N.T. Wright: Don’t Downplay Ascension Day

Today’s the 40th day of Easter, Ascension Day.

According to theologian N.T. Wright, we ought to make a bigger deal of it.

Here are some notable quotes about the significance of Christ’s ascension from N.T. Wright:images

—What happens when you downplay or ignore the ascension? …the church expands to fill the vacuum.

—Get the ascension right, and your view of the church, of the sacraments, and the mother of Jesus can get back into focus.

—To embrace the ascension is to heave a sigh of relief, to give up the struggle to be God (and with it the inevitable despair at our constant failure), and to enjoy our status as creatures: image-bearing creatures, but creatures nonetheless.

—At no point in the gospels or Acts does anyone say anything remotely like, “Jesus has gone into heaven, so let’s be sure we can follow him.” They say, rather, “Jesus is in heaven, ruling the whole world, and he will one day return to make that rule complete.

Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, pp. 112-117.

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Resurrection Realities for Real Life

In 2011 I wrote a blog post for Desiring God on what it means to be a peculiar Easter people 365 days of the year, 24/7. Rereading it three years later, I’m surprised—even alarmed!—how little I mentioned the resurrection.

And so I repent.

This Easter season, I’m more deeply pondering how the staggering reality of Christ’s resurrection is not only one of the means, but perhaps the primary means by which I and all of God’s people can truly and fully live the Christian life. So I’m going to more deeply explore what it means to think and live all of life in this sin-riddled world as if it’s shot through with Jesus’ explosive resurrection power.

How does one celebrate the resurrection not only during Eastertide (i.e. the fifty days of Easter) but every day, especially Sunday? And how does Eastertide help one rediscover joy, experiencing the resurrection’s ongoing life changing power in our lives?

In other words, if the resurrection really did happen (objectively) what tangible difference should it make in my every day life (subjectively)?

I plan on finding out.

Not What, But Why, Christ Suffered

We should not center our attention, however, upon what Christ suffered but rather why he suffered, and the answer is “for my imgres-1sake.” I am the one who by my sins have deserved that God be my enemy and mock me, even when I cry that the sun should no more shine, the earth no more bear me, and the rocks be rent.

When sins are made plain and the conscience is touched, then a man finds out all that Christ suffered here. Then he, too, will say, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” Therefore, everything that Christ suffered is to be referred to our souls, and the more we exalt the Passion the more clearly do we see our own condemnation.

Martin Luther’s Easter Book, ed. Roland Bainton, p. 79

 

 

“The Arid Chains of Death Were Burst”—A Good Friday Sonnet

CRUCIFIED JESUS E

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come
To me and drink”—this drink that can’t be sold
Or bought, thirst-quenching nectar, spirit gold,
This fountain out of heaven, given, not won.
Beyond all praise, beyond all princely sum,
The heavenly draught bestows a wealth untold,
The life of God. The thirsty may be bold
To claim the gift held out by God’s own Son.

A drink so rich could not be wholly free:
Fulfilling Scripture, Jesus speaks again:
He gives the draught—transcendent irony—
Who whispers, “I am thirsty,” through his pain.

A human thing, this agony of thirst
By which the arid chains of death were burst.

—D.A. Carson, Holy Sonnets of the Twentieth Century, p. 53. (Out of print but available as a free PDF here. Sonnet based on John 7:37 and 19:28-29.)

Three Things to Know About Maundy Thursday

On Maundy Thursday the church remembers the last evening Jesus shared with his disciples in the upper room before hisimgres arrest and crucifixion. Maundy Thursday marks three key events in Jesus’ last week:

  1. His washing of his disciples’ feet,
  2. His institution of the Lord’s Supper, and
  3. His new commandment to love one another.

This service begins the Triduum, the three-day period from sunset on Thursday to sunset on Easter Day. The name “Maundy Thursday” comes from the Latin mandatum novum, referring to the “new commandment” Jesus taught his disciples (John 13:34). In other words, this is “new commandment Thursday.”

The Worship Sourcebook, p. 593. Reformatted for readability.

Shattering Grace

shattered_by_matsholmberg-d64c6rz

Dilemma wretched: how shall holiness
Of brilliant light unshaded, tolerate
Rebellion’s fetid slime, and not abate
In its own glory, compromised at best?
Dilemma wretched: how can truth attest
That God is love, and not be ashamed by hate
And wills enslaved and bitter death–the freight
Of curse deserved, the human rebels’ mess?

The Cross! The Cross! The sacred meeting-place
Where, knowing neither compromise nor loss,
God’s love and holiness in shattering grace
The great dilemma slays! The Cross! The Cross!

The holy, loving God whose dear Son dies
By this is just–and one who justifies.

—D.A. Carson, Holy Sonnets of the Twentieth Century, p. 101. (Out of print but available as a free PDF here. Sonnet based on Romans 3:21-26.)

Baptism and Resurrection Sunday: The Crucial Link

 

BaptismEaster

On Easter Sunday my oldest son will be baptized. While his parents are happy about his decision to proclaim faith in Jesus in a very public way, it’s no small affair. We’ve discussed why Christians should be baptized, when it should happen, and what baptism does and doesn’t do.

Below is a Q and A I created from theologian N.T. Wright’s illuminating book Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church about the importance of baptism and its relationship to Jesus’ resurrection, the local church, and Easter Sunday, drawing from 1 Peter 1:3-4, Romans 6:1-11 and Colossians 2:8-15.

In what way is baptism related to Jesus’ resurrection?

The resurrection of Jesus has brought about a new state of affairs in cosmic history and reality. God’s future has burst into the present, and (as happens sometimes in dreams, when the words we are saying or the music we are hearing are also happening in the events in which we are taking part) somehow the sacraments are not just signs of the reality of new creation but actually part of it.

What does baptism have to do with the local church?

Thus the event of baptism—the action, the water, the going down and the coming up again, the new clothes—is not just a signpost to the reality of the new birth, the membership (as all birth gives membership) in the new family. It really is the gateway to that membership.

Baptism: What’s the big deal?

The important thing, then, is that in the simple but powerful action of plunging someone into the water in the name of the triune God, there is a real dying to the old creation and a real rising into the new—with all the dangerous privileges and responsibilities that then accompany the new life as it sets out in the as-yet-unredeemed world. Baptism is not magic, a conjuring trick with water. But neither is it simply a visual aid. It is one of the points, established by Jesus himself, where heaven and earth interlock, where new creation, resurrection life, appears within the midst of the old.

Why baptize on Easter?

The idea of associating baptism with Easter always was, and still is, a proper Christian instinct. Just as for many Christians the truth of Easter is something they glimpse occasionally rather than grasp and act on, so, for many, baptism remains in the background, out of sight, whereas it should be the foundational event for all serious Christian living, all dying to sin and coming alive with Christ.

Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, pp. 272-272.

 

Karl Barth, Porn, a Minister and Me: An Unlikely Lenten Story

A year ago during Lent while at my favorite used bookstore, I spied a book by stalwart Reformed Swiss theologian Karl Barth. Beaming over my bounty and fingering through the pages I found a small piece of paper tucked away deep in the book’s binding. I figured it was the receipt from the book’s original owner.

Boy was I wrong.

It was a receipt all right, but not for the book. Instead, it was from a now defunct “adult” video store, listing two gay porn flicks rented in 1998.

Obviously I was intrigued. Barth and gay porn in a used bookstore during Lent? Somehow it didn’t fit.

Upon further examination I discovered the receipt included the person’s name, address and phone number. Googling the man’s name I discovered he currently serves as a minister in a local church. Moreover, he was married with children. (And just to be clear: This was the 1990′s, when to be legally married meant it was actually someone from the opposite sex). And he still lives in the same house listed on the receipt’s address.

What was I to do? Inform the church where he serves, known for being open and affirming of the gay lifestyle? (Alas, there are many such churches in the Minneapolis area.) What sort of response would I get if I spoke with someone on their staff about my discovery? I imagined a disinterested shrug.

Perhaps I mail him the receipt along with an anonymous letter littered with various Scripture references regarding sexual sin and let him know I’m praying for him? But then what if his wife stumbles upon it, or even opens the letter instead of him?

I’ve since unexpectedly seen this individual at several public functions. Twice he walked right past me. Do I break the ice and take the plunge? “(Ahem) Apologies for the intrusion but you’re _________________, correct? Just so you know, I, uh, found a receipt of yours from 1998 for a couple of gay porn flicks you rented…..” Not the sort of thing you discuss during first introductions, especially in the context of our very public gathering. So I declined.

I still have the receipt. And we’ve yet to meet.

Admittedly, I sometimes feel like Jimmy Stewart’s character from Hitchcock’s Rear Window, conflicted about my accidental voyeurism into this imgresman’s very personal life and responsible for what I do (or don’t do) with the receipt and the information it contains. But more than that I feel genuinely sorry, even concerned, for this man. Yes, 16 years have transpired since the video transaction. Perhaps he’s repented? But perhaps not. I’ll likely never know.

And so a year later at the dawn of a new Lenten season, I prayerfully remember this man and his family and how we strangely yet Providentially met via an unassuming Barthian tome in my favorite used bookstore a year ago.

Presently writing with newly ashen cross placed on my forehead, I remember that the tragically beautiful season of Lent—the Christ of Lent—is as much for him and his sins as it is for me and mine.

But it is the latter that I most struggle to remember.

Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, prefect remission and forgiveness through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

—From The Book of Common Prayer designated reading for Ash Wednesday

Lord of all mercy, hear our prayer indeed.

What Lent Does

Today’s Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.

What does Lent do?

The spare and sober nature of Lent is healthy for the heart and true to the gospel, scrubbing away frothy spirituality by calling us to say no to ourselves in order to experience a greater yes in Jesus. It helps to imprint the form of the cross in our lives, recognizing that the news of the risen Lord Jesus is not good without the way of the cross. Lent prepares us to experience the reality of resurrection joy only by first recognizing the depth of our sin that pinned Christ to the cross.

—Philip Reinders, Seeking God’s Face: Praying the Bible Through the Year (pp. 233-234).

(Read also Trinity House’s brief apologetic on why we should have Ash Wednesday services.)