Why is it so hard?

As I’ve seen the news about pastors, like Rev. Tony Spell in Louisiana, who are insisting on their “right” to hold Easter services in spite of the Covid-19 pandemic, I have to ask why is it so hard to obey stay-at-home orders that have been put in place to protect the lives of the vulnerable; the very people that churches profess to care about? Why is it so hard?

I fully understand people wanting to be with family and to take part in their traditional Easter celebrations. I’d love to be with my kids and grandkids too, but I’ve been pondering why we do what we do and why we think we need to. Nowhere in scripture are we commanded to gather together for Easter (other than the instruction not to give up meeting together in Hebrews 10:25 which, thankfully, we’re able to do virtually) or given any instructions about how to celebrate the resurrection. These are manmade traditions. Perhaps a quiet, at home Easter without all those extras is not a bad thing. Perhaps it’s a time for us to reflect in a more intentional way on the real meaning of the event which is not bunnies, eggs, and chocolate. It isn’t even necessarily going to church!

I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with the ways we usually celebrate Easter, but just this once, it’s okay to do things differently. In fact, we need to do things differently! As the church, we need to be obedient to the Word of God which tells us in several places to obey those in positions of authority over us. Romans 13:1 tells us, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” Regardless of what people like Rev. Spell proclaim, we are called to obey those who put the current social distancing regulations in place! Why is that so hard?

I’m reminded of the two Easters that we spent in non Christian countries. In Japan, we did attend a Christian church and celebrated Easter there, but outside the walls of the church, there was no recognition of Easter at all. In China, where we weren’t part of any Christian organization, I’ll always remember that we went out for dinner with a couple of our college students on Easter Sunday and ate roast duck and bullfrog! Not frog’s legs, the whole frog! It was delicious, but I digress! At the end of that day, I wrote this and I think it applies as well to our current situation as it did then.

“Easter isn’t really about what we eat or who we spend the day with. Whether we’re with family around a table laden with ham and all the trimmings or in a shopping mall in China eating bullfrog, as Christians, Easter is at the centre of who we are and what we believe.”

 

He made the thorns

Now that we’re into the holiest week of the Christian calendar, we’re surrounded by the popular images of the season, coloured eggs, bunnies and chicks, but the events of that first Easter week were anything but pretty and pastel.

On Sunday, our pastor used Maker of the Universe by master guitarist, Phil Keaggy, as part of his morning message. Do take a moment to click on the link and watch the video. I can’t get its haunting message out of my mind.

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His holy fingers made the bough, 
Which grew the thorns that crowned His brow.

Not only did God create the thorn bush with its razor-sharp barbs, but He made and even yearned for a relationship with the soldier who thought to shape it into a cruel crown and ram it onto the head of our Lord.

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The nails that pierced His hands were mined
In secret places He designed.

On the third day of creation, God created the land and the metals hidden within knowing  all the good and evil ways that man would put them to use; knowing that someday His body would be pierced with spikes formed from those very metals.

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He made the forest whence there sprung
The tree on which His body hung.

He didn’t have to do it! He didn’t have to let them nail Him to the cross. He could have walked away, just like He did three years earlier when an angry crowd in his hometown of Nazareth threatened to throw him off a cliff. (Luke 4:16-30)

This time He didn’t walk away. He let them crown Him with a crown of thorns and hammer nails through His wrists and His feet and He did it for me! He did it to take the punishment that should have been mine. He knew that I would let Him down, but He did it anyway.  He let them lay His body in a cold, dark tomb, and there He lay for three long days. Thankfully, though, that wasn’t the end of the story. As the old hymn says

Up from the grave he arose; 
with a mighty triumph o’er his foes; 
he arose a victor from the dark domain, 
and he lives forever, with his saints to reign. 
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose! 

And that is the wonder of Easter! Hallelujah!

No ordinary weekend

This weekend Christians around the world celebrated the death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who came that we might have life, and that we might have it more abundantly. (John 10:10) It was definitely no ordinary weekend, but for our family, it was also no ordinary Easter.

Thirty years ago, a heartbroken young grandmother placed her first grandchild in my arms and walked away not knowing if she’d ever see him again. On Saturday evening, she sat across the table from me at his wedding reception. Her daughter, Nate’s birth mom, was at the next table. This was definitely no ordinary weekend!

Nathan was just three days old when he joined our family but there was already an unmistakable twinkle of mischief in his eyes and he has found his soulmate in Colleen, a beautiful and godly young lady with a mischievous twinkle to match his own! The wedding ceremony and the reception, complete with an inflatable bouncy castle in the corner of the hall to keep the youngest guests entertained, were a perfect reflection of the fun-loving and quirky but also very classy personalities of the bride and groom.

My weekend began with a moment of panic on Friday morning when I woke to discover that the five pound block of ground beef in our hotel room’s mini fridge was still frozen solid! I had a rehearsal dinner to prepare for approximately two dozen people and only a couple of hours until I needed to begin putting it together. Where there’s a will, there’s a way they say, so tying the meat into a plastic hotel laundry bag and dropping it into a bathtub of warm water, off I went to breakfast! The novel defrosting method worked wonders and by early afternoon I had three slow cookers filled with lasagna. (No, I didn’t prepare the meal in the hotel room! We transported the meat, along with all the other ingredients, to one of the bridesmaid’s homes.) Though I never want to be a caterer, the meal was ready right on time and received rave reviews. Once that was over with, I could relax and enjoy the rest of the weekend!

From the bride and groom’s self-written vows that reflected both the sanctity of the moment and the humour that permeates their relationship to their impromptu dance on the platform during the ceremony, the wedding was, in the words of one of our dear friends, “a wonderful, classy, down to earth celebration.”

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For me, one of the highlights of the weekend was having all my children and grandchildren together in one place, something that doesn’t happen often. On Sunday morning, with the bride and groom off on their honeymoon, the rest of us gathered at their home to be for a relaxing brunch before having to go our separate ways. The Easter bunny somehow knew exactly where our five young grandchildren would be and ensured that there were chocolate eggs to be found!

After cleaning up and making sure that everything was ready for Nate and Colleen’s return, we headed for home stopping on the way for Easter dinner at my sister’s place. It was also a celebration of my nephew’s 22nd birthday and in his words, “a perfect end to a perfectly incredible weekend!”

Our beautiful children: Matt and his wife Robin, Nate and his lovely bride Colleen, Melaina and her husband Aaron

Our beautiful children: Matt and his wife Robin, Nate and his lovely bride Colleen, Melaina and her husband Aaron

Uncle Nate and Auntie Colleen with our five grandchildren

Uncle Nate and Auntie Colleen with our five grandchildren

A most unusual Easter!

For the second time in our lives, we’re spending Easter in a country where it isn’t celebrated; where very few people have ever heard of it. This is definitely the first and probably the only Easter Sunday that I will ever spend in a shopping mall!

Our Sundays are usually spent with students and today was no exception. We met Howard and Vicky at noon and caught a bus to Xi’an Road, Dalian’s most popular shopping area. They had chosen a Hong Kong style restaurant for our lunch and what a feast we enjoyed! Our Easter dinner included both roast duck and bullfrog! That’s right, bullfrog! Like us, Howard had never eaten it before but Vicky assured us that it was delicious and, believe it or not, she was right!

After lunch, the guys followed Vicky and I in and out of a few stores before deciding that that was boring and wandering off to a coffee shop to wait for us while we shopped. They had a great time visiting while we browsed. Can you imagine all the English that we used as we talked about colours, styles and fabrics and discussed what we liked and what we didn’t? Our afternoon was much more about spending time together and using the language than it was about shopping but Vicky did buy a pair of bright pink jeans and I bought a hat. It’s not an Easter bonnet but when I wear it, I’ll remember our most unusual Easter.

Of course, Easter wouldn’t be Easter without chocolate. I’d actually been craving chocolate lately and Easter seemed like a good excuse to check out the candy aisle the last time we were in the supermarket! In spite of the muffin top which seems to be growing around my middle thanks to the rice and noodles that make up part of almost every meal here, as well as the mochas that I drink whenever we visit a western style coffee shop, I felt justified in buying chocolate when I did my daily brain training today. As I waited for Lumosity, the internet’s most popular brain fitness website, to load one of today’s activities, I noticed the following quotation

"Chocolate can be good for your brain! Dark chocolate contains flavanols and antioxidants, which seem to be good for long-term brain health."

Of course, Easter isn’t really about what we eat or who we spend the day with. Whether we’re with family around a table laden with ham and all the trimmings or in a shopping mall in China eating bullfrog, as Christians, Easter is at the centre of who we are and what we believe.

As our day comes to an end, yours may just be beginning. I hope that, wherever you are and whoever you’re with, it will be a day of celebration and reflection.

He has risen!