Tag Archives: Easter

A 2016 Journey Through Holy Week

Holy WeekToday, as I pondered this Holy Week, my thoughts found their way back to before I was Presbyterian.  As most of you know I was raised Baptist.  For the most part the kind of Baptist Church I grew up in was pretty conservative Southern Baptist.  However, my family was not.  My grandfather was a Baptist minister in the 1920s, 30, and early 40s.  He was very progressive, especially in the area of race relations, and it caused him some difficulty as he pastored in Virginia and the Carolinas.

But even as the Gladding family was on a more progressive side, Baptists did not follow the liturgical calendar and Holy Week was not observed.  Instead we had Palm Sunday followed by Spring Revival and then Easter Sunday.  For me this meant two really good Sundays with joyful singing and preaching about the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and then the Resurrection.  The week between the two Sundays was full of guilt, getting saved, rededicating your life, and plenty of hymns about the blood on Calvary, including endless verses of “Just As I Am” each night.  Going to church whenever the doors were open was what we did.  So I sat on the back row and held on to the pew with all my might during these hymns.  I never walked the aisle to the chagrin of my pastor who served for 25 years.  Thankfully, the Southern Baptists left me 37 years ago and I found a home in the reformed faith of Presbyterianism.

A central part of my faith is found in this important week we are now in the midst of.  On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday the throngs of followers began to disappear from following Jesus as the authorities of the church were antagonized by Jesus actions and plotted against him, leading to Judas’ betrayal.  There are community services in many areas observing the particular happenings during the Holy Week of 33AD.  Although these may not always be well attended, it is my hope and belief that there are those who do faithfully follow our lectionary readings as they prepare for Easter.

So here we are at Thursday in Holy Week 2016.  Tonight we will have services across our Savannah Presbytery and across Christendom observing Maundy Thursday. We will see Jesus betrayed, arrested, denied, and abandoned by even those closest to him. We will see him beaten, mocked, tried, and unjustly convicted. We are lead to think that we are also complicit in his sentence of crucifixion, as were those in the crowd that day who yelled for this sentence.

Tomorrow, Jesus will die again.  In the darkness of Good Friday he will breathe his last as he says “Forgive them.” His dead body will be placed in a tomb and sealed. Saturday will be spent in grief and wondering what will the future hold.

So why do we put ourselves through this?  What is different about this way of looking at Jesus than the Spring Revival of my boyhood where we were pressured to unburden ourselves by coming to Jesus? My friends, I believe the difference is this. During Holy Week we observe the fully human Jesus, who had “set his face toward Jerusalem.”  He knew why he was here in this world and what his mission was.  He wished it might not be so, but he was “obedient unto death – even death on a cross.” We did not come to Jesus, Jesus came to us!  Jesus unburdened us and so Sunday, Easter morning we will celebrate the Resurrection and the new life we are given. Thanks be to God for this amazing grace.

So as we continue this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of Holy Week 2016 let us stay with these events, as if we do not know the outcome.  For without these days there would be no Resurrection!

He Came Back

An Easter Message from the General Presbyter, Russell Gladding

Will Willimon, Methodist minister, Bishop and author tells this story in a sermon I watched recently online. He says while he was the Bishop of Alabama he was faced with a wayward Church that had run off their pastor. They had been in such conflict that he went to visit the small rural church in the southern farm country part of the state. On a Wednesday evening he met with the farmers who comprised the majority of the membership. Willimon says he gave it to them, telling them the way they had acted toward their former pastor had put them in a position that not a single preacher in the state would be will to come to be their pastor. Then, he said, an older farmer spoke up and said, “Well Bishop, if what you say is true, it is a strange coincidence that just about every Sunday Jesus Christ seems to show up. Willimon says, “He was right.”

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Lenten Thoughts as Easter Approaches

It is amazing to think about God, the Creator of all that is using that creativity to make humanity in God’s image.  God pronounced his creation good, because that is the very essence of God.  God cannot be evil and so all God’s creativity results in good.  However, in our humanity we are given free will and may choose God’s good or not.  So that evil occurs in not choosing to live out our identity as God’s children in God’s image.

This, I believe is where Jesus, God incarnate, comes to us to show us the way humanity can live into its identity as fully human.  At the same time God acts through Jesus to take on our wrong choices which blur the image of God in us.  And through this sacrifice of God’s self, God redeems us, as if we did not, and do not continue to turn from God.

Genesis 1:26 says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness …”  Origen, who wrote in the third century about the image of God used 1 John 3:2 to show the difference of “image” and “likeness.” “My little children, we do not yet know what we shall be but if it shall be revealed to us concerning the Savior, without doubt you will say: We shall be like him.”

As we are approaching Easter, I think there is a word to say about imago dei.  Yesterday, I had the opportunity to participate in a webinar with Tom Long, Bandy Professor of Preaching at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta.  As he reviewed some possible texts for Easter Sunday he pointed to the person Jesus was after the resurrection as not being the same as before while he lived as fully human.  Many times he was not recognized at first.  He cautioned people not to touch him as he had not ascended yet to the Father.  After the resurrection Jesus’ body was not as it had been, Long said.  Then he said perhaps this might be a preview of his “likeness” and our “likeness” in the Kingdom of God.

In my ministry, I find I am increasingly pointed to imago dei as who we are created to be.  With God’s help through the Holy Spirit we can become more like that image here and now.  But, thanks be to God, the story of the resurrection of Jesus, The Living Lord, assures we shall indeed at last be like him.  Amen.

Grace and Peace,


From Maundy Thursday to Easter and Beyond

Maundy Thursday and Beyond

My grandson Riley is ten years old, but when he was younger he was a huge fan of the Toy Story movies and particularly the character, Buzz Lightyear. He had many of the toys, made in Buzz’s image, and with all of the cool accessories that the action figure could use. The Buzz Riley liked the best was one that had a pull cord that would allow the figure to say, “To infinity and beyond!” I cannot be sure, but these were possibly among Riley’s first words, but at the very least some of his most repeated.

I am writing this during Holy Week on Maundy Thursday. Tonight, services will be held in churches across the globe remembering the Last Supper and Jesus’ betrayal and arrest. Tomorrow the pain and suffering coupled with complete abandonment by so many will culminate in his being unjustly nailed to a cross and dying a horrible death. It will be again a dark time as we remember.
Ann Weems in her poem “No Dances” writes these words.

“There are no dances for dark days.
There is no music to bellow the pain.
The best we can do is to remain Still and silent and try to remember the face of God …

and how to kneel

and how to pray.”

I, like you, am aware of so much darkness, so much despair, too much death and destruction in our world; even in places we have called home, wonderful communities in the United States and right in our own neighborhoods. Unspeakable acts of betrayal and violence ending in death or abuse. There are no dances for dark days here, but if we can kneel and pray. We will find God. For God has been, and is, and will continue to be where we are in the darkness.

We know that Easter is coming! Thanks be to God for Resurrection and light once again! We will shout our Alleluias once more. It is right that we should proclaim the Risen Lord and give thanks for our Salvation.

And then what? Darkness does not wait for Holy Week. It crawls and seeps into lives every day. Jesus, according to scripture, as he appeared to the disciples and others after the resurrection ate with them, fed them physically and spiritually, and sent them out; and he sends us out to be light in a dark world. He sent those he knew to feed his sheep which can be pretty messy business. And he sends us into that same messy world, but we do not journey alone because we have the Advocate he promised with us.

So we in our abundant life are called to walk to infinity and beyond, not sitting and resting, but in serving; cleaning up the mess, bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming liberty to the captives, and setting free the oppressed. May it be so as we go rejoicing in the power of the Spirit!