Saturday, March 30, 2013

FREEDOM FROM THE FEAR OF DEATH


 
Today is Resurrection Sunday. We are reminded of the empty tomb where Jesus was laid after his death on the cross and from which he was resurrected. Christ’s resurrection points to our own resurrection. It also grants us freedom from the fear of death.
 
It is true we all must die physically, sooner or later. Yet the promise to us who have trusted in Christ is that we will be raised and clothed in a new body. Paul tells us, “it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:44). Before Christ's resurrection, death implied an end to life but after his resurrection a new hope is given. Therefore, Paul writes with confidence in 1 Cor 15:55, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where O death is your victory? Where O grave is your sting?” This is the new perspective that we can see from Paul’s message.
 
As a young man, my friends and I used to catch scorpions. These were big, ugly 6-inch scorpions and we would cut off the scorpion stings. After that, the scorpion was released and we would let it run over our bodies and heads. It was still a scary sight because sometimes, the scorpion would raise its claws or its tail as though ready to sting. While it seemed like a fearsome sight, we knew the truth. The scorpion stings were gone and so there was no need to fear the venomous sting any more.That is exactly what Paul is telling us. The sting of death and the grave is gone. The Terminator has been terminated. That is what Jesus’ resurrection points to us. To every Christian, death is but a gateway leading into a fuller and more beautiful life with God. There will be no sorrow but joy because God is with us forever. We may grieve because of the separation with our loved ones but the separation is temporary. It is like sleeping in different rooms. You will wake up one morning and there is your loved one together with you.
 
Does this mean we Christians need not weep when our loved one dies? When someone dies we feel sorrow and lost. We miss them terribly and may even feel regret for things not said or said. We will feel all sorts of emotions and thoughts and it is not wrong or un-natural to admit and own these feelings. However, our grief also encompasses the hope of the Gospel, the hope of the bodily resurrection. That is why Paul reminds us in 1 Thess 4:13, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.” Amidst our feelings and thoughts as we experience the separation of a loved one through death, let us remember the Gospel and our resurrected Lord. Let us remember what that means for our own resurrection and for the loved ones we mourn. Finally, let us be confident and assured that a day is coming when death will be utterly overthrown - the sting forever removed. For this reason, at the Christian funerals over which I officiate as pastor, I will always point to the eternal hope we have in Christ and remind those left by the dead to remember that this is only temporary. There will be a permanent reconciliation at the resurrection of all of us.
 
“But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” I Cor 15:57.

Friday, March 22, 2013

What does it mean to us to share in the Eucharist?

 
 
The term Eucharist, derived from the Greek word eucharista, which means ‘thanksgiving’, is used by Matthew, Mark and Luke in their Gospel accounts of the Last Supper. Paul too used the same word referring to Jesus’ offering of thanksgiving before breaking the bread and offering the cup. The joy of partaking in these acts of thanksgiving caused the early 2nd Century writers to use the term ‘Eucharist’ as the standard name for this meal. Today we also refer to the Eucharist meal as Holy Communion or the Lord Supper, depending on the respective church’s tradition.
 
At his last meal with his disciples on the night he was betrayed, Jesus made use of the bread and wine to symbolize the significance of his death. The breaking of the bread represented his body broken for us (Luke 22:19). The whipping, the crown of thorns, the nails pierced through his hands and feet and the agony on the cross were all for our benefit as Isaiah 53:5 reminds us. The wine pointed to his blood shed for the forgiveness of sin (Matthew 26:27-28). Hebrews 9:22 reminds us, “...without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).
 
As we partake of the Eucharist, we remember his death as he commanded us to, “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). We remember that he died for our sins and in doing so, we participate in a spiritual reality – Christ is with us in fellowship and communion.
 
We also proclaim his death to the world, "For as often we you eat of this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes" (1 Cor. 11:26). We proclaim the fact and significance to a world that does not know him and in so doing, we extend an invitation to come and receive Jesus as Saviour and Lord.
 
We also remember the eternal hope we have in Christ. Jesus will sup with us in eternity, “I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29). The Eucharist looks not only back to the death of Christ in the past but also forward to the glory of Christ in his kingdom after he returns in power.
 
Jesus initiates the Eucharist meal as the host and so he welcomes all who accept the invitation to the Table. We need not be worried about whether our appearance, ability or aptitude makes us a fitting guest. What matters is the love, grace and hospitality of our host, Jesus, who invited us. It is provided, not because we have earned the right to eat and drink with Jesus, but simply as an act of divine love. Therefore, we must not think that if we are not right with God, we should not partake of the meal. That is self-righteousness at work. The invitation of Jesus means we are to make right our relationship with him through confession and rest only on his unconditional love and promises to us. It does not give us the right to stay wrong in the relationship and refrain. In the Eucharist, there is no provision for non-repentance and abstinence.
 
So let us come whenever we are invited to the Table and as we partake of the Eucharist, commit to living for Him who died for us so that we may serve God and one another.