The Beautiful and Holy Act of Feasting

One of my favorite elements in Stephen Lawhead’s books is when he writes about food. For those who do not know about Stephen Lawhead, he is a writer of historical fiction, fantasy, science fiction, and imaginative Celtic mythology who has been creating stories of beauty and power for over 30 years. (If you are not familiar with his work, do yourself a favor and rectify that as soon as you can.) I have been reading Lawhead’s books since I was in the 4th grade. I devoured them as if they were water to a parched man. One of the common traits of his writing is the vivid and enticing description of times of feasting. The times of food, drink, and fellowship. These moments never disappoint.

The thing that made these moments so powerful, even though I did not recognize this fact until I was much older, is that they were not really about the food, however wonderful and appealing his descriptions could be. He had a more profound reason for painting these scenes of culinary joy. Lawhead knew the true, sacred power of The Feast.

Perhaps my favorite moment of feasting in any of Lawhead’s book occurs in The Paradise War, the first book of his magnificent trilogy, The Song of Albion. The protagonist, Lewis Gillies, a reserved, timid, and decidedly uncurious American studying in London, has come face-to-face with something he cannot completely understand. I will not spoil the fun but it is enough to know that things happen that should not happen based on our understanding of the world and he is struggling to make sense of it all. He meets a rather odd individual, Professor Nettles, who helps guide him in this strange new journey he frankly does not want to take. After Nettles attempts to explain the mysterious things that are happening to Lewis to rather unsatisfying results, he changes tack. Nettles takes Lewis to visit The Serbian. They arrive at what appears to be a warehouse, yet inside hides a place of unexpected joy and delight. It is a restaurant of sorts. A place where the owner and proprietor, Deimos, selects the meal for the patrons. He serves them with his own hands, bringing out one amazing dish after another. Lewis’s inhibitions and fears slowly melt away, under the unbridled exuberance of his host and of Nettles as they feast. Lewis succumbs to the revelry and digs in with abandon. The food, the drink, and the comradery in that old warehouse is a thing of beauty and it works on Lewis’s soul in a way that words, and facts never could. The wonders and possibilities of the “otherworldly” become tangible to him on that night.

It was Christmas of 1987. I was 10 years old. I grew up as a missionary kid in the country of Panama. That Christmas we experienced something that while shrouded in the haze of my childhood has never left my soul and heart untouched. Our neighbors, a couple who I honestly do not remember at all, invited us over for Christmas Eve dinner. In Panama, the custom is to eat a big, lavish meal on Christmas Eve at midnight. I have few memories of the night other than an overwhelming feeling of rightness of it all. The table, in my probably not completely accurate memory, was filled with foods of all kinds. There were meats, vegetables, salads, side dishes, desserts, everything you could ever want, all prepared with skill and care. And it was all there for us. Perhaps my parents have some idea as to why we were invited there that night. I do not. I do know it was a night I will never forget. Everything about that evening and that meal felt good. It felt exactly the way it was supposed to be. That is the best way I can describe it. It was right. While I am unsure about the spiritual state of our neighbors at that time, I do know our meal together was something special and sacred. They blessed our family that Christmas in a way that I am not sure even they realized.

I need to be clear about something at this point. I am not trying to make some grand theological point. I am not aware of the Bible speaking clearly or passionately about feasting in the manner in which I am writing. With that said, I do know that Scripture is full of examples of people enjoying meals together. Food and the sharing of it with others winds its way throughout the pages of Scripture. One of the most famous verses in Ecclesiastes tells us “that there is nothing better for [humanity] than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.” We are also exhorted to do everything for the glory of God and that includes our eating and drinking. The Old Testament law, given to Moses by God Himself is full of times of feasting and celebration. Those holy days were divinely mandated. While Christians usually do not celebrate those specific days anymore, the foundation and truth behind them endure.

More than that, it is in the very actions of the people we read about in Scripture that we get a clearer picture. When Abraham meets the traveling strangers – the LORD Himself and His angels – he prepares a meal and eats with them. The Prodigal son is welcomed home with a feast. Jesus feeds those who follow him in miraculous fashion. The Last Supper. The great Wedding Feast of the Lamb that awaits all who believe. It is clear that feasting, eating together, is not something man invented. It is something good and holy that our Creator set in our hearts from the very beginning.

Perhaps my favorite Scriptural example of this is found in the final chapter of John’s Gospel. Jesus is alive. He has defeated death. He has appeared a few times to His disciples at this point but is not with them at all times as He used to be. He makes periodic appearances now. On this day, Peter and a few others head out to fish. It is something they know. Something they understand, which they need desperately in this time of things that simply make no sense to them. They fish all night but catch nothing. Jesus, standing on the shore, sees them and tells them to cast their nets on the other side. This has happened before and they know it, though they still are not convinced it is Jesus who is speaking to them. They obey, though, and they catch so many fish their nets are close to breaking. Peter is the first to accept that it is Jesus and he jumps from the boat and makes his way to the shore to be near his Lord. The rest of the disciples follow in the boat. Once they are all there, they find that Jesus has a fire prepared and is already cooking fish for them. He has bread as well. He invites them to come eat breakfast with Him. He breaks the bread and hands pieces to each of them. He does the same with the fish. The creator of the universe, the conqueror of death and the grave, cooks breakfast and serves them with His own hands. What a picture of humility! It is also such a simple and normal moment, one that is relatable to all of us. It is a meal. A time to sit down, eat, talk, and be with those He loves. In the midst of their confusion, uncertainty, and excitement, Jesus chooses to eat with this group of men who have followed Him for years.

I am probably stretching the limits of reasonable applicability and there are probably biblical scholars reading this who are rolling their eyes and shaking their heads at my overzealous leaps of logic. I cry mercy. Perhaps I am overstating things. I do not think so but I will leave that to my betters to decide. I do know how my experiences have shaped me. I have felt the warmth, grace, joy, intimacy, love, and overwhelming rightness of feasting. I have experienced it with family and with friends, with neighbors and strangers. I have experienced it at church potlucks. I have seen what food and drink and companionship can create. I have seen it and know that it is good.

I have these friends. We will call them Sonia and Marvin. For as long as I have known them, they have lived out the truth of feasting better than anyone. They open their home constantly, inviting friends, family, and even some whom they have just recently met, and they break bread together. The food is always good, but that is secondary. What matters most, the thing that makes what they do so powerful, is that they open their home and their hearts and make everyone who enters part of their family. It is Christ-like and beautiful and it has blessed my life more times than I can say.

If done well, these times of feasting can be times of intense bonding. These times of feasting can loosen the tongue, open the heart, and remove obstacles to fellowship. This Easter, enjoy your time of feasting for it is a good and holy thing. Do so with the understanding that your Creator blesses all such acts of righteous pleasure. We were created to enjoy His many blessings and times of feasting and fellowship are blessings of the highest order. Gather with your family and friends, give thanks to the Father who gives us all good things, and enjoy this gift of the Feast.

Una Perspectiva Panameña sobre la Semana Santa

Puesto que pasé casi 30 años en Panamá como misionero, tengo una perspectiva sobre la Pascua de Resurrección que confío que haya enseñado una lecciones importantes.

En primer lugar, la Semana Santa en nuestros primeros años en Panamá tendía a ser influida mucho por el Catolicismo Romano, la religión predominante en Panamá. La semana entera era templada, con menos énfasis en los aspectos comerciales de la vida. El viernes santo era sobrio y solemne, las emisoras de radio y canales de televisión sólo podían tocar música solemne, penas funerarias, etc. Las iglesias celebraban misa para conmemorar el viernes santo. No había deportes o entretenimiento. Posteriormente, el viernes santo llegaba a ser más secular, y ha continuado así. Es posible que algunas emisoras de radio hayan mantenido programación solemne, pero no así los canales de televisión. Algunas personas mayores, estrictamente católicas, dicen que la fecha se ha convertido en tiempo feriado, pero no “día santo.”

Es interesante que en aquellos años el domingo de resurrección era como cualquier día normal. Se llamaba “domingo de gloria”, pero según nuestra perspectiva no había mucha celebración de la resurrección de Cristo, y la gente iba a la playa, tenía paseos, visitaba familia, etc., básicamente como cualquier otro tiempo cuando no le tocaba trabajar. Pero ni la solemnidad ni la frivolidad le tocaba a la gente profundamente. La solemnidad no influía a la gente a venir a Cristo para pedir perdón de pecado y recibir un Salvador que cambiaría su vida. La frivolidad no era gozo cristiano, basado en la certeza del Señor resucitado que había conquistado la muerte.

¡Qué diferencia descubrimos en la iglesia evangélica! En primer lugar, muchas iglesias celebraban un culto especial para el viernes santo que daba énfasis a los últimos siete dichos de Cristo desde la cruz. Yo pude participar en muchos de esos cultos durante los años, a veces predicando una de las siete palabras, como en un servicio unido, y a veces predicaba los siete dichos. El culto a veces se extendía mucho, pero el enfoque teológico y práctio ayudaba al cristiano y daba un buen desafío.

Cantábamos canciones como “Hay Un Precioso Mantanial,” y “¿Qué Me Puede Dar Perdón?” Además, cantábamos sobre la pasión de Cristo como “Oh Qué Amor,” y ¿”Sabes Que Murió Jesús?,” ese último cantada a la música de una canción popular en Los Estados Unidos en los años 1960 “Sealed With a Kiss.” Canciones hermosas, melódicas sobre la muerte de nuestro Salvador en la cruz que me tocaron profundamente, pero desconocidias en inglés.

El Domingo de Resurrección siempre era un día especial en Panamá. Cantábamos en español por supuesto, canciones como “La Tumba Le Encerro” (“Up From the Grave He Arose,”) con volumen y emoción, y luego escuchábamos en mensaje predicado en ese día de días.
Nosotros pudimos introducir el concepto de servicio de amanecer a la iglesia de Bethania donde servimos unos 15 años. Creo que algunas iglesias ya lo hacían, pero era concepto nuevo para muchos a quienes vimos llegar a los pies del Señor, y rápidamente se convertía en una de las actividades más populares e inspiradoras del año. Un servicio temprano, generalmente como las 5:30 o 6:00 a.m., seguido por un desayuno, y luego la Escuela Dominical, significaba un día glorioso en el Señor y con Su pueblo.

Recuerdo nuestro primer domingo de resurrección en Panamá en 1978, cuando nos reuníamos los domingos en la noche. Creo que era un 26 de marzo. Nuestro servicio principal se celebraba los domingos en la noche en aquel tiempo. Cantamos. Oramos. Yo prediqué. Al final, un joven de más o menos 20 años pasó al frente para recibir a Cristo. Su palabras fueron estas: “Sabía que tenía que haber algo más en la vida de lo que yo había encontrado, y esta noche lo he encontrado en Jesucristo.” ¡Cristo resucitó! ¡Él vive! ¡Ha resucitado. Ha resucitado verdaderamente!

(Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in English on April 13, 2017. You can read it here.)

The Resurrection and the Prominence of Empirical Evidence

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.
[The Apostle John]

The most obvious and crucial distinction between Christianity and other major world religions is that it is based not on rules, philosophy or human goodness, but on the facts of a man’s life. It is appropriate that Christmas and Easter are both so widely celebrated (even if a Sunday morning attendance box to check for many) because both, in stark contrast to some other major religious and holy days, answer the question “What happened?” What happened in real time and space in 3D world history?

And it is not merely as simple as something happening. In both cases, something amazing happened. Something literally miraculous and literally incredible. Something scientifically impossible. A virgin gave birth and a man rose from the dead. Someone more poetic than me has commented that Jesus entered the world through a door marked “No Entrance” and left through a door marked “No Exit.” Which makes the juxtaposition of what happened and why Christians believe it so fascinating.

For if you read the New Testament carefully and notice which themes emerge, you can definitely find doctrine and morality. Jesus, Paul, Peter, John et. al. taught things like, “Return evil with good,” “Love is patient and kind,” and “If your neighbor is hungry, and you have to give, it is wrong to turn him away.” But if you get at the heart of the New Testament’s message, it definitely is NOT “Be good and you can get to God” or “Think correctly and you will be enlightened.” It really is about what Jesus did. What happened. The miraculous, impossible things that men and women gave their lives to make sure the rest of the world would know forever.

When John opened his first epistle, he didn’t begin with loving your neighbor, or even with Jesus’s atoning sacrifice being for the entire world. No, he began by pronouncing Jesus as God and saying “We saw him. We heard him. We even touched him.” In short, he is making a case that the impossible things that Jesus did by coming and going from this world were empirically verified by those who followed him. And THAT is the message he wanted to begin with. All truth claims about Jesus and the morality that follows hinge on what they experienced with their five senses.

Peter, in his second letter, also values this early on:

For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

And this was also how even Luke, who was not an apostle but was a scientist and doctor, began:

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

And perhaps it is no surprise since he also wrote Acts and as a result recorded numerous direct quotes from the apostles that kept highlighting the importance of them being witnesses to what happened with Jesus, notably his resurrection:

God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it…

You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this…

The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things…

We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead…

“Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’
‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me…

Empirical evidence of Jesus’s resurrection was so important to Paul that what we now know as the Apostles’ Creed is the main thrust of it:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

In short, the creed was not rules or philosophy, but what Jesus did. It is precisely what happened—what they experienced with their senses. The theological implications arise from that.

I close with noting two of the scenes from the Gospels that were, in part, the basis all of the aforementioned verses. They fascinate me for several reasons I want to discuss. All of them are empirical save one. First from Luke:

While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.

First, I cannot help but notice that the cognitive dissonance of a dead man now being alive was so outrageous and so overwhelming, the empirical-based evidence of actually seeing him wasn’t enough. Resurrection from the dead was so magnificently far away from what they could comprehend (notice the use of “joy” conjoining amazement above), they could not even believe their own senses. That is a historically special case of “What happened?” Because it was, indeed, impossible. And that is the truth that launched the Christian faith.

Second, I cannot help but be deeply impacted by the fact that Jesus kept trying to empirically prove it to them by eating the fish. It’s almost like “Me actually being here in the flesh isn’t enough? Touching me isn’t enough? You think I am a ghost? Watch this.” And then he does something else they can observe with their five senses. An incredible scene.

Next, coming full circle, from John:

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Similarly as above, I am again amazed that Jesus solves the doubt, not by telling him to have more faith or to merely believe his eyes, but by going further and letting him touch him. It is that sense that John mentions as well at the beginning of 1 John that really grabbed my attention as I was preparing my mind and heart for Easter this year.

But as any good student of the Bible will tell you, John 20 doesn’t stop with belief based on the empirical. Jesus tells Thomas after he confesses him as God that those who have not seen and still believe are “blessed.” That includes you and me. The apostles witnessed based on what they saw, heard and touched. We witness based on what we believe. But we are not the unfortunate ones. God, in his divine sense of justice, again turns the world upside down by proclaiming the blessed group the opposite one as you’d think. Just as with the Beatitudes. Those who have not experienced Jesus in real time and space join the ‘poor in spirit’ and ‘those that mourn’ as blessed in God’s kingdom.

Yet who is blessed is not the heart of our Gospel. The heart is the apostles’ message of Jesus. Their empirically-verified message passed down from generation to generation for nearly two millennia. All of our theology is built upon “What Happened.” And that makes Jesus wholly distinct from Mohammad and Moses and Siddhartha Guatama, the founder of Buddhism. He wasn’t just killed and buried. He resurrected and appeared, so that he could be seen, heard, and even touched. That is how Christianity began. And that is the heart of Easter.

Five of Our Favorite Easter Themed Songs

It has long been our contention that Easter does not get the kind of attention it deserves. At least, when compared to another religious holiday like Christmas. Specifically, Easter-themed music feels like an afterthought a lot of the time. We think that is sad and unfortunate. Easter is the moment our faith became a reality – the specific moment in time when God defeated sin and death and made our redemption possible. It is a time of reverent contemplation and passionate celebration. So, as is our way, we have to chosen honor this season by highlighting five of our favorite Easter-themed songs. We hope you enjoy the list we put together.

♦ “I Will Rise” by Chris Tomlin

Chris Tomlin may need to leave old hymns alone or “stay in his lane” (I disagree with statements like this but I won’t fight about it), but I don’t think I can stand for people besmirching him over a song like this. This song isn’t a theological essay like many great hymns but the one point it makes is extremely important and it makes it well. Christ’s resurrection isn’t just an empirical fact in history; it means everything for us as far as what happens to our bodies and souls for eternity. 

And it is rife with biblical phrases and allusions. Look at just a few from the very start: 

There’s a peace I’ve come to know (Reminds me of John 16:33) 
Though my heart and flesh may fail (Taken directly from Psalm 73:26 but also reminds me of Job 19:26 and 2 Corinthians 4:16) 
There’s an anchor for my soul (Sounds like Hebrews 6:19) 
I can say It Is Well (Not Scriptural as much as it was clearly taken from the H.G. Spafford hymn, which is entirely appropriate) 

And as he gets to the chorus the number of citations or allusions to how Jesus beat death are multiplied. No, this song isn’t as deep or complex as 1 Corinthians 15’s take on the resurrection. Clearly, this theme can fill thousands of pages of doctrinal discussion. But we rejoice in the mere fact that resurrection wasn’t a one-time isolated event for one man, but the firstfruit of the resurrection of everyone who trusts in that man. I have played this song overlaying an iMovie of Scriptural references, many of them above, the last three times I have preached at Easter at my church–2009, 2013, and 2017. I cannot say enough about how much it floods my heart with the joy and hope of what matters most—how the Bible answers the problem of the vilest, most despicable, unforgivable villain there is: Death. Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. –  Gowdy Cannon

♦ “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” by Charles Wesley

“Christ the Lord” was written by Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley and 17 other siblings.

Interestingly, Charles and John didn’t enter into a personal relationship with Jesus until right after they finished serving as missionaries to Georgia. On the boat ride back home to England, they met a Moravian constituent. Once back in London, he introduced the Wesleys to fellow Moravians who led them to Christ. From them, they learned what it really meant to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Wesley’s conversion experience took place in 1738 and he wrote this hymn almost exactly one year later. It was written and played as one of the first hymns of the brothers newly founded Wesleyan Chapel in London. This was just the beginning of his hymn-writing career. He would go on to write well over 6,000 more hymns. I have not read or sung all of these songs but I have heard that many of them are mediocre at best. But those that are great are considered the best of the best in all of hymnology (many consider his “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” the most theologically rich Christmas song). And “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” is one of the most theologically rich Easter songs. It has certainly been one of the most popular Easter songs since it was first published in 1739.

Christianity celebrates the entry into new life by dying and that new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus is what this hymn clearly celebrates. It is via our acceptance of this sacrifice that we truly live. I Corinthians 15:19 tells us that if this life alone is all that we can expect, we are of all men most pitiable. But for Christians, it isn’t all we expect. We have a hope of life with Christ after we die. That is why we can confidently say, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). This truth is at the very center of Christianity. That Jesus died and rose again so that we too may die and rise again into everlasting life with Him. 

The first three stanzas of this song remind us that Jesus rose three days after His death, rose to heaven to reign as a glorious king, finalized his work of redeeming grace, and opened paradise for all. But the song also reminds us that this was not just something that happened and finished up over 2000 years ago. The fourth stanza is clear that this is still true for us and that we have reason to sing praises to God above for His great work of love all the world. He, all three persons of the Godhead, did this for us. The last two lines finalize: “Praise Him, all ye heavenly host, alleluia! Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” – Ben Plunkett

♦ “Grave Robber” by Petra

This is not an Easter song. It is a song about what Easter made possible. One thing that Petra (mainly Bob Hartman writing the lyrics) excelled at was incorporating Scripture into their songs. This one is filled with allusions, direct quotes, and paraphrasing. This song, more than almost any I have heard, is entirely focused on the hope the resurrection of Jesus brings to believers. The lyrics are powerful, encouraging, and triumphant. As the chorus of the song so aptly states:

Where is the sting, tell me where is the bite
When the grave robber comes like a thief in the night
Where is the victory, where is the prize
When the grave robber comes
And death finally dies

In the here and now, we still struggle and fight with death, but one day, death will be no more. Death will finally die. That is our great hope, provided to us by the death and resurrection of our Lord. This classic song, by the preeminent Christian rock band of the 1980s, is the perfect reminder of this truth. For my money, few songs can match it in melody, structure, sound, and message. Every year around Easter, this song makes its way into my music rotation and I never regret it. It moves me every time I hear it. I hope it will move you as well even if the style is not your preference. Focus on the lyrics and the truth they convey. One day, the Grave Robber will “wipe away our tears – He will steal away our fears. There will be no sad tomorrow – there will be no pain and sorrow.” That is a truth worth singing about. – Phill Lytle

♦ “Remember Me” by Ben Shive (Performed by Andrew Peterson)

I’ve been listening to Andrew Peterson’s music a lot lately, especially his latest album Resurrection Letters: Volume I, released just in time for Easter last year. I heartily recommend the entire album (along with the Resurrection Letters, Prologue EP and the Resurrection Letters, Volume II album released 10 years prior[1. Yeah, I don’t understand volume two being released 10 years before the prologue and volume one either. ]), but I am supposed to write about just one song.

I strongly considered the modern congregational hymn “Is He Worthy?” (which Chris Tomlin borrowed for his latest album Holy Roar) and my personal favorite “His Heart Beats” which focuses on the actual moment of Jesus’s resurrection. In the end, I chose “Remember Me”.

“Remember Me” was written by Ben Shive (with whom Andrew Peterson collaborated on all of the Resurrection Letters albums) who, in his words, “wrote these songs [“Remember Me” and “Into Your Hands”] to help myself and the folks at my church remember Jesus this Good Friday.”[2. Link] I love that this song wasn’t written primarily to be published and recorded (though I’m glad it was) but was written by someone to help himself and his fellow church folk to remember Jesus.

I chose this song mainly because the lyrics cover the full story and meaning of Easter from our part as “wayward sons” and “prodigal daughters” in need of a redeemer to “ascend that hill” for us, through the story of Jesus during his last week from triumphal entry “as a King” to death on the cross to resurrection, to the resulting hope we have of our eternal life with our Lord when Jesus returns.

Secondarily, I chose the song because of the groovy pop tune atypical in Easter songs. It’s refreshing. – Nathan Patton

♦ “Arise My Love” by NewSong

I love a good power ballad. I love Easter Sunday. Put them both together, and you get “Arise My Love”. 

It is, formulaically, every bit 80s power ballad. A slow build, synth, echoey drums, it’s all there. Stryper could have done this song, and they would have killed it. If they added in a screaming guitar solo, it would be icing on the cake. (I’m still holding out for a Stryper cover BTW).

But this song is so much more than just an epic build. This song is a freight train of theologically sound emotion that is focused on the most victorious moment that humanity has ever witnessed. When you listen to this song, you get the sense that all of creation, all of Heaven and Hell, has been moved to contemplative silence at the tomb. Then you get to the chorus, the airy, heavenly “Arise, My Love! The grave no longer has a hold on you! No more death’s sting, no more suffering! Arise! Arise, My Love!”

I cry every time I hear it. I’m tearing up right now as I write this. It takes a lot to move me to this kind of emotion, but this song captures that most epic moment of all time so very well. Jesus is blazingly glorious, and this song gives just a tiny, minuscule glimpse into that reality. 

“Sin, where are your shackles? Death, where is your sting? Hell has been defeated! The grave could not hold The King!” – D.A. Speer

Hopefully, a few of your favorites were included in our list. We welcome you to share some of your favorites with us in the comment section. Let’s celebrate, through music and song, the resurrection of our Lord together.   

I Do Not Come with Empty Hands

I do not come with empty hands
My hands were never empty
I’ve filled them with the best of me
My skill, my love, my everything
These are the things I gladly give to prove to you my worth

I do not come with empty hands
My hands were never empty
I see my glory in the distance
My penance and my salvation
These are the things for which I strive to prove I am enough

I do not come with empty hands
My hands were never empty
The King of Life requires payment
In gifts, in labor, in piety
These are the things I gladly bring to prove that I belong

This King deserves the best of me
my skills and gifts
my offering
I take upon myself the noble task to fashion him the best
I labor long, pouring all of me into my solemn work
By the skill of my hand, I create things of surpassing beauty:
A crown that shines for all to see – the envy of the world
Rings fit only for a king – unrivaled in shape or form
A throne from which to govern the land – exalted above all others

I do not come with empty hands
My hands were never empty
I bring my gifts before the king
With pretension and self-satisfaction
These are the things I proudly offer to prove that I am good

And then I see His face.
His eyes remove all doubt.
These things my vanity has made are not what He requires.

“Child, move close to me.”

He beckons me to come.

“Child, I will accept your gifts though they are not what you need or understand.
You have fashioned them for your own glory, to curry favor, yet the cost is so much more.”

He beckons me closer still.

“Dear one, come, place your crown upon my head, your rings upon my hands.
Take me to the throne you have made and I will use it for a while.”

I move towards Him, knowing my gifts are woefully insufficient.
I take the crown, which had filled me with such pride, and I place it on His glorious head.
Confusion settles as I see the blood trickle down his noble face.
Yet I push it down even more, forcing each thorn deeper still.
The blood shines out for all to see, the scarlet price exacted.

I take His hands with my own and move to place the rings.
Instead of rings, I find only nails, long and sharp and formed with malice.
Shaking my head, I lie to myself that this had not been my purpose.
I place the nails upon His wrists and drive them through His flesh.
The vile accoutrements created with selfish pride decorate His pure and guiltless hands.

The nails now pierce His holy flesh and pin Him to the wood.
I lift Him up for all to see, enthroned on high.
It is clear the throne is crudely made, a sign my skills were less than I imagined, so I place a sign to indicate His noble and kingly position.
I back away to admire my work and to see all that my great toiling has accomplished.
I see my Lord nailed to a cross, a cross of my own making.

My efforts and my righteousness are nothing more than filth.
I’ve poured the very heart of me into my work, and empty it has returned.

I do not come with empty hands
My hands were never empty
They are full of rage and lust, greed and pride
They are all of me and all that I can offer to prove I am deserving

I do not come with empty hands
My hands were never empty
They cling to hell and defiant sin
They’re filled with guilt and eternal death for that is what they crave

I do not come with empty hands
My hands were never empty
I bring nothing of worth to the Lord of All
I am destitute and ruined


The King is Dead!


God made flesh – alone and entombed.


“Oh death and grave, you have had your hour
But now your time is done
I tarried here a little while
For my WORD is always true
Yet you’re much too weak and impotent
To hold me in your grasp
Your rule has ended and your power is gone
For I have swallowed you in victory
And now I make all things new!”

I see Him now, ascended and mighty
the crown, the nails, and cross are broken and defeated
He has conquered them and so much more
He faced down death and won the war
He is the Lord of life and the Lord of all and all of creation rests in His hands.

“Child, move closer to me.”

He beckons me to come.

“Dear child, move closer still.”

He looks at me with eyes of love, a look that in my shame and brokenness I cannot return.

“My dear child, look and see the works of your hands
all the things your skills have wrought.
Are they enough?
Have you proven your worth with all your vain grasping?”

I have no reply.

“Oh dear one, can you not see? Will you not accept the truth?
I do not come with empty hands
My hands were never empty
I’ve filled them with my everything
My love and forgiveness, redemption and grace
These are the things I gladly offer to any who believe.”

My legs give out; I fall to my knees,
overwhelmed in the presence of such grace and mercy.
I humbly reach and He takes my hands, and fills them with His great love.

I do not come with empty hands
My hands were never empty
My hands, which had been filled with nothing good
Cling only to my Lord. The very Way, the Truth, the Life
I cling to Christ alone

A Panamanian Perspective on Holy Week

Since I spent nearly 30 years in Panama as a missionary, I have a perspective on Easter that I trust has taught me some valuable lessons.

First off, Holy Week in the early years (1970s-1980s) tended to be influenced by Roman Catholicism, the predominant religion in Panama. The entire week was somewhat subdued, with less emphasis on the commercial aspects of life. Good Friday was somber and solemn; television and radio stations could only play, funeral-like music, dirges, and the like. Churches had mass to commemorate the passion. There were no sports or entertainment. (After those early years, Good Friday became more “secular,” and has remained so. It is possible that some radio stations may have special solemn programming, but not the TV stations, by and large. Some of the older people, staunchly Catholic, complained, but basically the day has become a “holiday,” not a “holy day.”)

Strangely enough, Easter Sunday was pretty much business as usual. Though it was called “Domingo de Gloria,” (Sunday of Glory), there didn’t seem to be a lot of celebration of Christ’s resurrection, and folks went to the beach, had picnics, visited family, etc., pretty much like any other time when they were off work. But neither the solemnity or the frivolity seemed to touch people very deeply. The solemnity didn’t cause people to come to Christ for forgiveness of sin, and receive a Savior who would change their lives. The frivolity wasn’t Christian joy, based on the the certainty of the Risen Lord who had conquered death.

What a difference I discovered in the evangelical church! For one thing, many churches had a special Good Friday service which featured the seven last words of Christ he uttered from the cross. I took part in many of those over the years, sometimes preaching just one of the seven words, as in a joint service, and sometimes all seven. It could make for a very long service, but focusing from a theological as well as a practical perspective was helpful and challenging.

We sang songs (in Spanish) like “There is a Fountain,” and “Nothing But the Blood.” We also sang songs about the passion such as “Oh Qué Amor,” (Oh What Love), and “¿Sabes qué Murió Jesús?” (Do you Know that Jesus Died?”) this last one sung to the tune of the 1960s pop song “Sealed With a Kiss.” Beautiful, melodic songs about our Savior’s death on the cross that really touched my heart, but unknown to English-only speaking people.

Easter Sunday was always a special day in Panama. We’d sing, in Spanish of course, songs like “Low in the Grave He Lay” with volume and emotion, and hear the resurrection message delivered on that day of days.

We introduced to the church in Bethania, where we served for about 15 years, the “Sunrise Service” concept. I think some other churches already were doing it, but it was new to many of the people we’d seen come to Christ, and over time came to be one of the most popular and inspiring things we did each year. An early service, often around 5:30 or 6:00 a.m., followed by a breakfast fellowship meal, and then Sunday School, made for a glorious day in the Lord, and with His people.

I remember our first Easter in Panama, in 1978, when we met at the church on a Sunday night. It would have been March 26. Our main service was held on Sunday night at the beginning of the church plant. We sang. We prayed. I preached. At the end of the service a young man in his early 20s came forward to receive Christ. His words to me were these: “I knew there had to be more in life than what I had found, and tonight I found it in Jesus Christ.” Christ arose! He lives! He is risen. He is risen indeed!

Easter Poll: What Is Your Favorite Easter Food?

Eating is fun. Food is good. Is there anyone out there that is going to argue with those two statements? As Americans, we love to eat. We will use any event as an excuse to eat. Here at REO, we respect and honor that tradition. So, in light of our shared love of food and eating, we have prepared a poll to determine the most important part of the Easter dinner. Every family will have its own unique spin on what you eat at Easter, so in an attempt to keep this as simple as possible, we have decided to use the most common dishes found in Easter dinners all over the country. You only get one vote. Vote for your favorite. Some of the options are as general as possible to include the most possible responses. See “potatoes” for instance. If you have a specific potato dish that is your favorite, vote for “potatoes” and then post your dish in the comment section. If you can’t find any option that works for you, select “other” and explain your selection in the comment section. If that is too difficult for you, then you are very lazy.

Let’s hear it people! What is your favorite part of the Easter dinner?


Favorite Easter Dinner Food

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The Tick Tock

A little away
the clock tick tocks
the time where
we know He knows
it tick tocks
the clock rocks

when all was lost
He left the stars
where love is lush to
touch our hands,
our heads, our souls,

in His thunder
underneath in
the nothingness
of our ticking,
in the sea of our tocking,
in the ticking, the tocking,

when life was lost
and deliverance
crossed into our
land where love is losing,
where He touches our hands, our heads, our souls,
where He views this sphere so

ticking, tocking,
our sides
plumped with bumps
and clumps and thorny lumps
far away
from His sigh
of mercy,
of death, His death,
of life, His life,
of the tick tock
the clock rocks

Easter Refocused

In his latest book, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty, Eric Metaxas recounts a story of his family’s Greek Orthodox tradition of welcoming Easter morning with a ceremony of darkness, light, candles, and expectation. Reading his description moved me. It is not a tradition that I am familiar with, but its truth speaks in a language I have understood since I was a child. It is a beautiful, poetic ritual pointing to the Great Light that rose from the dead on that first Easter morning.

Next Saturday, my church will celebrate Easter by hosting an egg hunt, games, free food, and a brief explanation to our visitors as to why we gather on a weekend morning to do all those things. The Gospel will be shared that morning, hopefully with many who have never accepted Easter as anything more than bunny rabbits, eggs, and food. We will do our part that morning to provide a glimpse of the true story at the center of the Easter celebration.

Family traditions. Egg hunts. Rituals. Good Friday services. Easter lunches. Sunrise services. These things, a blend of sacred and secular, make up a good deal of how most of us will spend Easter weekend. The holy, Scripture-inspired traditions will walk hand in hand with the earthy, silly, and seemingly insignificant. What value do these traditions and customs and rituals possess? Should egg hunts and sunrise services coexist on a church calendar? Should Easter lunches and Good Friday communion cohabitate in the lives of believers? Yes and no. Or perhaps better said, yes, in the right manner. While the church’s easy absorption of mostly harmless, yet potentially distracting activities has ever been a point of contention and conversation, I do believe that there is a messy beauty to our uniquely American Easter celebrations. But it is a beauty that needs to be examined and evaluated, never leaving things to chance and the whims of the culture at large.

Our view of Easter…

I would guess, that to most of our country, Easter is all about egg hunts, candy, chocolate, the Easter Bunny, and food. Lots of food. While most Americans would recognize the true “reason for the season” it is not a part of their lives in any significant way. The crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is at best an afterthought. And at worst, a sanctimonious intrusion into their lives. And while most of us who are regular church goers claim to embrace the deeper meaning of Easter, our actions, activities, and traditions do little to support that claim. This is not self-righteous judgment on my part. I am guilty of this as well, and have been for too long. Easter is the moment our faith became reality. Easter celebrates the singular event that remade the world, tearing the veil between God and man, yet I am more excited about what food we will be eating on Sunday afternoon. I look forward to my church’s egg hunt more than I do the Good Friday service the night before. And I am convinced that I am not alone in this. We have allowed these little side items to overwhelm the meal. The main dish sits there, virtually uneaten because we have become so consumed with the sugary sweets and delectable treats heaped on our plates. If Easter is ever to rise to prominence again, in our lives or the life of our nation, we have work to do.

A few suggestions…

Everything we do, whether it be during Easter, Christmas, or any other holy celebration, should point to Christ. I realize that is basic stuff. I’m not breaking any ground here. This has been said, and said better, by many before me. It will be said, and said better, by many after me. But the point stands: the church has lost the primacy of Easter because we stopped focusing on Christ. Or better said: Our view of Easter has been diminished because we stopped using everything at our disposal to point to the empty tomb.

I hope this doesn’t come across as some crass attempt to use the name of Jesus to make things more “Christian.” I have never been a fan of slapping Jesus on things to make them more holy or spiritual. It cheapens His name and turns it into a good luck charm or talisman. In our effort to be approachable, we’ve made “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” our defining attribute. It’s our unspoken battle cry. The problem is, if we rarely use words, we might miss some perfect opportunities to actually share the Gospel. I’m not knocking that phrase or the truth behind it. Our lives should be a living, breathing restatement of the Gospel to everyone we encounter. There are times, though, that we are served up divine opportunities to say the words that can save, and we don’t because we are afraid of coming across as pushy. Or we don’t want our friends and neighbors that come to our Easter egg hunt to feel like we tricked them. Sorry, that’s not good enough. One should never apologize for sharing the Good News.

In your homes, share the Gospel. Teach the truth of the old, old story when you hunt for eggs or when you eat ham, potatoes, casseroles, and pies. Don’t assume the value and importance of Easter is clear to your family. Make the day about Jesus and His resurrection. Make it about your salvation through His sacrifice. Talk about it. Don’t leave the truth unspoken. Speak it loud and often.

In your church, if you have visitors on your campus, many who are probably un-churched and unsaved, please, please share the Gospel with words. Don’t be afraid of being perceived as pushy. Don’t be afraid of poor reactions. The Gospel is a folly to those who are perishing. Share the truth with grace and love, but share it with words and clarity. There will be some that need to hear it that very day. Don’t miss that because you want to be more approachable or non-threatening.

In your day-to-day, focus on Christ and prepare your heart for Easter. There is no greater intrusion of the fallen world than the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Jehovah God reached down into the natural order of things, and He broke it. He ripped it apart. He sacrificed His Son on the altar of humanity’s sin. He plunged His Son into the earth and into the Fall’s reward. Three days later, He reached through rock and stone, sin and shame, Hell and judgment, and shattered the unbreakable wall of separation. The earth cried out in thanksgiving. The angels lifted their voices in incomparable praise. Jesus, the very Son of God, had subjugated death and the grave. And now we, the very root and cause of our suffering, the very reason for death’s primacy, the very source of the impenetrable wall, we can raise our hands in thankful praise and cry out, “O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory? But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

That’s it. That’s the whole thing. What it’s all about. Don’t lose sight of that because you are distracted by eggs, food, candlelight vigils and the rest. Let us keep our eyes on Jesus and make Him the primary focus this Easter.



Resurrection Dawning: An Easter Portrait

Happy Easter!

That does not seem good enough to express how Easter should make us feel though, does it? Happy is good, but it fails to capture everything Easter means. How can we ever say enough? How can we articulate everything the Resurrection is and everything it represents, not only for us as believers, but for the entire world? The simple answer is, we can’t. We simply do not have the words. We do not have it in us to tell the story better than it has already been told. Scripture tells the story with words and images and power. It tells us of the bruised heel and the crushed head. The sinless lamb slain for the sins of the world. Powerful imagery that we cannot hope to top.

So, instead of trying to do the impossible, we have chosen to simply add our voices to the throngs of past and present believers who have proudly proclaimed the joy of Easter. We hope what little we have to contribute will be a blessing to you on this truly blessed Easter morning.

Ethan - age 11
Ethan – age 11

I am astounded just as much by the incredibly long working of God’s plan of salvation as by the final culmination of the saving acts of Jesus. I have already talked in The Moral Essential of Being how there was a whole lot of time involved in the road to salvation before the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. In fact, God said he was making plans before the world’s timeline even started. And when time did begin, Jesus was there and involved in that act of world creation. John 1:1-3 says the Word (Jesus Christ) was with God and was God in the beginning. And it wasn’t just Jesus who worked the centuries-long plan. The other two members of the trinity—God the Father and God the Holy Spirit—were also there and were equally as pivotal in the long work of salvation.

Although it may be the most important piece, the role the incarnate Son of God played between His human birth and His final ascension into heaven wasn’t His final piece of the puzzle. And the Holy Spirit’s role certainly did not end with helping conceive Jesus in the womb of the virgin Mary. Nor did the hand of God the Father withdraw after the work of Christ on earth was done. The three persons of the godhead are still completing the Easter story today and forevermore.

It is true that right now there are still burrs and bellyaching and holy outrage in this earthly life even for Christians. But on Easter day we are celebrating the beginning of a redemption and renewal of all things toward a time when all the imperfections of life will be no more. Revelation 21:4 tells us that in that glorious, final day God will wipe away our tears. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. All the burrs and bellyaching and holy outrage will ever after be a thing of the past. I long for that day.

– Ben Plunkett

Aidan - age 13
Aidan – age 13

The thing about Easter is that it was so empirical. We talk about faith all the time in Christianity, but that word must be quantified by history and evidence and transmission. Make no mistake, the fact that the early apostles saw the resurrected Jesus is crucial to the story.

Over and over and over in the book of Acts you find the disciples emphasizing the word “witness” to describe resurrection (Acts 2:32, 3:15, 5:31-33, 10:39-41, 13:29-31, 26:16).  It mattered to picking Judas’ replacement, evangelism and so much more. Jesus and Ananias in Acts used the word “witness” to refer to how Christians would share Christ with others. (And while we witness based on what we believe today, they witnessed based on what they saw.) In 2 Peter 1:16, Peter uses the word “witness” to attest to his words being fact. And Luke begins and ends with eyewitnesses being the source of his Gospel, book-ending the story of Jesus by emphasizing empirical proof. Additionally, the Apostles creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 says four times that Jesus “appeared.” The focus on this fact is vitally important to our faith.

But Jesus said something to Thomas that I think we need to remember lest we bemoan the fact we were not so “Blessed” to see Jesus just as they did. In John 20, He told Thomas that “You believe because you see. But blessed are those who do not see yet still believe.” Our belief is not blind, but neither is it without testimony that was verified by sight, sound, smell and touch. I believe Jesus walked the earth, died and rose because of my faith. But not without evidence.

And this and every Easter I don’t want to try to bring God down to my level, but neither do I want to check my mind at the door as I worship. What I know effects what I feel. I have broken down and cried numerous times thinking about those 11 men and countless others giving their lives for what they saw.  And that is why Easter is so special.

– Gowdy Cannon

Wesley – age 6

Humans were never created for death.

When my Aunt Lisa was tragically killed in a car accident leaving a husband and two young boys, I couldn’t believe it. I was in college away from home, and my grandma told me the news over the phone. “No!” I replied. “This isn’t real,” I thought. I’ll never forget seeing my precious grandma who had lost her daughter saying to the casket, “I’ll see you later.”

The next Sunday at church, my grandma requested the hymn “Because He Lives.”

My sister-in-law died from breast cancer in 2015, less than two weeks after a confirmed diagnosis.  She left a husband and three very young children. I still responded, “No. This can’t be real.” Her memorial service was simple. Songs. Poetry. Scripture. A beautiful tribute by her best friend. It still seems unreal that Bethany is not here.

The speaker at her service used Truth and reminded us mourners, “Things are not always as they seem.”

Humans were never created for death, and maybe this is why it doesn’t seem real when it happens.

Humanity chose death. To sin is to choose death, but God became man to die in our place, to redeem all of us. Because of His sinlessness, death could not stick. Death is the payment for sin, and He had never purchased it. We get to choose Jesus’ death for our sins and Jesus’ perfect, righteous, sinless life for our own lives. We get to choose eternal life.

This sacred holiday reminds us HE LIVES!  Screams to us that death is not the end! Proclaims hope when tragedy attempts to suck it away.

Because HE LIVES, we can face tomorrow.

We were never created for death.  And though humanity chose it, God made certain through His own sacrifice and resurrection that we have another choice.  A choice at life.

Happy Easter!

– Amy Lytle

Wesley - age 6
Wesley – age 6

I want to be an Easter person.

I love Easter, but I do not love it enough. I am a Christmas person. I love that time of year. I love the lights, the decorations, the music, the food. I love the reason behind it all even more. The story of the Nativity is miraculous in its depth and power. For whatever reason, I have never felt that same pull for Easter. And that bothers me.

My wife has been a big proponent of making Easter a much bigger deal in our home. We are even planning to scale back on Christmas so we can do more for Easter each year. I want my children to recognize the singular importance of the Easter story. Without it, we have nothing. Without the death, burial and resurrection, we are without hope. Perhaps by focusing on it more and talking about it more and celebrating it more we will show our kids its great importance. I hope it works for me as well. I want to be an Easter person.                    

– Phill Lytle

Denkie - age 17
Denkie – age 17

I recently heard that Christmas points to Easter. Jesus was born to die so that he could defeat death. I don’t normally like thinking about Christmas songs outside the month of December but here I make an exception. This is a watercolor painting inspired by a few lines from Joy to the World. “No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground, He comes to make his blessings flow, Far as the curse is found.”  This is an abstract that flashed in my mind as I pondered “Far as the curse is found.”  However far the ever-reverberating echoes of the fall can branch out, the resurrection overcomes–as far as the curse can be found!

Brandon AtwoodFullSizeRender-1
Have a wonderful and happy Easter!
The Rambling Ever On staff