Sunday, April 20, 2014

Back from the Future

Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic,[b] “Rabboni!”
-John 20:11-16

I am writing this early on Easter Sunday, just as the darkness is beginning to break into the dawn of another morning. It was perhaps this time of the morning when Mary and the other women went to the tomb to see their dead friend Jesus. The Sabbath had ended and so now they could go see the grave where Jesus had been placed.

But Jesus was not there. Mary Magdalene later returned to the tomb to see again for herself that Jesus was truly not there. And she began to weep. Not only had this man been tortured and crucified, but now someone had apparently stolen his body so they could not even properly take care of his dead body with their spices.

Then she spots a man whom she presumes to be the gardener and she asks where they have taken the body of Jesus.
Then the gardener says her name, "Mary", and immediately she realizes it is Jesus.

I have always imagined the great tenderness and love by which Jesus uttered Mary's name, the way you might say the name of a child who has been hurt or is crying. This is way Jesus says Mary's name and reveals himself as the risen Christ.
And here we have the true beginning of all things. In a sense, Jesus Christ is the ultimate gardner. It was through Jesus that all creation came into existence, that the Garden of Eden was planted and grown. And now we see Jesus in another Garden, taking care of this garden as one of his first acts in his resurrected body.

GK Chesterton writes "On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realized the new wonder; but even they hardly realized that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn.

This is the first day of the new creation, the glorious future that has now invaded the present.
Jesus has come back, if you will, from the future, to inaugurate God's kingdom right here and right now. Now death is seen as foreign, not simply a natural part of the circle of life. Eternal life is what we are made for, what we are designed for, and through the resurrection of Jesus death has been defeated. The true circle of life begins with life and ends with life!

We are a resurrection people. Paul desires to know the power of the resurrection, to live life with a different kind of power, one based in the future world God is making through us right here and now.
NT Wright writes “Jesus's resurrection is the beginning of God's new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord's Prayer is about.”

On earth as it is in heaven. Now the mission of the church begins, bringing about the glorious shalom of heaven into the broken places of this earth, bringing the future right here into the present. Seeing death swallowed up by the beauty of resurrection. We are now to join God in attending to the garden of new creation, to use our marriages, our jobs (no matter what they are!), our money, our hobbies, our everything and anything to see the garden of new creation bloom in radiant splendor.

Jesus says "Now it has begun!" And so we must get to work, get our hands down into the dirt of the soil of this world with the certain hope that the new world is already here, though we still only see it dimly. The resurrection is no mere metaphor, it is the great reality of the world, the truest thing which has ever happened in history, and to it we must continue to come back again and again.

So into the new world we march, not knowing all that we will experience or encounter, but sure of whom we will meet there, the one whose hands still bear the wounds of the cross, but whose voice calls out to us by our very names and invites us to proclaim that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.

NT Wright sums up what it means to follow the resurrected Jesus this way, "Made for spirituality, we wallow in introspection. Made for joy, we settle for pleasure. Made for justice, we clamor for vengeance. Made for relationship, we insist on our own way. Made for beauty, we are satisfied with sentiment. But new creation has already begun. The sun has begun to rise. Christians are called to leave behind, in the tomb of Jesus Christ, all that belongs to the brokenness and incompleteness of the present world ... That, quite simply, is what it means to be Christian: to follow Jesus Christ into the new world, God's new world, which he has thrown open before us.”

The new world awaits! Let us go and discover it together and marvel eternally at all that our God has done for us.

Friday, April 18, 2014

He Emptied Himself

"He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[a] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."
-Philippians 2:6-8 (ESV)

Another Friday in Jerusalem.
Another crucifixion.

Thousands had been crucified before and thousands would be crucified after this date in history. This morning three men were on the docket for their supposed threat to the dominance of the Roman Empire. They would be executed. A continual reminder to the people of who was in charge.

But I can imagine that there was something different about this Friday in April 33 A.D. A few more onlookers watching Jesus of Nazareth carry his cross through the streets of the city up to the place of the Skull just outside of Jerusalem. This was the man who had been performing miracles, feeding the people, teaching about Yahweh, and proclaiming himself as God's Son. He had caused a stir throughout the country. An oppressed, subjugated, and enslaved people had reason to possibly hope again--in this man.

Would God finally be taking down the Roman Empire establishing his own Royal Kingdom with Jesus as the King? Would there finally be freedom for the chosen people of God?

The eyes of thousands followed his blood-stained journey through the streets, and with each painful step wondering if this suffering man could truly be God in the flesh. Memories of him telling stories at a sunrise or holding out his hand to touch a condemned woman or sitting with the little children filling their minds as they watched him stagger up the street. Let's remember the good times, perhaps they thought. Not this moment, not this time.

And as He was hoisted up on the cross, nails driven through his body, many began to walk back down the hill to their homes, hopes crushed and hearts broken over a man, just a man apparently, who was near death.

He truly did empty himself. He spent his entire life emptying himself. He was simply about the will of his Father. And it was the will of the Father to crush him, to offer him up as a sacrificial lamb for the sins of many. And it was the will of Son to obey, even to death on a cross.

He was humiliated for us. He became nothing for us. He was mocked, whipped, beaten, shamed, abused, executed...for us.
He was emptied for us. So that our empty lives, empty from sin, from brokenness, from living for ourselves could be filled with his presence. If he did not empty himself fully then our lives would have been eternally empty of the only relationship we truly need.

Jesus did not grasp for equality with God so that He could grant eternity with God for us.

He could have called his legion of angels. He could have said no--I can't drink this cup of wrath. He could have abandoned us to the eternity we deserve without him. But he didn't. The angels stayed in heaven. He drank the cup of wrath. He felt the abandonment of the Father so we wouldn't ever FEEL that. Ever.
He endured in his death what we had earned with our lives--a blood-soaked cross from sin-soaked lives.

As the sun set over Jerusalem on Friday night I am sure that the mood was one that the people of Israel had felt many times before--bitter disappointment. God's chosen people went to sleep full of tears, anger, and hopelessness.

What they couldn't know then (and what many still don't know even now) is that God himself had truly walked before them that day, and that he had lived among them, laughed among them, cried among them, and finally at the end--suffered among them. And when they saw Jesus as his weakest, that is when the glory of God was truly at its greatest.

Another Friday in Jerusalem.
But a crucifixion unlike any other.

The great Anglican pastor John Stott writes in his book The Cross of Christ

"I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as “God on the cross.” In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in Godforsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross that symbolizes divine suffering. “The cross of Christ . . . is God’s only self-justification in such a world” as ours. . . . “The other gods were strong; but thou wast weak; they rode, but thou didst stumble to a throne; But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak, And not a god has wounds, but thou alone.”

But God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8

Thursday, January 9, 2014

My Top Ten Favorite TV Shows of 2013

If you know me--you know I love cinema and television. Grew up watching them both and remain devoted to watching them as much as I can--partly for the escapism that film and television provide, but mostly because I love narrative, love the stories that writers and directors tell through their mediums and how they speak to all the issues (both serious and not) that we find ourselves as people and as a culture continually in.

So--with those comments out of the way here are a few more comments. I won't be able to watch nearly as much television anymore thanks to two new girls in my life (the twins, ahem) so I wanted to create this list for 2013 before I totally forgot about what I watched and how it impacted me. Also, these shows are my "favorite" shows of 2013, not necessarily the "critically best" shows I watched all year and it is also only a small number of shows because I don't watch every single television show out there. I wish I could, but I can't. So some famous and critically acclaimed shows that would probably make list simply don't show up because I haven't watched them. Sorry people. Please forgive me. Maybe next year, or next decade.

Alright, alright---now on to my favorite television shows of 2013. In a very particular order.

10. "Amazing Race" (CBS)
I know, I know. Now you are concerned about my critical eye and true understanding of good television. But, have you actually seen the "Amazing Race"? You have only had about the last 12 years to do so. It is just good television to get lost in an hour. And the wife and I have...scratch that...had been watching previous seasons on Hulu Plus--where you have some amazing real life characters, couple after couple who are trying to salvage their relationship from the throes of death by arguing every single leg, and the perennial "old couple" who "everyone else will underestimate, but will win the race", but who no one ever underestimates, but seems to estimate almost exactly right every single season.
As far as "reality" television goes--the exotic locales, crazy contestants, and terrible wardrobe choices of host Phil Keoghan make the "Amazing Race"riveting television.

9. Parks and Rec (NBC)
My lone comedy on the list. But a worthy show nonetheless. It stays fresh and funny every single episode.
Ron Swanson--as good as they get.

8. Top Chef (Bravo)
It remains the best of the crowded network of foodie/cooking shows. Head Judge Tom Colicchio is the best.

7. Downton Abbey (PBS)
The third season righted the ship from season two, though still falling below the glory of season one. The cinematography, acting, and stories were spot on this year. Matthew Crawley, being my favorite character on the show will be missed in the recently started season four, but the this will hopefully allow the show to go in new directions and continue building on its excellent foundation. Just cue the theme music...

6. Parenthood (NBC)
A fairly conventional family drama, but one that continues to turn in poignant performances from its strong ensemble. And now being a new parent I have a feeling I will be watching it in a very different way now. Simple, but rich television viewing on the highs and lows of life that our family alone walks us through.

5. The Fall (BBC)
A violent and palpable series with Gillian Anderson as a detective investigating a series of murders in the UK. The show doesn't pull any punches and can be (to be honest) over the top in its viciousness at times, but it is first-rate storytelling and it kept me on the edge of my seat in every single episode.

4. The Americans (FX)
Besides Broadchurch it was the best new drama of 2013. A story about Soviet Cold War operatives living in Washington, D.C. in the 1980s had a cool vibe and even cooler plot that picked up steam throughout the series.

3. House of Cards (Netflix)
I loved this series. Kevin Spacey was brilliant. And the intrigue and drama and soap opera goodness of the storytelling kept the series taught and immensely watchable. Being able to watch it all in about three days through Netflix certainly helped. Political drama doesn't get any saucier and crisper than House of Cards.

2. Broadchurch (BBC America)
You may not have heard of this eight week series on BBC America. Fear not, it is coming stateside with an American remake. The series sets in on the murder of 11 year-old Danny Latimer in the small, seaside town of Broadchurch. It is anchored by fantastic performances from Olivia Colman and David Tennant as the lead detectives in the case. Broadchurch is the story of a tragic murder of a young boy, but that is only the beginning of the mysteries in the this complex and engrossing television drama.

1. Breaking Bad (AMC)
Vince Gilligan's final season was as good as television gets. What more can be said of Bryan Cranston's mesmerizing performance as Walter White? Outside of HBO's "The Wire" this is the greatest television drama I have ever seen. I am still thinking about moments from the final season and wishing there was one more, but thankful for the way in which this show went into that good night--at its very best.

There you go! My Top Ten! What did I miss? What do you guys like?