The Great 50 Days of Easter

   As there are 12 days of Christmas, so there are 50 days of Easter. The season of Easter ends with Pentecost – the 50th day.

     Society has a hard-enough time understanding the twelve days of Christmas. I am afraid the concept of celebrating 50 days of Easter is not really going to catch on. At least with Christmas, many of us still have trees up and decorated, and a few of us even make sure the outdoor decorations are still on until the Feast of the Epiphany or 12th Night, January 6. For most people, Easter ends on Sunday, Easter Day, when the last of the meal is finished, or when the Easter candy is gone. For society it is now time to look toward Memorial Day, opening the cottage, putting the boat into the water, and enjoying the summer. Check, we’ve had Easter, time to move on.

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Live as Easter People

Easter has arrived! We made the long way through Lent; some of us journeyed through the liturgical marathon that is Holy Week, with its multiple services leading up to the Great Easter Vigil.

Now we dwell in the weeks prior to Pentecost. Yes, we keep looking forward to the next event in the Christian year. Jesus has risen from the dead; in the coming weeks, as we hear in the Gospel stories, he will appear to many people. Those who believe in him will understand that he has conquered death. Jesus will tell them that he’s leaving again but will send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. So those who love and follow him live in tension still; of course, they want him to stay, forever. What will happen when the Holy Spirit comes? They do not yet know the day it will happen. All they can do is stay together and pray and hope that Jesus’ leaving will not be soon.

Even after the great Resurrection has occurred, we continue to live in paradox and tension. We believe Jesus rose from the dead and that we, too, will one day be resurrected. In the meantime, though . . . in the meantime, life continues and people suffer, and the answers we want don’t come, and Jesus the Man-God is nowhere to be seen.

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What is Maundy Thursday?

Good Friday, we know. And Easter most certainly. But what is Maundy Thursday? Maundy Thursday is the Thursday before Easter, believed to be the day when Jesus celebrated his final Passover with His disciples. Most notably, that Passover meal was when Jesus washed the feet of His disciples in an extraordinary display of humility. He then commanded them to do the same for each other.

What does Maundy Thursday Mean?

Christ's "mandate" is commemorated on Maundy Thursday---"maundy" being a shortened form of mandatum (Latin), which means "command." It was on the Thursday of Christ's final week before being crucified and resurrected that He said these words to his disciples:

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another" (John 13:34).

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The Cab Ride

I arrived at the address and honked the horn. After waiting a few minutes I walked to the door and knocked.

'Just a minute', answered a frail, elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor. 

After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 90's stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940's movie.

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"All we like sheep have gone astray..." The stirring music of Handel's Messiah includes the well-known passage from Isaiah: "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way. And the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all."

This text leads us to the theology of the Atonement, which can be summed up in the common bumper sticker quote: "Jesus died for your sins." Basic to the traditional Christian doctrine of the Atonement is the notion that somehow something went very wrong in God's creation - specifically, WE went wrong. And God is so holy, so righteous, so judgmental, that God needs to punish us for our sins. But God provides an out - a deal, so that God can love what God created, flawed as it is. So according to this interpretation of Atonement, God's acceptance is purchased through the death of Jesus, the sinless one. Jesus redeems us (to use pawn-broker terminology) or Jesus takes our place (a substitution in which Jesus takes the punishment that this righteously angry God intended for us.)

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How are you doing spiritually?

The following questionnaire is designed as a self-assessment test of your spiritual health. Complete the questionnaire truthfully and it will act as a good gauge of how your spiritual life is progressing.

1. Are you happy with what you are becoming?
Have you ever come across a bitter old man? Well, he did not become like that overnight. What type of person are you becoming? Are you holding onto all the hurt and nastiness you meet along your journey in life or do you keep your heart pure? The choices we make determine the person we become. God has given you the grace to do the right thing. Are you doing it?

2. A religious person attends church regularly but never allows the teachings of the church to affect his or her life?

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Meditation for today...

The fourth word Jesus spoke from the cross was the worst. It revealed how utterly alone Jesus was in his death struggle with Satan.

This battle was fought not with swords or spears, light sabers or lightning bolts, energy blasts or physical strength. The battleground was in the mind of Christ himself, where he fought Satan’s temptations alone and physically exhausted. He had been abandoned by his disciples (save one), condemned by the religious leaders of his own people, and condemned by the Roman government that was supposed to dispense justice.

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Wonderful Trust

"Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God, trust also in Me." ~ John 14:1

     Prayer does not stand alone.  It lives in the fellowship with other Christian duties. 

Prayer is firmly joined to faith.  Faith gives it color and tone, and secures its results.

      Trust is faith accomplished.  Trust is a conscious act, a fact of which we are aware. 

 it is the feeling of the soul...the spiritual sight, hearing and taste.

      All these have to do with trust.  How bright, distinct, conscious, powerful, 

and scriptural such a trust is!

      Dear God, I put my trust in You all day long.  Amen.

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Each year, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent and is always 40 days before Easter Sunday. Lent is a 40-day season (not counting Sundays) marked by repentance, fasting, reflection, and ultimately celebration. The 40-day period represents Christ’s time of temptation in the wilderness, where he fasted and where Satan tempted him. Lent asks believers to set aside a time each year for similar fasting, marking an intentional season of focus on Christ’s life, ministry, sacrifice, and resurrection.

Have you ever noticed how once a year, usually in February or March, there are a lot of people walking around with an ash cross on their foreheads? You probably knew it had something to do with Lent, but you weren’t sure why the ash cross was significant.

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Why Do We Find It So Hard to Forgive?

One reason we resist forgiving is that we don't really understand what forgiveness is or how it works. We think we do, but we don't.

Most of us assume that if we forgive our offenders, they are let off the hook — scot-free — and get to go about their merry ways while we unfairly suffer from their actions. We also may think that we have to be friendly with them again, or go back to the old relationship. While God commands us to forgive others, he never told us to keep trusting those who violated our trust or even to like being around those who hurt us.

The first step to understanding forgiveness is learning what it is and isn't. The next step is giving yourself permission to forgive and forget, letting go of the bitterness while remembering very clearly your rights to healthy boundaries.

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What does Shrove mean?

What does Shrove mean?

'Shriving' is a ritual that Christians used to go through in the past where they confess their sins and receives absolution for them.

The absolution frees the person from the guilt and pain that their sins have been causing them.

According to This Is Church, "in the Catholic or Orthodox context, the absolution is pronounced by a priest.

"This tradition is very old. Over 1000 years ago a monk wrote in the Anglo-Saxon Ecclesiastical Institutes: 'In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive him.'"

Traditionally many different types of food would be given up - meat, fish, eggs and milky food - so they were all cooked up so they wouldn't be wasted.

Flour was added in to the mix, and pancakes were born.

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A Great Cloud of Witnesses

We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses. (Hebrews 12:1)

Look into the sky on a summer day, and you will likely see a group of clouds sweeping across the sky. It’s so beautiful that it’s hard not to think of heaven. But how often do these clouds remind you of the people who live in heaven? How often do you think of the heroes of our faith as a great “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1)?

In the Old Testament, clouds are often associated with God’s presence among his people. Think of the Israelites as they fled Egypt and headed for the desert. They didn’t know where to go. Sure, God had brought them out of Egypt, but what now? Was he still with them? But then a great pillar of cloud appeared to lead them on their journey. It was a constant sign to them that God was still with them, looking over them and guiding them.

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Blind Faith

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. Hebrews 11 : 1-2

Blind greens. You likely hate them, especially if you have never played a course before. You have to select your distance and trust that if you hit your shot well, it will land on the green. This is faith, the strength of “the ancients,” as the author of Hebrews called them (Hebrews 11:2 NIV). With no visible promise, and sometimes no spoken one, these people acted in faith that God had their well-being in mind. They acted with certainty that their obedient actions would be rewarded. They believed that God knew better than they.

We have two choices when we read of faith such as this. We may dismiss it, telling ourselves that these people were exceptional, and their faith was never really meant to be an example. Or we can “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and . . . run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1 NIV).

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Who Is the Holy Spirit and What is His Role in the Christian Life?

 As we move through Epiphany and into Lent we will hear a great deal about the Holy Spirit. Who is He to you?

“Is he like Casper the Ghost?” my son naively asked about the Holy Spirit. In his attempt to understand the third person of the Trinity he related Him to the closest thing he could think of: a translucent, flying, and friendly apparition.

When it comes to the Holy Spirit, many adults may find themselves grappling to understand who he is as well. I have heard Him referred to as an “it” or simply not referred to at all. He is sometimes the forgotten or easily dismissible member of the Godhead, but this should not be the case. His role in the life of a believer is vital and necessary.

Here is what the Bible tells us about the Holy Spirit and His Role in the Christian Life:

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The Mousetrap

A mouse looked through the crack
in the wall to see the farmer and
his wife open a package.

‘What food might this contain?'
The mouse wondered.

He was devastated to discover it was a mousetrap.

Retreating to the farmyard, the mouse proclaimed the warning:
‘There is a mousetrap in the house!
There is a mousetrap in the house!'

The chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head and said,

‘Mr. Mouse, I can tell this is a grave concern to you,
but it is of no consequence to me.  I cannot be bothered by it.'

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Teach Me To Pray

Last Sunday I said, “If you don’t feel God is answering your prayers, change the way you pray.  Below find a little help in developing your prayer life.  This is important as we begin this new year. I will have more on this as we move forward. (The below notes are from another source, not my own)

"Lord, Teach us to pray." Did the disciple who made that request have any clue about the intimacy of asking someone how he prays? Our prayer exposes the heart of our relationship with God: who we think God is and how we stand in God's presence.

Listen to Joan of Arc who, when her interrogators demanded that she tell them how she prayed, said, "Most sweet God, in honor of your holy passion, I beg you, because you love me, to reveal to me how I must respond to these churchmen."

That gave witness to her faith and hinted that she saw herself as obedient but was not so sure about the opposition.

Thomas Merton teaches us to approach God with humility and trust: "My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. ... I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost ... I will not fear ... you will never leave me to face my perils alone."

We also have St. Ignatius' Suscipe: "Take, Lord, receive all my liberty ... Give me your love and your grace, that's enough for me." And that's a centuries-old version of Reinhold Niebuhr's "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

Each of these prayers somehow echoes the Lord's Prayer.

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Celebrate Epiphany

January 6, which is 12 days after Christmas in the Gregorian calendar, marks not only the end of the Christmas holidays but also the start of the Carnival season, which climaxes with Mardi Gras. In some European countries, such as the Czech Republic and Slovakia, children dress as the three kings and visit houses. In their roles as the kings, or wise men, they sing about the Jesus’ birth and pay homage to the “king of kings”. They are rewarded with praise and cookies.

Dia de los Reyes Magos is the Latin American celebration of Epiphany. In many Latin American countries, it is the three wise men and not Santa Claus who bring gifts for children. Children write letters to the wise men telling them how good they were and what gifts they want. In France Le Jour des Rois (the Day of Kings), sometimes called the Fête des Rois, is celebrated with parties for children and adults. The galette des rois, or “cake of kings”, highlights these celebrations. This cake is round and flat, cut into the pantry, covered with a white napkin and carried into a dining room.

Children in Spain fill their shoes with straw or grain for the three kings’ horses to eat and place them on balconies or by the front door on Epiphany Eve. The next day they find cookies, sweets or gifts in their place. The “three kings” make an entry in many cities in Spain on Epiphany Eve, accompanied by military bands and drummers in medieval dress.

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The Gold and Ivory Tablecloth

We are in the season of miracles…

At Christmastime, men and women everywhere gather in their churches to wonder anew at the greatest miracle the world has ever known. But the story I like best to recall was not a miracle—not exactly.

It happened to a pastor who was very young. His church was very old. Once, long ago, it had flourished. Famous men had preached from its pulpit, prayed before its altar. Rich and poor alike had worshiped there and built it beautifully. Now the good days had passed from the section of town where it stood. But the pastor and his young wife believed in their run-down church. They felt that with paint, hammer, and faith, they could get it in shape. Together they went to work.

But late in December, a severe storm whipped through the river valley, and the worst blow fell on the little church—a huge chunk of rain-soaked plaster fell out of the inside wall just behind the altar. Sorrowfully the pastor and his wife swept away the mess, but they couldn’t hide the ragged hole. The pastor looked at it and had to remind himself quickly, “Thy will be done!”

The joyful purpose of the storm that had knocked a hole in the wall of the church was now quite clear.

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Luke's Mary

Luke’s Mary

Mary was a prophet. A prophet is a human being who is given a message from God to deliver to a person or group of people. Sometimes that message is about the present. Sometimes that message is about the future. Usually that message is God’s commentary and assessment of what the person or people being addressed are doing, but sometimes it’s just a good word or an encouragement.

Mary was a prophet. When prophets speak their message, they don’t really understand the significance of what they are saying. They may know what the words mean, and they may have a sense of what those words have to do with what’s happening right around them, but they can’t really understand the full impact of the message they are delivering. Messages from God are so full of possibility: they are more like living beings than mere words. A prophet is like a mother giving birth to a child. She cannot know the impact that child will have, but she knows the child deeply as it is, in the moment, at its birth.

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