Open Grave

Sometimes I do a mental search and try to reconnect to my earliest memories. When they do return it is often in very simple bits and pieces.  Perhaps a mental picture of a face, or just some words.

One of my earliest memories is of the death of my grandfather, in 1942 when I was four years old. He died that September, the results of a serious stroke. He collapsed a few blocks from his house, on the way to work one morning. A few days later he died in the hospital.

His funeral is the first I can remember. His was the first dead body memory brings back to me. He had been a foreman for the Chesapeake and Ohio steam engine repair shop in Huntington, West Virginia. The church was full of the men who worked for him. During the service someone played a xylophone , very somber, beautiful.

After the church we traveled to a country cemetery about twenty miles away, located at the top of a West Virginia hill. Very vividly, I remember the open grave, a pile of dirt at the side. And then after scripture was read, words were said, and prayers offered, the casket was lowered into the ground. There was not a vault, as we see today. Just a deep hole in the ground, the  casket , and men standing around to refill the grave with dirt when we left.

During this Easter Season I have thought about just what it means, or should mean, to us as followers of Jesus. What is it we believe, and what is it that is any different from what everyone else may believe? What happened to my grandfather that day? What is it that will happen when Jesus returns?

Over time I have come to view what we believe as Christians is radically different from that of everyone else about  “afterlife.” For what happened as Easter was much different from the ordinary. We believe that Jesus, though dead, rose bodily from the grave, was seen by many people, and ascended to God the Father. And when He returns, the dead will be raised and we will have a body like Him.

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Keeping a Holy Sabbath

When I was a boy  our family observed the Christian sabbath each and every Sunday in several ways. Most importantly we attended worship at our church in the morning. But it was not as simple as dragging ourselves out of bed and getting there. We dressed in our Sunday outfits, and my three brothers and I were expected to be on our best behavior. We participated in  morning service that consisted of simple liturgy, hymns, prayers, and sermon. At specified times we observed the Lord’s Supper. Usually we also attended Sunday School. That evening we went back to church for the youth group meeting and the evening church service, which was more evangelistic in nature.

But it was more than just about worship. My mom always fixed a big family dinner for after church. It was the most delicious meal of the weak, and consisted of her best cooking.  She served on our best tableware and we ate at the dining room table.

There were things we abstained from on Sunday. We didn’t go shopping unless absolutely necessary and didn’t go to movies. Sometimes on Sunday afternoon we would visit a relative, or one would come visit us. In the summertime this was a time for fun. Or we might go for an afternoon ride just to see the countryside, and maybe stop at an ice cream stand — this being an exception from the “do not shop” rule.

Understand that I’m not trying to set my family up as being an example of what sabbath observance should look like for a Christian. We live in a different secularized culture and the old ways will not necessarily work for us. And the observance of Sabbath isn’t to take on a new legalistic bent for followers of Jesus. In fact it is He who sanctifies and makes the Sabbath holy. Every Sunday, for the Christian, is a celebration of the resurrection of  Jesus. This alone makes it holy, and a weekly day of remembrance.  So for the Christian this might take different forms.

Sabbath, for the Christian, is a day of witness. It is a day to make holy. It is a day rooted in the creative activity of God, and thus made holy by the act of creation itself.

2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:1-3 NRSV)

So when we observe Sabbath, we are recognizing once again its hallowedness and its goodness. We are recognizing that earth itself is holy, good, and sacred. One of the ways that we might keep the Sabbath would be to abstain from violence and all its indications. Our culture at the present time is saturated in violence, terror, killing, and war of all kinds. It saturates the media. We have been taught to see violence as a way of resolving problems, or at least of containing them. A generation of American children now have been born into war and are aware of no other form of existence. Since 11 September 2001we have let fear gain the upper hand, and now see an enemy wherever we look.  Carrying a gun has become an acceptable way of life. We have terroristic type attacks in schools, the street, movie theaters, and the mall. We do not feel safe in our own homes.

If we as Christians would rest from violence and shut it out as much as possible on the Christian Sabbath, it would help restore the Creator to a rightful place and become a witness to the world. We could forswear violence in our own lives, our speech, thoughts, and our entertainment. We could pray for peace, for love of neighbor, and the coming of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven.

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.

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The Slow Lane

Time is an elusive concept. It is something we want to “manage” but often fail at. It’s that which “slips by” and that we work ever so much to “save.” We have slow time and fast time, both based on “savings time.” From about the beginning of our stay on this earth we are taught to worry and be concerned about the “end of time.”

Our jobs want us to “multitask” in order to accomplish more things at the same time. We attend our minds our calendars, and our agenda making sure they are full and hopefully well managed. Some of us like fast food, fast cars, fast women, and fast living. We want our kids to be fast learners. We get up early and go to bed late, and take pills to wake us, and then again to put us to sleep.

Our kids grow up before our eyes. Quickly they begin to live, like us, in the fast lane in so many different ways. And so we race through life with our foot on the accelerator, maybe without really knowing why or where we are heading. And before we know what’s happening to us, we have a foot in the grave.

Our spiritual lives and the churches we attend have also often been captured by this madness. And, as a result, we have, according to C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison, the “McDonaldization” of the Church. This has happened because the church itself, influenced by the church growth movement, fallen for the cult of speed. They state it thus

Many churches, particularly those driven by church growth models, come dangerously close to reducing Christianity to a commodity that can be packaged, marketed and sold. Instead of cultivating a deep, holistic discipleship that touches every aspect of our lives, we’ve confined the life of faith to Sunday mornings, where it can be kept safe and predictable, or to a ‘’personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” which can be managed from the privacy of our own home. Following Jesus has been diminished to a privatized faith rather than a lifelong apprenticeship undertaken in the context of Christian community. 1

This is the thesis that Smith and Pattison have carefully worked out in their book Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus. The book is about slowing down, looking at those around us, seeing our communities, its peoples, and talking to each other once again. It calls for patience, place, sabbath, and conversation among other things. When this happens we might once again hear more clearly the voice of God. Importantly, it is not a new program for churches to follow.

Smith and Pattison again saying

Slow Church is a call for intentionality, an awareness of our mutual interdependence with all people and all creation, and an attentiveness to the world around us and the work God is doing in our very own neighborhoods. 2 

They take the reader through chapters concerned with the attitudes of heart and practices of life that will help us to recover a vision of what it means to be Church. For a further idea of what this book is about look here: Contents.

  1.  C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison, Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2014), 14.
  2. Smith and Pattison, Slow Church, 16.
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