Have you ever gone to a Sunday morning church service when a “Speed-Reading Contest” breaks out? You are expecting a sermon from the Good Book [the Bible], but the people seem only interested in getting into the Guinness Book of World Records as the church with the fastest Sunday service on record. This, at least, was what I thought as a teenager. I remember going to church with my dad and hearing the same liturgy every week on “speed dial” and wondering if the people even understood what they were reciting by heart. Liturgical services are not wrong in and of themselves. In fact, liturgies are rich in doctrinal truth and remind us of both the majesty and grace of God. The danger lies when these rich biblical truths, practiced in traditional liturgical churches, become nothing more than rote exercises to be done as quickly as possible, so that the church-goers may satisfy their “obligations” to God and get on with real life.
Christians have recently gone through Holy Week, in remembrance of the last week of Jesus’ earthly life; especially Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. These are three very important days of the Christian Liturgical Calendar. On Maundy Thursday, we remember Jesus giving His disciples, including us, a New Commandment [See John 13:34] and a New Covenant in His blood [See Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, I Corinthians 11:25, Hebrews 8:6-13]. Jesus also changes the meaning of Passover to be known to His followers as His Last Supper, also known as the Eucharist [“the giving of thanks“], Communion and the Lord’s Supper. In Luke 22:19, Jesus tells His disciples [past and present], “Do this in remembrance of Me.” The Apostle Paul also gives instructions regarding the Lord’s Supper:
“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, ‘This is My body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way also He took the cup after supper [the Cup of Redemption] and said, ‘This cup is the New Covenant in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” [I Corinthians 11:23-26].
On Good Friday, Christians remember how Jesus became the perfect sacrifice by dying on the cross for the sins of all who believe Him to be their Savoir and the Savior of the world:
“But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” [Hebrews 9:11-14].
“He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” [I Peter 2:24-25].
On Resurrection Sunday, commonly known as Easter, we celebrate Jesus conquering sin and death by rising from the dead on that first Resurrection Sunday.
“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they [the women] went to the tomb, taking spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He [Jesus] is not here, but has risen” [Luke 24:1-5].
“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” [I Corinthians 15:54-57].
“He [Jesus] disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him [on the cross]” [Colossians 2:15].
It is important to note here, that according to the Christian Liturgical Calendar, Easter is not celebrated during one Sunday, but there are seven Sundays in Easter. This is because Jesus appeared to His disciples for forty days after His Resurrection:
“He [Jesus] presented Himself alive to them [disciples] after His suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking of the kingdom of God. And while staying with them He ordered them to wait for the promise of the Father, which, He said, ‘you heard from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” [Acts 1:3-6]. [Note that the three Persons of the Trinity are mentioned.]
After forty days, Jesus ascended back to His Father. This is called “Ascension Sunday” according to the Christian Liturgical Calendar:
“So when they had come together, they asked Him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom of Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ And when He had said these things, as they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a cloud took Him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as He went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven” [Acts 1:6-11].
Acts 1:6-7 tells Jesus’ followers not to stare at the sky, waiting for Jesus to return. Instead, Christians are to be busy carrying out the Great Commission, by spreading the GOOD NEWS to all nations. Jesus says the same thing in Matthew 28:19-20:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Note that Triune God [Father, Son and Holy Spirit] is also mentioned in the above Scripture. Matthew 28:19 and Acts 1:3-6 are just two of the many Scriptures that speak of the Triune God. That is why Christians who follow the Liturgical Calendar celebrate “Trinity Sunday”, which falls on May 31st in 2015. But, before then, on May 24th, Christians celebrate “Pentecost Sunday: On the first Pentecost [Jewish Holy Day], Ten days after Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, the disciples receive the promised Holy Spirit and the Christian Church is born [Act 2]. Christians of the 1st Century through the 21st Century have the same Holy Spirit to help them spread the GOOD NEW of Jesus Christ by teaching, preaching and living a life empowered by Christ’s Holy Spirit of love, mercy, compassion and grace.
After studying God’s Word, especially the Scripture passages above, I now understand the meaning of what was being recited every Sunday, at the church I grew up in. I not only know the words by heart, I also believe them with all my heart.
Four Acclamations from the Roman Missal in English:
*Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.”
“Dying You destroyed our death, rising You restored our life. Lord Jesus, come in glory.”
“When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim Your death, Lord Jesus, until You come in glory.”
“Lord, by Your cross and resurrection, You have set us free. You are the Savior of the world.”
Each one of these “Acclamations” is known as “The Mystery of Faith” and each one is overflowing with the unfathomable grace of God. It is impossible for me to fully wrap my mind around these ancient Christian Truths. How can I just breeze through them as though I were a child reciting the alphabet, going as fast as I can and wondering, “What is an ‘el-lem-en-no-pee’ anyway?” I need to slow down and meditate [chew] on these words and their rich meaning and wait for them to sink deeply into my soul and my heart of hearts.
For me, it is easier to grasp Jesus’ death and resurrection, than His Second Coming. There are dozens of movies depicting Jesus’ death and resurrection, but not much has been done with His coming again. Perhaps it is because His return has not happened yet. For me, it is hard to imagine Jesus coming again. What is it going to be like? The Bible doesn’t give us a clear picture or else it doesn‘t for me. But even if it did, I do not think my human mind would be able to comprehend it all. I believe it will be beyond my wildest dreams. I also don’t understand why in the Book of Luke [17:37b] Jesus states “The end is near” and the Book of Revelation, He says, “I am coming soon” [3:11, 22:7, 22:12, 22:7] and other Scriptures [Philippians 4:5b] state “the Lord is coming soon” and that “The end of the world is coming soon” [I Peter 4:7b]. Obviously, the Lord Jesus has not come yet to establish a New Heaven and a New Earth. There is still pain and sin and mourning and death and tears and the ruler of this world [Satan] is still among us. When I don’t understand something, no matter how much I try [For example, I will never fully understand the Book of Revelation], that’s the time I rely on my faith in God and believe with all my heart that His promises are trustworthy and true. I don’t have to know when Jesus is coming again. Instead, I believe that He is coming. Because I believe Jesus is coming again, I live as though Jesus is coming soon. I believe II Peter has an answer for me concerning Jesus’ return and I need to accept it by faith:
“This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder…that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.’… But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance…But according to His promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” [II Peter 3:1, 3b-4, 8-9, 13].
I don’t know when, but I believe with all my heart that Jesus is coming again. Maybe He’s waiting for you to believe in Him with all your heart, too.
“For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him [JESUS] will not be disappointed’” [Romans 10:11; N.A.S].
“But, as it has been written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him’” [I Corinthians 2:9].
[Also read I Corinthians 15:51-56 and I Thessalonians 4:13-18 and Revelation 21:3-5b]
When I was a teenager I left the traditional liturgical church because I was not much of a “fast reader” or “fast speaker”. Four decades later, I have learned not to “throw out the baby with the baptismal water”, so to speak. I am truly thankful to God for my parents and my childhood church for teaching me about God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I Know He Lives!
[Next Post in the beginning of May]