Prayer for Christians in Sri Lanka

Lord, for those who suffer persecution, we ask you for comfort.
For martyrs who suffered for the sake of your son Jesus,
comfort their souls in heaven and console their families who survived.
Lord, for those who anguish over senseless and violent tragedies,
we ask you to be the pillar they lean on when life does not make sense.
Father, care for them, comfort their spirit with your Holy Spirit.
Amen.

This Easter Sunday, April 22, 2019, was a sad day for many in Sri Lanka. [ edited: More than 359+ people ] were killed along with 500 injured, including 35+ tourists from Britain, the U.S., Denmark, China, Japan, India, Portugal, Turkey, the Netherlands.

This occurred during Easter Sunday worship at three churches filled with worshipers at: St. Anthony’s Shrine (Colombo); St. Sebastian’s Catholic Church (Negombo); and Zion Church (Protestant) (Batticaloa).

There were 8-9 explosions detonated by suicide bombers. The other bombings happened at three five-star hotels, which tend to be favored by foreigners.

The group responsible for the attack is unknown but suspects have been arrested. Investigations are pointing to a radical Islamist Jihadist group, National Thowheeth Jama’ath.

In honor of Sri Lanka Christians killed for their faith. The Martyr Saints in China: Augustine Zhao Rong and his 119 companions (1815 AD).

Comment on art: The martyrs who were killed for their faith expectantly look up to heaven while the hosts of heaven receive them. Background information at: vatican.va

Prayer of Easter, Resurrection Day

Hallelujah! The Lord is Risen! Hallelujah!

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us this day.
May this meal be blessed as we gather to celebrate together.
May your love be shared amongst us as we enjoy the gift of fellowship.
May we remember to offer grace and forgiveness that you have freely given us,
And may we always give thanks for your sacrificial love.
Amen.

The Resurrection of Christ, by Anthony van Dyck, 1631. Flemish. Movement: Baroque.

Comment on art: Wonderful…simply wonderful! This would be one of my favorite resurrection art pieces. It is filled with action and passion. The emotions of shock and glory of Jesus resurrecting is depicted in this extremely moving piece.

What is Easter?

Resurrection by Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506), tempera on wood, 70×92 cm, detail depicting Christ, 1457-1459

Easter comes two days after Good Friday. It is the fulfillment of the prophesied Messiah who was to come. We know the Messiah or Savior as Jesus who resurrected from the dead.

Christians commemorate Easter as the most holy day in Christianity. It is the reason believers in Christ Jesus believe in new and eternal life. Jesus rose again from the dead and defeated death; thereby, giving us the promise of eternal life that we will also rise again.

Holy week (Passion week) begins after Palm or Passion Sunday. Known as Pashchal (Holy/Easter) Triduum to Catholics, this includes the evening of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday (last three days of Lent). Devoted Catholics have traditionally observed these days with prayer, fasting and abstinence.

Everything builds up to the grand finale. Easter Sunday morning is like the grand finale when Jesus is resurrected from the dead. As Christians, Jesus resurrection is the reason we sing “Hallelujah” and give the Lord praise and glory.

Comment on art: This piece by Montegna is full of life. The Roman gaurds are in shock. Their expressions are priceless. Jesus stands one foot on the tomb pointing to the sky as if to say, “I have conquered death… and up is where I’m going.”

What is the origin of Easter

The Resurrection of Christ, 1700 (oil on canvas) by Noel Coypel (1628-1707)

Jesus’ resurrection happened over 2,000 years ago. Over 500 Christians saw Jesus personally after he resurrected in bodily form. He walked and talked with people right up to the time he ascended into heaven (1 Corinthians 15:1-11). We as Christians have a very unique and wonderful story of resurrection. We also have a very unique God-man who lived in our human history. Jesus actually walked this earth. He healed the sick, lame, blind, and taught about good news that set people free from religious bondage. Best thing of all was that Jesus rose from the dead.

You might have heard that the origins of Easter were pagan. The word “Easter” comes from the word Ashtur or Ishtar. Ishtar who gave birth to Tammuz. The mythical Tammuz had died and was resurrected. Despite the pagan origins of Tammuz’ resurrection, Jesus’ resurrection is still unique and true.

Christianity assimilated old ideas into new ones. Jesus’ resurrection was huge. It liberated the old culture from its past. The glorious resurrection of Jesus has captured the hearts and minds of billions of people because of the truth of Jesus. People are being given a new and fresh life and faith in the One who saves–Jesus Christ.

There are books written about this pagan god and cult of Tammuz and Ishtar also referred to in the bible (here). There is only a distant connection and similarities. On the whole, Jesus resurrection is unique. Jesus was the most unique person to ever walk this earth. This is why we celebrate Easter.

Comment on art: The bewilderment of the guards and the delightful surprise of the two women at the resurrection stands in stark contrast. This pieces is filled with emotion, passion, and action. The color pops. The attention to detail is there. I just love this piece.

What is Good Friday?

Today is Good Friday. You’ve likely asked, “Why is Good Friday called Good Friday?” and “What is good about Good Friday?”

Some places refer to it as Black Friday. We’ve heard of Black Friday sales, but that’s not what it’s about. Some also refer to it as Holy or Sacred Friday, Great Friday, and Passion Friday. It’s all connected to this Easter weekend. Good Friday is a day of commemoration. Christians observe the death and sacrifice of God’s son on the cross. The third day after Jesus resurrected from death, comes Easter.

The word “Good” in Good Friday might have been a derivative of the Anglo-Saxon form which literally translates as God’s Friday (Ex.: Goodbye, a derivative of “God be with you”). Another reason was “good” was meant “holy” in medieval times.

Many people theorize about what is good about Good Friday. It’s good for us that Jesus died for our sins to free us from the consequences of death and give us new life (Romans 3:24-25).

Why on Friday? There probably isn’t any good reason. Given that three in the afternoon is when some think when Jesus died on the cross, the third day after his death comes Easter Sunday… or kind of the third day. Friday seems like a convenient day of the week. Why not? Easter used to fall on a Wednesday anyway.

Good/Holy Friday comes after the six weeks of Lent including Palm/Passion Sunday.

Historians say that Good Friday might have been practiced since the 7th century by Christians in Jerusalem (pre-sanctified Masses are referenced in the documents of the Quinisext Council, 692 AD).

The Way of the Cross is practiced whereby fourteen stations of the cross are preset at various locations. This is merely symbolic of what Jesus would have experienced on his way to the cross. Each location provides a place for the worshipers to pray in commemoration of the events that happened.

Have a good Good Friday this day, and an expectant Easter soon to come!


A patient and hopeful gardener

Image result for images fig tree

In the parable of the fig tree, Jesus told a story of a gardener:

“A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’

Luke 13:6-9

What?! No fruit for the last three years?! A smart practical farmer would do one thing. Cut it down and plant something else that’ll guarantee a crop.

But here, in our passage, we see a farm-hand, perhaps a hired gardener. He says to the owner, “Boss, let’s give it one more chance. Let’s leave it alone for just one more year. I’ll dig around it. Add some fertilizer.  If it bears fruit next year, great; but if not, then let’s cut it down.”

To the owner, that fig tree was just another plant. But to the gardener, he cared for it. He likely invested his time, energy, sweat and tears into caring for it. He knew that tree he tended each day. Maybe he even had a name for it. He didn’t want to see his efforts go to waste because he was the one who cared for it. He knew what it was capable of. He didn’t want to give up on that plant. He’s a patient gardener who knows about holding out for hope—maybe because he’s seen it happen before.

This parable of the gardener and the fig tree actually shows us good news. This gardener is a typology of Christ in our lives. Just as this gardener held out hope for the fig plant, Christ the Lord is also holding out hope for us.

Like this gardener, Jesus invested his blood, sweat and tears into our lives. He died for us on the cross and he wants to see us produce fruit. He wants to see a good harvest in our lives. So what would this fruit or harvest in our own lives look like? Jesus was speaking about repentance.

In this season of Lent, we are called to enter into a place of repentance. Jesus told this parable to give his followers a message. He is saying something like this. “I want to see hearts repent. I hope to see changes in your lives.” Otherwise, like the fig tree analogy, God may come to cut it down. Jesus was reminding us that God is saving us from destruction.

Jesus’ message to his followers is the same for us today. It’s still a message to warn those who might be feeling a little too comfortable in their spiritual state. When we are too comfortable where we are in this life. We let our guard down. We become complacent in our faith. We also care less about the people around us. We care less about the well-being of our friends and family and even of society. People might become an obstacle, or an object or just a tool for our own benefit. But God is holding out hope for us because God wants to change the direction in all of our lives. That’s the essence and reason for this story of the gardener of the fig tree.

Imminent death at our doorstep

We all hope the world’s threat from nuclear proliferation has decreased since President Trump’s meeting with DPRK’s President Kim. One deadly push of a wrong button by a rogue madman could destroy half the world. Today, we also have deadly pathogens and global pandemics to worry about. There might be some mad scientists working in backroom laboratories inventing some new strain of virus. Today, we know about the newly identified Disease X as pathogens that can potentially kill hundreds of millions of people, if we don’t find antidotes (read article here).

The book of Revelation gave apocalyptic warnings during the early church. “The fifth angel emptied his bowl on the throne of the beast (Rev. 16:10).

We’ve provided scientific explanations to our real world problems of global pandemic. Whether God actually sends plagues, or we invent some crazy pathogens, either way, death would imminently be at our doorstep.

As human beings who are constantly looking for human and improvements in our world, we are holding out for some hope. We know there is hope. But most important, God is the one is patiently holding out for hope that we might be saved. This salvation is not only physical, but it is also spiritual. Just like we need to prepare for emergency preparedness kits for earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and fires, hurricanes, etc., we also need to prepare ourselves in spiritual ways.

In First Corinthians 10, we really see death very clearly. Paul reminded the Church, which was of Hebrew descent, that 23,000 of their ancestors had died in the past because they had been constantly rebelling against God. He didn’t want them to take their relative sense of calm for granted. He said to them, “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.” He wanted them to be on guard. Stay alert. Don’t be deceived. Don’t be taken in by their temptations to sin like they had done under Moses in the wilderness.

During this Lenten season, may we offer a prayer of repentance:

I confess that I am in bondage to sin and cannot free myself.  I have sinned against You in my thoughts, words, and actions; by what I have done, and by what I have intentionally not done when I had the power to do so.  I have not loved You with whole-hearted devotion.  I have not loved other people around me as I would want to be loved.  For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.  Forgive me, make me new again, and guide me, that I may delight in Your will, and walk in Your ways, to the glory of Your holy name.  Amen.