Looking Back at Good Friday

Scripture: 1 Peter 5.8-9
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

Reflection: Looking Back at Good Friday
By John Tillman

Much of the conclusion of 1 Peter echoes words Jesus said to Peter in the week of Christ’s Passion or in the days following his resurrection.

“Your enemy the devil…looking for someone to devour,” recalls Jesus in Luke 22, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat.” And “Be shepherds of God’s flock…” is passing on Christ’s post resurrection reinstatement of Peter in John 21, “Feed my sheep…”

On this the last Friday of the season of Easter we also look back to Passion week and particularly to Good Friday, remembering that the Spirit that was to be poured out on all flesh came to us through sacrifice. We do this anticipating the celebration of Pentecost this coming Sunday, 50 days after Christ’s resurrection.

In his book, Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross, Richard John Neuhaus writes that Good Friday should be relived and reflected on beyond its place in the Christian liturgical year.

Good Friday is not just one day of the year. It is a day relived in every day of the world, and of our lives in the world. In the Christian view of things, all reality turns around the “paschal mystery” of the death and resurrection of Christ.

As Passover marks the liberation from bondage in Egypt, so the paschal mystery marks humanity’s passage from death to life.

Good Friday cannot be confined to Holy Week. It is not simply the dismal but necessary prelude to the joy of Easter, although I’m afraid many Christians think of it that way.

Every day of the year is a good day to think more deeply about Good Friday, for Good Friday is the drama of the love by which our every day is sustained.

One of the blessings of the liturgical year is that we cyclically return, again and again, to the most important foundations of our faith. But at times we can allow the dates on the calendar to be storage boxes holding holiday decorations that we only look at when the box is pulled down from the shelf.

That should not be. Let the messages stay on our walls year round and in our hearts throughout each day.

May the love we were shown on Good Friday be carried by us not just on Fridays, but on everyday.
May we stay alert, for the same adversary stalks us as stalked Peter.
May we accept Christ’s forgiveness, reinstatement, and commission, as did the Apostle, feeding and caring for the shepherdless sheep of our culture.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Righteousness shall go before him, and peace shall be a pathway for his feet. — Psalm 85.13

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 17-18 (Listen – 3:44)
1 Peter 5 (Listen – 2:11)

This Weekend’s Readings
Isaiah 19-20 (Listen – 4:49) 2 Peter 1 (Listen – 3:06)
Isaiah 21 (Listen – 2:32) 2 Peter 2 (Listen – 3:52)

Called to Unmovable Joy :: Throwback Thursday

Scripture: 1 Peter 4.12-19
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And,

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

Reflection: Called to Unmovable Joy :: Throwback Thursday
By John Tillman

In today’s Throwback Thursday poem, George Herbert speaks of the joy and love that will come as we answer Christ’s call to feast with him—a joy that cannot be moved and a love that can’t be parted from us even by suffering or death.

The Call
Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as gives us breath:
Such a Truth, as ends all strife:
Such a Life, as killeth death.
Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a Light, as shows a feast:
Such a Feast, as mends in length:
Such a Strength, as makes his guest.
Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a Joy, as none can move:
Such a Love, as none can part:
Such a Heart, as joys in Love.
— George Herbert, from Five Mystical Songs

Peter says that our suffering will lead to joy as the glory of Christ is revealed to us.

The believers Peter wrote to were familiar with being both socially outcast and with being physically attacked. They had been forced to flee under oppression by a combination of those who opposed their religious beliefs and a government which favored the religions it approved of.

Whether we suffer the dis-comforting loss of social status Christianity is experiencing in the west or the persecutions more common overseas, including physical attacks, imprisonment, and assassinations, our sufferings allow us to participate in the suffering of Christ.

May our sufferings not reveal bitterness and anger in our spirits, but the joy and love of Christ.
May we feast with Christ daily in the Word.
May we be sustained for the work he calls us to.
May the joy and love Christ gives us be unmovable from our hearts.
May we bring others with us to the feast.

*from 5 Mystical Songs, The Call: music by Ralph Vaughan Williams

Prayer: The Greeting
My God, my rock in whom I put my trust, my shield, the horn of my salvation, and my refuge; you are worthy of praise. — Psalm 18.2

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 16 (Listen – 2:32)
1 Peter 4 (Listen – 2:50)

Christ Descending

Scripture: 1 Peter 3.19
[Christ] went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison.

Reflection: Christ Descending
The Park Forum

Christ, “descended into hell,” confesses the Apostles’ Creed.

Because the verse in 1 Peter 3 is opaque, along with the smattering of other references the New Testament offers (Acts, Ephesians, and again in 1 Peter), there has always been great debate as to what the authors of Scripture are trying to convey.

The importance, of course, is not about this particular phrase itself, but what it means that Christ “descended,” to use the words of Ephesians. “We ought not omit his descent into hell,” John Calvin argues in his theological opus, Institutes.

Though Orthodox and Roman Catholic views hold that Christ’s descent occurred in burial, Calvin believes Christ descended in death:

The point that the Creed sets forth, what Christ suffered in the sight of men, and then appositely speaks of that invisible and incomprehensible judgment which he underwent in the sight of God in order that we might know not only that Christ’s body was given as the price of our redemption, but that he paid a greater and more excellent price in suffering in his soul the terrible torments of a condemned and forsaken man.

Christ’s descent to hell—his separation from God—demonstrates that God’s love goes beyond emotionalism or mere platitudes. The event of God turning his back is so hellish it instantly ended Christ’s life: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Christ endured.

What we see in this picture of Christ is the depth of his obedience, the price of our sin, and the radiance of the Father’s grace. In speaking of the doctrine of Christ’s descent, The Gospel Coalition observes:

Two of the three ecumenical creeds affirm this doctrine, and the early church theologians all discuss Jesus’s descent to the dead and see great importance in it. We cannot simply throw out creedal language and ignore the history of doctrine.

Christ descended because of our sin. Moreover, he ascended because of God’s grace. If hell is separation, heaven is unity—it is where everything is exactly as God wills.

Heaven is where what was lost to the clutches of evil is restored, where what was shattered by the brokenness of our world is renewed, and where everything that goes unfulfilled in this life ultimately blooms in the light of Christ.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. — Psalm 86.4

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 15 (Listen – 1:34)
1 Peter 3 (Listen – 3:30)

A Different Kind of Exile

Scripture: 1 Peter 2.15-17
For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.

Reflection: A Different Kind of Exile
By John Tillman

In 1 Peter 2, we see that the scattered exiles from Jerusalem must live in submission to masters, whether harsh or kind. Their lives—their good deeds—are literally the arguments they are to defend themselves with.

In Isaiah, we see a different message to the soon to be exiled. It is a taunt for their enemies to be used in the distant future after the current hearers are long dead and a future generation is restored.

But as Christians go into exile in the rising anti-Christian culture, we don’t seem to be willing to serve our oppressors in love. We want to taunt them now, not later.

As the exiled people of God, Peter tells us to silence the ignorant not by shouting them down, but through service, respect, love, and honor.

Peter encourages his exiles not to allow the oppression and suffering they are going through to be something that crushes their faith. Instead they are to allow the weight of their suffering to press them deeper into the footprints of Jesus Christ who has walked the path of suffering before us.

Living as outcasts in society has nearly always brought healing to the church through suffering. The historical church that suffers, tightens its grasp of the gospel as it loses worldly influence and power. The church that suffers scatters, spreading the gospel to new areas and communicating it in new ways. The church that is oppressed, attacked, sidelined, and shunned, is shunted back onto the narrow path of obedience to Christ.

Peter’s words about living in a pagan society have always been applicable, but they seem especially appropriate to our times. Most people who don’t accept Christianity aren’t concerned with our theology. They are concerned by our actions.

They need to see the argument of our actions line up with our words, and they need to see the integrity with which we suffer.

In this world, we are cast out. In the renewed world we will be brought in. May that day come soon. And may we bring many following behind us.

Prayer: The Small Verse
Keep me, Lord, as the apple of your eye and carry me under the shadow of your wings. — Psalm 17.8

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 14 (Listen – 5:04)
1 Peter 2 (Listen – 3:48)

The Wrong Fear

Scripture: 1 Peter 1.17
Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.

Reflection: The Wrong Fear
By John Tillman

Christians have been taught that we are “living out our time as foreigners.” But in western culture, that was built on Christianity, it has been too easy to forget and too easy to feel at home right here in the world. But for the first time, some Christians are beginning to feel unwelcome.

This cannot be called persecution. It is at worst a loss of status.

Persecution of Christians around the world is more than murder, rape, and torture. In the countries in which Christians suffer the most, persecution is social and systemic.

It is this type of persecution—a systemic loss of legal rights and status—that scares Christians in the west more than facing down a knife attack, a rampaging truck, or a bullet.

This fear has made American Christians a paranoid and unpredictable group. Liable to believe fake news, liable to vote for candidates and support policies that two decades ago would have been inconceivable, and liable to turn on each other.

Nothing demonstrates our paranoia better than the increasingly divisive nature of religious dialogue. Progressive Christians blame conservative Christians for being dogmatic and mean-spirited. Conservatives blame progressives for abandoning central Christian teachings.

This is how people act when they are living in fear. But this is not the reverent fear of the Lord that Peter speaks of. That reverence is born out of love and leads to loving one another deeply, from the heart.

We live in fear that the Lord will let us suffer rather than rejoicing in that suffering as Peter instructs. We are living in fear that soon we will be considered the extremists—cast out from society.

The believers Peter was writing to were the losers and outcasts. They had literally been scattered from their homeland and cast out to the margins.

Christian thought has always been extremist thought. It is a revolutionary rejection of the world’s power structure. Jesus was crucified for extremist thought. It was Christian extremist thought that brought down slavery.

We need not fear being marginalized if we properly fear God. Christianity has done much of its best work from the margins.

It was from the margins that first century Christians won more than converts, they won the culture. Not by winning court cases or electing the right officials, but by demonstrating the extremity of God’s love that comes from the Gospel.

May God give us grace to follow their example.

Prayer: The Greeting
This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. — Psalm 118.23

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 13 (Listen – 3:11)
1 Peter 1 (Listen – 3:53)

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