Monday, April 23, 2007

Why Passover?

Wow - it's hard to believe that Easter was over two weeks ago. Where does the time go?

The Christian holidays surrounding Easter are very underrated in my evangelical tradition. There is Maunday Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter, followed by Ascension 6 weeks after Easter, and Pentecost 50 days after Easter. It has always seemed bizarre to me that these days are not more prominent in church life. Is it perhaps because we don't give candy to our kids (as in Easter), or give each other presents (as in Christmas) that the command given to the disciples on Maunday Thursday, or the atonement on Good Friday, or the Ascension of Christ into heaven, or the coming of the Spirit on the apostles at Pentecost fades away as unimportant? Maybe adults are afraid to take seriously these more somber holidays because that would mean that Christianity itself would have to be taken more seriously?

I've been thinking this year specifically about Good Friday. Good Friday is the day when Jesus was crucified. Biblically, there were several things leading up to this day, but one thing really sticks out to me: Good Friday happened during the Passover festival.

It seems to me that most Christians believe that our sins were forgiven when Jesus died on the cross - that his death was an atonement for our sins. I don't disagree with this. But, the Jews already had a festival for atonement called Yom Kippur (which means "Day of Atonement" in Hebrew). Biblically, this is considered the day of repentance, where people are reconciled to each other and to God. This Jewish holiday is fascinating to study, but one of the most interesting parts is when the High Priest lays his hands on a goat and confesses the entire sins of Israel. While he does this, the people in the crowd were supposed to confess their sins, too. Then, the goat is sent out into the wilderness never to be seen again. The symbol here is that the sins of Israel - including the sins of individuals - were put onto an innocent animal, which was then separated from the people. Their sins were literally carried away and lost in the vastness of the wilderness.

It seems to me that the symbolism of Yom Kippur might fit the atonement that happened at the crucifixion. Yet, Jesus chose to be crucified on the holiday of Passover. Why Passover?

Passover, if you remember the story in Exodus, was when the Israelites smeared the blood of a lamb on their door frame so that the angel of death would not kill their firstborn. This event marked the last in a line of plagues brought against Egypt because they held God's people captive. When the Pharaoh woke up and his firstborn son was dead, he finally relented and let the people of Israel go free. Passover was a time of liberation from bondage.

Why Passover? Maybe Jesus was making a point by going into Jerusalem during the Passover feast. Maybe Jesus was choosing to symbolize his death as liberation from bondage - as freedom from slavery and oppression. Maybe he is choosing to say that his body and blood - given to the disciples on Thursday - deflect the wrath of the angel of death. Maybe he is choosing to tell the story that the awful events of Good Friday were the end of the plagues, and the beginning of freedom. Maybe Jesus chose passover because he is choosing a story that signifies the beginning of life.

Certainly, themes of atonement have a place in Jesus' crucifixion. As I reflect on Easter week, however, I find that the story of freedom makes sense, too. Not just liberation from sin and death, but freedom to LIVE.

"I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full." John 10:10b

Friday, April 06, 2007

Future Thoughts, part II

I like to think about history. Some history is easy, such as the history of my friends - how they got from point A to point B in their lives. Some history is hard, such as how the entire country of Germany could become so arrogant that they tried to take over the world in World War II.

I suppose I'm not too interested in dates and places - I can't really remember many dates at all. I'm more interested in the event and how the event affected what came after. How did the events in the lives of my friends get them to where they are today? How did the events in the history of Germany lead them to warmongering and genocide? I'm interested in the trajectory of things.

And so I spend time thinking about the future, how the things that happened yesterday or today will play out in the future. I think about my own trajectory, the trajectory of my kids, of my friends, of my church, of the Church. I think a lot about the future. Not because I'm worried about it, but because I want my vision of the future to effect how I live life today.

When I think about the future, the ULTIMATE future, I am convinced that I will be consummated with Christ. But what does that mean for how I act today?

To answer this, I think a little more about history. The Biblical authors seemed to think that this consummation with Christ would happen within their lifetime. It didn't. Neither did it happen within the lifetime of the next generation of Christians, nor the next, nor the next. The ultimate future that we, as Christians, expect to come hasn't come for 2,000 years. And it might not come for 2,000 more.

Yet the Biblical authors were filled with a certain sense of urgency concerning Christ's return. They didn't think that because Christ was coming soon that they weren't going to get much accomplished. Instead, they devoted their lives to the fellowship, to preaching and teaching the good news of Christ. They built communities of faith who took care of each other - they strained towards the goal that Christ taught while on earth. Their belief in the coming of Christ spurred them to action.

So, when I hear Christians say things like, "I just hope Christ comes back before that," I'm chilled to the core. James Watt, the secretary of the interior during Ronald Regan's presidency is well known for saying, "We don't have to protect the environment, the Second Coming is at hand." In the conversations I've had, many Christians seem to believe something similar to Mr Watt. Or, when I hear preachers saying that Sodom and Gomorrah need an apology if Hollywood or LasVegas or *name any city here* isn't judged harshly by God, I become severely troubled in my spirit.

Since when is the immanent coming of Christ an excuse for judgmental or lackadaisical attitudes? It seems to me that the Biblical example is that the immanent coming of Christ should motivate us to action - to build strong communities of faith, to start missions to those pagan cities who need Christ more than they need God's judgment. It also seems to me that the perspective God has given us as 21st century Christians is that the ultimate consummation with Christ might also be far-off, so our Christian stewardship on every level should show to those who come behind us how faithful we really were. Instead, I see many Christians behaving as if the work of Christ will have to wait until Christ returns.

Here's my point - our ultimate consummation with Christ isn't just about some future event. Consummation with Christ happens now - today - as I let myself become consumed with the very thoughts and actions of Christ to the point where I want to act out his mission in the world. Consummation with Christ is a future thought that affects me today as I am led by the same Spirit that led Christ to rebuke the false religious teachings of the day, to offer forgiveness and healing to the tax collector, the prostitute, and the blind.

Being consumed with Christ means I have an urgency to do his work - to proclaim the good news. But knowing that his return could be another 10,000 years also sheds new light on Jesus' phrase "The kingdom of God is in your midst" (Luke 17:21), indeed, all the other passages about the Kingdom of God indicate something similar. The Kingdom of God isn't just some far-off place that we'll get to in the future - a significant part of the Kingdom of God is now, in those who gather together with the same Spirit as the Apostles, to be consumed with Christ.

This is my favorite future thought - that the coming of Christ (whenever it may be) consumes me so that I live today as if it already occurred. Not that I don't struggle with things, but that my trajectory is determined by events that haven't yet occurred. This lends new meaning to the saying, "Forgetting what is behind, and straining toward what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13)

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Greasing the Skids

It's time I tried my hand at greasing the skids. I'm tired of having old, rusty skids that don't run smoothly. So, you know what I'm going to do?

No, random blog reader, not that. Frankly, I'm a little disgusted and disturbed that you would bring that up.

What do you mean you know I tried it? Who have you been talking to? Have you been going through my trash? Whatever you found, it wasn't mine. I get all kinds of mail from the previous resident of my house. I would try to forward the new mail to him, but he's dead. It's not a crime to open a dead man's mail, is it?

Oh, it is. Well, it wasn't me that opened it, anyway. I was going to write "recipient deceased" on the mail and send it back, but my kids got into it before I could do that. And, being illiterate children, they opened it. I don't think you can prosecute a 2 year old for opening a dead man's mail, can you? Yeah, I didn't think so.

Back to who you've been talking to - very clever trying to change the subject to me opening mail illegally, you almost had me. But I've got a mind like a steel trap. Who have you been talking to again? Oh, her. Yeah, well, you see I only tried it that once and I didn't enjoy it at all. And, uh, it was an accident, really. I was just going along, trying to figure out if you could play tennis with a racquetball, when...

What's that you say? You talked to her in a bar? Well, obviously she was drunk. You can't trust the drunken ramblings of a drunk woman, now can you? Surely not. Especially when I have it on good authority that she is a conniving drunk. Plus, I hear she likes the hard stuff, which, you know, gets you drunk a lot faster. At least, that is what I was told in DARE in junior high. I've personally never even been tipsy - it's not the ninja way.

I don't care if she was the designated driver - even the smell of liquor is enough for some. Oh, you were in a piano bar. Well, that makes it even worse, because music is intoxicating on its own. Piano rock is the new crack cocaine. I think I read that in Rolling Stones magazine. Don't bother looking that up, my mind is like a steel trap. So, clearly, you can't trust some fluzy you met in a piano bar who is smoking crack, now can you?

What's that you say? She's your sister? *Wheeze* Uh, who is this girl again? Yeah, now that you mention it, I'm not sure I know who that is. I meet so many people, you know, being as extroverted as I am. I just don't remember if I ever knew her or not, you know, it's been so long...

Well, sure, I said my mind is like a steel trap, but that's just a saying, it doesn't mean anything. Sorta like "a stitch in time saves nine" or "talk is cheap" or "blow chunks" or "greasing the skids". It doesn't really mean anything, its just something you say to keep the conversation going.

Now, where was I again?