Hating Easter and the same old Jesus

He Qi Palm SundayOn Saturday, I got out in the glorious weather (finally!) to have brunch with a friend at Eastern Market (if you haven’t had the crêpes from the crêpe place and Blackout donuts from DC Donuts, you should really put that on your to-do list!).  As we were talking, I reminded him that yesterday was Palm Sunday and his face scrunched up and he made a little noise of distaste.

I said, “Dude, how can you hate Easter?!”

His response:

It’s the same old thing: the same cheesy songs, the same scriptures, the same sermons. There’s nothing new there.

That got me thinking, because in a sense he’s right. Every Easter we talk about the same thing; every Palm Sunday we talk about the same thing. It can be real easy to go through the motions, to slip into lazy routines, to assume that we’ve heard it all before. Especially at this time of year.

I’ve heard the Easter story for as long as I can remember, and yet what God impressed upon me this week is that if we open ourselves up to God, if we ask him to show us some new insights, he will. That’s what it means to be in a relationship with the living God; that’s the power of the Word of God.

In writing this week’s message (which you can find here), I was reminded again that Jesus is far more than our traditions and our routines and our well-worn stories.

The messiah whom we encounter in Matthew 21, the one who enters Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, is not really at all what you may have expected, the one who is not here to fulfill all of your greatest longings in all the ways that you planned.

Jesus is not the king of your own making or your own choosing, but the king who turns everything on its head. This Jesus was not just an ancient teacher spouting wise sayings that you can post on social media to get likes and clicks, but the king who says:

Do what I say and you will have life. Trust in me. Trust in my way.

This Jesus did not stay dead; this Jesus did not stay in ancient history, just to be talked about and dissected and debated. This is not the Jesus of same old, same old. This is the living Christ.

Roll on, Easter.

LISTEN HERE: “Not the Same Old Jesus.”

Lent

In case you weren’t aware (or aren’t liturgically-inclined), the season of Lent begins tomorrow on Ash Wednesday (which means today is Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday). While Lent has become, in pop culture, a time for simply giving up unhealthy habits, the tradition is to take this time to humbly and thoughtfully prepare our hearts and lives to commemorate Holy Week, which begins on Palm Sunday and culminates with Easter Sunday; it’s supposed to be a focused time of self-denial, just like Christmas is a focused time of celebrating the birth of Christ–not that we don’t do these things every day, but that we take seasons during the year to elevate and examine particular aspects of our faith.

I didn’t grow up in a church that was particularly liturgical, and so didn’t really mark Lent at all (beyond gorging myself on pre-Lenten pancakes) until I moved to the UK. And in recent years, I’ve begun not only giving something up, but taking something on. Not simply for the purpose of ditching unhealthy habits and collecting healthy ones, but because these are beneficial for me–mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. The journey that we are all on as Christians is to be more like Christ, more of who God made us to be, both in our own lives (bodies, relationships, habits, practices) and in the ways that we relate to God and others. (I talked about some of this in a Lenten post from two years ago, too.)

So my plan this Lent is twofold:

  1. To give up my time first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I’ve already begun implementing the practice of spending time with God before I start my day (even before checking email!) and before I go to bed, but I want to double down on this.
  2. To pick up working out every day. Since last summer, when I got injured playing soccer, I’ve been recuperating. And then recuperating turned into relaxing. And relaxing turned into indolence. And that’s just not a good feeling for someone who’s naturally inclined toward activity! So this in itself serves the dual purpose of being a physical manifestation of what I’m hoping is going on spiritually (training!) and getting me ready for the next season of soccer as well!

And as we think about what it means to deny ourselves, I hope this word from John Stott is as challenging and encouraging to you as it was for me this morning:

We need to rescue this vocabulary [of self-denial] from being debased. We should not suppose that self-denial is giving up luxuries during Lent or that “my cross” is some personal and painful trial. We are always in danger of trivializing Christian discipleship, as if it were no more than adding a thin veneer of piety to an otherwise secular life. Then prick the veneer, and there is the same old pagan underneath. No, becoming and being a Christian involves a change so radical that no imagery can do it justice except death and resurrection—dying to the old life of self-centeredness and rising to a new life of holiness and love.

(Through the Bible Through the Year, 210)

P.S. If you’re in the DC area, please join The District Church, Church of the Advent, and National Baptist Memorial Church as we hold a joint Ash Wednesday service tomorrow evening at 7pm at NBMC (on the corner of 15th St and Columbia).

Palm Sunday

Today is Palm Sunday; today marks the start of Holy Week and commemorates the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Here’s the account from the Message paraphrase of Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 21:

When they neared Jerusalem, having arrived at Bethphage on Mount Olives, Jesus sent two disciples with these instructions: “Go over to the village across from you. You’ll find a donkey tethered there, her colt with her. Untie her and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you’re doing, say, ‘The Master needs them!’ He will send them with you.” This is the full story of what was sketched earlier by the prophet: Tell Zion’s daughter, “Look, your king’s on his way, poised and ready, mounted on a donkey, on a colt, foal of a pack animal.”

The disciples went and did exactly what Jesus told them to do. They led the donkey and colt out, laid some of their clothes on them, and Jesus mounted. Nearly all the people in the crowd threw their garments down on the road, giving him a royal welcome. Others cut branches from the trees and threw them down as a welcome mat.

Crowds went ahead and crowds followed, all of them calling out, “Hosanna to David’s son!” “Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!” “Hosanna in highest heaven!” As he made his entrance into Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken. Unnerved, people were asking, “What’s going on here? Who is this?” The parade crowd answered, “This is the prophet Jesus, the one from Nazareth in Galilee.”

[Above right: Alexandre Bida, Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, engraving, from Christ in Art by Edward Eggleston (1874).]