Friday, April 18, 2014

The Easter Vigil




Meet Dr. Jim Papandrea


Dr. Papandrea is an assistant professor of Church History at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary He is also an accomplished musician and brings Church History to life as a storyteller in the classroom.  He received his BA from the University of Minnesota, his Master of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary, earned a certificate in Classiscal studies at the American Academy in Rome, and his Ph.D. from Northwestern University.  I now welcome Dr. Jim Papandrea to my blog!








Think back to some of the parables Jesus told – parables about waiting, and watching. In the parable of the ten bridesmaids, for example (Matthew, chapter 25), the wise bridesmaids were the ones who kept their lamps burning through the night, and were ready for the return of the groom. The foolish bridesmaids were the ones who fell asleep, and let their lamps go out. In parables like this one, Jesus is teaching about his own return, the so-called second coming, and encouraging all of his followers to live in readiness, and in anticipation of the time when the Groom would return to claim his bride, the Church.

This concept of watching and waiting is embodied liturgically in the vigil service. Based on the Jewish tradition that a new day begins at sundown, the first worship services for a Sunday can actually be held Saturday night. There’s something special about an evening service – coming to the close of the day, with the sky darkening to twilight – it can heighten the sense of mystery in worship. And the liturgy that is arguably the most sacred and mystical is the Easter Vigil. This is an ancient tradition in which the first celebration of Easter begins late the night before, on Holy Saturday.

But the Easter Vigil doesn’t start out with celebration. It actually begins in darkness, with a small light, that expands to many candles, including the lighting of a new paschal (Easter) candle, and finally to the brightness of Easter. An Easter Vigil can last three or four hours, beginning in the late evening on Holy Saturday, and ending around midnight. It’s long, in part because there are many Scripture readings, telling the whole story of salvation history, from creation to redemption. By the time the vigil ends, the assembly has moved from the mourning of Jesus in the tomb to the joy of resurrection (Psalm 30:11).

The Easter Vigil also includes baptisms. In the ancient rite, that still continues in some traditions, adults who wish to be baptized and join the church community have been going through a catechism class, in preparation for their initiation into the Christian life. They have been waiting, waiting until Easter, when they are “born again” in the waters of baptism. And with them, the whole congregation renews their baptismal/confirmation commitment to Christ and his Church. So the Easter Vigil is an opportunity for the Church, the bride of Christ, to renew her wedding vows to her Groom. It’s an opportunity for every believer to experience a fresh start, to turn over a new leaf (an image that goes nicely with spring!). In the ancient Church, the concept of conversion was not thought of as a one-time decision, it was seen as an ongoing process, and the yearly tradition of the Easter Vigil was everyone’s chance to be converted again, through the renewal of their baptismal vows and through the recitation of the Church’s historic creeds.

The Easter Vigil symbolizes the time of waiting. On one level, it’s the time between Friday and Sunday – when Jesus was crucified and was in the tomb, and his disciples waited for the resurrection. On another level, it’s the time between his first advent and his second coming – when we wait for his promised return. It symbolizes – and it allows us to experience - that very moment when the Church goes from mourning into joy, from darkness into light.

Whether you celebrate Easter by attending an Easter Vigil, or the traditional Sunrise Service, or the big main service with all the trumpets, don’t let this Easter go by without making a conscious effort to rededicate yourself to Christ and his Church. As you wait for him, he is waiting for you, and he wants to give you a fresh start – no matter what the past year has been like for you.

Jim Papandrea
Associate Professor of Church History, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
www.JimPapandrea.com



Photo by Scott Carnes in France

Friday, May 17, 2013

Two Words.



Meet Gene Larson!


Gene Larson is a lay person and the Chairperson of the Worship Committee at First United Methodist Church in Normal, IL.  I have found him to be a very capable in engaging both theology and Bible.  He graduated from Kansas State University (Manhattan, KS) and found his way to the Bloomington-Normal area where we worked for State Farm.  My first meeting of Gene was with his dogs.  He is a dog lover and is as dedicated to his canines as they are to him!

I welcome Gene back to my blog and invite you to read another perspective on Resurrection and New Life.






Mark 16:1-8
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

The Gospel of Mark contains my favorite Easter story.  Why, you may wonder?  Simply put it contains two words that I relate to.  Before I tell what they are, it is helpful to understand just what Mark’s gospel is.  Most Bible scholars believe that it is, if not the actual dictation of the apostle Peter, it is very closely based on his testimony.  It is brief, it gets right to the point.  It is not flowery or verbose.  Simply, it reads like something written very quickly, with a deadline; just the facts; just the salient points.  

I have always liked Peter.  We’re a lot alike.  We’re both impetuous, often acting without enough thought.  We’re often in trouble with those we’d rather please than offend.  But, Peter’s heart, hopefully mine also, is in the right place most of the time.  

On the first Easter morning, I’d bet that Peter was more beside himself with more than grief, he blaming himself for failing Jesus in His hour of need.  He’d tried to do something in the garden, but Jesus had stopped him.  Now he shudders to think of what he did in the courtyard outside the house where Jesus’ captors had taken him.  It was a tough time for him and I’m convinced that he was planning how to best leave the disciples and slink away.  Jesus was gone and there was no way to make meaningful amends to Him.  

Then, those two words lifted Peter out of the hell he had created for himself.  The angel outside the tomb said to Mary, “…go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

The words, “…and Peter” said so much to him that he knew he was still part of the grand plan.  He was forgiven the impetuousness, the failures, and the cowardice which he had convicted himself of.  Well, I suffer from those same faults as Peter and many more to boot.  If Jesus can invite Peter to Galilee, I have faith that he can invite me too.  There is still much to learn and Jesus wasn’t easy on Peter on the lakeshore.  I don’t expect him to be easy on me either.  Jesus asked Peter three times (once for each denial?) if he loved him.  And, his threefold instruction to Peter after each question was the same—take care of the flock.  

We are the hands, feet, voices, and hearts of God on earth right now.  Jesus empowers us by his resurrection to be followers of his teachings and doers of his Father’s will.  Jesus said to Mary, “…and Peter.”  The power of the resurrection is released to each of us when we realize Jesus says, “…and [our name] to each and every one of us.  

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

New Seasons of Life


Yes, I'm a church nerd, but I always look forward to the season of Easter.  I look forward to a great Easter Sunday morning at church, yes,  but, then, I enjoy reveling in the 'afterglow' of the next few weeks.  I spend those weeks looking for signs of new life, reflecting on the experience of the cross, and expecting resurrection, not just because of old stories found in the Bible, but I expect signs of resurrection in the world around me.  I suppose signs of new life are always present, but I get excited about the season of Easter because it helps me to pay attention to the amazing things God is doing in this world.  This year, though, Easter wasn't the season I expected it to be.

This year, I found myself tired as I came to Easter because I was doing a mandated (by the United Methodist Church) internship at BroMenn Regional Medical Center along with my full-time job.  Because of my exhaustion, I didn't really take in Easter the way I ought to have, perhaps.  More devastating, however, was the abrupt end to our pregnancy after Carrie and I suffered a miscarriage.  A season that was supposed to draw my attention to new life became a season of loss and exhaustion.

Today, as I look toward Pentecost (this Sunday) and a new church season, I realize something, suddenly:  Even though I had a difficult season...there is hope.  I have an opportunity to let go of the troubled weeks of Eastertide and celebrate the hope of a new season in my own life.

You see, professionally, as I plan worship, I will set aside the themes and scriptures of Easter and I will prepare for a new season of different scriptures, songs, and worship themes.  I guess, in my personal life, I would do well to set aside the difficulties of these past weeks and months, in a similar way, and allow myself to focus on a new season and find hope for better weeks ahead!

For me, the hope that comes in a new season is:
  • the possibility of getting pregnant, again;
  • welcoming a new pastor to my church and fostering a new friendship;
  • renewing my own body and spirit this summer with exercise, right eating, and spiritual disciplines;
  • working on my relationship with my wife that the experience of this season would help us to deepen our relationship for the next.
As we leave the Easter season, we don't leave behind the message of Christ or hope for the future.  Likewise, as we move from one season of life to the next we should never lose sight the experiences we have had, yet we have an opportunity to look for new life and experience resurrection.  Over these next weeks, I pray that we will continue to experience Christ's resurrection and I pray that it will draw our attention to the resurrection all around us and help us to find renewal in our own lives!

blessings,



Friday, May 10, 2013

The Eastern Gate




Meet Gene Larson!


Gene Larson is a lay person and the Chairperson of the Worship Committee at First United Methodist Church in Normal, IL.  I have found him to be a very capable in engaging both theology and Bible.  He graduated from Kansas State University (Manhattan, KS) and found his way to the Bloomington-Normal area where we worked for State Farm.  My first meeting of Gene was with his dogs.  He is a dog lover and is as dedicated to his canines as they are to him!

Today I welcome Gene to my blog and invite you to read his perspective on Resurrection and New Life.



One of my re-discovered musical groups is the Statler Brothers.  I have always enjoyed country music, at least the form it took 30 and more years ago.  As country music changed, I moved away from it and lost touch with some of the great artists that contributed much to  my enjoyment of it.  The quartet that I enjoyed most had its roots in gospel music and throughout their long career always included some of it in their concerts and shows.  Recently, I was searching iTunes for some new music and ran across a gospel compilation of the Statlers.  One of the songs included was entirely new to me—“The Eastern Gate.”  

This song is referring to a gate on the eastern side of the wall around the old city of Jerusalem.  It is the gate that is closest to the Mount of Olives and it quite likely the one most frequented by Jesus on his comings and goings to the city.  It is almost certainly the gate He used on Maundy Thursday to visit the mountain garden to pray after the Last Supper.  It is very likely the one through which the captured Savior was returned to face the ultimate persecution, prosecution, and execution.  

If you are not familiar with the gospel song, its message conveyed in several verses and repeated chorus is that Jesus will meet us “Just inside the Eastern Gate over there.”  It is an up-tempo piece, at least in the Statler’s rendition of it.  Other gospel artists tend to be less so.  Once you hear it, if Southern Gospel music is to your liking, it is a tune and lyric that is hard to put out of your mind.  As I’ve listened to it numerous times over the last few months, I’ve come to understand what its message might hold for me and, perhaps, for you. .  

The Eastern Gate is a song that at first blush seems to dwell, as much of the related music also does, on our individual deaths and the condition of our souls at the time.  Perhaps one of the reasons the genre’s following is limited is because so much of the music seems to dwell on this singular and personal topic.  The songs we like to sing are more uplifting than the rather somber idea that ultimately we will die and whether or not we will meet the test of the Judge who sits inside the gate.  

The insight for me into this song and others is that it is not just about the end of our human lives, but about the process we go through as we live each day of our lives.  In twelve-step parlance, life that is lived in fear of tomorrow or haunted by the past is far less likely to make it successfully through this day, today.  So my contention is that The Eastern Gate is not one to be avoided or circumvented as we go through life.  Rather it is a place, a process that will lead us to answers about ourselves that will be important to understanding what we need to do to wear the mantle of a disciple.  

Let’s be honest, we are less likely to look closely at what we’re doing with our lives if the only ones we’re trying to please is ourselves.  If however, the person we will meet “…in the morning, over there,” is a wise counselor and friend who can help us understand what the better part might be for us to pursue.  When Jesus said to Martha, “Don’t worry about Mary, she has chosen the better part,” He was telling her that life is more than being a perfect hostess, the best cook, the one with the cleanest house.  He was telling her that choosing to love and care for another is more important than the clothes on our back or the possessions we take so much pride in accumulating.  

The process of self-examination is not easy and most likely is not something we can pull off by ourselves.  We need the independent and yet compassionate advice of someone who cares for us and wants us to succeed even more than we to do.  That presence in our lives is interested not in our stuff but our souls.  That helper, guide, and friend is looking out for us for our sake not for what they can get out of it.  We, on the other hand, tend to look out for “…numero uno” and that is where the problems start.  

When the Ottoman Turks controlled Jerusalem they sealed the gate to prevent the return of the Messiah.  Jewish tradition has it that the Messiah will return to the city and restore the temple via the Eastern Gate.  How like the Turks we are.  We seal off the advice and counsel of those who have our best interests at heart by refusing to look at our lives from any other perspective than our own and by worrying constantly about avoiding the inevitable.  There is nothing we can do about the inevitable.  What will happen will happen and it is up to us to prepare the way as best we can.   That may sound quite final and even judgmental, but I think it is the basis of faith.  Living life for the best result today is what will do the most for us in preparing for any eventuality.  My, our, ultimate salvation is by the grace of God, not the by the works of our hands, feet or money.  The result of life is not what we attain or accumulate.  It is what kind of memories we leave with those whose lives we have touched.

As long as there are free people anywhere on this planet or in this universe, names like Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, King, Jr. and others will never be forgotten.  The memories of what they did and how they sacrificed to make the world a better place for others is the basis for immortality that cannot be refuted.  Even a person who has no religious bent at all can name for you the persons in their past that has given them strength to get up each day and go on to achieve whatever they could to make the day worth living.  It is without doubt the Way on which we can build a legacy that will carry us into whatever form immortality may take for us.  To be sure, there are others whose presence in this world will also be remembered, because forgetting the atrocities they perpetrated is to allow them to fall into places from which those lessons from the past cannot be resurrected.  

Let’s go inside “The Eastern Gate” and see what the words of this song might say to each of us.  

“I will meet you in the morning.  Just inside the Eastern Gate.
 Then be ready, faithful pilgrim,
 Lest with you it be too late.
Refrain: I will meet you, I will meet you, Just inside the Eastern Gate over there.
 I will meet you, I will meet you, I will meet you in the morning over there.
If you hasten off to glory,
Linger near the Eastern Gate,
 For I’m coming in the morning;
So you’ll not have long to wait. [Refrain]
Keep your lamps all trimmed and burning;
For the Bridegroom watch and wait.
 He’ll be with us at the meeting.  Just inside the Eastern Gate. [Refrain}
O the joys of that glad meeting
 With the saints who for us wait!
 What a bless├Ęd, happy meeting
Just inside the Eastern Gate! [Refrain]”
These verses lead us from where we would take ourselves to where our God, our Higher Power wants us to be.  The urgency of not putting off our faith journey is where we start.  The reality of the uncertainty of this life is underscored and the request is for us to not linger, but for our helper and guide to be just inside the gate when we get there.  The allusion to a parable of Jesus concerning the preparations of the wedding party for the main participants is reinforced.  And, finally, the joy of our welcome to the immortality of our friends and family who shaped, led, admonished, and cheered us to victory over the world.  A world that would just as soon have torn us to bits and scattered our remains so as to put whatever good we possessed in a place where our lives could be of no use to anyone else.

That is not what the God I put my trust in is going to do with my life.  He waits for me to come to Him for that advice and counsel that will turn me from who I am to who I can be.  And, the people who will benefit from the change wrought by God in me are those people who I fed, clothed, visited, healed, and loved in the same way I have been treated by the power that has sustained and will never forsake me.  Jesus came to save the world, not to condemn it. He has no need to condemn anyone, we are perfectly capable of doing that to ourselves.  

The Eastern Gate beckons and calls to each of us to pass through and converse with the love that will never let us go.  

Amen.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Easter Expectations





Meet RaeAnn Beebe!

Rev. RaeAnn Beebe is the pastor at St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  She is a 2010 graduate of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois where she was a classmate of mine!  I thank RaeAnn for sharing this devotion and hope that you all enjoy it as much as I did!










This year the congregation I serve started our Easter Sunday worship in the narthex. We heard the story of the women going to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body only to find the tomb was empty. We rolled away the stone and entered the empty sanctuary together singing “Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!” Experiencing in some small way what it might have been like for the women so long ago. Or at least that is my hope as I am writing this well before Easter Sunday.

We have become so familiar with this story that I think sometimes the awe and mystery just isn’t there anymore. We know before we arrive at worship that the tomb is empty. No surprises, no awe, no excitement. We expect the tomb to be empty.

Expectations. Maybe that is what the awe and mystery of Easter is all about. The women went to the tomb expecting death. They were prepared for that. They had prepared the necessary spices ahead of time and were on their way to perform the proper ritual of burial. But they didn’t find what they were expecting. The stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty. They had forgotten (or didn’t believe) that Jesus had told them he would rise on the third day. They needed reminding of this promise.

What are our expectations of Easter - and the whole Eastertide for that matter?  Do we expect our lives to be any different? Has the story become so familiar that we don’t have expectations anymore?

May this Easter and the days following not be the same as every other year. May it be the year you experience the awe and mystery of the empty tome and the Risen Christ. May your expectations be turned from death to life.

Rev. RaeAnn Beebe



Image found at:  http://www.ely.anglican.org/

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Living God's Grace into the Future!



Today's Scripture: Ephesians 4:17-24

  So I’m telling you this, and I insist on it in the Lord: you shouldn’t live your life like the Gentiles anymore. They base their lives on pointless thinking, and they are in the dark in their reasoning. They are disconnected from God’s life because of their ignorance and their closed hearts. They are people who lack all sense of right and wrong, and who have turned themselves over to doing whatever feels good and to practicing every sort of corruption along with greed.
  But you didn’t learn that sort of thing from Christ. Since you really listened to him and you were taught how the truth is in Jesus, change the former way of life that was part of the person you once were, corrupted by deceitful desires. Instead, renew the thinking in your mind by the Spirit  and clothe yourself with the new person created according to God’s image in justice and true holiness.


This scripture comes across as being a little holier-than-thou, doesn't it?  It reminds me of those preachers who prey on people's guilt:  "You're a dirty rotten sinner, now let me tell you how I think you ought to act."

But as I read this, I read something else in the scripture:  The old life is one of pointlessness, is dark, disconnected, hard-hearted, and filled with ignorance.  I can think of many times in my life when I experienced those things.  I hated it. Even the times that I didn't recognize the darkness and trouble in my life, I look back now and remember the empty feeling.  I don't think people want to live in darkness and pain.  I think people want a hope-filled and focused life filled with love.

We have a way out of the trouble and darkness.  Christ has shown us glimpses of what this world can look like and Christ shows us what love looks like.  The writer of Ephesians is inviting us to that freeing love.  We can let go of the problems and pain of the past and we can act with Christ's love and experience freedom.

For me, this is the Easter experience and that is what I want my life to look like going forward.  I hope you'll join me this easter as we let go of acting in ways that hurt (us and others) and will strive to live God's grace into the future!

Blessings,














Saturday, April 20, 2013

A Season of New Life




Today's scripture:  1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Brothers and sisters, I want to call your attention to the good news that I preached to you, which you also received and in which you stand. You are being saved through it if you hold on to the message I preached to you, unless somehow you believed it for nothing. I passed on to you as most important what I also received: Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures, he was buried, and he rose on the third day in line with the scriptures. He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve, and then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at once—most of them are still alive to this day, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me, as if I were born at the wrong time. I’m the least important of the apostles. I don’t deserve to be called an apostle, because I harassed God’s church. I am what I am by God’s grace, and God’s grace hasn’t been for nothing. In fact, I have worked harder than all the others—that is, it wasn’t me but the grace of God that is with me. So then, whether you heard the message from me or them, this is what we preach and this is what you have believed.


This message of Paul is of Resurrection and New Life.  Paul is talking about Christ’s bodily resurrection, but he is also talking about his own experience of new life.  For Paul, experiencing Christ gave him something deeply personal and connected him with God in an incredible new way.  Most importantly this inward change brought an outward change as well.  He was convicted of the message of Christian-Jews, but he also changed the way in which he lived his daily life.  In fact, he became a wholly different person.

During the Season of Easter which starts on Easter Day (March 31) and runs through Pentecost (May 18) we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ.  What does that mean?  God came to experience humanity, to experience all the facets of human-ness in order to love and be loved in a deeper way.  The experience of Easter is about experiencing God’s love in a personal way and the freeing experience of a new life in Christ.

For the remainder of the Easter Season you will hear stories of Resurrection and New Life from me and my friends through this blog.  Perhaps over the next few weeks you will be impacted in some way by the message of Christ and experience, through these writings, New Life!

Blessings,














Graphic created by Scott Carnes for First United Methodist Church, Normal, IL.  Copyright 2013