Finding the Good This Good Friday

 

cross pic upper room
Photo credit: The Upper Room

There’s a pastor out there stressing the crowd size for Sunday. Some are worried the crowd will be too small. Others will actually be irritated if the crowd is larger than normal, because after all, “Where are all these Christmas-and-Easter people every other Sunday of the year?”

There’s a pastor out there who’s stressing the fact that the church’s new projection system didn’t arrive in time for Easter services.

There’s a southern mom out there who’s stressing that this is the first years her daughters objected to wearing matching dresses.

There’s a grandmother out there who’s stressing the menu, and what time everybody will arrive for lunch, and how she’s going to get everything done in time.

There’s a believer out there who’s stressing that Christians have surrendered to paganism by calling it “Easter” and buying bunnies and eggs.

And none of those things dent the fact that Sunday morning commemorates the centrality of the resurrection to our Christian faith.

If there are five or 500 in your services Sunday, they need to hear about the resurrection, and it’s your job to tell them. All the disciples ran away from Jesus when it came time for Him to go to the cross. So He went alone. You don’t need a big audience, or any audience, to be faithful to God this Sunday. Preach your heart out to anybody who shows, and thank God for the privilege. If ISIS doesn’t kill 49 of your parishioners Sunday, you will have had a better Easter than the Coptic Christians’ Palm Sunday last week in Egypt

Christians victoriously celebrated the resurrection for approximately 1990 years before computerized projection found its way into church. It’ll be okay. I’ll be okay.

Through the deprivations of the Dark Ages, the Great Depression, and a thousand other catastrophes great and small, we are reminded that what anybody wears this Sunday is of very little consequence. By all means, wear some clothes to church Sunday, and thank God that you have clothes to wear and a church to attend.

If you buy the wrong ham, if you forget the beans are in the oven, you forget to make that weird salad that has nuts but no lettuce, and your irresponsible nephew is 30 minutes late to lunch, Sunday will go on.

If you’re a believer who’s stressing the incorporation of pagan symbols into the celebration of resurrection Sunday, take heart: the kids aren’t thinking about ancient Babylonian fertility rites (unless you tell them). And if it bothers you, then don’t call it Easter, and don’t hunt Easter eggs. We don’t mind. Easter and Christmas both represent the amazing power of the gospel to overtake darkness and baptize even its symbology to tell its own story… not unlike the cross itself.

Indeed, if the crowd is down 8% from last year, the rolls burn, the dresses don’t match, your sermon introduction is weak, and you can’t find your hideously ugly Easter tie… guess what?

If everything else goes wrong this Sunday, Jesus still rose from the grave.

In our own church, we lost four of our dearest older members over the course of the past year, the latest one just this week. Actually that’s incorrect. We didn’t lose them. We know exactly where they are. They are with Jesus. Their lives are hidden with Christ in God. And when He appears, they will appear with Him in glory.

So I’m in my office on this Good Friday, drinking coffee, typing through tears, and blaring some Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir and being thankful that we have a day like Sunday. I’m thankful that every Sunday is a reminder that Jesus rose again, guaranteeing that we will rise again. Stop stressing. Find the good in this Good Friday. If you’re grieving, Jesus crying at the tomb of Lazarus gives you permission to cry at the tomb of your friend too. If you’re my friend and you weren’t planning on going to church Sunday for whatever reason, come to church with me.

Just know this. Sunday’s coming, and there’s nothing that death, deprivation or disaster can do about that.

What matters come Sunday morning is that when Jesus rose from the dead, He gave us the power to shake our fist in the face of darkness and proclaim, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

To a believer questioning cremation…

[The following is my reply to my friends who asked for insight on cremation as they sit down to pre-plan their funerals soon.]

First, you guys are to be commended for planning your memorial services ahead of time. I’m sure it’s not easy to sit down and go through the process. But I know for a fact that it makes things much easier on your family when the time comes, knowing that you have already taken care of these decisions. Secondly, I commend your seeking a biblical perspective on such an important topic. 

As of 2006, the national average for cremation was about 33%. Arkansas was near the bottom of that list at only 16%, along with the other Bible Belt states of Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, and finally Mississippi at only 10%. In other words, the most evangelical states have the lowest rates of cremation. That certainly doesn’t make cremation right or wrong, but I wanted you guys to have some perspective on national numbers.

By 2011, cremations nationally had risen to 42%. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, cremations were expected to outnumber burials for the first time in 2015. During that same time frame, Mississippi saw a 50% rise in cremations. Culturally, the issue is clear: cremation is increasingly popular.

Biblically, the picture is somewhat less certain. The Catholic church officially prohibited cremation until 1963. While not expressly forbidden in evangelical circles, the above statistics definitely show a historical evangelical slant against cremation. However, evangelical resistance to cremation is softening over time.

To be clear, the Bible does not expressly state a position on cremation. The traditional Jewish practice was burial. Egyptians mummified their bodies, while the Babylonians practiced cremation. Although the Bible strictly prohibited certain pagan practices (human sacrifice, idol worship), cremation is not forbidden in the Old or New Testaments, even though it was practiced in surrounding cultures. 

 There are some relevant texts:

 1) In Genesis 3:19, God told Adam that he was made from dust and would return to dust.

2) In 2 Corinthians 5:1, scripture describes our physical bodies as a tent, a temporary dwelling place.

3) 1 Corinthians 15:48 and 53 describe our physical bodies as “of the dust” and “perishable.” The same chapter depicts the resurrection body as “of heaven” and “imperishable.”

4) Revelation 20:13 speaks of the sea giving up its dead at the resurrection. Human bodies decompose in the sea just as they do in the earth, and yet God will be able to resurrect them. 

In 1 Corinthians 6:19, scripture refers to our bodies as a temple of the Holy Spirit. Based on this scripture, some believers hold that care should be taken to preserve the physical body after death, and therefore cannot choose cremation.

We have no clear biblical mandate here. What do we do when the Bible doesn’t tell us what to do? We make the best decision we can, informed by faith. Romans 14:23 says, “…everything that does not come from faith is sin.”

In the absence of a clear biblical perspective about burial, can a believer opt for cremation in good faith? In my humble opinion, cremation simply speeds up a process that God Himself ordained: that the human body is inherently temporary, and ultimately reverts back to its elemental condition, from which God is supremely able to resurrect believers to eternal life. 

And at the same time, because there is no biblical mandate, believers who opt for a traditional burial should go forward in faith as well.