Posts tagged ‘Holiness’

A Holy Week for Unholy Times

art-cathedral-christ-christian-208216.jpgThis week is the beginning of what is, in the history and tradition of the Christian Church, called Holy Week. It is a commemoration of the final week of Jesus’ life before His death on a cross in anticipation of His victory over death on Easter.

Yesterday, we celebrated Palm Sunday, which recounts Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey while crowds hail His arrival by laying palm fronds at His feet (John 12:13). Palms were a symbol of Jewish nationalistic pride. In 164 BC, after the Greek tyrant Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who had persecuted and murdered many Jews, was defeated, the Jews waved palms in celebration of their victory. On Palm Sunday, the crowds are hoping that, just as their Greek oppressors were taken down almost two centuries earlier, Jesus will be the revolutionary who takes down their Roman oppressors.

Then, this Thursday, we will observe Maundy Thursday. The word “Maundy” is a derivative of the Latin word mandatum, which means “command.” On this night, Jesus gives His disciples two commands. This first command is one of love:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34)

The second is a command given when Jesus institutes a supper, which we now call the Lord’s Supper. Jesus instructs His disciples:

Do this in remembrance of Me. (Luke 22:19)

Thus, on Maundy Thursday, Christians across the world will partake in the Lord’s Supper – not just to obey a command, but to receive what Jesus promises in this holy meal: “the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).

The day after Maundy Thursday is Good Friday – the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be anything good about it. Jesus is arrested by His enemies and condemned to die not because He has committed a crime, but because the religious elites of His day hate His popularity among the crowds in Jerusalem. Even the man who condemns Jesus to death on a cross, Pontius Pilate, knows that it is “out of envy that they had delivered Him up” (Matthew 27:18). This is a dark, unholy moment. As Jesus says to His accusers when they arrest Him: “This is your hour – when darkness reigns” (Luke 22:53). And yet, even in this dark, unholy moment, holiness cannot and will not be defeated. Righteousness will reign. For even though Jesus’ enemies commit an unholy crime against Him, He is giving His life for them. His sacrifice is what makes Holy Week truly “holy.”

The times in which we are living right now feel dark and unholy. “Stay-at-home” restrictions are getting stricter. The curve of infections and deaths from COVID-19 is rising steeper. For millions of people, life is getting harder. And yet, this week – Holy Week – can remind us that holiness is found in the most unholy of places. After all, an ancient instrument of torture and execution – the cross – has now become a worldwide symbol of consolation and hope. And so, even if this week feels unholy, this week can still be a Holy Week – not because we live in a holy world, but because we have hope in a Holy One.

April 6, 2020 at 5:15 am 1 comment

#Blessed

Credit:  socialmediaexaminer.com

Credit: socialmediaexaminer.com

I don’t know how many times I’ve received the prayer request.  But it’s definitely more times than I can remember.  “Pray that God will bless my…” and then fill in the blank.  “Finances.”  “Job Search.”  “Move.”  “Golf Game.”  “Baby Shower.”  And the list could go on and on.

Now, on the one hand, I have no particular problem with these kinds of prayer requests per se.  Indeed, when people come to me with these kinds of prayers, I gladly oblige.  But on the other hand, even though we pray to be blessed, I’m not so sure we always understand what it truly entails to be blessed, at least not biblically.

The other day, I came across an article by Jessica Bennett of The New York Times chronicling all the blessings she has stumbled across on social media.  She opens:

Here are a few of the ways that God has touched my social network over the past few months:

S(he) helped a friend get accepted into graduate school. (She was “blessed” to be there.)

S(he) made it possible for a yoga instructor’s Caribbean spa retreat. (“Blessed to be teaching in paradise,” she wrote.)

S(he) helped a new mom outfit her infant in a tiny designer frock. (“A year of patiently waiting and it finally fits! Feeling blessed.”)

S(he) graced a colleague with at least 57 Facebook wall postings about her birthday. (“So blessed for all the love,” she wrote, to approximately 900 of her closest friends.)

God has, in fact, recently blessed my network with dazzling job promotions, coveted speaking gigs, the most wonderful fiancés ever, front row seats at Fashion Week, and nominations for many a “30 under 30” list. And, blessings aren’t limited to the little people, either. S(he) blessed Macklemore with a wardrobe designer (thanks for the heads up, Instagram!) and Jamie Lynn Spears with an engagement ring (“#blessed #blessed #blessed!” she wrote on Twitter). S(he)’s been known to bless Kanye West and Kim Kardashian with exotic getaways and expensive bottles of Champagne, overlooking sunsets of biblical proportion (naturally).[1]

Apparently, Bennett has a lot of extraordinarily “blessed” friends.  She even tells the story of a girl who posted a picture of her posterior on Facebook with the caption, “Blessed.”  Really?

The theology behind the kind of blessing Bennett outlines is shallow at best and likely heretical in actuality.  The so-called “god” who bestows these social media blessings is ill-defined and vacuous, as Bennett intimates with her references to “god” as “s(he),” and the blessings from this divine turn out to be quite petty.  Frocks that fit, birthday wishes on Facebook, and financial windfalls all qualify to be part of the “blessed” life.

All this leads Bennett to suspect that these “blessings” are really nothing more than people cynically

… invoking holiness as a way to brag about [their] life … Calling something “blessed,” has become the go-to term for those who want to boast about an accomplishment while pretending to be humble, fish for a compliment, acknowledge a success (without sounding too conceited), or purposely elicit envy.

That sounds about right.  “Blessed” is just a word people use to thinly disguise a brag.

True biblical blessing, of course, is quite different – and much messier.  Jesus’ list of blessings sounds quite different from what you’ll find on Facebook:

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.  Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. (Luke 6:20-22)

Poverty, hunger, mourning, and persecution all qualify to be part of the blessed life.  Why?  Because true blessing involves much more than what happens to you in this life.  It involves God’s promises for the next.

All this is not to say that the good gifts we receive in this life are not blessings.  But such blessings must be received with a proper perspective – that they are blessings not just because we happen to like them, but because it is God who gives them.  Indeed, one of the most interesting features of the Hebrew word for “blessing,” barak, is that it can be translated either as “bless” (e.g., Numbers 6:24) or as “curse” (e.g., Psalm 10:3), depending on context.  What makes the difference between whether something is a blessing or a curse?  Faith – a confidence that a blessing is defined not in terms of what something is, but in terms of who gives it.  This is why when we are poor, hungry, mourning, and persecuted, we can still be blessed.  Because we can still have the Lord.  And there is no better blessing than Him.

Put that on Instagram.

__________________________

[1] Jessica Bennett, “They Feel ‘Blessed,’” The New York Times (5.2.2014).

May 19, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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