Maundy Thursday

Tonight we are here to walk with Jesus through one of the darkest nights of the church calendar.  This was Jesus’ last night, a night which was marked by betrayal—by Judas and Peter— his passionate prayer in Gethsemane, his arrest and the charge by the high priest that he was guilty of blasphemy.

The title “Maundy Thursday” is derived from the Latin Mandatum Novum which means “a new commandment.”  Maundy Thursday was the day that Christ uttered those powerful words, “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).  He did not issue this commandment in word only, though.  Just prior to giving this commandment he demonstrated it in symbolic action when he girded himself with towel and humbly approached the basin to … Read More »

Lent, Part 2

A couple of weeks ago I re-published an article I wrote last year on the topic of Lent. I concluded with two points. Here is the first.

I know some folks are uneasy about Lent. Some of my closest friends and colleagues don’t think that reformed Christians should have anything to do with it whatsoever. But my response is two-fold. Number one: The church calendar is not a restaurant menu. That is, there are not a la carte items. You can’t pick and choose your favorites and leave the others out. You can’t have Easter without Lent. You can’t have Christmas without Advent. Like the five points of Calvinism, they all go together. In the church you eat what you have been served—all of it.

When I wrote that I had in my sights the inconsistency of those who like to pick … Read More »

The Great Dialogue

Liturgies are like excuses: Everybody has one. Simply put, liturgy is what people do when they worship. So, no matter how much a church may insist that there is no liturgy, one will inevitably emerge. Equally important to recognize is that liturgies are shaped by a theological paradigm. Therefore, Presbyterians should not expect to worship like Charismatics and Anglicans and Roman Catholics because our theological convictions differ.

What is it that shapes, most fundamentally and at the most basic level, our worship? The answer is: The Covenant of Grace. Our system of doctrine as articulated in the Westminster Standards is arranged according to the doctrine of the covenant. Hence, we confess a robust covenant theology. Likewise, our worship is to be arranged accordingly.

A covenant in Scripture is the expression of God’s voluntary condescension wherein he bridges the great gulf which exists … Read More »

The Apostles’ Creed

When someone asks you, “So, what do Christians believe?” How do you answer that? Where and to what do you point them? The reformer Martin Luther would have us answer that question by turning to the Apostles’ Creed. Speaking of the Creed, Luther couldn’t have been more succinct, “Christian truth could not possibly be put into a shorter and clearer statement.”

It’s for this reason that the Creed has for millennia now stood the test of time as an accurate summation of what we believe as Christians. Philip Schaff highlights the pride of place given by Christendom to the Apostles’ Creed when he says, “As the Lord’s Prayer is the Prayer of prayers, the Decalogue the Law of laws, so the Apostles’ Creed is the Creed of creeds.”

For this reason alone, we cannot be ignorant of it.  It might be compared … Read More »

Epiphany

Epiphany: a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.

The above definition is usually the one we are using when we speak of something being an epiphany. A moment of clarity breaks in. Insight and perception is found in an otherwise difficult situation. Just a couple of weeks ago I said to my wife: “I think I had an epiphany” speaking of a situation we had been trying to navigate.

The above definition is from dictionary.com and it is the third of four given. The first on the list is more distinctly Christian.

Epiphany: a Christian festival, observed on January 6, commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles in the persons of the Magi; Twelfth-day.

Epiphany is the celebration of the … Read More »

Advent, Part 2

Living in a post-Christian world means that often our cultural calendars are in conflict with the church calendar. One such example of this happens every year after Thanksgiving. After Thanksgiving, most Americans begin to celebrate Christmas or the Christmas season as it is often called. You hear familiar carols in the mall, sales and advertising are in full swing, and gatherings of friends and families and co-workers abound. Then December 26 comes and all the decorations and Christmas talk are put away until next year. This is how we generally celebrate Christmas in our culture.

This is not how the church celebrates Christmas. Christmas on the church calendar begins December 25 and runs for 12 days after that. Think here, “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…” Now you know where the 12 days of Christmas … Read More »

Advent, Part 1

Happy New Year! This is the first Sunday in Advent, which is regarded by Western Christianity as the beginning of the liturgical year. Sometimes Christians mistakenly think of Advent as being synonymous with the birth of Christ or with Christmas. But it really isn’t. In fact, Advent’s primary focus is on what we usually call the second coming of Christ. It’s for this reason that you will find the lectionary readings of the church focusing on this topic, this year.

I like what Laurence Stookey says about this, “What may seem to be an anomaly is a very important theological point: The beginning of the liturgical year takes our thinking to the very end of things.” (Christ’s Time for the Church, 121)

This is important because beginning at the end equips us to make sense of the rest of Jesus’ life and … Read More »

Christ the King Sunday

Ours is a day when Christianity is often reduced to a message about individual salvation and sentimental platitudes about a future place called heaven. To be sure there are individual aspects to our salvation and we do look forward to the reality of heaven to come—though in a profoundly different way than most speak of it. But there is more to our faith than “being saved” or “going to heaven.”

When Jesus began his ministry his charter was simple. He came “proclaiming the gospel (good news) of God” Mark tells us (Mark 1:14). What is that good news? “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” At the heart of Jesus’ message; at the heart of his vocation; that which he came to accomplish and establish is the kingdom of God.

Kingdom … Read More »

Thanksgiving

This week an amazing thing will happen. 323 million people—give or take a few—will pause to say thank you. Of course, the object of that thanks is up for debate, but that’s a different point for a different time. With no disrespect intended for the formation of our country of for those who have served or died for it, I must admit that of all the civic holidays we have in America, I think Thanksgiving is my favorite. I don’t know what it is. The vibe on Thanksgiving is just different from the Fourth of July or from Memorial Day. I enjoy being with family and friends and the food, but there is something more about Thanksgiving. Something that invites one to look around and take in just how much we really have. Sure, we might not have as much or … Read More »

Reformation 500 – Soli Deo Gloria

At the end of every composition Johann Sebastian Bach affixed the letters SDG. They, of course, stood for Soli Deo Gloria—To God alone be the glory. He did it as a way to remind himself and those who would later see it and play it that its goal was to lift people into the heavenlies and direct their thoughts and attention to God alone. And the apostle Paul did the same. In a sweeping summary statement encapsulating every area of our lives he says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). The verse is really amazing. Evidently there is a way to dishonor God in the things and way we eat and drink. The most menial task of our existence is elevated to a canvas for the … Read More »