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Easter jazz

Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

Copyright by Bob Rogers.

“Who will roll away the stone?” Mark 16:3

“Who will roll away the stone?” the women asked as they approached Jesus’ tomb. Their Savior had died, their hopes were gone, and their heads hang in despair as the question lingered in the air. Can you relate to that?

We have stones that need to be rolled away, too. Our way is blocked with giant stones with names like cancer and COVID-19, stones with names like debt and divorce, names like shame and sorrow, and the actual names of people like the crazy co-worker, the insane in-law, the nosy neighbor.

Like the women that first Easter Sunday morning, we too wonder, “Who will roll away the stone?”

In many ways, the message of Easter is like jazz music. Jazz music originated with African-American musicians in New Orleans around 1900, and it often expresses discordant notes of pain that are then resolved with the swing of sweet notes of joy.  

Easter is like jazz music. The people loved Jesus for His compassion for the outcast, His inspiring teaching of love, and His healing of the sick. Imagine their despair when Jesus was arrested, flogged, spat upon, mocked with a purple robe and crown of thorns, beat upon the head, forced to carry His cross to Calvary, the Place of the Skull, and then the nails slammed through his hands and feet, and forced to hang there naked and suffering, No wonder Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” It’s bad enough when you and I feel forsaken by God, but here was the Son of God feeling forsaken by God! That despair was shared by Jesus’ disciples. The disciples were hiding out in a room, afraid for their future, fearing they would be next.

But that was on Friday. Very early on Sunday morning, everything changed. The stone was rolled away, an angel in white clothes had bright news, that although they came thinking they would see a dead corpse, instead they saw an empty tomb, because Jesus was crucified, but now He has risen! The One who had been nailed to a cross was now raised from the grave, the One who had been whipped was now being worshiped.

His story was also their story. The wondering women had their stone moved, the shamed Simon Peter discovered that his Savior was alive. Notice verse 7 says to tell the disciples “and Peter.” The frightened disciples became bold preachers of the gospel.

What a crazy change in three days! No wonder they were overwhelmed with emotion.

Verse 5 says they were “amazed” and “alarmed.” Verse 8 says “trembling” and “astonishment overwhelmed them” and that they were “afraid.”

That’s why I say Easter is like jazz— it moves from discord to resolution, from pain to joy, and it requires a certain mystery and faith. Somebody asked Louis Armstrong what jazz music was, and he said, “If you have to ask, you don’t know!”

But you can know the Easter jazz. You can believe in Jesus Christ. His story was their story and it can be your story and mine.

The apostle Paul put it this way in Ephesians 2:1, 4-6: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins… But God, who is rich and mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with Christ, even though you were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! He also raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavens in Christ Jesus.”

Listen to 1 Corinthians 15:19-20, 51-52: “If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone. But as it is, Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep… Listen, I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed.”

Easter does not mean that we will no longer have problems. The music of our lives will continue to have bent notes and broken cords. But because of His resurrection, the discord will be resolved with the sweet sound of hope for all of us who believe.

What stones do you need to have rolled away? What hope do you need to hear? Shh! Listen closely. I think I hear Jesus playing jazz!

Prayers for Holy Week

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Copyright by Bob Rogers.

Lord Jesus, You entered Jerusalem in triumph, receiving the praises of “Hosanna!” from the crowd. Then You cleansed the temple and healed the sick. When the priests challenged Your authority, You said scripture foretold praises from the children (Matthew 21:1-17). Lord Jesus, I am Your servant. I bow before You and recognize Your Lordship over my life. I give You praise, my God and my King! Heal me, change me, lead me.

Oh, Lord, when You came to Jerusalem, You cleansed the temple. Would You cleanse my heart today of all that displeases You?

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed so fervently, His sweat became like drops of blood, yet His disciples fell asleep. Jesus said, “Get up and pray, so that you won’t fall into temptation.” (Luke 22:46). Lord, may my prayer life be so strong that it weakens my temptation.

Lord Jesus, they stripped You naked, flogged You, slapped You, spat on You, mocked You, beat You on the head, forced You to carry Your cross to Your execution, nailed Your hands and feet to the cross, and when You died, they thrust a spear into Your side. Or did they? In truth, I should change the word “they” to “I”! Did not I do all of that to You? It is because of my sin that You suffered. I stripped You, I flogged You, I slapped You, I spat on You, I mocked You, I beat You, my sin caused You to carry Your cross and take the nails and spear for my forgiveness. Oh, Jesus, my heart gently lifts the crown of thorns from Your head, and with all my soul, I place a golden crown on Your bloodied brow, and I bow at Your nail-scarred feet.

Lord, when You died on the cross, You tore down the barrier between God and mankind. I am overwhelmed that Your grace has given me access by faith into the very presence of God. May I never take Your death for granted. As You died for me, I will live for You. (Mark 15:37-38)

Lord Jesus, You were mocked and crucified for my sins. I can never repay Your sacrifice, but I shall not be afraid to be mocked or punished for the sake of Your name. (Matthew 27:31)

Lord Jesus, from the cross You cried, ‘Into Your hands I entrust My spirit.” (Luke 23:46). Help me to pray that same prayer with my dying breath. Into Your hands I entrust my body, my soul, my spirit.

The resurrected Christ walked with two disciples to Emmaus, yet they did not recognize Him until he blessed and broke the bread. “Then their eyes were opened” (Luke 24:31), and they told others “how He was made know to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35). Lord, open my eyes when I break the bread of communion. Remind me again how my sin made it necessary for Your body to be broken and Your blood to be shed. As I share the bread, may I share Your presence and grace with those around me.

How to get ready for Easter

Whether or not your church observes the tradition of Lent, it is an important reminder of how any Christian can get ready for Easter...
Jerusalem Lutheran Church, Ebenezer Community, Effingham County, Georgia

Copyright by Bob Rogers.

When I served as a Baptist pastor in Rincon, Georgia, I had the unique experience of putting on a white wig and an old robe borrowed from a Methodist, to give a dramatic presentation of the founding pastor of the oldest Lutheran Church in North America. The historic pastor’s name was Johann Boltzius, and his church was Jerusalem Lutheran Church, founded in 1734 in the Ebenezer Community in Effingham County, Georgia, some 30 miles north of Savannah.

School children came from all over Georgia to the retreat center at Ebenezer to learn Georgia history. They visited Savannah, and they also came to the old Jerusalem Lutheran Church, whose sanctuary was built in 1769, to hear me tell the story, in costume, of Boltzius who served a congregation that fled to the New World from Salzburg, Austria, in search of religious freedom.

After the presentation, students were given an opportunity to ask “Pastor Boltzius” questions. One day in March, a student asked me why it was so dark in the church. With a gleam in my eye, I explained that it was Lent, a season in which members of that church remembered Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins. Members of the church fasted, prayed, and thought of other ways to make sacrifices in memory of Jesus, and during this time, they kept the window shutters closed. In fact, on Good Friday, they came into the church and sang songs about Jesus’ death, and then blew out all of the candles and went home in total darkness. The students reflected on that quietly, and I paused. Then I waved my hand at the shutters and shouted, “But on Easter Sunday morning, they threw open the shutters, let the light in, and celebrated, because Jesus is alive!”

Whether or not your church observes the tradition of Lent, it is an important reminder of how any Christian can get ready for Easter, by first reflecting on the suffering of Christ. I encourage you to read the story of the crucifixion from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Spend time alone, silent, reflecting on it. Fast and pray. Think about your own sin, your own struggles, your own sorrows, and how the suffering of Christ forgives, redeems and renews you. Meditate on the dark, and the light will brighten you more when it comes. Like that church in Georgia that threw open their shutters, if we will remember how dark it was when Christ died, we will appreciate all the more how glorious it was that He arose!

Good Friday, Day of Sacrifice

Article copyright by Bob Rogers.

On Friday of Holy Week, Jesus was crucified for our sins. The crowd cried “Crucify Him!” and so Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, did exactly that. They flogged Him, mocked Him, beat Him, and crucified Him.

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is so important to our faith, that all four gospels describe it in great detail.

Mark records six times that Jesus was mocked: once by the Sanhedrin (14:65), twice by the Roman soldiers (15:18, 20), by those who passed by (15:29), by the religious leaders (15:31), and by the criminals crucified with Him (15:32). Six is the number of evil in the Bible. But Jesus overcame evil by his sacrifice on the cross.

Luke records that Jesus asked the Father to forgive them, and one of the criminals was apparently so moved by Christ’s forgiveness that he became repentant (Luke 23:39-43).

John records that as He died, Jesus said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) Jesus paid the price for sin and won the victory over evil.

Matthew records that when the Roman centurion saw how Jesus died, the soldier declared, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54).
We call it “Good Friday,” because it was good for us, not good for Jesus. By sacrificing Himself for our sin, Jesus did what none of us can do for ourselves, and no religion can do for us. We can’t pay for our sins; we must trust in the payment already made by Jesus upon the cross.
British preacher Dick Lucas recounted an imaginary conversation between an early Christian and her neighbor in Rome.
“Ah,” the neighbor says. “I hear you are religious! Great! Religion is a good thing. Where is your temple?”
“We don’t have a temple,” replies the Christian. “Jesus is our temple.”
“No temple? But where do your priests work and do their rituals?”
“We don’t have priests to mediate the presence of God,” replies the Christian. “Jesus is our priest.”
“No priests? But where do you offer your sacrifices to acquire the favor of your God?”
“We don’t need a sacrifice,” replies the Christian. “Jesus is our sacrifice.”
“What kind of religion is this?” sputters the pagan neighbor.
And the answer is, it’s no kind of religion at all. (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, p. 45-46)

Because of Good Friday, it’s no longer about religion; it’s about a relationship based on faith in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for our sin.
Good Friday, the day of sacrifice, teaches us to believe in the Christ who died on the cross, to find forgiveness and eternal life.

Poem: “Pinned and Wriggling”

Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers

“I am pinned and wriggling on the wall.” – T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

PrayJAlfredPrufrock

Oh! Beastly burdened groan

Piercing pain in my side

Blood dribbling from my mouth.

 

I shot the arrow and missed the mark

Boomerang cutting back at me

I am pinned and wriggling on the wall.

 

Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?

 

The incomprehensible creature comes

To pull our arrows out

But what will it be like?

I have grown accustomed to chopped flesh

No! I will keep my arrow

How else can I keep close contact with the wall?

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