THE ASCENSION

He showed himself to them alive, after his suffering, by many proofs. He was seen by them for forty days, during which he spoke about God’s kingdom. [Acts 1:3 (NTE)]

He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end. [Nicene Creed]

viceroy butterflyYesterday was the 40th day of Easter and Ascension Day (or the Feast of the Ascension): the day we remember Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Although Augustine of Hippo and his contemporaries John Chrysostom and Gregory of Nyssa held that the Feast of the Ascension originated with the Apostles and possibly dated as far back as 68 AD, no written evidence of its celebration until Augustine’s time in the fourth century exists today. From his time on, however, it has been a church holiday. Nowadays, it is observed primarily in Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and liturgical Protestant churches.

At Easter, we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection: His return to life and to His disciples. Yesterday, some of us may have observed His departure from the disciples. Whether or not we consider Jesus’ ascension into heaven a religious holiday, it is a significant event in Christianity. Rather than stopping at the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, we should continue through His ascension, when Jesus was seated at the right hand of God, and all the way to Pentecost, when His Holy Spirit came upon His followers.

Jesus’ ascension signified that His task on earth was complete. His time here over, He was returning to His full heavenly glory to reign as the one true King. Until His return, only one more piece needed be put in place – the giving of the Holy Spirit – which would happen ten days later on Pentecost.

Unlike most partings, Jesus’ departure was not a sad farewell but a joyous one. It must have been a glorious sight as the disciples stood on the Mount of Olives and watched Jesus being taken up in a cloud. If any had doubted before, they now knew for sure that Jesus truly was God and His home was in heaven! As they stood there, astonished, with mouths agape, two angels appeared and assured them that someday Jesus would return in the same way He left: physically and visibly!

Before parting, Jesus commissioned the disciples to be His witnesses “to the ends of the earth.” The disciples didn’t just stand there and wait for His return and neither should we. He gave us all a job to do until that day comes.

As Jesus said this, he was lifted up while they were watching, and a cloud took him out of their sight. They were gazing into heaven as he disappeared. Then, lo and behold, two men appeared, dressed in white, standing beside them. “Galileans,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you saw him go into heaven.” [Acts 1:9-11 (NTE)]

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HE DIDN’T HAVE TO TAKE IT! – Easter Monday

When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came. [Luke 4:13 (NLT)]

penitente morada Abiquiui NMWhen asked about the temptation of Christ, we probably think of Satan’s three temptations in the wilderness. Since the gospels don’t mention other specific temptations, it’s easy to think that Jesus, unlike the rest of us, was only tempted three times. “He left him until the next opportunity came,” wrote Luke and, while reading the four gospel accounts of the crucifixion during Holy Week, I know He had to have been sorely tempted that awful last day. Right up to the end, Satan must have been at His side, whispering into his ear and reminding Him that He didn’t have to take the abuse—after all, He was God!

Satan just was warming up with his temptations during Christ’s forty days in the wilderness. When Jesus prayed so hard He sweat blood in Gethsemane, that wasn’t because He was afraid to suffer and die. That was Jesus resisting Satan as the enemy made false promises, cast doubt on His mission, and tried to keep Him from the cross.

I can’t believe Satan went down without a fight and it was in the hours following Jesus’s arrest that he must have made a determined last ditch effort to thwart God’s plan of salvation. It may have been a man’s body suffering the unspeakable abuse that horrifying Friday but, inside the bruised and bloody flesh, it was God! He’d fed a multitude with a few scraps, turned water into wine, cast out demons, healed lepers, and stilled a storm. Jesus didn’t lose His power when He was arrested; He deliberately chose not to use it!

When Jesus was wrongly accused and false witnesses testified before the high court, when the people who’d hailed Him just a few days earlier called to crucify him, or when the crowd ridiculed Him as His tortured body hung on the cross, could the One capable of giving hearing to the deaf been tempted to strike them all mute? Jesus was there when an angel of the Lord killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers outside of Jerusalem’s walls. As He was being spit on, slapped, beaten with fists, hit on the head with a reed stick, flogged with a lead-tipped whip, and mocked with a crown of sharp thorns, surely Satan invited Jesus to do something similar to His taunters and abusers. Could the One who gave sight to the blind have been tempted to take away the sight of the soldiers as they gambled for his robe or knelt in mock worship? As they nailed His hands to the cross, could the One who’d cast demons into swine been tempted to kill the men who were torturing Him? Jesus was God. He existed before time, space, matter and energy began and, up to His very last breath, the One who could walk on water could have freed Himself, stepped off that cross, healed his wounds, and destroyed every last one of the soldiers and onlookers with just a thought. But, He didn’t!

Perhaps it was my familiarity with the crucifixion story (and the fact that I know the good news that follows) but I don’t think I truly grasped the anguish of Christ until I read all four gospel accounts in one sitting. I knew He suffered a gruesome tortuous death but I didn’t see how tempting it would have been for Him not to do so! Perhaps resisting the temptation to quit and punish His abusers was even harder than enduring the pain of the cross.

How long would you hold your hand over a burning flame when all you had to do was pull it out of the fire? Would you do it for people who reviled and berated you? Jesus didn’t have to suffer and die for us; He chose to do so out of love. I, for one, can’t comprehend a love that great! Thank you, Jesus!

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. [1 Peter 2:24 (NLT)]

Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. [Romans 5:7-8 (NLT)]

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DON’T STOP AT FRIDAY – Good Friday 2020

Earthly people are like the man of earth; heavenly people are like the man from heaven. We have borne the image of the man made of earth; we shall also bear the image of the man from heaven. [1 Corinthians 15:48-49 (NLT)]

loretto - santa fe NMEaster will be a little different this year. Instead of getting up early for the sunrise service, we’ll have all day to go to online church and, rather than new Easter attire, we can attend church in sweats or jammies and our proverbial Easter bonnet can be a baseball cap. The kids won’t have brunch with the Easter Bunny, no family or friends will come for dinner, and, instead of hunting for Easter eggs, we’ll search for hand sanitizer or face masks on the Internet. Fortunately, we don’t need new clothes, eggs, brunch, jelly beans, Peeps, parades, Easter lilies, chocolate bunnies, beautiful hymns, or even a church service for Easter. All we really need is the Resurrection!

Nevertheless, some people are just Christmas through Good Friday believers. While they believe Jesus was born, walked the earth, and died on the cross, they doubt His resurrection and the promise of our resurrection. Their faith stops on Good Friday rather than going all of the way to Easter Sunday. Some of those in the church at Corinth were like that and, in 1 Corinthians 15, we find Paul’s response to those who couldn’t believe in the resurrection of the body. Without resurrection, he said, Jesus couldn’t have risen from the dead and, if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, their faith was futile; they were merely false witnesses whose faith was grounded on a lie.

If we only believe from Christmas through Good Friday, we have a philosophy but not a faith and Jesus was just a godly, wise, and loving man. Paul suggests that, without the resurrection of Jesus and His followers, we might as well live with the attitude, “Let’s eat and drink, because tomorrow we’re going to die!” If our belief stops at Friday, we finish like a Looney Tunes cartoon with, “That’s all folks!” On the other hand, if we believe through Sunday, our lives are just beginning! That Jesus was raised from the dead means that even though all people die, all those in Christ will rise again! Instead of a philosopher who offered answers, the Resurrection means we have a Messiah who was the answer.

When we accept the resurrection of the dead, we’re bound to wonder how it’s done and what we’ll look like. Rather than putrefied remains, ashes or the broken bodies we had at death, Paul uses the analogy of a seed growing into a plant. Transformed, our resurrected bodies will be as different from our earthly ones as an oak is from an acorn, a chicken from an egg, a butterfly from a caterpillar, or a sunflower from its seed. Because imperfect finite bodies can’t inhabit a world that is infinite and perfect, Paul explains that God will take our perishable bodies and replace them with ones that are spiritual and imperishable. By spiritual, Paul doesn’t mean something ghostly or indistinct. There will be a body of some kind but, unlike our earthly one, it won’t be subject to decay, weakness, or death. Incapable of deterioration, it will be a beautiful and perfect vehicle for God’s Spirit.

I like C.S. Lewis’ explanation. Pointing out that, in this life, we tend to think of the soul as inhabiting the body, he suggests that, in the glorified body of the resurrection, the physical body will inhabit the soul and, rather than being less, we’ll be more. Of course, it’s all speculation. We don’t know what it will look like nor can we understand how it will be done because we’re not God. But, because we are Resurrection Sunday people, we know that it will happen!

The body that Jesus wore when he walked the earth—the one that fed a multitude, healed the sick, ate with the disciples, prayed in the garden, sweat blood, stood trial, was beaten, had nails driven into it, and hung on a cross—was a body like ours. Subject to pain, injury, disease and death, it was a body designed for an earthly life. But, Jesus’ story didn’t end on Friday and He rose on Sunday with a body suited for heaven!

One day, we will inherit His everlasting kingdom with everlasting bodies of our own. Yes, we will die in mortality, weakness, and infirmity but we will be resurrected in glory, strength, and power. We will be resurrected because we are Easter people!

On what does the Christian argument for Immortality really rest? It stands upon the pedestal on which the theologian rests the whole of historical Christianity—the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. [Henry Drummond]

‘I am the resurrection and the life,’ replied Jesus. ‘Anyone who believes in me will live, even if they die. And anyone who lives and believes in me will never, ever die.’ [John 11:25-26 (NTE)]

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THE OTHER DAUGHTER (Mark 5:21-43 – Part 2)

And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.” [Mark 5:34 (NLT)]

moon flowerThe daughter of Jairus wasn’t the only daughter in yesterday’s story. Concealed by the crowd surrounding Jairus and Jesus was a woman who had suffered with a bleeding disorder for twelve years. Because of Jewish law, she was ritually unclean and excluded from all social contact. The Talmud describes some eleven treatments for menstrual disorders and she had tried them all. Having spent everything she had to find a cure, her hemorrhaging had only gotten worse. Nevertheless, sure that just touching the rabbi’s clothing would heal her, she furtively pushed her way through the crowd to make contact with Jesus’ robe.

Immediately after touching the hem of His garment, the woman felt the bleeding stop. Although she’d hoped to go unnoticed, Jesus stopped and asked who’d touched His robe. He didn’t have to bring the woman’s touch to everyone’s attention but Jesus wanted to commend her faith. Afraid to admit she’d broken Jewish law, the woman hung back. It was her responsibility not to contaminate others with her uncleanness and she’d made the good rabbi unclean just by touching his clothing!

When the woman fell at His feet and confessed what she’d done, Jesus’ reaction was not one of anger at being tainted by her touch but one of compassion. Calling her “daughter,” He said her suffering was over and told her to go in peace. I picture Him touching her cheek, gently lifting her bowed head, and looking into her tearful eyes as He spoke. By publicly acknowledging her touch, Jesus showed His willingness to be identified with the unclean. Quite likely, His was the first hand to touch her in twelve years and His was the hand of God! Instead of defiling Jesus with her touch, she’s been made clean by His!

This encounter comes in the midst of Jairus’ urgent mission to save his daughter. Can you imagine his anxiety as Jesus talked with this woman? Did he pace or pull at Jesus’s robe? As ruler of the synagogue, Jairus was important enough to be named but the woman was an anonymous nobody. He was in the center of society while she was a social outcast who wasn’t allowed to attend the synagogue. While he and his daughter had twelve years of happiness, she’d had twelve years of misery and, while Jairus had friends and family, the bleeding woman had lost them all. Their only common ground was their faith in Jesus’ power and their desperate need for healing which caused them both to cast caution to the wind and fall at His feet.

As Jesus was calling one woman “daughter,” Jairus received news that his daughter was dead. While a woman who’d been as good as dead regained her life, his child had died. Although we’d expect the prominent Jairus to react in anger at the rabbi’s delay caused by this insignificant woman, there is no record of accusations or harsh words. Instead, Jesus tells him to have faith and the two men continue onto Jairus’ house. Was it the woman’s miraculous healing that enabled this father to react so calmly, to still believe in the power of Jesus? He’d originally come to Jesus to heal his daughter but now he needed Him to resurrect her! Jesus, however, is in the resurrection business and, just as His power returned the bleeding woman to life, His touch brought Jairus’ daughter back to life!

When it seems like God is ignoring our need or that He must be busy elsewhere, let us remember that Jesus was never in a rush and recall His words to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.” [Mark 5:36] It is in Jesus, that we have life!

So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. [Matthew 10:31 (NLT)]

I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. [John 11:25-26 (NLT)]

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DESPERATE TIMES (Mark 5:21-43 – Part 1)

When he saw Jesus, he fell to his knees, beside himself as he begged, “My dear daughter is at death’s door. Come and lay hands on her so she will get well and live.” [Mark 5:23 (MSG)]

mottled duclJairus, the leader of the local synagogue, fell at Jesus’ feet. Telling Jesus his daughter was dying, Jairus begged Him to lay hands on her so she could be healed. Jesus went with him but, when He stopped to heal the woman with a blood disorder, news arrived that the girl was dead. Telling the distraught father not to be afraid and to keep believing, Jesus and Jairus continued on their way. Jairus had believed Jesus could heal his daughter; did he also believe Jesus could do something about her death?

A noisy crowd of friends and professional mourners had already gathered at Jairus’ home by the time the men arrived. When Jesus told them the child was sleeping and not dead, they scornfully laughed at Him. After clearing the room of all but her parents and three disciples, Jesus took the child’s hand in His and restored her to life. Astonishing everyone, the girl immediately rose and walked around!

As the synagogue leader, Jairus was one of the most powerful men in the community. Although a layman, he was responsible for the upkeep of the synagogue, ran the school, determined who would lead prayers and read Scripture in services, and probably had close ties to the Pharisees. Almost certainly, he was at the synagogue when Jesus restored a man’s hand on the Sabbath. Had he been one of those planning to accuse Jesus of working on the Sabbath? Until his daughter became ill, was he among those plotting against Jesus? It’s said that “desperate times call for desperate measures,” and Jairus was desperate.

Sickness disrupts life in a way little else can; it can make us desperate. It made the woman with the blood disorder spend every shekel she had in search of a cure and then break Jewish law by touching Jesus’ robe. It made four men so determined they carried their paralyzed friend to be healed by Jesus. When they couldn’t get in the door, they carted him up to the roof, dug through the tiles and ceiling, and lowered him down to into the house. That a respected and powerful upper class Jew would risk his reputation by falling to his knees before an itinerant rabbi who challenged the Pharisees and threatened the status quo, tells us how desperate Jairus was.

In a letter to a friend, C.S. Lewis wrote of “the necessity…which God is under of allowing us to be afflicted [because] so few of us will really rest all on Him if He leaves us any other support.” Ours is not a “fair-weather” God, only there in good times, but often we seem to be “foul-weather” followers who only call on Him in stormy ones. God is with us in sunshine and thunderstorms and we should be desperate for Him in both.

Even though Jesus told Jairus not to tell anyone what had happened, didn’t he want to shout it from the rooftops? Perhaps not, since that would put him at odds with the Pharisees and other religious leaders. Did Jairus become a faithful follower of Christ or, once he’d gotten what he wanted from Jesus, did his belief turn to skepticism? Did Jairus join with the Pharisees in plotting against the very one who saved his daughter? I’d like to think that having seeing Jesus resurrect his daughter, he believed Jesus was the Messiah and was one of the 120 believers mentioned in Acts 1. Since we never read of Jairus again, we can only wonder.

What about us? Are we desperate for a momentary rescue or a long-term relationship? Do we seek a miracle or a Messiah? Do we want to feed our stomachs or our souls?

Jesus answered, “You’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free. [John 6:26 (MSG)]

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THE LORICA – St. Patrick’s Day

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. [Psalm 5:11 (NIV)]

Castle of SpiezA Latin word, lorica originally meant armor or breastplate. Because of an ancient practice of inscribing a prayer on the armor or shields of knights who then recited the prayer before combat, lorica came to mean a prayer of protection.

Although there are many such prayers, the most famous is the Lorica of St. Patrick (also known as St. Patrick’s Breastplate). Legend has it that around 433 AD, St. Patrick wrote this prayer for protection. As the story goes, on Easter morning, Patrick led his fellow missionaries in a procession to the court of King Laoghhaire. Suspecting that they would be ambushed by the pagans on their journey, Patrick took his men through the woods while chanting this lorica. Rather than seeing the missionaries amid the trees, their enemies saw a mother deer followed by twenty fawns and let them pass. Having been brought safely through the ambush by God, Patrick and his companions marched into the king’s presence while chanting: “Let them that will, trust in chariots and horses, but we walk in the name of the Lord.”

Whether the story is fact, legend or, as I suspect, somewhere in-between, this beautiful hymn (also known as The Deer’s Cry) appears to be the first one ever written in Gaelic and quite likely by the beloved Patrick. In 1889, Cecil Alexander produced a metrical version of the prayer from an earlier English translation and the resulting hymn was set to traditional Irish tunes. Called “I Bind Unto Myself Today,” this beautiful old lorica can be found in the hymnals of many denominations.

Prayers for protection and deliverance are found throughout Scripture. Moses, David, Ezra, and Nehemiah all prayed for protection for themselves and others and Jesus prayed for the protection of His followers. We may not be facing Druids in the woods, but we enter into battle against evil every day. While we don’t wear armor or carry shields, we can proceed as did Patrick and his men: by wearing the armor of God, binding ourselves to Him in prayer, and walking in the name of the Lord.

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. [Ephesians 6:13-15 (NIV)]

I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three. …
I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard. …
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
[St. Patrick’s Breastplate (Attributed to St. Patrick)]  

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