the blog of Jason C. Stanley

Tag: easter (page 1 of 2)

New Life is Coming

My father-in-law was in town a few weeks ago. We took him up to the Blue Ridge Parkway one day to explore the mountains and its trails. Spring has just started and the trees are still barren and dry leaves still litter the ground.

Yet, there were signs of spring.

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It’s Friday

Grace of God (2015)

There is a delicate balance to be found between the legalism of the Old Testament and the astonishing grace of the New Testament. Too often we are either overwhelmingly consumed with following the “rules” that we ignore the power of grace in our lives. Or we put so much focus on grace that we forget that the “rules” are there to guide us.

Grace is not a license to sin.

Grace is an amazing, unmerited, undeserved gift given to us freely by God through the redeeming act of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because we have been given this grace so freely, we can give this grace to others through forgiveness and reconciliation.

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Stranger Among Us

Read Luke 24:13-35.

emmaus_4660cThe two travelers in our text were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus in the broad daylight of Sunday, yet they were still walking in the shadows of Friday.  They were tangled up in disappointment, grief, fear, confusion, and the list could go on.  The man they thought would redeem their people had been nailed to a cross.  The man they thought would bring them a new way of life was sealed in a borrowed tomb.  And now there was a rumor running around that the tomb was empty.  All the hopes and all the dreams that they anchored in this man named Jesus, had come crashing down around them.  Belief and hope had come to a dead end.  They were walking somewhere between the grief and hopelessness of Friday and the joy and hope of the Resurrection.

In the midst of this walking a stranger joined them.  We know that the stranger is Jesus only because Luke tells us so in his narrative.  We find ourselves shouting to the story like we would to a game show or reality TV show, “Come on!  Open your eyes!  It’s Jesus!”  But, if Luke hadn’t have told us that the stranger was Jesus, would we see Jesus?  Would we recognize Jesus?

While their minds were occupied with their bitterness, grief, disappointments, and hopelessness, the unrecognized Christ was walking in the midst of their tangled lives.

This is not the only time we see the risen Christ as a stranger – a mere bystander in the Resurrection narrative.  In John’s gospel, Mary Magdalene does not recognize Christ.  She thinks he’s the gardener.  Later in John’s gospel, Peter and others are in a boat fishing doing what they know best, and a stranger appears on the beach, asking if they have caught any fish.  Here in Luke’s narrative of the two travelers, Jesus is walking with them and they don’t even know it.

Jim Palmer, in his book Divine Nobodies talks about how religion almost destroyed him.  After a hard childhood, Palmer went to college and got involved in campus ministry.  This led to a calling which took Palmer to seminary and put him on a fast track to a booming ministry.  He would become a part of the ministry staff at a large North American church, become front-page news in the local newspapers when he started his first church on his own, and was on his way to becoming one of those Christian gurus you spend lots of money to go listen to.

But Palmer was tangled up.  Listen to what he writes:

Like Jesus, I began in humble circumstances, but unlike him, I rode high on the palm branches of people’s praise.  I’m sure that was where my addiction to becoming a mega-something (anything) was born.

So Palmer began a journey down a road to his Emmaus.  He left the ministry and began working any job he could find.  And on this journey of rediscovering his faith, he met various strangers.

This is what Palmer says about the experience:

On this journey God has provided the necessary epiphanies to save me from complete self-destruction and has opened my eyes to deeper realities.  With a seminary degree under my belt, you could think those epiphanies would have come when caught up in a deep theological treatise – Calvin’s Institutes or Barth’s Ethics.  But that’s not what happened. . .  God opened my eyes . . . through the unlikeliest people – people I, well, just kind of ran into along the way.  The cast of characters includes a Waffle House waitress, a tire salesman, a hip-hop artist, and a swim teacher.

Each of these strangers that Palmer encounters becomes a Christ –figure, teaching him something else about his faith and through these various encounters with strangers, Palmer began to slowly be untangled.

This story of the two travelers, on a deeper level, is the transcript of human experience: a history of God’s gracious dealing with the human soul.  Jesus doesn’t make a big deal that the two traveling believers didn’t recognize him. He doesn’t make a big deal that Mary thinks he’s a gardener or that Peter and the others think he’s some random guy on the shore.  Jesus sees what we sometimes cannot see – that we are tangled up in our fears, our doubts, our anxieties, our disappointments, and our addictions. That’s because Jesus is grace, mercy, and love walking beside us.  Jesus is healing through the hurting we cannot understand.  Jesus is a risen Savior that could not be killed, a risen Savior that is always with us.

We cannot forget that these two travelers, for the most part, are unknown.  Luke reminds us that Jesus did not appear just to the cast of characters in the Gospel narrative that we’ve learned to love.  Jesus appears to the unknown believers as well.  And I can’t help but wonder if Luke wants us to put ourselves in the shoes of these two travelers.  When considering the narrative of the road to Emmaus, James Hastings writes: “Here is the Master of all those obscure lives that are yet precious in the sight of heaven.”

Here in the midst of two obscure, unknown lives, the Risen Christ is in their midst, walking right beside them.  Our lives for the most part are obscure lives.  We go to school, we go to work, we go to the movies, we go to the park, we go to the grocery store.  For the most part, there is nothing extraordinary about our lives.  And yet, the Risen Christ is walking in the midst of our tangled lives as well.

Easter Feet

Easter Ponderings“But, go, tell his disciples, and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mark 16:7)

A few weeks ago my friend Jennifer posted on Facebook a quote from her daughter. The three year old had placed two Easter eggs on her feet and declared, “Look, Mommy! I have Easter feet!”

So adorable and innocent. And theological.

Mary Magdalene and the other women at the tomb, in Mark’s Gospel, are commissioned to go and tell the others that the Christ is Risen, Risen Indeed! The command to go and tell is not unlike other times in the Gospels when the followers of Christ are told to go and tell. After Jesus had healed lepers in Luke 7, he tells the followers to go and tell John the Baptist about the things they had seen. Mark and Matthew record Jesus telling the disciples and go and tell (preach) the good news.

Go and tell.

That is what it means to have Easter Feet. To walk or run with our Easter Feet is to go and tell. Mary and the other women were a sent people with a mission.

We, too, are people who are sent. We are sent out beyond the boundaries of our church walls to share the gospel message – a message filled with love, grace, and hope. The church is an important and vital place for the believer. Christians gather together at the church on Sundays and throughout the week for worship, studying the scriptures, prayer, and participation in the sacraments. Then, followers of Christ are sent to feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, to love others as Christ has loved them.

We gather with other people of faith to engage in works of piety so that we can be sent to engage in works of mercy.

We are sent out on our Easter Feet.

The mission of the sent is to continue the work of making God and God’s ways known to the world. In this sense, the world needs the Church. It is through the Church that the world responds to Christ in faith and accepts the grace that has been given to the world. All of this is made possible by and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

But, there are days when it is not easy to walk on Easter Feet. There are days when it would be so easy to act like all those other people who are rude and just plain mean. We are assaulted by this meanness at work, at school, in our communities and yes, even in our churches.

Recently, a minister in town attended a children’s ministry event at our church. He took issue with the children’s moment that we had, where we shared the Easter story. About 80% of the children were not part of our church, and were 3 and 4-year-olds. The children’s moment presented the story using language that was age appropriate and focused on the meaning of Easter – a risen Jesus!

This visiting pastor, who was present with his children, took to Facebook to share three or four theological points that he considered were left out of this outreach event. He did not come to talk to any of the clergy. He did not write an email. He did not place a phone call. He took to Facebook and shared very publicly that our church was leaving out the truth of the Gospel. Some members who knew him took him to task for his actions. He later edited his Facebook post deleting the rude statement and replacing it with scripture. The meaning, however, was the same.

There are times when people will assault us with meanness and they think they are doing the right thing. They think they are being faithful to their God. They use their Bibles, quoting scripture to put others down.

Friends, this is not what it means to stand on Easter Feet. 

We can stand on Easter Feet and be in dialogue with those that we disagree with. We can stand on Easter Feet and walk in grace, showing the grace that Christ extended to us to others. We can stand on Easter Feet and use the word of God to build up instead of tear down.

Jesus did not say, “Go and tell others all the ways in which they are wrong.” Jesus said, “Go and tell that I have risen!”

How are you walking on Easter Feet?


Resurrection Hope

Read John 20:1-18.

Easter PonderingsEaster will forever be a deeply personal day for me. Thirteen years ago on Easter Sunday, I was congregated in the choir loft of the small United Methodist Church I grew up in. I had promised my Aunt Polly that though I was starting a new job that week at another church, I would sing Easter Sunday in the choir.

It was in that choir loft that had an encounter with Jesus that gave me new eyes.

For the previous seven months my Dad was fighting prostate cancer. After being misdiagnosed with a pinched nerve, a new doctor found the tumor. It was a large and fast moving tumor. After rounds of chemo and radiation, surgery, and pints and pints of morphine, Dad was getting weaker and weaker.

I’ve shared before how hard it was to watch Dad get to so weak. Everything about this experience went against what was suppose to be.

In fact, on that Easter Sunday, as the choir and the congregation sang the classic Charles Wesley hymn, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” I was filled with fear. I was filled with so much fear that I was not able to move, to speak, or to sing. I wasn’t even able to cry I was so overwhelmed with fear.

What had paralyzed me? A “What if?” thought had creeped into my mind. What if Dad dies before we get home? What if we miss saying good-bye? What if . . . . what if . . . . ?

But, then, I was filled with a peace that I had never felt before. I had an encounter with Jesus standing there, wordless, motionless, and tearless. As the church sang about the resurrection, I suddenly felt an assurance that Dad was going to be okay. I no longer feared Dad’s death. I no longer worried about what would happen to him. I no longer had fear or doubt.

It was a peace that passes all understanding. It was a peace that calmed the storm in my heart. It was a peace that assured me that even though I don’t have all the answers, I know Christ and all is well with my soul.

I imagine that this is how Mary must have felt on that first Easter morning. Her heart having been filled with fear and doubt because of the last few days’ events. And then, there in the garden facing fear once again, she is filled with a peace when the Risen Christ calls her name.

It is a peace that gives birth to a hope. A hope that assures us that we have victory over sin in and through Jesus. A hope that assures us that in and through Christ, death has no sting; death is not final; and with resurrection comes new life.

On that Easter Sunday, thirteen years ago, I came home from church slightly anxious, but relieved when I saw Dad still in his hospital bed awake and alert. He was getting weaker by the minute. It was later in the evening, while he was sitting with my PaPa, his father, talking, that Dad claimed the promise of the resurrection.

And I knew – I knew – because of the peace that had settled over me that Easter morning, that Dad had indeed claimed that promise. And I know, without a doubt, that that same promise is there for us to claim as well.

It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown (1974)

peanuts_easterbeagle6The 12th animated television special, It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown, first aired on April 9, 1974 on CBS.  In this special, Charlie Brown and the gang are preparing for Easter. Peppermint Patty is teaching Marcie how to dye Easter Eggs. Poor Marcie can’t figure how to prepare the eggs to be dyed though. Sally wants new shoes for Easter Sunday. Lucy is preoccupied with getting gifts and hiding eggs.

And, then there is Linus. Linus tells them they are worried too much. None of that stuff matters, because the Easter Beagle is going to bring them Easter eggs. The Easter Beagle is right up there with the Great Pumpkin. The other children try their best to ignore or tolerant Linus’ belief in the Easter Beagle.

Like the Christmas special before it, the Easter special has a message against commercialism. As the children walk into the department store to get their Easter supplies, the store is decorated with Christmas trees and other Christmas items. Banners hang declaring how many days are left before Christmas. Sally cries out, “It’s Easter! And they have Christmas decorations out!?!”

The point is clear. Like Christmas, Easter is not about buying, buying, buying. Easter is about so much more than that. It is about the One who gave life so that we may have new life.

There has been some criticism that this special did have the religious message like its Christmas counter part. If by religious message they are referring to Linus reading from the Bible, than no, there is none of that in this one.

But there are allusions to the Gospel.

In the opening scene as Lucy listens to Schroeder play his toy piano, she talks about Easter being a time of getting gifts. Schroeder corrects her, “It’s a time of renewal,” and later, “All you think about is gimme, gimme, gimme, get, get, get.”

When the kids get to Easter Sunday, they are all sitting around waiting for something special to happen. Peppermint Patty says to Marcie, “You look forward to feeling real happy and something happens to spoil it.” Can you think of better words to describe what those who witnessed the crucifixion must have felt?

Sally is wondering where the Easter Beagle (Christ?) is. Charlie Brown expresses feelings of being alone. Sally tells Linus that he has made a fool out of her. Everyone seems to be sad or confused. Not unlike those who experienced the first Easter morning. But then in the distance a figure emerges. It is the Easter Beagle (of course, it is just Snoopy.) Snoopy dances around giving out Easter eggs that he picked up after Lucy hid them (Lucy: “He gave me my own egg!”).

Ten weeks later, the Easter experience is still hanging around. Lucy is still upset at Snoopy for pretending to be the Easter Beagle and for handing out the eggs that she hid. She goes to Snoopy with the intent of fighting him. Snoopy leans in and kisses her. She responses, “Awww, the Easter Beagle.” Even Lucy came around.

Easter BeagleThere may not have been any quoting of scripture, but there are things held in common between the first Easter and this Charlie Brown Easter. The feelings of loneliness, of being scared, confused, and uncertain all must have been feelings that the disciples and others experienced. The surprise and awe that followed when Jesus appeared. There were those like Lucy who did not believe until they experienced the grace-filled love of Christ themselves.

Lent reminds us of the tension between looking forward to being happy and the reality of loneliness and despair. The promise of Easter is the gift of resurrection; new life; renewal. In the midst of the darkness of loneliness and despair, joy comes in the morning.

E. T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982)

ET PosterIt was the summer of 1982. It was the summer of Speilberg’s E.T.

I would have been three. My mother took me to see E. T., though she remembers my brother being with us, which means that it was probably when the film was released in 1985. My mother remembers me watching intensely through the whole film. I was taking, she recalls, everything in.

I don’t remember going to see  E. T. as much as I remember the E.T. doll I had.

ET doll

Or that something sacred and spiritual can happen in a movie theater. My love with movies started with E. T. And frankly, it was a good movie to start that love affair, if you will.

Speilberg’s film is one of the most watched and beloved film of our time. In 1994 it was added the Library of Congress National Film Registry and is number 24 on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Greatest Films.

The story is quite simple, actually. Elliott (Henry Thomas) and his family are hanging out one night. They hear something in the backyard, and think that it a coyote. Elliott, however, feels like there is something else going on. Using Reese’s Pieces candy, he lures the creature out. He comes face-to-face with E.T.

Elliott hides E. T. in his room for a few days before showing him to his older brother Michael. Elliott knows that not everyone is going to understand what he has encountered. At first Michael (Robert MacNaughton) doesn’t either, but he comes around. Perhaps one of the reasons that Elliott and E. T. connect is because they share similar views of the world. E. T., like ten-year-old Elliott, explores the world with a child-like curiosity. For a huge part of the movie, you never see above an adult’s waist, expect for Elliott’s mother (Dee Wallace).

This is why we can connect with Elliott. We have all been able to relate to Elliott. We have been too old to hang out with our older siblings or the grown ups, and too young to enjoy the play of our younger siblings. We know what it is like to be stuck between two worlds.

Enter E. T. A stranger from another planet. Immediately a man with a huge ring of keys pursues E. T. and his fellow aliens. The man with the keys and his people know of E. T.’s arrival. We are led to believe (and later mostly confirm) that their intentions are not good.

Elliott hiding E. T. in his room is a means of keeping E. T. safe from those who which to harm him (i.e. do scientific testing on him.) It is more than just Elliott bringing home a stray pet. He has encountered something almost divine.

ET Stuffed Animals

To say that E. T. is a Christ-figure is not anything new. It has been said before. E. T. does a miracle when he points to a dying house-plant and it begins to grow again. He gives the plant new life. When he is watching Sesame Street and learning to talk, the first sentence he says is, “Be good.” I can’t think of a better way to put Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as found in the gospel of Matthew. E. T., like Jesus, shares a message of being and doing good.

Elliott and E. T. develop a means of sharing telepathically their feelings. Some of the film’s most comical scenes. While Elliott is at school, E. T. is at home exploring the house. He discovered beer and enjoys it. While E. T. is getting inebriated, Elliott starts feeling (and acting) the way E. T. is, while he is dissecting frogs in his science class. E. T. reads a Buck Rogers comic strip that gives him an idea to contact his people (“phone home”). When this happens, Elliott gets the idea to release the frogs. It is symbolic of what will happen to E. T. and what Elliott’s role will be. It is an encounter that changes them both.

The season of Lent is a time when we contemplate our own encounters with Jesus. When we first encounter Jesus we aren’t sure what others will think. We take Jesus up in our rooms and hide him among our stuffed animals. We don’t know how our older brother will respond, but we are pretty certain our parents might freak out. When Elliott’s mother finds out about E. T., it is when E. T. is starting to get sick, and she rushes the children out of the house. Because E. T. and Elliott share feelings, Elliott is getting sick too.

As Michael opens the door, men in NASA suits make their way inside – more people who do not understand. They are coming to take E. T. away. E.T.’s sickness seems to be brought on due to his separation from his people. The scientists who come in, whose faces we mostly do not see, want to dissect E. T. Elliott is crying out to save him, but cannot.

Elliott is not the one doing the saving.

Earlier in the film, when Elliott is hiding E. T. in his closet, they are listening to his mother read Peter Pan to Gertie (Drew Barrymore). In the story Tinkerbell drinks poison in order to save Peter’s life. Gertie and her mom start clapping with Peter Pan to save Tinkerbell. As they listen to the story, Elliott and E. T. embrace. As a side note, the scene where Elliott and the other boys are riding bikes with the moon in the background, is homage to the scene at the end of the Walt Disney Peter Pan film where pirate ship sails across the moon.

ET saves ElliottThe concept of Tinkerbell sacrificing her life to save Peter’s is mirrored by E. T. sacrificing his life for Elliott. Which is the theological idea of the Messiah – the Christ, whose life and death we remember during Lent. Jesus sacrificed himself “even to death on the cross” (Philippians 2) to save mankind. We, like Elliott, cannot save Christ, but Christ is the one who saves humanity.

Lent prepares us for Easter, when Jesus rises from the dead. The power of Easter is the promise of new life. As E. T. dies, Elliott comes back to life. Everyone comes to terms that E. T. has died. They place him in a coffin like container, to be dissected at a later time. Gertie is carrying the house-plant that E. T. healed earlier in the film. She sits near Elliott. When the plant comes back to life, Elliott knows that E. T. is alive! E. T.’s heart is glowing red inside the container. Elliott opens it, wraps E. T. in a white cloth, closes the container and pretends to cry over it. Enlisting the help of his brother, Michael, and his friends, they use one of the scientist vans to drive E. T. to the forest. Once the forest, they await for the space ship to descend, good-byes are said, E. T. boards the ship and the ship ascends.

John Baxter, in his book on Steven Spielberg, shares this quote from the novelist Martin Amis:

“Towards the end of E. T., barely able to support my own grief and bewilderment, I turned and looked down the aisle at my fellow sufferers; executive, black dude, Japanese businessman, punk, hippie, mother, teenager, child. Each face was a mask of tears. And we weren’t crying for the little extraterrestrial, nor for little Elliott, nor for little Gertie. We were crying for our lost selves.”

The good news is that at the end of the desert of Lent, there is the promise of Easter. Death gives way to Life. Grief gives way to Joy.

On Shaving

Last month I participated in No-Shave November in memory of my father who passed from prostate cancer. I wrote about it in my post, Why I Am Not Shaving.

There was a small thought floating in my head that I might end up looking like this guy a the end of the month:

Phil Robertson from A&E's Duck Dynasty

Phil Robertson from A&E’s Duck Dynasty

This is what I really looked like:


This was Thanksgiving Day with my PaPa (my dad’s dad) a prostate cancer survivor. When my aunt saw me on Thanksgiving, she told me that I looked just like Dad when he first started trying to grow a beard. You can’t really tell from the picture above, but there are bald spots on either side of my face. Having gone a month without shaving, I still could not grow a complete bread.

I’m not a fan of shaving. But I have to do it. My mother kept hinting when I was in the eighth grade that I might want to start shaving. I guess I didn’t get the hint, because that Easter, settled in the fake, green grass of the Easter basket, was a razor and a can of shaving cream.

Shaving would irritate my skin. I was allergic to certain shaving creams . . . or to shaving in general, I’m not sure.

I recently received a new razor, the MicroTouch One.* The razor has been coined “the modern version of the timeless classic.” The razor is made of solid brass and chrome plated. It comes with a travel case and clear instructions on how to use it. It also came with a set of razor blades.




So, on the first of December, I was ready to shave. The One razor has a “butterfly” opening that allows you to easily insert a clean razor blade, as well as to keep the blade clean of shaving cream and whiskers.

I used my shaving brush and a round bar of shaving soap. The soap sits in its cup. With the wet brush, the soap turns into a lather. You can get the lather as thick as you want by the degree of wetness on your brush.




The One razor, with its one blade, has been perhaps the best shave. Much better than a disposal razor, and much better than the razors that claim to have multiple blades. Some of said that it is just as good as a barber shop shave.

Because it is solid brass and chrome plated, it is a little heavier than the disposal or multi-blade razors. Which means the razor takes some time to get used to. But once you do, it’s all good.

The cost for the razor, case, and 12 blades is $19.99. Some have seen the razors on late night tv infomercials and big-box stores. 

I’ll keep shaving and leave the beards to these guys:


*In full disclosure, while I did receive the razor free, I was not compensated for writing this blog post. 

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