Dear Prayer Warrior:
I'm learning to see Easter as less about my sin and depravity, and more about the holy perfection of Jesus. Every year I feel like Easter sneaks up on me. You might feel the same way. Perhaps it's because you haven't had a vacation day since Christmas and you won't have another one until Memorial Day. Perhaps it's because March Madness takes over your entire life at this time of year (and why wouldn't it when the winner gets office bragging rights until Fantasy Football season begins?). Or perhaps it's because you have two toddlers (or teenagers?) at home and it takes all of your time and energy just to keep them safe and alive. But I don't think that's the case for me. I have a bigger issue than that.
I've been a Christian since birth, baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran system. Every year Easter comes and goes, and I seldom ever get emotionally distraught over the act of Christ's death on the Cross for my sins. I acknowledge it and am grateful for it, but I rarely see myself as the death-sentenced person that I am because of my sins.
It's difficult to see myself as a sinner when the culture around me sees people as generally "good." The need for the crucifixion of Christ doesn't make sense to our culture; it sees Jesus' death as unjust because not only did an innocent man die, but also because the consequences for sinning aren't typically viewed as a reason for death—especially for the mildest of sins. In fact, "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23) sounds like the mantra of totalitarian dictatorships or Sharia law.
However distasteful this may be, we know it to be true. Fortunately for us, God in his richness of mercy and love made us alive through Christ's death on the Cross (Ephesians 2:4–5). Regardless of how we see our sin, everyone is in need of a Savior (Romans 5:12). So God provided salvation through Christ (John 3:16).
How can we truly appreciate the sacrifice Jesus made for us without seeing ourselves as "despicable me"? Perhaps it's not that we are blind to our own sin, but rather that we don't have a firm grasp on the holiness of God. A pair of old socks can seem pretty white, especially when just washed. But once a new pair is purchased and compared, those once good-enough socks appear dingy and gray.
Likewise, even the mildest of sins stands out like a crimson stain when compared to the perfection of God. So this Easter, when you strain to conjure up a sense of gravity for the situation, look not into the depths of your depravity, but look at the holy perfection of Jesus. After all, this is what God sees in us because of this day.
IN THIS ISSUE
Those Serving in the Military: Greg Kassell; Mike Leonas
For all expecting mothers and their children; including Rachel Reiner, Heather Pijanowski, Betsy Murray, and Rachel Micheel.
For all who grieve, that they would have peace that passes understanding through Jesus Christ.
For the unemployed and underemployed; the hungry; the poor; the homeless
That God’s Will would be done in the nations of earth, that peace and justice would prevail, and conflict and violence would come to an end in countries experiencing unrest.
For Christian marriages, that they would be founded on the love and forgiveness of Christ.
For wisdom, strength, and guidance for all those involved in BSLC’s strategic planning process.
That God would send many visitors and inactive members to come to worship during Holy Week.
That God would provide for faithful stewards that together we would be effective in Boldly Sharing the Love of Christ.
Those who travel.
For our 8th grade students who will be confirmed this Sunday.
For the children and youth in this congregation, that they would learn and grow in the faith, and have the protection of God.
That God would bless our Abounding Love Preschool ministry, meet the needs of ministry, and provide many students.
That God would bless Pastor Zerkel and Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
That God would richly bless our local and international partnerships in mission:
Rev. Bob Malone at Peace Lutheran in Kansas City, MO
by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
"Raised from the dead? Sure. Right. And I have a bridge I'd like to sell you."
That's how Thomas might have responded if he had lived in our day. "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it."1 He'd seen dead people before. And Jesus was dead. He sounds like sophisticated rationalists of the Twenty-first Century. "It isn't plausible," they would contend. "It didn't happen."
But what if it did happen?
Thomas was convinced when Jesus appeared to him, reached out his hands to Thomas, and said, "Put your finger here."
Thomas dropped to his knees. "My Lord and my God!"2
It was self-hypnosis, you counter. The disciples wanted to believe that their Lord was not dead, so they just invented it out of whole cloth.
Really? Let's look at some of the evidence.
Jesus' body was missing. If the Jews could have found it, they could have stilled the preaching of Jesus' resurrection that filled Jerusalem. But they could not.
The body wasn't stolen. The Romans had no motive. The Jews had no motive. Ah-ha, you say, the disciples stole it. There is the matter of the Roman guards, and the disciples' initial disbelief when the women brought them the news early that Easter morning. This brings me to my third point.
If the disciples had stolen the body, you wouldn't expect them to risk their lives. People don't die for what they know is not true. But the disciples put their lives on the line, and nearly all were eventually martyred for their faith. They certainly believed it.
The church mushroomed size in Jerusalem, the very place he was crucified. Followers of Jesus in the city of Jerusalem grew from a few dozen to thousands upon thousands soon after Jesus' resurrection. They believed it was true.
Contemporary documents refer to the event. Thallus the Samaritan, Suetonius, Tacitus, Pliny contain references to Jesus. Jewish historian Josephus writes about Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. They knew something had happened.
Jesus' resurrection from the dead is actually more plausible than any other explanation. That's why we Christians make such a big deal about Easter. That's why we celebrate.Jesus' resurrection means that death is not the end. That though my body may lie moldering in the ground, Jesus, whom the Father raised from the dead, gives me eternal life. Ultimately, we Christians believe, our bodies, too, will be raised from the dead.
And since Jesus is not dead, people can encounter him today. You can know him through a personal relationship. I could point to lots of people who can testify what Jesus has done in their lives to bring them from the brink of disaster to peace and meaning and joy. He changes people for good. If you're not sure can't really say you've met this risen Jesus, this Easter Sunday why don't you slip into church to seek him. And perhaps in the midst of our celebration, you'll find him for yourself.
He's alive, you know. That's what Easter is all about!
Father, there is no sin too great that Your mercy is not greater. We were born with a sin problem, but You provided the solution for our sin sick souls through the wondrous sacrifice of Your Son, Jesus Christ. We could never be good enough, rich enough, famous enough – nothing we offer is enough. Anything we have to offer is sin-based because of our human condition and all that Christ offers is sin-less because He is the Lamb without blemish. Only Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God, is enough to pay for our sins. Thank You for Your gift of eternal life through Jesus. Amen.
A Good Friday Monologue
by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
I don't belong here. I really don't. Paradise is the last place I expected to end up after all I've done. Let me tell you my story.
I am — I was — an armed robber, I guess you'd call it. Me and Jake and the others would live in caves in the Judean hills near the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. We made our living by violence. We wouldn't take on people in the big groups that passed. They traveled together for safety. But a family alone would be an easy mark, as well as anyone fool enough to travel by himself. Brandishing a strong staff would usually do the trick. Threaten them with a beating and they'd give up without much of a fight. But I've been known to break a few bones in my day, God forgive me. I don't think I actually killed anyone, but then I never stayed around long enough to find out. The first time I meet Jesus is when I am invited to a party in his honor in Jericho at the home of a rich tax collector named Zacchaeus. I am introduced, we shake hands, and Jesus looks me in the eye for a long moment. He can see right into me, who I am, every crime I have ever committed. Then he smiles this big friendly smile. "You know," he says, "there's forgiveness for you in my Kingdom. How about it?"
I drop my eyes, say something non-committal, and shuffle away. The next day I'm in the crowd, hanging on every word he says. Jesus is talking about his Kingdom, comparing it to a mustard seed, calling it the Kingdom of Heaven. I want so much to go up to him after he has finished and take him up on that forgiveness thing, but I just can't bring myself to do it. I wish I had. It isn't much later when me and my friend Jake — the guy on the third cross — get caught by a Roman patrol. The others run off, but they catch us, beat us silly, drag us into Jerusalem, and throw us in prison. No mercy for the likes of us. And so it happens that on the same day that they crucify Jesus, they crucify me and Jake -- one of us on his left, the other on his right. This ain't no normal crucifixion. Mobs of people are there just because of Jesus. Self-righteous Pharisees are swaggering and mocking. "If you're some kind of messiah," one sneers, "come on down from that cross. If you're a savior, save yourself — if you can!"
Jake begins cat-calling, too, if you can imagine that. I yell over at him, "You miserable thug, don't you have any fear of God? Can't you see that we're going to die just like he is? Show a little decency! We're getting exactly what we deserve, but he ain't done nothing wrong." Jake quiets down and the Pharisees lose interest. But I can't get Jericho out of my mind. I can't forget Jesus' eyes, his words, his invitation. And so I call over to him, though it's getting hard to breathe and talking makes it that much harder.
"Jesus!" I say. He turns his head towards me. "Jesus, I was there in Jericho. I met you at a party at Zacchaeus' house. Remember?" He looks at me for a moment and then nods his head just a little. He does remember. "I never forgot what you said. I wanted to say yes, but just couldn't. And now look at me — look at us!"
He is in bad shape — exhausted, in excruciating pain, back oozing, breath labored. He isn't going to last long. I can see that. But somehow I can see beyond all that. He was the Messiah, is the Messiah, no matter what those priests and Romans and Pharisees have done to him. And when he dies, he will be with God. In a few hours, maybe less, he will be vindicated. He will reign in that Kingdom he told us about.
"Jesus," I call again, quieter now. He opens his eyes. They are the same eyes, the same piercing, loving, honest eyes.
"Jesus," I say, "when you come into your Kingdom, would you remember me?"
His words are labored, his lips parched, but I can still hear him pretty well. "Truly, I say to you...." His voice cracks, then is stronger for a moment. "Truly, this very day you will be with me in Paradise." His eyes droop. He is fading quickly now. But I believe him. I do! That's what gets me through those next few hours until they break my legs to kill me. I do believe him!
And then I find myself here in heaven, in Paradise. I sure don't deserve to be here, but here I am anyway. I guess that's what a man like me gets when the King himself grants a pardon. Full forgiveness. Pretty amazing, don't you think?
Copyright 2008, Richard Niell Donovan
Writing the story of this hymn is a task complicated by the hymn's early origins, the many changes that it has undergone through the centuries, and the conflicting dates and data found in the various sources that I consulted.
Another problem is that it is possible to confuse this hymn with "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today." While the words to the two hymns are different, the first lines are similar. No serious musician will be confused by the similarity, but most of the people in the pews aren't serious musicians.
Also, there are two tunes associated with these two hymns –– "Easter Hymn" and "Llanfair" –– and I found both hymns sung to both tunes, depending on the hymnal. In most cases, a hymnal will include one hymn or the other, but some hymnals have both. When both are included, one hymn will be sung to one tune and the other hymn to the other tune.
I should also note that there is a variant of "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today" without the Alleluias (and sometimes without the verse that starts "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today"), and there are at least three tunes associated with that hymn –– "Orientis Partibus," "Savannah," and "Resurrexit."
(These hymns are in the LSB, "Jesus Christ is Risen Today" page 457; "Christ the Lord is Risen Today, Alleluia" page 463; and original Charles Wesley hymn, "Christ the Lord is Risen Today", No Alleluias, page 469. We usually sing "Jesus Christ is Risen Today, Alleluia" page 457 and "Christ the Lord is Risen Today, no Alleluia", page 469 in our services. The point is all three are in our Lutheran hymnal. Maybe this year Pastor will schedule both or all three to sing so we can see the difference)
Having noted the complications, let me do my best to outline the history of "Jesus Christ Is Risen Today."
• This hymn had its origins in a 14th century Latin carol, "Surrexit Christus hodie," the author of which is entirely anonymous.
• It was translated into English by Nahum Tate (a poet laureate) and Nicholas Brady (an Anglican clergyman) and paired with the tune "Easter Hymn" in the book Lyra Davidica in 1708.
• Then after major revisions and with new stanzas, it was published in Arnolds Compleat Psalmodist in 1779.
• The stanza that begins, "Sing we to our God above," was written in 1740 by Charles Wesley and added much later –– apparently long after the 1779 publication of Compleat Psalmodist.
Now to the tunes! "Easter Hymn" comes from Lyra Davidica (1708). The composer is unknown.
"Llanfair" was written by Robert Williams (1781-1821), a blind basket weaver who composed tunes and dictated them to a scribe. Williams lived on the Isle of Anglesey in Wales.
"Llanfair" is an abbreviated form for the name of a Welsh village with a very long Welch name, which means "Church of St. Mary in the hollow of white hazel near the rapid whirlpool of the Church of St. Tysillio by the red cave."
On a modern map, I found a village named Llanfair on the mainland in Wales 25 miles south of the Isle of Anglesey. I also found a village named Llanfairfechan on the island itself. I have not been able to determine which of those villages is the one associated with this hymn tune.
P.S. Diana Robinson, who lives in that area, says that the Llanfair in question is the one on the island. The one on the mainland is Llanfairfechan.
Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia!
Hymns of praise then let us sing, Alleluia!
But the pains which he endured, Alleluia!
Sing we to our God above, Alleluia!