Thursday, March 28, 2013


The Apostle Paul places a pause between Good Friday and Easter.  He writes in 1 Corinthians

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures

With the words “and that he was buried,” Paul leaves some space, a little light, between the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Alan E. Lewis writes: “Here resurrection is not permitted to verge upon the cross, instantaneously converting death into new life” (Between Cross & Resurrection-A Theology of Holy Saturday, pg. 37). We call this interval between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, this pause between death and new life, Holy Saturday.  Many of us will gather for a Good Friday service and reunite for an Easter service.  (The really dedicated among us will arise in darkness for a sunrise service.)  We will pass through Holy Saturday without noticing it.  We would do well to note its place in the sequence of these days, this in-between time.

We live our lives in the in-between time.  Christ has died; our sins are forgiven.  We are no longer slaves to sin and the powers of this world.  This has been accomplished.  Yet the fullness of resurrection for us and all creation awaits some future day.  Paul writes in Romans:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies
(Romans 8:18-23).

Paul is describing the in-between time, Holy Saturday, after the thing has begun but before it is finished.  How do we live in these days?  When we get up on Sunday morning, the world will look very much the same as it did when we went to bed on Saturday night.  War, poverty, infidelity, sin of all sorts, tornadoes and floods—they will all persist right through this holy weekend.  If we look at our world, we could get the idea that the cross is the last word in the story.   We could resign ourselves to the reality, in words of Frederick Buechner:

…that the world holds nothing sacred; that even the wisest and bravest and loveliest decay and die; that even the noblest ideas that men have had—ideas about love and freedom and justice—have always in the end been twisted out of shape by selfish men for selfish ends (The Magnificent Defeat, p.85).

It could look as if death has won, that the cross is the last word.  This is the way it looks on Holy Saturday.

We know this is not true.  We know what follows on the heels of Holy Saturday; we couldn’t forget it if we tried. Paul ends the passage in Romans 8 with these words:
For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one hope for what he also sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait for it (8:24-25)
We are people of hope.  We live between Good Friday, what God has begun in Jesus Christ, and Easter Sunday, an image of what we and all creation shall become someday in Jesus Christ.  For now we live in a perpetual Holy Saturday, that in-between time.  We know Good Friday is not the last word, but we are still awaiting the final punctuation of God’s sentence of salvation.  We wait in hope because we know the last thing is always the best thing with God.  Easter has already taught us that.

May hope fill your hearts and drive your living,
Jim Kelsey
Executive Minister
As American Baptists of New York State, we will embrace God’s future and these core operational values: honesty, connectedness, and hope

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

There is a Reason Why They Call it Holy Week

It is only a matter of days, less than a week now, until we will take up our palm branches.  What do we call it: Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday?  It is hard to properly name this day of such stark contradictions. 

Luke tells us that as Jesus approached the city of Jerusalem, the crowd of disciples began praising God joyfully with a loud voice.  Matthew tells us that the crowd spread their coats and palm branches on the road before him.  We can envision this noisy parade as Jesus approaches the city for the biggest Jewish festival of the year.  The city would already be jammed with tourists and pilgrims.  The Roman soldiers would be on high alert with such a large crowd. It was like New Orleans during Mardi Gras, the Temple precinct like Bourbon Street.  Palm Sunday is a good name for this day.

But as Jesus reaches the top of the Mount of Olives and for the first time can take in the city, Luke draws the camera in close.  The sound of the crowd breaks off raggedly, and we hear the strangest thing.  As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it (Luke 19:41).  Jesus is crying; the ground beneath his colt is damp with the tears of the Son of God.  We realize that we are standing on holy ground; the sound of the parade around us fades away.  We might want to turn away, act as if we don’t hear him.  But we need to pause here and see what his sobbing can teach us. 

The crowd sees the sun glistening off the golden dome of the Temple, the commerce in the streets, the happy families, and old friends being reunited after a year apart.  Life is good.  It is morning in the land.  But Jesus sees something quite different.  He sees a city that will make a terrible choice in the coming days.  He knows the violence that waits in the wings; he knows this parade will be short-lived.  He knows that those who cry “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord” within the week will cry “Crucify him.”  He knows where it all will lead for him and for these people.  He laments:
"If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44 They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God." (19:42-44).
Passion Sunday is a good name for this day that introduces a week that races toward betrayal, desertion, and death..

This Sunday opens our eyes to the tragic choice those people will make, how quickly their happy enthusiasm will dissipate in disappointed fearful betrayal.  We become aware of the tragic fearful choices that we, too, are prone to make in our lives.  We, too, are often oblivious to those things that make for peace; our eyes are blind to the visitation of God.

One Sunday, I was standing at the rear of the sanctuary greeting people as they left the service.  A woman paused as I shook her hand and said, “Dr. Kelsey, sometimes when I leave here I’m not happy.  Worship should make me happy.”  I felt disturbed.  I didn’t want worship to depress people.  I wanted worship to encourage and strengthen people.  I thought about what she had said for several days.  I felt I owed her something, perhaps an apology.  After some reflection I came to a realization.  I called her up and told her that I hoped she found encouragement and joy through her participation in worship, but I went on to say that the primary purpose of worship is not to make us happy; the primary purpose of worship is to make us holy.  I wanted us all to be happy, but there was a higher, nobler purpose to what we were doing:  holiness.  The path to holiness sometimes involves challenge and loss; at some pints we are called to make painful changes in our lives.  It is not always a happy holiday at the beach.

Parades are fun, but the Christian life is not primarily a parade; it is a pilgrimage.  The journey demands some things of us along the way; we have to leave some things behind that we should like to retain.  As we travel, the journey changes us; we are being made more into the image of Jesus Christ.

As we journey through Holy Week, we are on a pilgrimage to Easter Sunday.  On the way to resurrection, we pass through some difficult days.  This is no parade, but at the end lays renewed and greater life.

May you be changed in the week ahead. 
Jim Kelsey
Executive Minister
American Baptist Churches of New York