Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons

The Good Shepherd Has Conquered Death!

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:27–30; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version).

“The Resurrection of Christ” by Carl Bloch. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

“Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!” This acclamation begins the Morning Prayers for Easter in the Book of Common Prayer and the liturgies of many churches as we celebrate the resurrection. Most American Christians will have to worship Jesus in private this Easter, as many churches cancel services in response to the coronavirus outbreak and government social-distancing mandates. Although our churches are empty, so is Jesus’ tomb, and our hearts can be filled with His love and presence and we can be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Several posts in recent months on Darkened Glass Reflections (here, here, here, and here) have examined God’s omnipotence. He is all-powerful. There is nothing He cannot do. There is no problem that He cannot handle. Even death could not stop Him.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. John 10:27–30 is a brief segment of one teaching Jesus gave to a hostile audience not long before His crucifixion. The religious leaders demanded answers: “Are You the Messiah?” He had recently told them, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11), a statement which should have reminded them of Psalm 23, which tells us that “The Lord is my shepherd.” He had hinted that He was God. His miraculous signs had proven that God was working through Him. The evidence was before them. Would they choose to believe?

“The Lord is My Good Shepherd” by Bernhard Plockhorst. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

When Jesus gave His good shepherd teaching (John 10:1–18), He said that sheep will follow their shepherd. They recognize his voice. They know they can trust him. Likewise, Jesus’ followers—His sheep—recognize and trust Him. They follow Him wherever He leads, knowing that He will take care of them.

In a time when many are afraid, Easter is a good time to renew our commitment to trusting Jesus. He has conquered death—even His own death. He can protect and heal you. As God, He is greater than all. He not only walks ahead of us; He has given us His Holy Spirit to dwell inside us and guide us. We can hear His voice and follow Him if we are willing to silence the noise around us and listen to Him. As we walk with Him, behind Him, and in Him, we can be victorious. Nothing Satan, the world, or the flesh can throw at you is more powerful than Christ in you:

“Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

This Easter, let us rejoice in that victory and walk in it. Nothing can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Your security and trust is not based on anything you do or how accurate your theology may be. Your security is in the One you have come to believe in. Your Shepherd is trustworthy. The One who gives you life has conquered the power of death. You are victorious because He is with you always.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

Holy Week and Social Distance

Get ready for the strangest Holy Week we may have ever seen.

Easter is one of the two biggest days of the year for attendance in most churches, and many churches normally have several special services in the week leading up to it. Palm Sunday can be particularly festive: church members receive palm branches, which we wave in celebration, perhaps singing “Hosanna in the Highest.” My church has a special service on Holy Wednesday, called Tenebrae. Then, there is Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday in some churches, when we commemorate the Last Supper and the institution of holy communion. My church has two services on Good Friday, including a three-hour afternoon service where four members share personal testimonies of “What the Cross Means to Me” and we reflect on how Jesus took our sins upon Himself by dying for us. The week’s worship can be very intense, ranging from celebratory and joyful to somber and repentant to reflective and meditative.

Photo by Michael E. Lynch

Then comes Easter Sunday, a day of great celebration in most churches. While every Sunday should be a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection (indeed, every day should be), Easter is especially glorious. Some people come to church only twice per year, on Christmas and Easter. My church can be standing-room-only on Easter.

However, this year will be different. The coronavirus pandemic has canceled services throughout the country. Here in the New York City metropolitan area, “ground zero” of the outbreak in America, gatherings of 10 or more people are currently prohibited. Instead of a packed house, our pastor and a small group of worship leaders will have a service with no congregation, to be streamed online for those who choose to watch. It will be one of the few churches on Long Island to provide communion: congregants will drive up to the front of the church to receive the bread and a blessing. We will also receive our palms with communion today, and will also live-stream the other Holy Week services. Our church includes a foot-washing ceremony as part of the Maundy Thursday evening service: I am not sure how that will play out online!

Many churches are live-streaming their worship services like we are, but few are offering communion. Some churches may find it difficult to minister to their people at all.

Holy Week will have a big hole in it without corporate worship. I feel like an online video worship service with curbside communion is better than nothing, but it is not the full worship experience. There is something about being in the church, surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ, uniting in praise and worship, especially when some of us are going through hard times and need to be surrounded by friends.

While many of us are used to speaking of our personal relationship with Jesus, social distancing reminds us that it really is more of a familial relationship with God. My relationship with God is not separated from others’ relationships with Him. While it is true that we can worship God alone, there is an added benefit when we worship Him with the rest of the family of God.

We need each other. We inspire each other. We challenge each other. We pray for each other. In spite of our differences, and sometimes especially because of those differences, we gain a blessing through corporate worship.

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version).

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).

The biblical account of Jesus’ last week reminds us that humans are social beings. We live, worship, eat, and survive in a group. Jesus entered Jerusalem with His disciples. He cleared the money changers from the temple as His disciples looked on. He spent almost every moment of His final week with those 12 men, including that Last Supper. Perhaps a particularly painful part of His crucifixion was that fact that He died almost alone. One disciple betrayed Him, one denied knowing Him, and most of the rest scattered into hiding and left Him alone. Only His mother, Mary Magdalene, and John stayed with Him until the end.

Jesus’ last week also reminds us that we can be powerfully influenced by our social group, for good or ill. On Palm Sunday, the crowd welcomed Him with shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9). Five days later, the crowd would change its tune and shout, “Let him be crucified!” (Matthew 27:22-23). We can only wonder how many people were in both crowds, inspired by the disciples on Sunday but swayed in the opposite direction by the chief priests and Pharisees on Friday. We think of peer pressure as a problem that affects only young people, but all of us can be affected by those around us, for good or ill.

As we approach Holy Week altered by social distancing, we must each decide how we will remain connected to the Body of Christ. Perhaps you can call a friend on the phone or set up a Skype session so that you can encourage one another during this stressful time and pray together. Some people are using Zoom or other online apps to gather a group virtually. Social distancing may force us to adapt how we fellowship, but it does not have to force us into spiritual and emotional isolation. It may change how we worship during Holy Week, but it does not have to keep us from worshiping God at a time when we really need Him most.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.




Categories: Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Current events, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ash Wednesday: Rules or Relationship, Faith or Fellowship

I was a young Christian when I attended college in the mid-1980s. I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior following my freshman year, in the summer of 1984. During my senior year, 1986–87, a hall-mate in my dorm asked me once, “So, I hear that you’re a born-again Christian? What does that mean? Does that mean you’re not allowed to drink or smoke or have sex?”

Cross of ashes on a believer’s forehead. Photo by Jennifer Balaska (public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

I replied, “Actually, I’m allowed to do everything that God allows you to do!” For a few brief seconds, I enjoyed the slightly confused look on his face.

“To be born again means to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” I continued, probably quoting John 3:3 while sharing some other details about the Gospel. “Because I have a relationship with Jesus, I want to know His will and do it. He has forgiven my sins and I want to honor Him by trying to be more like Him.”

God’s kingdom extends to all. The greatest difference between Christ’s followers and others is that Christians recognize that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. We are forgiven, and we follow Him.

Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent in many churches. The season lasts 40 days, plus Sundays, culminating in Easter. Many Christians will receive ashes in a cross shape on their foreheads, as a reminder that “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Those who observe Lent will fast during the 40 days: some may give up a favorite food, beverage, or activity. Catholics and some members of other churches may give up meat on Wednesdays and Fridays.

For those who are observing Lent: Do not let it become a season of “Does that mean you’re not allowed….” Let it be a season of renewal in your relationship with Jesus. Yes, give up those cookies, if that’s what you feel God is leading you to do. But, do not stop there. Figure out how you can use this time to enhance your relationship with Christ.

One of the ministries in my church is hosting a series of “Life in the Spirit” seminars during Lent. This made me think: How can I allow the Holy Spirit to more clearly direct me? How can Lent become a time when I become more in tune with the leading of the Holy Spirit and less driven by habit or routine? How can I hear more clearly from the Holy Spirit?

This leads me to one of my goals in Lent. I have developed a routine of praying at the computer: I have my online Bible open in one tab, the Book of Common Prayer open in another. It can be easy and convenient to have everything I need right in front of me.

Unfortunately, this convenience can lead to distraction. It is too easy to open another web browser that goes directly to Facebook. My email client will keep popping alerts onto my screen. This Lent, the computer stays in sleep mode during my prayer times. I still have a few “ancient” Bibles from the 20th century, printed on paper with actual covers and binding (OK, one or two have lost their covers!), along with an equally-old copy of the Book of Common Prayer. Neither of these artifacts from the last millennium give email alerts or social media links. This will avoid the temptation to allow my prayers to be distracted by less important things. It is rude to stare at your computer screen when a person in the same room is telling you something important. Could it be just as rude, perhaps, to wander off to Facebook and email while talking to God or, even worse, when He is trying to speak to you?

Lenten fasts and practices should be personally meaningful and relevant. God may be calling you to do something very different from what He is calling others to do. I have shared some advice regarding Lenten fasts here and here.

Ask God: “Is there anything I can try to do differently in Lent? Should I pray differently? Should I spend more time in Bible study? Should I find ways of serving You that might challenge me to step out of my comfort zone?”

Lent, like the rest of the Christian life, is not primarily about what you are allowed to do. It is about who God is in your life. May this be a time when you invite Him to claim a greater role in your life.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Spiritual disciplines | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Happy SAINT Valentine’s Day

From time to time, I like to share some thoughts on this blog related to a saint’s day on the traditional church calendar. So, for this day, Happy St. Valentine’s Day!

Image created using the YouVersion Bible app.

A few years ago, a friend posted a rant on Facebook about people celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. Part of his argument was that he thinks Christians should not celebrate saints’ days, because (in his opinion) it means we are giving people the worship that belongs to God alone.

I could have answered him on the subject of whether we actually worship the saints. I admire St. Patrick. I find a blessing looking at the lives of great men and women of God, seeing what I can learn about following Jesus from them, and using their lives as a means to draw closer to the Lord. But, instead, I reminded him that only about five weeks earlier, he had posted an enthusiastic post about his wife, referring to her as his “Valentine.”

He could not see the connection. Most people, including my friend, have forgotten that the day is Saint Valentine’s Day. My desk calendar refers to it simply as “Valentine’s Day.” On the other hand, it has not dropped the “saint” part from the holiday that occurs on March 17.

Sadly, much of the world has dropped saintliness from St. Patrick’s Day, even if we kept the name. A feast day to commemorate the “apostle to the Irish” became a celebration of Irish culture, which has devolved for many into an alcoholic drinking orgy with a smattering of pre-Christian paganism (leprechauns, for example): I suspect the real St. Patrick would not have liked how his name is commemorated. Patrick is forgotten in all of the shenanigans. Personally, I usually read St. Patrick’s Confession and Letter to the Servants of Coroticus and pray the Breastplate of St. Patrick on that day. (By the way, I do enjoy an Irish dinner on that day, but I usually commemorate Patrick by eating shepherd’s pie instead of corned beef and cabbage.)

We may have dropped “Saint” from Valentine’s Day. Let us not forget what the man stood for. On Valentine’s Day, most of us celebrate love. We devote extra time to our spouses or other romantic partners, along with our families and friends. We should be able to connect the God that Valentine served to our celebration:

“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8, ESV).

Not too much seems to be known about St. Valentine. Tradition tells us that he was a bishop who was martyred on February 14, 269. Beyond that not much is known. Some accounts claim he was executed for performing weddings for Christian couples despite laws prohibiting it. Christian biographer James Kiefer wrote:

“There are several stories making the rounds that try to explain the connection between valentines and Valentine. Every one that I have heard sounds like an explanation made up after the fact, probably by a Victorian clergyman lecturing to children. There are other explanations attempting to connect it with various pagan festivals of the early spring. Again, I am not impressed. That young men should send romantic messages in the springtime both in 90 BC and in 1990 AD does not require a conspiracy theory to explain it.”

We may know little about St. Valentine, but we can know a lot about the love of God. If Valentine was a priest or bishop, and if he died as a martyr for the faith, we can make the following assumptions: (1) He loved God and (2) his love was a sacrificial, self-surrendering love. He is also considered the patron saint of epilepsy; I have not studied why this is so, but it is a good reminder that God calls us to love those whose health problems can be a challenge not only to them, but to those around them.

Let us show God’s sacrificial love to all, not just on February 14 but every day:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, ESV).

PS—This post is dedicated to my wife Joyce, who is my Valentine every day!

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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

Baptism: Deeper than the Water

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:13-17, ESV).

Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, by David Zelenka via Wikimedia Commons, posted under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.

The first Sunday after the Epiphany (usually the third Sunday after Christmas) commemorates the baptism of our Lord by John the Baptist.

Jesus’ baptism often brings up questions. A big one is, “Why was He baptized?” After all, John preached a baptism of repentance (Matthew 3:11). If Jesus had no sin (Hebrews 4:15; 2 Corinthians 5:21), He did not need to repent. Why would He participate in a baptism of repentance? Some say that He was simply making a public statement, identifying Himself with us. As a result, they say, when we are baptized we are simply making a public profession of faith.

I believe there is something more spiritual—I would call it a mystery, a spiritual truth beyond human understanding—in Jesus’ baptism and ours. After all, if we want to make a public profession of faith, we can always buy a t-shirt with a picture of Jesus, a clever saying, and Bible passage on Amazon and keep our hair dry. However, the Bible seems to say quite a few things about baptism; it says nothing about t-shirts. Baptism is important to God.

Throughout His earthly life, even though He was God, Jesus identified Himself with mankind. The Creator of the universe spent the first nine months of His earthly existence in a uterus. Then, He endured childbirth, which was a dangerous process for mother and baby in those days. Next, He lived through the challenges of childhood before spending almost 20 years as a carpenter. In many ways, He chose an ordinary life with all its difficulties. What better way to transition from the ordinary life of a small-town craftsman to the extraordinary ministry of taking our sins upon us, than by joining sinful humanity in the river of repentance?

Romans 6 sheds some more light on this subject.

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).

Jesus’ baptism was not just a little ceremony. It was a prelude to His death and resurrection. He went under the water, and then He rose up from the water. It was not just a little show to prepare for His work of redemption; it was actually a preliminary part of the redemption process.

Likewise, we identify with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus died for our sins. He died in our place. In the eyes of the Father, we were with Him on that cross. He was buried and descended into hell. He rose again. He is the resurrection and the life: Our resurrection and eternal life are in Him.

Thus, baptism is not just a matter of how much water we use. It is a rite of identification. “Baptize” is derived from a Greek word, “baptizo,” which is derived from another Greek word, “bapto,” which means “to immerse.” Yet, it’s not a matter simply of dunking something under water. Some ancient examples of the word “baptizo” from outside the Bible might help us understand it better.

One way the word “baptizo” was used was in the context of dyeing cloth. If you take a white cotton shirt and “baptize” it in red dye, you get a red shirt. It is no longer considered white, but red. Its identity has changed.

Another context was an ancient pickle recipe. It instructed the person to “bapto” a cucumber in boiling water. Then, the cucumber would be “baptized” in vinegar. It was the baptism in vinegar that turned the cucumber into a pickle.

When we accept baptism or reaffirm our baptismal creed, we are making a radical statement of identification with Christ:

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

It is more than a bath. It is deeper than the water. Baptism makes visible our union with Christ. He takes our sin upon Himself. He pours His resurrection power, Spirit, and life upon us. We are united with Him. Scripture speaks frequently of the believer being “in Christ” and of Christ being in the believer.

Lord Jesus, immerse my life in Yours. I drown to my past, submerged in the cleansing power of your blood. Immerse me in You and immerse me in Your Holy Spirit. Amen!

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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