Category Archives: Holidays

The Turn

In the life of the church, this weekend marks a culmination and begins a turn. For many congregations, the season of Epiphany concludes this Sunday which is the last Sunday before the season of Lent. The readings of many congregations will include Matthew 17:1-9 which tells of the events of the Transfiguration — a mystical and powerful event in which Jesus’ glory is revealed to his disciples “…and he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Matthew 18:2). During Jesus’ transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus, and in Luke’s account of the same event, Jesus spoke with them of his own exodus or “departure.”

The Transfiguration marks the turn in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. For, from this moment on, the tension in the gospels increases and Jesus confronts the unbelief and resistance of Israel’s leaders. As he presses on their lack of faithfulness, Jesus presses forward to Jerusalem and ultimately the work he came to finish on the cross and in his resurrection.

Following Epiphany, the church has historically marked the season prior to Easter with a 40 day fast called “Lent.” As if to mirror Jesus’ fast and temptation in the wilderness or his pressing to Jerusalem and the cross following his Transfiguration, many Christians begin the season by confessing (or “shreeving”) their sin on Shrove Tuesday and humbling themselves by being marked with ashes on Ash Wednesday. The GPC Lent Brochure is available for you, if you’d like to learn more or seek out some resources as to how you may want to mark the season.

At Grace Kernersville, we will be marking the season several ways.

  • Firstly, in many of the houses that will fast through the Lent season, Shrove Tuesday is a day in which larders and pantries are emptied of their holiday leftovers — sugar, flour, butter, eggs, etc…. It must’ve seemed that the best way to do this expediently was to make pancakes. Some people call the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday. For many it has become Pancake Tuesday. Grace will be hosting its own Pancake Tuesday dinner at 6:00pm in the Fellowship Hall on February 25. I hope you can join us.
  • Another way in which Grace members will be marking the season is through a weekly Tuesday book study at Noon at the Paddison Memorial Library in Kernersville OR a Wednesday evening potluck book study at 6:00pm in the Fellowship Hall on C.S. Lewis’ book, The Last Battle, which is the last book in his Chronicles of Narnia series. The Wednesday night study begins on February 26 and the Tuesday Noon study begins on March 3. Speak with Pastor Randy if you have questions. We’ll be reading three chapters a week, and we will begin with discussing the first three chapters.
  • Lastly, artist, Keaton Sapp will be installing an art exhibit through the season of Lent entitled, The Stations of the Cross. Beginning with the first Sunday of Lent and continuing each week through Easter Sunday, Keaton will be installing art work which will take us through the final day of Jesus’ earthly ministry. This exhibit will be completely installed on Easter Sunday. The exhibit will be used on Holy Thursday and Good Friday as a Stations of the Cross exhibit by which you may come, view the artwork, reflect on the accompanying scriptures, and remember what Jesus endured for us.

Though marked with a somberness, I have come appreciate marking this season with Grace and with the community. I hope you can join us!

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Your Only Comfort

I hope this New Year finds you well!

At Grace Kernersville, we continue to celebrate the season of Christmastide, but we will also be entering into the season of Epiphany (which is January 6). GPC’s Sunday school hour on January 5th will be given to acknowledging Epiphany and learning more about the holiday and season. In addition, this Sunday’s Sunday school is a family-wide event, and we will have activities for young and old.

A way to think about these two seasons and their relationship with one another is to imagine the difference between Christmas as a day and the practice of giving and opening presents on Christmas. Epiphany is the day in which the church remembers opening the gift of Christmas. The magi give gifts upon visiting the Christ-child, and the church gets to open the present of the coming of Jesus Christ. “Epiphany” itself means “manifestation”. In other words, Epiphany is like a revelation. As the church celebrates Epiphany, we recall those events when Jesus first manifest himself as the Christ — whether with the wise-men who sought the “King of the Jews” or in his baptism when the Voice spoke from heaven or when he performed his first miracle in Cana of Galilee.

This Sunday is also the first Sunday or Lord’s Day of 2020 and that means that we start over in our annual running through the Heidelberg Catechism during the worship service. You may learn more about the Heidelberg Catechism HERE.

The Heidelberg Catechism is divided into three parts: our estate of sin and misery, the means by whom we are delivered from sin and misery, and how we may live in gratitude for this deliverance. In addition, the Heidelberg explains the content of our Christian faith by helping us understand what the Apostle’s Creed teaches, how we obey God by living obediently according to the moral law, and what we mean when we pray the Lord’s Prayer.

Here are a couple of reasons why I like the Heidelberg Catechism.

  • It is simple: misery, deliverance from misery, and living gratefully for the deliverance from sin and misery. The Heidelberg addresses complex theological questions and answers them plainly.
  • It follows the rhythm of the year as we experience it. When we are heading into Holy Week, we are talking about Jesus and his work as professed in the Apostle’s Creed. As we move into Ordinary Time, we are talking about the life of faith lived out in obedience. As we move into Advent we talk of prayer which is the language of hope.
  • Lastly, it is pastoral and applicable. As the Heidelberg is simple, it is also plain in its speaking. The Heidelberg Catechism is direct and speaks to reality as it is lived.

This Sunday’s first question and answer is one of the most appreciated in the entire Catechism as well as among all Protestant catechisms. It asks and answers:

Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven: in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

That’s not a bad way to start the new year. You may access the version of the Heidelberg Catechism which Grace Kernersville uses HERE.

And finally, the artwork which accompanies the post is by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882), the brother of poet, Christina Rossetti. The painting is titled, St. John Comforting the Virgin at the Foot of the Cross. In Rossetti’s depiction of the event, I imagine that Jesus has just spoken his last words to Mary, “Woman, behold your son.” This beholding is not merely directing Mary to the Apostle John who would take her into his home, but it mirrors his words to her at the beginning of John’s gospel. In John 2 Jesus is asked to come to the aid of those throwing the wedding feast because the wine has run out. Jesus speaks to her saying, “Woman, was has this to do with me? My time has not yet come.” Several years ago I attempted to capture this interaction and its connection with John 19:25-26 via a sonnet.

Finding us outside as we waited on
Our master who brought us to the wedding,
His mother, not asking, telling her son
The shameful news the bridegroom was dreading.
“The wine has runout,” in question she eyed
Looking for what he might say and do.
“Woman, what’s that to me? My time’s not arrived.”
To the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

It’s been three years since he turned water to wine;
We stand at the foot of his crushing shame
Twisted round a stake like vintner’s vine
Is her son who saved a bridegroom’s good name.
“Why?” pours from her eyes in sobs overcome,
The wine saved for last, “Woman, behold your son.”
© Randall Edwards 2017

We will be looking at John 2:1-11 as a part of our recognition of Epiphany. I hope to see you Sunday. Until then, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

 

Bread of Heaven

At Grace Presbyterian’s Christmas Eve service, we heard of the the implicit connection which is drawn from the meaning of the name of Bethlehem (house of bread) and that Jesus is laid in a manger. In Jesus’ birth, Luke is showing us that the Desire of Nations spoken of in Haggai has in fact, come. In John’s gospel, Jesus makes the connection more explicit when he says in John 6:35-40,

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

I read this spoken word piece in which I re-imagined Jesus’ words and my own response in which you may listen to me read here. The text is below. Merry Christmas!

They asked him about the Bread of Heaven.
And so he told them:
“There’s no work that can earn it.
There’s no sin that can’t be overcome by it.
If you are in it you can’t resist it.
If you want it you won’t be denied it.
Moses didn’t give it.
He merely told them about it.
For it was the Father who gave them manna
And in a place they couldn’t make it.

And now, even as you hunger,
I am telling you that you are looking at it.
I am the bread come down from heaven.
The bread which nourishes,
Satisfies, sustains — upon which you can rely,
To which he testifies.
Don’t go spending your work and your toil on food that will spoil.

I am the bread.
The bread of all fulfilling,
The Cosmic Gospel-filling,
The fast-ending feast.
A table set for the least.
I have come to end the slow, hard, soul-famine
And give thrilling, life, joy, and peace.
And all fear ended.
I tell you, I am the bread of heaven.”
Now, are you hungry yet?
Do you want that filling?
Tired yet of that life you are killing yourself for
And your spouse and mother and father and friend?

He’s the bread come down from heaven.
The bread of God unleavened.
Pierced and scored in the furnace of affliction,
Bearing for us, God’s malediction.
Cursed for our benediction.

Given for you and your Cosmic Hunger-Thirsting.
Given for you–to you.
It’s him, I’m telling you.
He feeds, nourishes, satisfies, justifies, makes holy and does it solely.
The door is wide open. If to him you’ve been given,
Give in. He’s gonna win
‘Cause the Father has called you–the Spirit will draw you.
Believe in him.
Receive him. Look to him.

Are you hungry yet?
Afraid you’ve been left out of the feast?
Afraid you’re the least?
He said, “Whoever.”
That’s not you?
Never!
He said, “Whoever comes
I will never drum out of line — drive away.
Come while there’s time.”

“I am the bread of heaven,” he said.
“And it’s the will of him who sent me
That I should lose none of those he’s given me.
But I shall win for them a standing in eternity
One long, glorious Olympic victory.
Forever singing the anthem,
‘Worthy, worthy, is the Lamb that was slain!'”
Praise Jesus name.
His love-banner flying overhead in his house of wine.
The love we’ll proclaim and enjoy for all time.
Eternal banquet filling and life
And telling: we believed.
But with the angels shaking,
Stumped, a new breaking in a glorious humility
A person quake,
Shaking our heads, saying,
“Who would’ve believed, that he was the bread
Even for me?”
He said, “I am the bread of heaven.”
Do you hunger?
Do you wonder, “Will I ever be satisfied?”
Believe.
Believe in the Son who is himself now alive
Even though crucified.
And even if you die or have died,
On that the last day you’ll be there
Alive.
Justified.
Sanctified.
Glorified.
Alive.
And full for time upon time
With the Bread of Heaven.

© Randall Edwards 2010.
This is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com). Thanks

The Annunciation

Today Christians around the world celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation in which the church remembers the moment in Luke 1:26-38 when Gabriel appears to Mary and announces that she is chosen to bear and deliver the Christ child, Jesus.

The Feast of the Annunciation is also nine months before Christmas — a connection lost on most, and is itself the reason December 25 was selected by the church and not an attempt to commandeer Sol Invictus or any other solstice celebration. Read more on how Christmas came to be December 25 from the Biblical Archeology Review.

The painting of the Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner is a favorite depiction. It is a striking portrayal. A young woman in her bed chamber interrupted in the midst of her prayers it seems. A banner hangs for privacy, yet its striking red and horizontal line coupled with the vertical angel and Mary’s own verticality draw a connection to a cross. The blue robe to the left is the traditional color in which Mary is depicted and which she has yet to take up. Mary Elizabeth Podles has a helpful article in Touchstone Magazine. but I think it is behind a paywall. The model for the painting was a Swedish-American opera singer named Jessie Olsson whom Tanner married a year later.

Two years ago, GPC worship leader, Michael Kuehn, wrote a song about the moment as a part of greater project called, Where Are You.

March 25 also marks another anniversary though fantastical and literary. For the Lord of the Rings crowd, this day marks the day when the Great Ring was destroyed in the fires of Mt Doom and Sauron was defeated.