Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Tag: resurrection (Page 1 of 2)

September 16, 2022 – Victory Over Death

Athanasius of Alexandria is an early Church Father, considered one of the great “Doctors of the Church.” He is the first person to identify the 27 books we now consider the New Testament. He contributed to the theological integrity of the church by struggling against Arians, who maintained that Jesus of Nazareth was of a “distinct substance” to the father (which would violate the doctrine of the Trinity), as well several Emperors. This penchant for conflict for the truth earned him the title Athanasius Contra Mundum (or Athanasius Against the World). This week, we are going to pray through one of his works, On the Incarnation of the Word (or De Incarnatione Verbi Dei). The text itself is a companion to another one of his works, Against the Heathen (or Contra Gentes). In his first work, he is offering written arguments against pagan beliefs and practices. But in the work we’ll focus on this week, On the Incarnation, Athanasius beautifully writes of the basis of Christian faith and salvation: the incarnation of Jesus. I will offer an excerpt of the text (you can find the whole thing here), and try to bring to our immediate relevance to us today.

Today’s Bible reading

But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.—Acts 2:24

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.—Hebrews 4:12

More thoughts for meditation

“For He could, even immediately on death, have raised His body and shown it alive; but this also the Saviour, in wise foresight, did not do.”

“Let those who are incredulous about the victory over death receive the faith of Christ, and pass over to His teaching, and they shall see the weakness of death, and the triumph over it.”

“For he that sees the serpent trodden under foot, especially knowing his former fierceness no longer doubts that he is dead and has quite lost his strength.”

“For where Christ is named, and His faith, there all idolatry is deposed and all imposture of evil spirits is exposed.”

“For it is plain that if Christ be dead, He could not be expelling demons and spoiling idols; for a dead man the spirits would not have obeyed.”

Athanasius sets out to explain and prove the resurrection of Jesus in sections 26 to 32 of his treatise. Similar to how he argues for the specific necessity of the cross in the previous section, here he names why it was on the “third day” that Christ was raised. He says, if it was sooner than that, his death might be denied. A later resurrection would allow the identity of his body to be denied, or kept “His disciples too long in suspense,” or would perhaps even lead to a faded.

He the moves his argument to prove the resurrection. And he points to the Christian witness as primary evidence. First, to the Christian confidence over death. “For as when a tyrant has been defeated by a real king, and bound hand and foot, then all that pass by laugh him to scorn, buffeting and reviling him, no longer fearing his fury and barbarity, because of the king who has conquered him.”

And then he invites the doubters of the resurrection to become Christians themselves and see if they don’t feel a similar confidence over death. And finally, he names the resurrection as true because of the power of the Word’s name causes demons and spirits to obey. They would never obey a dead man.

Suggestions for action

The argument itself as its written has poetic and rhetorical merit, but it works primarily within its context. Athanasius is evidencing the resurrection based on the intensity of the Christian witness and the efficaciousness of it. Christians are bold in the face of death, and the name of Christ exorcises demons. I wonder what it would look like today for Christians to be bold in the face of death? What are the demons we need to exorcise today? What would a Christian witness look like today that proved the resurrection? Consider that today and if you feel moved, write a comment that answers one of these questions.

June 11, 2022 — Reframing

Today’s Bible reading

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” Matthew 28: 4-10

More thoughts for meditation

One of my favorite movies is Life is Beautiful; it’s all about the power of reframing. A family is sent to a concentration camp in Nazi Germany; the little boy is separated from his mom, but the dad keeps his hopes up by playing a goofy game. He shields his son from some of the trauma of life in the concentration camp by using his imagination to reframe everything going on around them. The story is not easy, but the little boy is reconnected to his mother after the allies win the war. 

Reframing is a technique that therapists use to help people get beyond our self-defeating habits or to redefine difficult circumstances as not hopelessly crushing, but opportunities to learn and grow. Problems can become hopeful challenges. Reframing can give us a locus of control in situations where we might otherwise feel powerless. A good therapist knows that this isn’t just a cognitive exercise; it’s not just the power of positive thinking, it has to connect to real emotions, because that’s what motivates us humans to change our thoughts and behaviors. As in Life is Beautiful, the love that the father had for his family enabled him to reframe great suffering. Love might be the only reality that could enable someone to make such a drastic reframe.

We could say that the father was just avoiding reality, but is it avoidance to dig into the deeper and more penultimate reality that is love? I wonder if it’s not just a mind-game when you’re connecting to what’s really real; the presence of the Spirit. Eternity is in our hearts, as the Bible says. The suffering is real, but love is real too, and love provides something to the experience of suffering that speaks into it and brings hope. 

When people refer to the Holy Spirit as the really real it’s because our hearts know truth that our minds can’t always affirm as rational. That’s why all the most important stuff – repentance, forgiveness, faith, love, involves moving beyond the mind, into our hearts and bodies where we can feel compassion for ourselves and others. It can’t all be figured out intellectually, no matter how smart we become. We’re in the zone of mystery here in faith, because we are creatures as well as creators. We didn’t make life up – it was given to us. So the only way to “know” the most beautiful and sacred realities is through humility, openness, and gratitude.

Suggestions for action

Ponder the mystery of this moment. The resurrection of Jesus reframes our past, present, and future toward hope. If Jesus is alive, what is possible today? Or tomorrow?

April 1 — Nonsense

Today’s Bible Reading 

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.  They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.  In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee:  ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.  It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.  But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened. — Luke 24:1-12

More Thoughts for Meditation

The gospels are clear that Jesus’s loved ones did not believe in his resurrection right away. Something else must have happened with his body, some terrible mischief. Maybe the Romans took it for a gruesome example of what happens to rebels. Maybe the Sanhedrin took it to burn or desecrate for an example of what happens to heretics. Maybe some merchant criminals took it to profit someone from the life of this mystery healer. Anything could have happened! But their first reaction was dark and fearful. They thought things probably got worse. They saw their Lord die a terrible death and now their own futures were so uncertain.

We all have different personalities, but fear is often part of our first response too. We are wired for survival so our brains try to prepare us for things getting worse. They do not consider any possibility of getting better. Getting another chance, getting what we want, getting back what we’ve lost would be nonsense, like the disciples concluded. Death is final. We must try to do the best we can with the cards we’ve been dealt, right?

The resurrection of Jesus changes everything. It can even change our brains expecting the worst all the time, if we work with it. Work with it today! Notice how your fear can limit your hope and your expectations of what is possible all the time. What is Jesus saying to you instead? How can you hear him, and work with this unprecedented new explosion of possibilities? Can you bank on the reality that he can take you by the hand and lead you to new life, not just today, but always? That he is greater than all death and separation from God and each other, and everything else we may instinctually fear? Let him rewire your brain for what may seem like nonsense today, and give you new instincts for hope.

Suggestions for Action

Notice any fear or doubt or suspicion in you today and don’t let it surprise you. We’re wired for the worst. Talk to yourself instead about the truth that is so out of order, it gleams like lighting! God has won over fear and death and separation, forever. Tell yourself the first lines of George Herbert’s Easter poem:

Rise heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise

Without delays,

Who takes thee by hand, that thou likewise

With him mayst rise.

Rise up with the others at our sunrise vigil on Lemon Hill, and this evening in our meeting places all around the region. Let Jesus and the community of faith feed your hope and nourish your heart and your mind for unthinkably new possibilities this year.

It is Easter Sunday! — you might like to know some things about the history of the holiday. Visit Celebrating our Transhistorical Body.

It is also  John Leonhard Dober Day! –– visit this remarkable ancestor at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.

June 16, 2017 – Real Faith

Today’s Bible reading

Read Hebrews Chapter 11

But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

-Hebrews 10:39-11:1

More thoughts for meditation

In the second half of chapter 10 and chapter 11, our author moves into the present. All of the preceding argument was to establish the perfection and completion of the revelation of the Son of God and the work Jesus has done for us. So now, it’s time to live it.

It seems that the recipients of this letter were tempted to second guess their commitment to the Way of Jesus. It is likely that they were experiencing some sort of persecution socially and politically. The Jewish communities outside of Israel (sometimes called the diaspora) were tight knit and essential for survival. Not fitting in to the dominant culture of a Roman colony had very isolating consequences. The Jewish communities supported one another. These Jewish Christians were even more isolated because following Jesus soon became a point of departure from the established Jewish community that did not decide to follow Jesus. So the temptation to turn away from Jesus was more than just a spiritual choice.

Our author outlines the eternal consequences of such a decision, but ends chapter 10 saying, “But we are not like those who turn away from God to their own destruction. We are the faithful ones, whose souls will be saved.” And chapter 11, probably the most famous part of Hebrews, is a beautiful description of what being a “faithful one” really is. You could spend a long time studying the stories of each of the people mentioned (that’s a good idea!).

Persecution was not new for Jews. Verses 37-40 describe unnamed Jews who suffered before Jesus’ day, after Israel had been occupied by foreign powers. It was not until this persecution began under Antiochus Epiphanes (b. 215 BC – d. 164 BC) that resurrection became the explicit hope of most Jews (except for the Sadducees see Matthew 22:23). It was implicit in scripture, which Jesus points out in that same discussion about resurrection with the Sadducees in Matthew by quoting Exodus 3:6, “I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Christ takes the “I am” that God speaks to Moses for all it means—“I am”—present tense. God IS the God of Abraham. The resurrection was promised even then because if God is still the God of Abraham, 300 years after he died, then Abraham’s destiny must not be death. There must be a present tense somehow now for Abraham, just as there is a present tense for us and all the heroes of faith our author remembers in this chapter. We can’t ever see it before we go the way they have gone, but our hope is real—our faith is real. We are the faithful ones too.

Suggestions for action

What tempts you to forget your faith, to refuse to hope, to run away? We don’t have an Antiochus Epiphanes or a Roman emperor persecuting us, but it’s not a stretch to consider the social isolation that comes from real faith—faith that shapes our lives (decisions, careers, habits, schedules, relationships). Name some sacrifices you have made to follow Jesus. May they motivate you to hold fast. You can’t give up! Not after all that!

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