To Easter… and Beyond!

My kids have grown up with the movie Toy Story that has the two lovable and imaginative characters, Buzz Lightyear and Woody. I have to admit, every time I watch one of the Toy Story movies and hear Buzz say, “To infinity… and beyond!”, I secretly hope that the movie creators would create a narrative that would take us up into a daydream with Buzz about what it’s like to actually go to “infinity and beyond.”

I think if we’re honest with ourselves and could break out of our hollow modern shells that has squashed the fairy tales, myths, and legends, we would all long to go to that place Buzz is talking about. To get away from the grind, to fly to a place far away, to be a hero in another realm, to slay the dragon, and take that adventure you’ve always wanted. We were made for more, and that’s where these longings could teach us something about God’s narrative.

In the biblical narrative, “infinity and beyond” came to us, invited us into that narrative, gave us a home called earth, and asked us to fill this place with purpose and meaning that is from “infinity and beyond.” You see, we live in an era that has honored science, reason, rational thinking, medicine, and the like, and the cost on our society has been a decapitation of the supernatural, and the Christian world has embraced it more than most people.

Sure there is Christian language about the supernatural and even a charismatic approach to prayer and the like, but the world to many Christians is still divided into the sacred and the profane, the material and the immaterial, the natural and the supernatural, and in many ways we do not have a context for merge both worlds, to give a fuller meaning to life as we know it. This is where Ash Wednesday comes to mind.

Ash Wednesday is a day for the many Christian denominations to ‘kick off’ if you will, the journey towards Easter. Originally, Ash Wednesday got its name from the practice of blessing ashes made from palm branches that were blessed on Palm Sunday of the previous year, and then placing them on the heads of participants, while an officiant recites something like this: “Turn from your sin, be faithful to the Gospel, and remember from dust were you made, and to dust you shall return.”

In the biblical narrative, the use of ashes were mostly used to show that someone is either grieving from a tragedy or showing remorse for sin, and it serve as an external sign of repentance (2 Samuel 13:19; Job 42:3-6; Jeremiah 6:26). Ash Wednesday is a day of remembrance, but it’s so much more to me. It’s a day to tangibly remember we broke trust with God. We ate a natural piece of forbidden fruit and brought upon natural and supernatural consequences, thus we need natural and supernatural help.

Ash Wednesday is reminding us that in humanity, we are stuck to the natural realm and do not have the ability to restore supernatural realities. In comes Jesus the Christ, and Ash Wednesday is definitely all about Jesus. It’s all about placing our sin in front of us, remember who were are and not placing the weight of salvation on ourselves, because we can’t restore the supernatural. It’s about preparing our hearts to see with both eyes wide open, the death and the resurrection of Jesus.

In the very natural act of confessing and receiving ashes on our foreheads, we are re-enacting the garden narrative with Adam and Eve and accepting our fate of death and separating, but not without hope. We lament on Ash Wednesday and we fast over the 40 days (or so) of the Lenten season to prepare our bodies, minds, and hearts, to receive in a fresh new way every year, supernatural help that could only come from Jesus, the ultimate natural supernaturalist!

Jesus, the new Adam, invites his people into a new realm called righteousness in a world that will never be fully righteous. Even though Ash Wednesday is not an official sacrament of the church, it is very much an invitation into a supernatural world in a very natural kind of way. It is an invitation to go up to the mountain of mercy and receive something from God that no one or nothing in this natural world could ever offer to you.

Jesus, in the biblical narrative, was conceived supernaturally, but born of naturally to a virgin named Mary. He grew naturally in favor with man and supernaturally with God. He was sinless, offered a new way to be human, dismantled the religious life that missed God and therefore suffered under Pontius Pilate by the will of God, but the desire of the religious leaders. He was crucified, he died, and was buried naturally. On the third day, Jesus rose again supernaturally, showed himself to over 500 witnesses, then ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of power of God the Father. From there, he will one day return to restore natural order supernaturally, as he will lovingly judge the living and the dead and give to each man what they longed for.

Jesus offers a supernatural life now, in this very natural realm, and asks that those who have received this mercy and become family with him, live in such a way that brings greater purpose and meaning to what he has created. Ash Wednesday is a way to take Jesu by the hand, and follow him to a realm outside of time and space, and meet with him so that you are never the same naturally or supernaturally. We were created for more than what our eyes have seen and our brains can comprehend. We were created to live with both eyes open to the natural and the supernatural world and to see the beauty, the joy, the color, the smells, the tastes, the feelings, of what the supernatural world has breathed into the natural realm.

It ought not to remain a divide between the material and the immaterial realms. Jesus, the immaterial God became material, and restored what man broke in Eden. Jesus is the restoration of shalom, the Eucharistic life, the life of divine thankfulness invites freely all who would have eyes to see and ears to hear, the taste of a new kind of food that will restore what was lost in the garden through the forbidden fruit being carelessly eaten.

So this lenten season, may you ascend the hill, and through your fasting, your confession of what’s really true about you, your turning from sin, and believing that the natural and supernatural realms aren’t mutually exclusive, may you learn to live today in the natural realm with a natural supernatural savior. He is waiting for you to close the gap and believe that there is more to life than just rationale, reason, and boring parties. He’s longing for you so say like Buzz, “To Easter and beyond!” where the mysterious  resurrection is a divine reality for all who believe, today!

The Loser

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Switchfoot has a song called “The Loser”, and one of the phrases in the chorus says this: “If I haven’t already given it away, I’ve got a plan to lose it all.” I preached at an Episcopal church this weekend where a friend of mine is a priest and this past Sunday was the final Sunday of Epiphany (the season of the church calendar that is focused on revealing and proclaiming Christ) that gives way to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten season (if you want to learn more about the season of Lent, check out my friends blog post on it).

This song “The Loser”, in my opinion gets to the heart of the lenten season (40 days), that is marked by fasting and preparing oneself to celebrate the resurrection of Christ at Easter in a fresh new way. Losing it all is not on the top of anyone’s list, as we live in a culture that is climbing the ladder of success, even if it’s the ladder of a “successful Christian life”. We want to be on top, we want to have access to power, we long for prestige and accolades, we labor to gain more and more possessions, as small little trinkets fill our lives and homes.

The Lenten season reminds me that the winners in this life are really the losers, the ones who aren’t holding on to anything, who freely lose it all. Think of those who we glorify in the religious realm… it’s those who lost everything to care for the least of these. Jesus spoke about the blessings for the poor and the weak ones. He saved His kindest acts for the sick and the despised ones. He attacked those who lived well off lives while ignoring the injustice of their wealth. Jesus led by an example of selflessness which has never been seen since.

In Jesus, God has entered our humanity and made the divine understandable, and if we are honest with ourselves, the way in which Christ invites us to encounter Him doesn’t seem productive: fasting, weakness, humility, submission, brokenness, confession, suffering. It looks at times weak and very unlike the concepts of human power and authority which we live by every day, but weakness is where the Christian sees Christ more clearly. Losing it all makes room for more of the One who gives all.

This is my plan this Lenten season, to lose all that has kept me too full and busy to hear the voice of God, to receive in a fresh new way, the risen Savior, and to experience more fully the resurrected life.