The Silent Resurrection

easter celebration white house_0.mediumOnce again it is that time of the year when all the world is a buzz concerning Easter. It is a word that mean different things to different people. For some, it may simply be about bunnies, eggs, and a spectacular meal with family and friends. For others it is described as “the most important festival in the Christian calendar” (BBC). The latter view is held by Christians who accept this time of the year as a celebration period marking the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Its association with the resurrection seems to make it an untouchable topic. To engage in analytical conversations concerning Easter with Christians is to, in a sense, disrupt the rapture-like mood of the season. In fact, this is true of anyone who celebrates something during this time. It seems that the intellect is placed to the side when celebration comes. This author dares to venture in anyway.

There has been many commentaries and discussions on the usage of the word “Easter.” Connections to paganism has been made, especially to Eastre, a saxon goddess associated with spring, and the Zidonian goddess Ashtoreth (1 Kings 11:5; 11:33; 2 Kings 23:13). Candida Moss,   Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Notre Dame, not only argues that similarity in pronunciation of words from one language to another and “dying and rising gods” in a variety of religions is insufficient to say that there was borrowing, but that the argument about borrowing shouldn’t be the focus of Christianity (CNN).

The origin of the word is not an issue to me. However, I understand and accept why it can be an issue for others. There is a case to be made for not using words that have historic associations with things that do not represent, or are at odds with, Christianity. This argument is often brushed aside as an ultra-conservative concern. This concern merits considerable attention on the part of those involved in how matters of faith are communicated. Ignoring this concern builds a foundation which will quickly allow usage of words that are more recent and troubling.

The meaning and usage of some words do change over time. The current season is a great example of how true this is. I’ve never heard any celebrant of Easter make a claim of praising a futility goddess. To say they are doing so sub-consciously, in my humble opinion, is also not a credible argument. Oftentimes, in order to prove a point, an argument will be advanced and supported by cliché like statements with no credible analysis to support the claims made. These and tactics such as intentional misrepresentations serve no purpose and should never be use in discussions of such magnitude in Christian circles.

If Easter is the celebration of the bodily resurrection of Christ by those who believe that there was such a thing then why is there not much talk on the resurrection? Sure many will flock to the churches during holy week–Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday–to hear meditations and sermons concerning what took place before and as a result of the crucifixion, but  why is it so quiet outside? Why hasn’t this bold belief concerning the coming to life of a crucified and buried savior not cause believers to spread the message like wildfire?

It seems that the Easter celebration period is not a time for evangelization. Rather, it is a time of reflection for those who are already believers. In other words the way Easter is currently celebrated is deprived of missionary expectations. Christians spend the time thinking and talking about the resurrection with each other. The outside world knows of the celebration but it’s not because Christians are going out to tell them. (This is not to say that there are no Christians talking about the resurrection. If this was the case the rocks would have cried out.) They know it because the media speaks on it. Thus, the resurrection, an event that caused the grieving disciples of Jesus to be strengthen and press on with the mission given, doesn’t seem to be motivational enough to get cultural Christianity–Christians that simply uphold ecclesiastical traditions–up off the couch and out of the pews to explain the story to the outside world.

Perhaps one of the hindrances to this missionary approach is lack of knowledge concerning the resurrection. How can Christians be expected to tell of a story they don’t know much about? This is an opinion and has no tangible support. But, I suspect that if churches were to assign a 100 word essay to their members to describe what happened before and after the crucifixion, they would be surprised. Assuming to know because we have heard it from the lips of another before is not proof that we know. The only way to know if what was heard was accurate is to investigate it from the primary source.

The lack of a major missional buzz from believers is proof that most are not reading and thinking of the resurrection. It is impossible to believe that all of that is being done and it only produce a few passionate souls. Christianity is prayerfully reading and thinking about the resurrection and only a handful feel moved to speak to the world? I think not. What’s likely is that most of us are not praying and reading, and as a result, no fire burns to share what is learned.

As an Adventist, I’m aware that there has always been major conflicts within our ranks concerning what to do with Easter. Where we have found common ground is not in a festival that incorporates imagery from all sorts of origins, but in reflecting on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, we don’t seem to be different from the rest of Christendom when it comes to sharing during this time. We are plagued with the same issue: a resurrection spoken of only at home and the church.

Is it the resurrection that produces silence? No. It’s our lack of understand of and appreciation for the significance of that resurrection. Somehow we have grown cold and are in dire need of a resurrection ourselves. At this time the best way to go about initiating this is to go back to the most important resurrection: that of Jesus Christ. May we study and experience a personal spiritual resurrection so we can talk about the risen one.

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Should Adventists Celebrate Easter?

For many Christians Easter is the time of the year in which they celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a time for reflection, family, and festivities. Jesus Christ was crucified on a Friday, spent the Sabbath (sunset Friday to sunset Saturday) and the dark periods of Sunday in the tomb, and resurrected on Sunday morning. Christians believe that this sacrifice was done as payment for sin. The death that Christ died provides the opportunity for those who are willing to enter into relationship with Him to be barred from paying the ultimate sacrifice for their sins, death.

The corporate world sees the Easter period as a time for great revenue. The corporate world’s use of Easter in the secular realm has cause many to mistakenly argue that this is one of the reasons why Easter shouldn’t be celebrated. This argument has no substance because what corporate America decides to do concerning a moment of celebration for the Christian church is not the Christian church’s fault. They are simply capitalizing on a festive time. The same goes for Christmas.

Adventists find themselves in a debate over whether or not Easter should be celebrated. As is typical with most internal debates, the lines are divided between conservatives being against and liberals being for. The conservatives are against the celebration of Easter because they view the holiday as being of pagan origin. Their position is that of caution. What they would prefer to see is an exhaustive commentary providing evidence of Easter’s pagan roots.

The liberals have pretty much embraced the festive mood and may or may not be aware of Easter’s pagan roots. They are simply not interested in spending the time looking for what is wrong, but making the best of what is right. Their position is that we should look for the good in the moment. Both sides agree that Jesus should be emphasize, however, they have different ways of going about it.

I think fingers should not be pointed on those who celebrate it, with Easter bunny and all. Why? If one has ever read the council that Ellen White (whom people are willing to use only when it is beneficial to their argument) gives concerning the celebration of Christmas, then one can see why it is not a big deal to celebrate Easter. When White was asked, “shall we have a Christmas tree? Will it not be like the world?” She answered, “You can make it like the world if you have a disposition to do so, or you can make it as unlike the world as possible. There is no particular sin in selecting a fragrant evergreen and placing it in our churches, but the sin lies in the motive which prompts to action and the use which is made of the gifts placed upon the tree” (Adventist Home, p. 482.1).

Does this not contain a principle to use when it comes to holidays? I think it does. The idea of being different is often presented incorrectly and has led some to take positions that they would never have taken if they understood that one is not called simply to do things that are different just because the world (or other Christian denominations) do it a certain way. Should we not wear jeans just to be different from the world? Most would say of course not. Therefore, if our objective in doing something else is simply to be different then we are misled.

Is their a spiritual danger in celebrating Christmas? Yes, if your attention is not on Christ. This is a general observation. If your attention is not on Christ in any aspect of life, then you are spiritually in trouble. But Christmas in and of itself is not wrong unless one believes that the prophet is mistaken. If we rely on the same principle, then celebrating Easter won’t cause problems in terms of spirituality unless Jesus is not really the focus.

Ultimately the answer to the question really has to do with whether or not the individual is comfortable with the celebration of Easter. One should not be forced to do and neither should another be denied (or spoken of as if they are heretics). However, both need to immerse themselves in the talk of Jesus that is being done during this holiday. Make the best of the moment and find ways to talk about Christ.

A Sermon on the Canaanite Woman

It is always a wonderful and blessed experience to go to the house of the Lord on the Sabbath (Saturday). Yesterday, I heard a sermon by a good friend of mines on the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15. It was an encouraging sermon, outlining the importance of persevering in our requests to God, and having faith that He is able and will do it despite what is confronting us. It’s a message that was necessary for a people going through hard economic times and other challenges that the community at large may not be aware of. In this first segment of my Sermon Talks series, I present to you my reflections on the story of this woman.

If you have a problem and you hear of someone who can solve it, would you go to him? Well, I don’t know about you, but I would. Apparently, the Canaanite woman, who had a daughter suffering from demon possession, heard about such a man. Whoever told her about Jesus must have done it in such a way that she, a Canaanite, whom the Jews despise, was convinced that she had to seek this man and that He was able to bring deliverance (Matt. 15:21). Her decision should remind us of something we don’t recall too often, and that is Jesus’ ability to bring deliverance.

Demonic possession is considered a thing of the past by many, even Christians. We have dismissed the supernatural aspect of things and concluded that it is limited to ancient times. The truth is, just because we don’t see people yelling and screaming doesn’t mean that they are not possess. When Satan entered Judas at the last supper, there was nothing strange about him or else the others would have noticed. The disciples thought that Jesus was sending Judas out to buy things for the coming feast (John 13:21-30). Demon possession may show physical manifestations or it may not, but it is real.

In her opening cry to Jesus there are some phrases she uses that are worthy of note. She asked for “mercy,” and she called him “Lord, Son of David” (Matt. 15:22 NIV). Her appeal for mercy is an indication of her belief that Jesus the Jew is able to have compassion for a Canaanite woman. Her mention of his Davidic lineage is an acknowledgment of Him as the Messiah, a point that Matthew brings up over and over again in his gospel. However, these phrases didn’t generate a response from Jesus.

Many of us would have given up at this point. I know I would have. I have no patience for sitting around and waiting for things to happen, I consider it to be a waste of time. But can you imagine how ashamed she must have felt when she received no response? How many times have you prayed, hoping for a favorable answer, but instead you heard the silence of God or been unable to tell what He is doing? It didn’t stop there for the Canaanite, it got worst. The disciples were getting annoyed with all the pleading and gave Jesus their opinion of what He should do (Matt. 15:23). Her problem didn’t concern them, they were only interested in getting rid of her.

Twice Jesus responded as the disciples would have responded. He told her that His mission was limited to the Jews, which is a dismissive statement since she wasn’t Jewish (Matt. 15:24). She was being disqualified because of something that she had nothing to do with, where she was born. But she didn’t quit, she worshiped. Remark that this worship takes place after a statement of unworthiness, not after deliverance. Have you ever been told or felt that you were unqualified?

Jesus’ next response is the one that would have done the most damage. He said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs,” inferring that she was a dog. Had enough? That didn’t get her to leave. Instead she came back with one of the most wittiest replies, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (Matt. 15:27 NIV). This is a true analysis. The Canaanite woman had persisted in her request and Jesus, who was so overwhelmed by this woman’s faith in Him, granted her request. That very hour her daughter was healed (Matt. 15:28). This miracle is not limited to the first century, we can have this powerful experience with Jesus in our lives today if we would only press on.

The disciples’ advise to Jesus, and His responses to the woman, have led me to the conclusion that Jesus spoke as He did to teach the disciples a lesson about compassion, faith, and the inclusiveness of deliverance. Not only did He use a Canaanite to give them a lesson on what real faith looks like, but He helped her faith increase by the challenge that it faced. From that experience she gained even greater confidence in the power of God. Sometimes God uses the experience of those that we think are not worthy to teach us important lessons.

The lesson on faith and compassion is crucial because in the following narrative they are evident in Jesus’ statement to the disciples concerning a hungry multitude (Matt. 15:29-39). The statement seems to have been a test to see what they would say. The disciples are not the only ones that need to learn these lessons, we need to learn them too. We should be a church that encourage each other in persevering in our request. When we read a story, it’s easier to place someone else in the role of the villain than ourselves.

Was the church motivated after the sermon? Certainly. I, for one, am going to answer the call to persevere in my request and have faith that God’s hands will move and deliver. There is something real in Christianity and His name is Jesus, He is able.


Notes

Sermon Talks is a series of my reflections on sermons heard over the weekend that are not preached by me.

The picture above: Christ and the Canaanite Woman – c.1784 Germain-Jean Drouais