Easter Justice and a thirst for righteousness

 

One of last things Jesus said before he died on the cross was, “I thirst.”  It is hard to imagine the very Savior who promised a woman by the well (John 4) everlasting water being thirsty, but he was.  Perhaps there is a deeper meaning to this illusive Easter text.

We live in a desolate and parched time.  The government is gridlocked; ISIS is sweeping across Africa and the Middle East; a precarious presidential election has nearly nose-dived into the gutter.  Black lives matter; gay and lesbian youth are committing suicides at an unprecedented rate due to bullying and discrimination.  Income inequality is at its greatest since the Great Depression.  Businesses and churches are surviving against all odds.

I can’t understand why Jesus thirsted, but I know why I thirst.  I thirst because we still have to live in a world in which Jesus’ Kingdom-vision, one of peace, liberation, redemption, and embrace has yet to be realized.

Easter happened.  Jesus arose from the grave.  He promised eternal life to those who believe; but, we are still living in the times between Good Friday and silent Saturday of our own souls.  We haven’t experienced resurrection with our Savior yet.  We stand, instead, between death and Jesus’ Second Coming.

Until Jesus comes with a final trumpet sound to inaugurate once and for all God’s reign on heaven and earth, I thirst.

I guess that when Jesus said “I thirst,” he was referring to Psalm 69.  At least that’s what the notes in my Study Bible say. But what if Jesus had Psalm 42 in mind instead?

As a deer longs for flowing water, so my souls longs for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When shall I come and behold the face of God?  My tears have been my food day and night” (v. 1-3).

What if Jesus said “I thirst” because he wants us to remember his Sermon on the Mount?   While we mourn at the cross, we may recall that Jesus’ Sermon mandated that we still have work to do, even in the midst of our own thirst: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matt. 5:6).

Righteousness is a biblical term that means “to be in right relationship with,” and it is a benchmark of God’s activity on earth.  Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, God’s desire was to reconcile that ruptured relationship, to put things right.

Jesus must have thirsted for righteousness because his death was the next step in this process of reconciliation.

I too thirst for righteousness that includes advocating for justice and mercy and kindness in a world very much in need of repairing.

I thirst for righteousness because I want to fight for what’s right in the world in order to see balanced budgets, terrorism abated, peaceful conclusions to war, and a more equitable tax code and quality of life for all lives.

Before he was crucified, Jesus told parables and healed the sick and ate with tax collectors and sinners.  He said that the reign of God–the very kingdom of God–had come to earth and was in our midst.

This reign was more than a fancy idea or personal wish; the reign drew heaven’s goal and earth’s future closer together so that God’s will would be accomplished “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Although I thirst still, I am thankful that Jesus is indeed the Everlasting Water who gives us a chance to spread God’s righteousness even in the least expected places, like at the local halfway house or in Congress.

I thirst, but it is God who nourishes us with hope that one day even broken legislatures and warring enemies will eventually bow to His lordship.

Seven Spiritual Disciplines for Good Friday

good-friday-bible-2By Joe LaGuardia

For many, Good Friday is as much a part of Holy Week as Easter or Palm Sunday.  For others, Good Friday has never been a part of the worship routine.

There is some truth to the notion that Holy Week is not complete without some acknowledgement of Good Friday, for it is the day that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world.

An Easter without a crucifix is like having communion without bread, and resurrection becomes all the more amazing when cast in the shadow of Jesus’ broken body.

For Christians yearning to make Good Friday meaningful, here are seven spiritual disciplines you can try on your own or in a small group:

1.  Get together with an old friend.  Holy Week is a nostalgic time for people of faith.  We remember Easter at our home churches, egg decorating with grandparents, and the child-like joy of receiving chocolate bunnies on Easter morning.

Feed your nostalgia by calling a friend from the distant past.  Enjoy coffee, reminisce of old times, heal any open wounds, and laugh together.

2.  Spend time in silence.  The first discipline promotes connecting with a friend; this discipline promotes a deeper connection with God.

When we pray, we talk or intervene or give thanks.  Spending time in silence is a simple act of spending time with God.  No words or long speeches are necessary.  God wants time with you, and Good Friday is the perfect day to fulfill this long-neglected meeting.

3.  Go for a hike.  Now that the weather is getting nice, its time to get out and meet God in the midst of nature.

There are so many places within driving distance, you can practically hike during your lunch hour.  Give the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Arabia Mountain, or Black Shoals Park a try, and let nature’s voice become God’s voice to you.

4.  Visit a local church you never attended.  Call around to a few  churches close to your home or place of work and see if they are hosting a Good Friday service (if there is no service at your church, of course).

This is a good time to meet neighbors, shake the hand of a pastor reaching out to your community, and get exposed to different styles of worship or preaching.

5.  Exercise longer.  No pain, no gain, the old adage states.  Exercising longer and harder can help us relate to the suffering of Christ.

Although bench pressing can never compare with the torture and execution of Christ, challenging our bodies can help us center our mind towards the cross of Christ.

When we feel our bodies stretch to their limits, then we can appreciate Jesus’ own sacrifice all the more.

6.  Make a spiritual wish list.  So many of us have spiritual aspirations to get closer to God or connect with Jesus in a variety of ways.

Sometimes we need the discipline to sit down, take a few minutes, and write out those spiritual goals we hope to fulfill.

Corporations, executives and managers, sports coaches, and even parents assess where they are and where they want to go in their particular field of interest.  Why not do that in our faith as well?

7.  Volunteer at a non-profit agency.  Take Maundy Thursday (the day before Good Friday, when Jesus ate his Last Supper with his disciples) to call around to local non-profits and see  how you can volunteer on Friday.

We have plenty of opportunities in Rockdale County.  Family Promise of Newrock, for instance, has a day center that requires volunteers to keep the place clean and tidy.

Rockdale Emergency Relief or the St. Vincent de Paul Society at St. Pius X might also appreciate a helping hand in stocking shelves or greeting people who benefit from these wonderful service organizations.

Whether you seek intentional community or intentional time with God, I want to encourage you to make your Good Friday one to remember.

If you’re still not sure what to do, you are invited to join us at Trinity Baptist Church at 7 PM for our Good Friday service.  As always, all are welcome.

 

On Easter there is certainity when it comes to the cross of Christ

I heard it said on many occasions that one should never discuss politics and religion with family.  Although I don’t discuss the two in mixed company, a conversation without politics and religion with the LaGuardias is like eating a cannoli without the cream.   Bland and incomplete.

My father and I have debated politics for years.  It seems that whatever we do to start our debates differently, we always end them the same way.  We come to some sense of understanding and then one of us, (usually the person losing the debate), will say, “Well, I guess we’ll see how it turns out.”  To which the other person responds with the colloquial, “It will come out in the wash.”

My father is like a barrel full of wisdom.  He has enough sayings to rival Joe Biden’s father.  One of those nuggets of wisdom is that we, as humans, cannot figure everything out.  There is an uncertainty to life that is par for course, and our need to control the future is an exercise in futility.

Christianity is one of those religions in which we find ourselves enveloped in uncertainty and mystery.  But our salvation does not depend upon what we know for certain; rather, it depends on faith in things hoped for and things unseen.

Nevertheless, in my own life, there is something that is certain and sure, a foundational piece of knowledge and experience:  The life, death, and resurrection of Christ.   I’ve doubted many a thing in my life, but for some reason whenever I consider doubting—even for a second—Christ’s resurrection, I cannot comprehend life without Jesus living in the here and now.

There are many Christians in our world that live out their faith without believing in the literal resurrection of Jesus.  It is often said that Jesus’ life alone is sufficient enough for us to access God and receive salvation.  Albert Schweitzer, the great theologian and medical missionary of yesteryear, championed this view and lived a life of intense faith in God.

Others simply write off Jesus’ resurrection as a hoax.  The resurrection was merely the work of a desperate cult seeking to perpetuate its existence.  Faking the resurrection and hiding Christ’s body was the perfect ruse at the perfect time.

For the amount of scrutiny and cynicism that I have brought to the table in all my life’s journey of faith, I still cannot bring myself to question the literal, bodily resurrection of Christ.  There is something too deep inside of me that beckons a certainty that lies beyond a shadow of doubt.  In my heart’s court of law, all of the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection has withstood the test of time.

Christianity does indeed rest on the claim of the Easter event.  In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith is in vain” (15:14).

Nor does this claim end here.  My certainty in Jesus’ resurrection also calcifies Jesus’ return to earth, impending judgment of all creation, and final act of making a “new heaven and earth.”  This truth is what drives me to proclaim the message of the cross in the first place, for we all have the opportunity to add our name to the Book of Life because of what Jesus did for us at Calvary.

This Easter season, my father and I will still debate endlessly about politics and will still end on a note of uncertainty.  But, in spite of our doubts about what will unfold in society, we both know that our faith is founded upon the certainty that the living, active Lord will have his way when all is said and done.  What about you?