believe John looked into an empty tomb and that Jesus, after his real death later showed up genuinely alive.

But a belief, even bolstered by all sorts of good and real evidence, is still a belief. No one can prove 100% that it happened or that it didn’t. We consider the evidence and choose.

For me, that leads way back to this question: “Does God exist?” I’ve rarely been able to imagine having enough “faith” to believe that all we see around us is accidental. I know we moderns, “chronological snobs,” like to assume that, with the advent of science and technology, we’ve arrived, and that the incredible masses of folks before us were just so primitive and foolish that they worshiped rocks and statues rather than facing hard facts.

Well, idolatry was and is foolish. But I’m not convinced pagans were more foolish than modern humans who adopt a supercilious, supposedly tragic pose, claiming “courageously” to stare darkness in the face and to worship nothing at all—even as we worship ourselves as gods and bow to science as our religion.

If all we see around us is not a cosmic accident, we soon must get back to some idea of a Creator. Once we do, why should a God who can create a universe out of nothing be unable to reverse death and create new life? It’s a dead serious question.

I like the way Danish priest and martyr Kaj Munk framed this: “If [Christian faith and ministry] is, after all, a mistake, then it is a beautiful mistake. If Christianity should turn out, after all, to be true, then unbelief will have been a very ugly mistake.”

My faith is in a risen Lord.

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

  

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 

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The Resurrection: New Life Brings Present Hope

 

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Three words say a lot.

“We had hoped . . .”

And they point to three more.

“But not now.”

Cleopas and his companion were walking on the road to Emmaus, a little village seven miles from Jerusalem, when they were joined by another traveler.

“What are you talking about?” he’d asked.

With heads still spinning, filled with thoughts of crucifixion, reports of empty tombs and missing bodies, and mind-boggling confusion about what it all meant, they’d responded (this is paraphrased a bit), too tired to be particularly polite, “Are you kidding? Are you the only one in Jerusalem who doesn’t know what has happened there during these crazy days? That Jesus of Nazareth was a great and powerful prophet, that he was put to death by our leaders, and now our friends are telling us about empty tombs and missing bodies and angels and . . .”

“We had hoped that he was the one sent by God to redeem Israel, but . . .”

Their words point to a death. A terrible death.

It’s worthwhile to ponder the horrors of crucifixion. But as horrible as it surely was, the physical pain paled in comparison to the literally unimaginable horror of the weight of all of the sin of humanity that our Savior carried to the grave. Only God knows how utterly terrible that was.

Cleopas and his companion did not. But they’d lived through days difficult enough. Days focused on loss and death. The death of their Lord—and the death of their dreams.

“We had hoped . . .”

Like Cleopas and his friend, we also are incapable of any but the most rudimentary understanding of the real suffering Jesus underwent for us. But the death of dreams? That we do understand.

We’d worked so hard for the business to be a “success,” and we had hoped . . .

We’d poured our hopes and dreams into human vessels, and realized many sweet dreams, some better than we’d dared to dream. But human vessels are, at best, human. For this spouse, for this child, for this dear friend, we had hoped . . . Who knows what God may yet do, but that particular dream is dead.

Sometimes we stop in the midst of the whirlwind and try to make some sense of it all. We are not blind to the joys we’ve received, God’s gifts indeed. But sometimes when we stop, and think, we realize what we’re feeling at times has a name: grief.

It’s all wrapped up in those words: “We had hoped . . .”

Read Luke 24 and you’ll find that the traveler who joined Cleopas and his companion was the risen Lord. He is the One who listens to them talk about the death of their hopes, their dreams.

And it’s the risen Lord who on Easter imparts to them new hopes, new dreams, new life.

“We had hoped . . .”

Yes, but now in the light of Easter, we find that our hopes, our dreams, are alive again. New. Bigger. Stronger. More genuine than ever before.

We had hoped. And now, our hope is new!

 

       You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Christians Can Celebrate Christmas with Deep and Genuine Joy

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I hope Christmas is a wonderful, “wonder-filled,” time for you. If our hearts are prepared and ready for it, it can be. Hence (and this is fodder for another column), the very good sense of having a time of real preparation before Christmas. (Look up “Advent” if the word jingles no bells.)

I know. A lot about the way our society “celebrates” Christmas is nothing to celebrate. In fact, as Andrew Greeley writes, some aspects of the sometimes-not-so-holy “holy-day” might make us tempted to run from the whole thing: “It might be easy to run away to a monastery, away from the commercialization, the hectic hustle, the demanding family responsibilities of Christmastime. Then we would have a holy Christmas.”

He warns, though: “But we would forget the lesson of the Incarnation, of the enfleshing of God—the lesson that we who are followers of Christ do not run from the secular; rather we try to transform it. It is our mission to make holy the secular aspects of Christmas. . . . And we do this by being holy people—kind, patient, generous, loving, laughing people—no matter how maddening is the Christmas rush.”

By George, I think he’s got it!

C. S. Lewis wrote similarly, observing that a small child cannot really separate “the religious from the merely festal character of Christmas or Easter.” Lewis appreciated both the poetry and the piety of the little boy reported to have gone about on Easter morning muttering a poem he’d made up about “chocolate eggs and Jesus risen.”

“Of course,” Lewis writes, “the time will come when such a child can no longer effortlessly and spontaneously enjoy that unity.” One day, Lewis says, the child will realize that the spiritual aspects of Easter are different from the festive aspects, and he will have to put one or the other aspect first and choose what is most important. We all get to that point. Do we major on egg-hunting or on the Resurrection? Or, for us at Christmastide, do we major on Santa Claus or on God in the flesh at Bethlehem?

In making the choice, people tend to make two mistakes.

One serious mistake is to choose rightly to major on the real reason for the season but to decide that necessitates also adopting a dour pseudo-piety that says, “Out with lights and Christmas trees and all the other festive trappings of the holiday. Humbug!”

But the other mistake is even worse—to refuse to celebrate such days as religious holidays at all and focus only on egg hunts and Rudolph.

As Lewis writes, “If the child puts the spiritual first he can still taste something of Easter in the chocolate eggs; if he puts the eggs first they will soon be no more than any other sweetmeat. They will have taken on an independent, and therefore a soon withering, life.”

Christians who know the real meaning of the holy days should celebrate everything that is good about them with more joy than other people and not less. If we truly love Christ more than Christmas, then we’re free to love Christmas with a freedom and genuine joy we could never have otherwise. God is so good!

It’s nonsense to thank Santa for God. It may be very good sense indeed to thank God for Santa!

 

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


When the Son Rises, It’s Time to Praise Him!

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Until it became obvious to me at our community’s Easter sunrise service a few years ago, I had no idea the population of my town included so many roosters.

Or maybe there aren’t that many. Maybe we have just one or two who’ve been granted the gift of uncommon volume and unflagging energy.

In any case, early on that particular Easter morning, as we stood outside near the tennis courts in the park praising God in our annual Community Easter Sunrise Service, the human worshipers there assembled were not the only ones lifting their voices. So were the local roosters!

I assume those good birds lift their voices every morning at about that time, though I’m not usually out and about to hear it. But they were certainly in fine form that Sunday!

If some way-too-buttoned-up, nay-saying, kill-joy of a rooster was standing lock-jawed by the fence, sullenly and silently deriding his loudly-crowing compadres for their voluminous joy, we certainly weren’t aware of it. I doubt you could actually find a rooster of that depressive and depressing variety. Roosters know better! When the sun comes up, it’s time to crow! And I thank God for humans who know that when the Son rises, it’s time to praise him!

Unfortunately, whenever praises resound, if you look around (and I hope you don’t—I hope you’re too busy praising the Lord yourself to notice), you’ll almost always find one or two thin-lipped sad-sacks with calcified hearts standing around stone-cold-silent, unmoved except to hurl criticism toward others who spirits are joyful and whose hearts are warm.

That was the case way back in 2 Samuel 6 when King David, the “man after God’s own heart,” a man whose heart often overflowed with joy and praise, led the holy Ark of the Covenant back home after its long absence.

King David, filled with joy, was “leaping and dancing before the Lord,” and his sullen wife, Michal, Saul’s daughter, watched from a window and later derided him. To the day of her death, evidently, she remained sullen, joyless, and childless.

And then there was the time on that very first Palm Sunday when Jesus entered Jerusalem and was hailed as a conquering king. Some of the Pharisees, full of themselves and the kind of toxic religion which leaves no room for God, derided those who praised the Lord. “Teacher,” they coldly whined, “rebuke your disciples!”

You remember Jesus’ famous reply, don’t you?
“I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

If you’re a child of the King, don’t forget to praise him. It would be a real shame to let roosters and rocks do all the praising!

 

 

 You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

 

Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Easter Means That Hope Is Always a Realistic Forecast

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It’s the evening of a beautiful Easter Sunday as I write. And I must admit being surprised.

My surprise is nothing compared to the amazement of Mary Magdalene and those with her who very “early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark,” went to the tomb, found the stone rolled away, and heard the angel’s sensible question, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” and then the universe-changing proclamation, “He is not here; he has risen!”

It was not angels that awakened me at 4:30 this Easter morning; it was the sound of a mighty wind. Not a Pentecost wind—just wind with brown grit in it.

On Easter Saturday, a gorgeous day, I’d been burning tumbleweeds (souvenirs from the last windy blast) in the fire pit in our back yard. I hear that people in New York City will pay good money for tumbleweeds. (Scary what happens to your mind when you stay in the big city too long.) I burned about a million dollars’ worth.

As the sun went down, I dragged my chair nearer to the pit, drank coffee, and soaked in the warmth of nicely glowing embers and a beautiful day. My wife’s making her annual springtime threat of loading our fireplace with candles. It will soon be purely decorative again. (Spring can be depressing.) I was enjoying the good fire.

But fire in the pit is good, and outside it, not so much. So at the right time I followed all of Smokey the Bear’s wise advice and turned the fire pit into a swimming pool. I wet it down with more water than was reasonable. Stirred it. Wet it again. Shoveled around to douse any hot spots, and hosed it down some more.

At 4:30 a.m., not an hour I care to witness even on Easter, the sound of wind jarred me awake. An Easter eastern sunrise is one thing, but I had a paranoid vision of a fire-induced glow out in the west, say in the vicinity of my back yard. I trudged out the back door, and, in the midst of cold wind and flying dirt, hosed down the pit one more time. Then, retreating inside, I pulled up the covers and faded away thinking depressing thoughts about a sunrise service speeding down the tracks and about to squash me with more cold wind and airborne real estate.

Fast forward. Yes, it was a little breezy and cool at the sunrise service, but not bad at all. And the rest of Easter Sunday? Every hour seemed more beautiful.

This is where you should remind me that even if we’d had to endure a world-class dust storm on this Easter Sunday, God’s power would be no less real and the Resurrection no less filled with hope. Our faith is centered not on the weather but on the Lord of the universe.

Easter means that even if trouble’s winds are howling and Satan’s throwing dirt at us, we can always have hope. And the same God who once commanded, “Peace! Be still!” seems to absolutely delight in surprising us yet again with his beauty and joy, right when we’ve given up on seeing them.

Nobody expected that stone to be rolled away either.

 

 

 

Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


A Tsunami of Joy Flows from a Little-used Tomb

“Joy is the serious business of heaven,” wrote C. S. Lewis. Whatever the musical key of “the concert of the age,” on the eternal day when God’s people from across the ages, people of every tribe and tongue, all band together to praise him, joy will be the tone and timbre of every single note.

And we don’t have to wait. Whenever Heaven bursts in unexpectedly right here on earth, joy marvelously overflows the banks of our hearts and spills out in delight.

A tsunami of joy started one morning long ago and has not stopped, its source a little-used tomb in Palestine. Unquenchable Light and Life spilled forth as our Lord breathed new life and death’s bonds were loosed forever. The joy-flood that burst through the mouth of that stone crypt still flows freely, an unending spring of the water of life.

The words of John of Damascus (d. 749) are as true today as they were over a thousand years ago when he contemplated “The Day of Resurrection” and urged, “Let all things seen and unseen / Their notes in gladness blend / For Christ the Lord hath risen, / Our Joy that hath no end.”

Delightfully drenched by that joy-flood, the Apostle Paul exclaims, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20), or as Eugene Peterson paraphrases in The Message, “the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries.”

No, that kind of joy can’t be contained. You can’t successfully ignore it, quench it, throttle it, demean it, crucify it, bury it, roll a stone over it. You might as well try to bottle up the liquid light of the Milky Way in a paper cup, capture Niagara Falls in a Boy Scout canteen, contain and control a nuclear reaction in your cupped hands.

It won’t happen.

Not in this life.

And not in the next.

So it’s a good thing to get an early start praising the risen Lord, tilting our heads back, our faces heavenward, and allowing the flood of his joy to start washing over us right now.

While his blood washes away the stain of our sins, his joy becomes the flood washing away the dust of a drought-stricken world, the grit that would have relentlessly ground down our lives into despair.

While Satan the accuser and a host of less poisonous but still dangerous and depressing finger-pointers and tongue-waggers hurl insults to shatter our joy, hobble our delight, and dry up our spirits, Christ, alive and life-giving, stands at the right hand of the Father defending us, upholding us, proclaiming the truth that we are his, and delighting to claim us.

Yes, the joy-flood started long ago, flowing forth from the angels’ words to the astonished women at the tomb: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!”

Because he lives, joy lives! “Our Joy . . . hath no end.”

 

 

 

Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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