Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons

Hallelujah! The Lord is Risen Indeed!

Alleluia. Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us;
therefore let us keep the feast,
Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia.
Christ being raised from the dead will never die again;
death no longer has dominion over him.
The death that he died, he died to sin, once for all;
but the life he lives, he lives to God.
So also consider yourselves dead to sin,
and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia.
Christ has been raised from the dead,
the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
For since by a man came death,
by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die,
so in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia. (Book of Common Prayer)

Image via pixy.org. Published under a Creative Commons 4.0 license.

The above prayer, named “Christ our Passover” or “Pascha Nostrum,” is based on three New Testament passages (1 Corinthians 5:7-8; Romans 6:9-11; 1 Corinthians 15:20-22). The Book of Common Prayer includes it as part of the morning Daily Office of prayer every day during Easter week. One can also pray it on any mornings between Easter and the Feast of the Ascension (40 days after Easter; in 2021, it will be May 13). If you are interested in praying the Daily Office, you may familiarize yourself with it by following the daily prayers and readings at the website of the Mission of St. Clare.

Many Christians forget that the church calendar views Easter as an entire season. It begins on Easter Sunday (Resurrection Sunday in some churches) and ends seven weeks later on Pentecost. Easter is not just one day for bunnies, colored hard-boiled eggs, chocolate, new clothes, bonnets, etc. It is the fulcrum of our faith. The entire Christian life hinges on the resurrection of Jesus Christ and its assurance of our future resurrection. So, we can celebrate Easter every day. It does not matter whether it is April 4, May 2 (Eastern Orthodox Easter this year), December 25, or any other day. Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. Because He has risen, He has triumphed over death, and in Him, we can all be made alive forevermore.

Hallelujah! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

I would like to hear from you. What are your thoughts about the importance of Easter and Christ’s resurrection. Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Palm Sunday: Christ Cannot Be Cancelled

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19:39-40; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Last week, Evangel University1 in Springfield, MO, announced it will change its mascot. The athletic teams will no longer be “the Crusaders.” The university’s interim president, George O. Wood, wrote that the image contradicts the school’s mission. The name refers to medieval Christians who waged holy wars against Islam in the eleventh to thirteenth centuries, often slaughtering Middle Eastern Muslims, Jews, and Orthodox Christians. Since this can offend many of the people to whom Evangel alumni minister and the crusaders’ tactics contradicted many of Jesus’ teachings, university leadership felt it was time to change.

Wood wrote, “Ultimately, this decision was made because I am convinced that our Christ-centered focus requires it. This is not a cultural response to political correctness, but simply the right thing to do.”

Figurine depictions of medieval crusaders in Plassenberg Zinnfiguren Museum, Plassenberg Castle, near Kulmbach, Germany. Photo by Thomas Quine, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Evangel is not the first Christian organization to abandon a “crusade” name. In 2011, Campus Crusade for Christ (a college-campus ministry that played an important role early in my walk with Christ) shortened its name to Cru. While Billy Graham referred to his evangelistic events as “Crusades,” his son Franklin prefers the more celebratory term “Festivals.”

Some Evangel alumni support the decision. Others are accusing the school of surrendering to “cancel culture.” It can be difficult sometimes to distinguish between wise caution and surrender to society.

Cancel culture—a movement to ostracize and silence people and institutions that do not support liberal politically correct ideas about morality, race, etc.—has affected both sports and Christians. The Washington Redskins football team recently dropped their nickname (they are now the Washington Football Team); the Cleveland Indians will follow suit after the 2021 season. Some Native Americans felt the names promoted negative stereotypes. Being of Irish and Canadian descent, I wonder when the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will drop their nickname. Will the Vancouver Canucks drop their nickname? What about the Yankees, Patriots, Braves, Chiefs, etc.? When will it end?

Perhaps some of the nicknames, mascots, and logos have negative connotations and should be replaced. On the other hand, maybe people are reading their own fears into an image.

Christians have also been “cancelled” for biblical beliefs. Celebrities, ministers, or politicians who believe in traditional heterosexual marriage or that there are only two genders face hostility or censorship in the media.

In 2021, we act surprised by these developments, but followers of Jesus have faced cancellation and censorship since before the crucifixion. The Pharisees tried to cancel Jesus for three years, eventually having Him crucified. On Palm Sunday, as Jesus’ followers shouted His praises while He entered Jerusalem, they ordered Him to silence His disciples. Jesus said, “If these become silent, the stones will cry out!”

Six days later, Jesus was dead and buried, and His disciples were silent. However, on Easter Sunday, the stone that blocked the entrance to His tomb cried out by rolling away, proclaiming His glory by clearing a path as He rose and walked out of the tomb. Before long, His disciples could no longer remain silent. Seven weeks later, they began to fulfill His mission to “be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Although Caesar and the Sanhedrin tried to silence them, the disciples could not help but proclaim what they had seen and heard (Acts 4:20). Eventually, the Roman Empire fell, the Jewish nation was scattered, and the Gospel spread to every continent. Despite all opposition, the gates of hell have not been able to prevail against the church of Christ, and they never shall.

Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, icon from the Nativity of the Theotokos Church, Bitola, Macedonia. Photo by Petar Milošević, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Satan will always seek to silence the Word of God. The world’s system will try to cancel it. However, God’s Word will not return void. Our mission remains the same: to proclaim the Good News that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, God-become-man, and His Kingdom will endure forever. He died to bring forgiveness of sins to all who will receive it. He will come again. No matter who tries to cancel us or how hard they try, we will be victorious.

Holy Week reminds us that we are in a spiritual battle. We proclaim that Jesus is Messiah and King. The world tries to silence this message, but Jesus cannot be contained, stopped, or silenced. His followers will not be silenced either. Yes, we must fight His battles, proclaiming His Gospel instead of the social and political agendas we are often more eager to choose. We must proclaim Him with the same enthusiasm as His earliest followers, who shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9).

Hosanna! Save us, we pray, O Lord! Renew and empower us by Your Holy Spirit so that we may be Your witnesses now and always.

1Evangel University was formed by a merger of Evangel College (an Assemblies of God liberal arts college, which my wife attended), the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS, where I earned my master’s degree), and Central Bible College. Since Evangel College and AGTS were separate entities when I attended, I do not have a strong emotional attachment to the Crusader mascot, but I can see where the Crusades often conflicted with Christ’s teachings and historic Christian “just war” doctrine.

Do you have anything to add or any thoughts that come to mind about cancel culture, evangelism, etc.? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christians and Culture, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Current events | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

God’s Righteousness and Justice. VII: Christ our Merciful and Righteous King

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
He is just and endowed with salvation,
Humble, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

An Ash Wednesday cross on a worshiper’s forehead. Photo by Jennifer Balaska, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Many Christians began observing Lent this past week. In some churches, pastors marked congregation members’ foreheads with a cross-shaped mark using the ashes from burned palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. The pastor generally accompanies this marking by saying, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Lent reminds us of our mortality and our need for forgiveness. It reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and “{T}he wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

In Lent, we are reminded of our unrighteousness and that Christ’s righteousness and mercy are our only hope. During the last Sunday of Lent, Palm Sunday, many churches will commemorate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which was prophesied in Zechariah 9:9 (Matthew 21:5 quotes this verse as he describes Jesus riding a borrowed donkey).

Jesus’ arrival must have been a dramatic sight. For three years, He had preached and performed miracles. People got excited, convinced that He was the Messiah, the coming Great King of Israel who would overthrow the Roman authorities. Jesus had even at times said enough to confirm that He thought He was the Messiah.

The Triumphal Entry, artist unknown, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

And now, just a few days before Passover, as Jewish pilgrims from all over the Roman Empire were flooding Jerusalem, Jesus rode into the ancient capital city of Judea. He sat astride a colt, as if He was a king, while His followers shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Matthew 21:9).

There was no mistaking His intentions now. In the past, He might have hinted that He was the Messiah. Now, His actions shouted it. He consciously chose to ride on a donkey, thereby fulfilling Zechariah 9:9.

Stained glass window depicting the triumphal entry of Jesus, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Albany, NY. Photo by Nheyob, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

However, His actions also shouted what kind of king He was. A conquering king would enter the city on a horse as if ready to do battle. When a king came in peace, he would ride a donkey. Jesus was contrasting Himself with many of the kings the Jews had seen in recent years. Greek rulers and Roman Caesars had come to steal, kill, and destroy. Jesus was now coming so that the people could have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10).

God’s justice intertwines itself with His other attributes. He comes not only to exercise His justice but also to reveal His humility and mercy as He brings salvation. The Jews suffered persecution and domination for centuries. God’s Great King would come to deliver His people. Zechariah 9:1–8 tells us how God would judge the nations that afflicted His chosen people.

Yet, “He will speak peace to the nations” (Zechariah 9:10). Jesus’ goal is not to destroy, but to save and redeem. He comes to destroy the works of the devil, but He comes to deliver people from Satan’s rule. Jesus’ justice and mercy mingle. Are we willing to receive His offer of peace, or do we choose to remain at odds with Him? He comes in peace to establish His righteous and just kingdom. We decide whether we will accept His terms of peace or rebel against Him. No matter which we choose, He will reign triumphant.

What do you think about Jesus’ righteousness, justice, and mercy? Share your thoughts about this or anything else related to Cornelius’ story by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, God's Moral Attributes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Baptism of Our Lord: To Fulfill All Righteousness

“Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?’ But Jesus answering said to him, ‘Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he permitted Him. After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased’” (Matthew 3:13–17; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise indicated).

The baptism of Jesus. Image by Ananth Subray, published under a Creative Commons 4.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.

Today, the Church commemorates the Baptism of our Lord in the Jordan River. For some time, John the Baptist had been “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3). People came and confessed their sins to him (Matthew 3:6). They did not merely admit that they were sinners: “Nobody’s perfect” is not a confession. The confessed specific sins, and John gave explicit instructions about changes they should make (Luke 3:10-14). In many cases, those sins were common activities: Roman soldiers normally used their power to coerce, manipulate, and rob people; tax collectors used their authority to demand more money from people than the government required. We still excuse our sins by saying “Everybody’s doing it,” but that pretense did not satisfy John the Baptist or God.

Amid John’s ministry, Jesus came for baptism. John immediately recognized Him as the Messiah and realized, “I have need to be baptized by You.” John admitted that he was not worthy to untie Jesus’ shoe (Matthew 3:11), but Jesus was here asking to be baptized. Why? “In this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” The Contemporary English Version phrases it this way: “we must do all that God wants us to do.”

Why would Jesus need baptism for repentance? He was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Perhaps this verse points to an answer:

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The Jordan River. Photo by Jean Housen, published under a Creative Commons 3.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons.

Many think that Jesus fulfilled His entire ministry of atonement on the cross. However, His entire life was a sacrifice for our sins. As John the Baptist immersed people in the Jordan River, they could imagine their sins being washed, like dirt from their bodies, into the water. Now, here came Jesus: He did not have the dirt of sin on Him. As He went into the water, He began to symbolically take the sins upon Himself. I can imagine Him confessing the sins of all the people present, knowing that He would die for those sins three years later.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin” (Romans 6:1–7).

He was baptized as one of us. He identified with us, accepted our human nature, and joined us in the waters or repentance in baptism. Now, we join Him in a baptism of repentance, forgiveness, and resurrection. His baptism in the water began a ministry that culminated in His baptism in death upon a cross. When we come to Him in faith, we receive baptism into His death and resurrection. We accept His death upon ourselves, receive His forgiveness and the life-giving power of His Holy Spirit, and live a new life in resurrection power as we continue to walk with Him.

2020 was a challenging year for all of us, and the insanity did not end with the beginning of a new year. We will continue to face challenges and tests. Are we willing to be fully immersed in the life of Christ as we face the uncertain times that lie ahead? While our world remains uncertain, Jesus’ life-giving power remains trustworthy and certain.

How are you experiencing baptism into the life of Christ on a daily basis? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, God's Moral Attributes | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Epiphany: Finding Jesus in Unlikely Places

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.’ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet: “And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; For out of you shall come forth a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.”’
“Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.’ After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:1–11; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Photo from PxHere. Published under a Creative Commons license.

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, which commemorates the wise men’s visit with Jesus. The word “Epiphany” comes from a Greek word meaning “manifestation” or “appearance,” and the feast reminds us how God manifested Jesus to “the nations of the world” for the first time.

The magi’s persistence and faith grab my attention. They followed the star to the most likely place to find a future king of the Jews. If you are looking for a future king, you go to the capital and speak to the current king.

However, this was not the correct place. King Herod probably did not have any young sons. He suspected it could be the Messiah. So, he sent them to the place where the Bible said the Messiah would be born—Bethlehem.

The Magi followed the star to Bethlehem, and it led them to a small home. (Contrary to most depictions of Jesus’ birth, the Magi did not arrive until some time after Christmas; the holy family was living in a house and Jesus was no longer in a manger. He may have already been a toddler.) Upon finding this poor, working-class family with a very little boy, they worshiped Him, confident that they had found the future King whom they sought, giving extravagant gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They kneeled in a radical leap of faith. How could they know that this child was the King of the Jews, being raised by a poor young mother whose husband was a mere carpenter? It could only be faith: Logic and reason were eclipsed by the wisdom of certain faith—they just knew in their hearts that they had come to the right place and the correct child, even if they would never be able to explain this to the other magi back home.

When they did not find Jesus in the place of power, Jerusalem, they sought Him in the house of simplicity and necessity: Bethlehem (the city’s name means “house of bread”).

Are we willing to keep seeking God when He does not manifest Himself in the most obvious place or when we do not find Him in the circumstances that are most convenient for us? Do we insist on seeking the Lord’s presence only in the places of glory, drama, excitement—only where it feels good and exciting? Are we willing to keep seeking Him until we find Him in the mundane, simple, ordinary parts of life—miles from places of power, hidden in houses of bread?

Many of our lives changed drastically in 2020. We had to live, travel, socialize, work, and worship differently. We had to pray and fellowship in new ways. Social distancing separated us from expressions of faith that were familiar, comfortable, or exciting. Now, our small-group fellowships meet over Zoom or other virtual-meeting platforms. Many people attend worship services via online live-stream. We must worship God in new ways, and they might not be comfortable or entertaining.

Jesus came into a mundane, ordinary village. He meets us now in the ordinary, even the boring and uncomfortable, places of our lives. True worship is a sacrifice, so it is not always easy or fun. Let us continue to kneel before Him, offering extravagant sacrifices of praise and worship:

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1).

The wise men offered gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Let us offer Him our bodies, souls, and spirits as living sacrifices, as we make a radical leap of faith toward the One who has manifested Himself to us.

In which unlikely places are you finding Jesus these days? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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