Freed from the Fear of Death

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It was sadly ironic to read about the terrible church bombings yesterday morning even as I prepared as a pastor for the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. Recent times have seen not only church bombings but church buildings burning, whether in Louisiana or Paris. Every Christian knows that the word ‘church’ means people and not buildings.  Even so, it is beyond unsettling to see our houses of worship violated in such harsh ways. Still, the hope of the resurrection sets us free from fear, both in our physical circumstances and against the ultimate enemy, that is death. Here is an excerpt from my message at Eastbrook Church this weekend that reflected on the freedom Jesus brings us from the fear of death.


 

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Some of the most striking stories of the early church after the time of the New Testament come from the persecution under the Roman Empire. In contemporary Tunisia, in North Africa, the church was strong, but suffered greatly. Perhaps the most famous story from the early 3rd century comes when a noblewoman, Perpetua, who was a Christian, and refused to take the oath of allegiance to the emperor. That oath implied allegiance to the emperor over any other being, but also acknowledge him as a kind of god. Perpetua’s commitment to Jesus as Lord and God led her to a radical decision, which came at the price of her life. She and her household servant, Felicitas, ended up in the gladiatorial ring with wild animals, which rent them to pieces. They chose that fate rather than to forsake the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

How could these women be so unafraid of death? When we largely seem motivated by avoidance of death and suffering, what was it that could set them free from the fear of death?

I don’t believe it was because death was less scary to them, or that they were so much more courageous than the average person. Rather, there was a greater reality overpowering the all-consuming fear of death. And that overpowering reality is found in Jesus’ resurrection.

So many of us live our lives afraid of pain and the finality that is death. Others of us scurry through life knowing we won’t get another chance, feeling the urgency of our days. We all live under a universal death-sentence where the question is not “if” we’re going to die, but “when” will we die. Death tries to keep us in its grip, apart from God’s best for us as human beings.

But it is not the end of the story.

The resurrection of Jesus tells us that not only the power of evil and the prison of sin have been overcome, but also the sting of death has been destroyed by Jesus Christ at the Cross. Paul the Apostle, wrote about that in this way in a letter to an early church in the city of Corinth:

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)

The empty tomb and Jesus’ resurrection tell us there is hope in the midst of death. We do not have to live in fear of death because Jesus could not be held back by death. It is not His Master, but rather He is the Master of all things.

Death is not the end of Jesus’ story. And death does not have to be the end of our story.

The First Day: a poem

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On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. (Luke 24:1)

the first day:
walking with heavy loads and burdened hearts
to the place His breathless body lay.
every hour seemed so still
since that dark day.

but now, the first day:
their hesitating procession to the tomb
finds the place, but not Him;
and aching emptiness
meets anger’s anxiety.

yet, on the first day
two men send shivers of loud light
mingled with a message:
‘He’s alive like a new day’s dawning!’
and they remember His words.

this first day is the third day
that sends the dark day running.

[This is a poem I wrote as part of the Eastbrook Church Lenten devotional, “Hungry for God.”]

The Weekend Wanderer: 20 April 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

glorious humility jesus“Glorious Humility” – About three weeks ago, I read Wesley Hill’s beautiful reflection on the humble glory of Jesus the Messiah. Weaving in some thoughts on Jane Williams’ The Merciful Humility of God, he writes at one point: “We look to Jesus—above all, to his self-giving in life and death—and find our notions of ‘glory’ and ‘power’ transformed completely.” Hill’s essay is worth reading, particularly as we celebrate the Paschal Triduum.

 

TOPSHOT-FRANCE-FIRE-NOTRE DAMENotre Dame Cathedral Fire – The historic Notre Dame Cathedral caught fire this week and billions of Euros have already been pledged to rebuild it.  There have been photo tributes to the beauty of Notre Dame, as well as photo summaries of the damage wreaked upon it by the fire. Some journalists have addressed why it is so significant to Roman Catholics worldwide, and to France as a country. Matthew Milliner offers a marvelous reflection on this in light of Good Friday in his essay, “At Notre Dame, Good Friday Came Early.”

 

Matthias Grünewald Crucifixion“Crucifixion is horribly violent – we must confront its reality head on” – “One reason people before modern times wanted their crucifixions gory and their churches full of images of death was that mortality and its horrors haunted their real lives. Death was everywhere, from the sick beds of people struck down by all the diseases medicine had yet to conquer to public executions whose victims were left to rot on gibbets or, as Bruegel paints them, on open platforms at the tops of wooden poles. In other words, when artists 500 years ago depicted the crucifixion they were not showing a totally unfamiliar sight. People were still executed and left to rot in public, just as they had been in ancient Roman times. Death was ever present.”

 

Screen Shot 2019-04-11 at 11.39.09 AM“Hardship-Birthed Hymns: What Can We Learn From the Negro Spiritual?” – At The Witness, DeAron Washington reflects on how hymnody shapes us and the power of the Negro Spirituals: “We must pay attention to the songs we sing. If we are not careful, we will sing lies that exalt ourselves. We will sing about an idol and disguise it as Jesus. If we are not careful, we will sing songs that call people to trust in themselves. The spirituals are oozing with pungent biblical truths. They are not perfect, but we can learn much from their content. Beloved, read and sing them. Drink from the well of spirituals that is overflowing with sapid theology.”

 

18sneakers1-print-jumbo-v2“Let He Who Is Without Yeezys Cast the First Stone” – And now for something completely different, mainly the firestorm of interest in the preachers’ sneakers, and how much they paid for them. “Carl Lentz, the pastor who baptized Justin Bieber in a professional basketball player’s bath tub, appeared wearing a pair of Nike Air Fear of God sneakers that were selling online for about $500. Then John Gray, a pastor from South Carolina, was shown in blood-red Air Yeezy 2s, the sneakers made in collaboration with Kanye West, that were going for upward of $5,000. And in another photo, Chad Veach, who preaches in Los Angeles, had a $1,900 Gucci bag and wore $795 pants….the photos have led to soul-searching over what some see as an undercurrent of materialism that has been getting uncomfortable attention. The exchange has grown beyond simply criticizing the pastors, as many young Christians were nudged to wrestle over how they present themselves to the world and how it squares with the faith’s teachings.”

 

heart cord“How Disconnection Boosts Your Creativity” – From Austin Kleon: “Creativity is about connection—you must be connected to others in order to be inspired and share your own work—but it is also about disconnection. You must retreat from the world long enough to think, practice your art, and bring forth something worth sharing with others. You must play a little hide-and-seek in order to produce something worth being found.”

 

idea_sized-codex1-add-ms-43725“The birth of the book: on Christians, Romans and the codex” – “A codex is just the Roman name for a book, made of pages, and usually bound on the left. Its predecessor was the scroll or book roll, which was unrolled as you read. The codex is manifestly superior: one can hold many volumes (from the Latin for book roll, volumen); codices have a built-in cover for protection; and pages that can be numbered for reference, from which arose a cornucopia of tables of contents and indices. The codex didn’t catch on until surprisingly late in the ancient world. The early Christians, however, took to the codex with singular enthusiasm.”

 

Music: Johann Sebastian Bach, “O Sacred Head Sore Wounded,” King’s College Cambridge (2011).

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

The Good News of Jesus

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This weekend, as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus at Eastbrook Church, we will begin a two-week message series exploring “The Good News of Jesus.” Drawing upon the post-resurrection accounts within the Gospel of John, we want to bring into sharper focus the ways in which Jesus brings good news to the world.

April 20/21 [Easter]: “The Good News of the Resurrected One” – John 20:1-10, 30-31
The resurrection of Jesus from death brings good news into our lives. As we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, we will also explore three themes of how this is good news: light overwhelming darkness, freedom overcoming prisons, and life overpowering death.

April 27/28: “The Good News of New Beginnings” – John 20:11-21:25
After Jesus’ resurrection, John offer a series of encounters that Jesus has with real people. Each of these encounters sheds light on the way in which Jesus’ resurrection is good news: God’s presence in loss (Mary), God’s peace in fear (disciples in the upper room), God’s guidance in doubt (Thomas), and God’s restoration in failure (Peter).

Good Friday 2019

God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:8-10)

Join us for worship on Good Friday this year at Eastbrook Church at either of two service times: 12:00 or 7:00 PM.