Tag Archives: Ravi

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – A Time to Grieve

Recently, a colleague sought an explanation regarding the untimely death of a friend. It was one of those questions that exposes the vulnerability of a confident apologist. How one wishes that the dots could be connected, the blanks filled, and a satisfying response proffered. But lo and behold, that is not to be. In some questions, an agnostic stance appears more honest and reasonable. It’s no wonder Job’s friends made more sense in their silence than in their speeches. In that ancient story of a life whose struggles are articulated exhaustively, Job’s pain is something we still grapple with millennia later.

In her book When Life Takes What Matters, author Susan Lenzkes suggests that this posture of grappling with uncertainty, even angered grappling, can be kindly held by the Christian God: “It’s all right—question, pain, and stabbing anger can be poured out to the Infinite One and God will not be damaged….For we beat on his chest from within the circle of his arms.”(1)

For Job, something similar is true. Somehow his own questioning appears to lose its sting when he sees how wide this circle really is. In the glimpse God offers him from the very foundations of the world, Job’s despair is somehow quieted within a story so much bigger than his pain can comprehend.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Christ in Public

God has been in the news a lot lately. From Christian prayers in council meetings, to statements from the highest echelons of the Royal Family and the government, discussion of the place of God and in particular the role of Christianity in Britain today has been in the news on a daily basis. Professor Richard Dawkins continues to argue that religion has no place in the 21st century and debates over his anecdotes continue to capture the twittersphere. It seems it is now acceptable to discuss the Christian faith and belief in God in public. From radio studios to the school gate I have enjoyed being a part of this. The role of God in Britain is being discussed up and down the country in government, education, legislation, and community life in a way that I can’t remember in recent history.

While secularism insists that nothing good comes from religion, isn’t it actually the case that it is a Christian heritage that actually provides us with this free and open society—encouraging people to question and reason for themselves? For many, religious faith is a process, a journey of discovery on the basis of evidence, reason, and personal experience. Christianity has provided the foundation in Britain for an open and tolerant society. It was the great Christian leader Augustine who coined the phrase tolerare malus. He claimed that political structure influenced by the Christian faith must tolerate that which it disagreed with and perceived as wrong for the greater good of freedom.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Absent for Easter

A long-time friend of my husband’s paid us a visit over the Easter weekend. Growing up together, life had taken them both in very different directions. I enjoyed listening to their reminiscing about childhood events they had shared together. When the conversation turned to Easter Sunday festivities, a solo-hiking trip was planned even as his family would be elsewhere. How strange, it seemed to me for him to be absent from them on Easter. But as he talked I realized that Easter Sunday was like any other Sunday. There was no recognition of the day or of its significance for Christians around the world.

The conversation left me feeling sad that such a significant day is for most a day of chocolates and eggs, if it is even that at all. There have been Easter Sundays that have come and gone without much notice in my own life as well. Even though I am present in body and mind, my heart is often disengaged from the significance of this day. Thankfully, the Christian celebration of the season of Eastertide invites all to inquire—whether present or absent on Easter Sunday— into how the continuing presence of the risen Lord manifests himself in our day-to-day reality.

The disciple Thomas also missed Easter Sunday, in a way. Remembered in Christian tradition as “doubting Thomas,” he was not physically present when Jesus first appeared to his disciples after his resurrection. Locked up in a room because of their fear of the Jewish authorities, the ten remaining disciples may have been huddled together puzzling over Mary Magdalene’s pronouncement that she had seen Jesus, alive and well, after her visit to his tomb. John’s Gospel does not tell his readers why Thomas is not present with the other disciples; he simply records that on “the first day of the week… Jesus came and stood in their midst, and said to them, ‘Peace be with you….’ But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.” (1)

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Everything Off Balance

The earliest creeds of the Christian church confess that Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.” It is then confessed, “On the third day, he rose again.”(1) While modern presuppositions may tempt us to interpret the death and resurrection of Jesus as symbolic or spiritual in nature, there was nothing abstract about the events and details confessed by those who first beheld them. Jesus’s suffering was an actual, datable event in history, his crucifixion a sentence inflicted on an actual body; the proclamation of both was the remembrance of a cold reality, something akin to remembering the Holocaust or the Trail of Tears. Likewise, “the third day” was a tangible, historical occasion—albeit an occasion of unfathomable proportions.

Yet the resurrection of Jesus was not viewed as merely a static fact on this particular third day, a fixed event to remain in this history alone. “We believe that Jesus died and rose again” wrote the apostle Paul, “and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”(2) For those who first beheld it, the resurrection was an event with inherent consequences for everything—for order and purpose, for what it means to be human itself. The earliest confessions of Christ’s death, burial, and third day rising from the dead are immediately followed by certain understood implications. As the Misfit in Flannery O’Connor’s short story observes of this resurrected one, Jesus went and “thrown everything off balance.”

In the eyes of Jesus’s contemporaries, the Misfit is exactly right. This rabbi who was accused of blasphemy for calling himself equal to God was immediately here shown by God to be speaking the truth. The resurrection verified Jesus’s ties with the Father and his claims to divine authority; the Sonship of Christ was visibly and unmistakably confirmed by the Father. “For God raised him from the dead” writes Paul in 1 Thessalonians 1:10. This connection was clear.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – The Dead Don’t Bleed

For one family in Venezuela, the space between death and life was filled with more shock than usual. After a serious car accident, Carlos Camejo was pronounced dead at the scene. Officials released the body to the morgue and a routine autopsy was ordered. But as soon as examiners began the autopsy, they realized something was gravely amiss: the body was bleeding. They quickly stitched up the wounds to stop the bleeding, a procedure without anesthesia which, in turn, jarred the man to consciousness. “I woke up because the pain was unbearable,” said Camejo.(1) Equally jarred awake was Camejo’s wife, who came to the morgue to identify her husband’s body and instead found him in the hallway—alive.

Enlivened with images from countless forensic television shows, the scene comes vividly to life. Equally vivid is the scientific principle utilized by the doctors in the morgue. Sure, blood is ubiquitous with work in a morgue; but the dead do not bleed. This is a sign of the living.

Thought and practice in Old Testament times revolved around a similar understanding—namely, the life is in the blood. It is this notion that informs the expression that “blood is on one’s hands” when life has wrongfully been taken. When Cain killed his brother Abel, God confronted him in the field, “Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” For the ancient Hebrew, there was a general understanding that blood is the very substance of our createdness, that in our blood is the essence of what it means to be alive. There is life in the blood; there is energy and power.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Unseen

There is something deeply unsettling about biological threats. The very idea of unseen but deadly toxins or viruses is a modern nightmare. The sad thing is that we have too many actual examples to fuel our fears. For multitudes in the industrial town of Bhopal, India, a normal working day turned into a catastrophe of biblical proportions as people were poisoned and killed by gas leaking from a local factory. Similarly catastrophic, the events surrounding the reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine combined the worst of leftover Soviet era paranoia and secrecy with a calamity of truly mind-boggling proportions. Hundreds of young men were ushered in to fight a fire, knowing nothing of the deadly radiation saturating the area, and as a result, thousands died. And of course, the recent chemical attacks in Syria were heartrending.

The weight and power of these deadly issues grips us. We feel it acutely. There are things in our universe that are invisible, but real and sometimes deadly. And there are few guaranteed fail-safe mechanisms to protect us, in all circumstances, from harm. This feeling of vulnerability, this sense that there are things beyond our control, this notion of powerlessness is something the modern mind finds repulsive. We want security, we demand certainty, and we feel entitled to assurance. But what is this assurance, and where is it to be found?

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – We Believe in the Resurrection

Though there are no doubt those among us who would not believe on any amount of evidence that something so unusual as the resurrection could happen, there are countless others who are asking perceptive questions: What happened on that first Easter morning? Why would the disciples go to their deaths making such an outrageous claim? And why does the rise of Christianity remain a challenge unanswered?

Such questions are a good starting point for anyone, and often—like the resurrection for those who first beheld it—the questioner is moved quickly from historical matters below to matters far above. As N.T. Wright notes:

“[T]he challenge [of the resurrection] comes down to a much narrower point, not simply to do with worldviews in general, or with ‘the supernatural’ in particular, but with the direct question of death and life, of the world of space, time and matter and its relation to whatever being there may be for whom the word ‘god,’ or even ‘God,’ might be appropriate. Here there is, of course, no neutrality.”(1)

The earliest creeds confess Jesus as one who “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried…. [And] on the third day he rose again.”(2) The writers of these creeds confessed the suffering of Jesus as a datable event, his crucifixion as an occurrence in history. Even “three days later” is a confession of a historical, quantifiable occasion—albeit an occasion wholly unprecedented.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Slain and Standing

When the reigning fifteenth century Japanese shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa broke his favorite Chinese tea bowl, the distraught military dictator sent the antique pieces of pottery back to China to be repaired. The bowl was returned to him, repaired using a technique commonly practiced at the time. Metal staples fused the pieces together in a manner that assured the beloved bowl’s function, but the bowl was never the same. In Yoshimasa’s mind, the object was broken first by the fracture and then again by the mending. Disappointed, he called Japanese craftsmen to come up with another way.

What was born was the art of kintsugi, which expresses the Japanese aesthetic philosophy of wabi-sabi, embracing the flawed and imperfect, revealing beauty and strength in what has been broken. Kintsugi literally means golden connection or golden jointing. Broken pottery fragments are fused together using lacquer and gold. The end result is still repair in the deepest sense, but the breakage itself is not erased; in fact, it becomes all the more obvious. Rather than concealing the flaws, cracks are accentuated and highlighted. The repair remains the object of admiration, but the breakage is seen as a part of it, bestowing more value, emboldening strength, esteeming beauty.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – The Bank of Justice

In his famed “I have a Dream speech,” Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed: “We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.” At these words, Dr. King painted for a troubled nation a powerful image of hope, and forever rooted the civil rights movement in images of justice and the image of God.

The images presented in the book of Daniel are similarly rooted in images of justice and God. In fact, it is for this reason that the sixth chapter of Daniel was a favorite Scripture passage among civil rights preachers in the early 1960s. The story told in Daniel 6 presents a king who loses sight of his purpose as king and the purpose of the law, creating a system void of justice and a law that only hinders and traps its makers. But against the images of lawlessness and corruption, the story portrays a silent but active Daniel clinging to a higher law, bowing before the King of Kings in the midst of persecution, in the hands of his oppressors, and the shadows of the lions’ den. Living within the hopelessness of exile, sweltering under the heat of injustice, Daniel unflinchingly declares the sovereignty of God, and with faithfulness and perseverance refuses to believe otherwise.

In a kingdom in which he was a mere foreigner, Daniel was appointed a position of great authority because the king found him to be useful. The story quickly hints that in the peaceful dominion of King Darius all is not peaceful. The leaders serving under Daniel want to get rid of him. The story does not provide a thorough explanation for their hatred of Daniel and yet, perhaps in this silence much is said. The nature of any prejudice is absent of explanation. Without reason, without logic, we discriminate and are discriminated against. There is no explanation because to explain our reasons behind prejudice is to become our own judge. In fact, Daniel’s enemies announce their illogic when they conclude, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God” (6:5).

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Easter in Academia

Lock atheist philosophers who do not specialize in religion in a room with theist philosophers who do specialize in religion (well, don’t really, but if you did), and if you listened to the ensuing debates, you “would have to conclude that the theists definitely had the upper hand in every single argument or debate.”(1)

Those are not my words but the words of an atheist. And not just any atheist, an atheist who is a respected professional philosopher with 12 books and over 140 articles to his name.

Despite his atheism, Quentin Smith draws the theism-friendly conclusion that “God is not ‘dead’ in academia; he returned to life in the late 1960s and is now alive and well in his last academic stronghold, philosophy departments.”(2)

God is alive. And not only in philosophy, but in sociology as well. Fifty years ago sociology was convinced that God was on the way out. The scholars had bought into secularization theory; you know the idea: The more modern and technological the world becomes, the more secular it becomes.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Implementing Easter

The dominating time-piece is nothing if not thought-provoking. British inventor John Taylor’s “Chronophage” (literally ‘time eater’ from the Greek chronos and phageo) keeps watch outside Cambridge’s Taylor Library of Corpus Christi College.(1) A foreboding metal grasshopper with an ominous chomping mouth appears to devour each minute with eerie pleasure and constancy. The toll of the hour is marked by the clanging of a chain into a tiny wooden coffin, which then slams shut—”the sound of mortality,” says Taylor.(2) The pendulum also speeds up sporadically, then slows to a near halt, only to race ahead again as if somehow calculating the notion that time sometimes flies, sometimes stands still. The invention, according to Taylor, is meant to challenge our tendency to view time itself as we might view a clock. “Clocks are boring. They just tell the time, and people treat them as boring objects,” he added. “This clock actually interacts with you”—indeed, striking viewers with the idea that time is nothing to take for granted.(3)

The Christian worldview is one that recognizes at the deepest level that something about humanity is not temporal. Easter, in fact, is the celebration that this is not just a suspicion, but a reality. Christians believe in eternal dwellings, a day when tears will be no more, and in one who is preparing a house of rooms and welcome.(4) And yet, we also very much live with the distinct experience of these promises within time. Christ is not merely the one who will be with us in all eternity, the one who will dry our eyes at time’s end. Christians believe he is also alive and among us today, welcoming a kingdom that is both present and approaching. “Remember, I am with you always,” ends one of account of the life of Jesus, “even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). For the Christian, all of time is filled with the hope of resurrection, even as it is filled with Christ himself.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Dying into Life

The glory of God is the human person fully alive.

I first read this quote by Irenaeus of Lyons while still a graduate student. In my early rendering of this evocative statement, I imagined people at play in a field of flowers, the sun shining brightly. Everyone is happy and smiling, laughing even, as they dance and play in the fields of the Lord. As I pictured it in my mind’s eye, the human person fully alive was a person alive to possibility, never-ending opportunities, and always happy. How could it be otherwise with God’s glory as the enlivening force?

It is easy to envision this kind of reality in the early days of spring. All of creation coming alive again coinciding with the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Jesus and the Jewish celebration of Passover. Yet, I am often perplexed as to just what “fully alive” looks like for many people in our world. How would this read to women in the Congo, for example, whose lives are torn apart by tribal war and violence against their own bodies? What would this mean to an acquaintance of mine who is a young father recently diagnosed with lymphoma? What about those who are depressed or homeless? Or those who live with profound disabilities?

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – With Us, For Us

There was a body on the cross. This was the shocking revelation of a 12 year-old seeing a crucifix for the first time. I was not used to seeing Jesus there—or any body for that matter. The many crosses in my world were empty. But here, visiting a friend’s church, in a denomination different from my own, was a scene I had never fully considered.

In my own Protestant circles I remember hearing the rationale. Holy Week does not end with Jesus on the cross. Good Friday is not the end of the story. Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried. And on the third day, he rose again. The story ends in the victory of Easter. The cross is empty because Christ is risen indeed, as liturgies all over the world proclaimed yesterday.

In fact, it is true, and as Paul notes, essential, that Christians worship a risen Christ. “[For] if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith is in vain.”(1) Even walking through the events of Holy Week—the emotion of the Last Supper, the anguish in Gethsemane, the denials of the disciples, the interrogation of Pilate, and the lonely way to Golgotha—we are well aware that though the cross is coming, so is the empty tomb. The dark story of Good Friday will indeed be answered by the light of Easter morning.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Beauty’s Absence

I stood in front of the painting long enough that my neck hurt from craning upward, long enough to make the connection that onlookers that day likely held a similar stance as they watched Jesus of Nazareth on the cross. Francisco de Zurbarán’s massive 1627 painting The Crucifixion hangs in gallery 211 of the Chicago Art Institute. Viewers must stand back from the piece and gaze upward in order to take it all in. Zurbarán depicts the point just before Christ takes his last breath. His body leans forward from exhaustion; his head hangs downward. All details of any background activity are absent, the black backdrop a jarring juxtaposition beside his pale, bruised skin. The artist’s use of light intensifies the stark pull of sympathy towards a body that is both clearly suffering and yet somehow beautiful. At the time, I wasn’t sure what I believed about Christianity. But there was something about the painting I couldn’t stop trying to grasp.

There is indeed something about beauty that for many of us is intensely spiritual. Whether peering into the natural beauty of a majestic waterfall or the exquisite lights of the Eiffel Tower, many describe a connection between beauty and the transcendent in religious terms—at times, even contradictingly so, our own theories of the world either undercutting or cutting off the very possibilities we want to espouse. For many of the minds I admire today, beauty is both a compelling part of their faith and compelling evidence for God’s existence. A blind and mechanistic universe cannot answer for the longings stirred by earthly beauty. Stated more personally, I could not account for the longings stirred by the beauty of a suffering God in person. Staring at Jesus in The Crucifixion, I could not explain the quality of beauty that seemed distinctive of his very soul—choosing even in pain and death to forgive tirelessly, though surrounded by people who do not. As a hen uses her wings to gather her chicks, there are indeed times I suspect the Spirit uses beauty to bring us quietly before the Son.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – The Way of Suffering

For Christians, this week is the holiest of all weeks. And yet, it is holy in a most ironic way. In this week, those who follow Jesus seek to remember and commemorate the final days and hours of Jesus’s life are commemorated. They are holy days as we struggle to understand the suffering and agony of Jesus. Beginning with Maundy Thursday and traversing through the horror of Good Friday and Holy Saturday, Christians attempt to comprehend and remember the passion of Jesus in his suffering prior to celebrating his resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday.

His final hours were spent in prayer. Yet the Gospel of Luke tells us that there was nothing unusual about him being in prayer: “And he came out and proceeded as was his custom to the Mount of Olives…and when he arrived at the place…he withdrew from them…and knelt down and began to pray” (Luke 22:39-41). As was his custom, he would go to pray. We do not often hear the content of these prayer times, but in this case, in these final hours, we see him gripped with passion. Luke tells us that he was in such agony that his sweat “became like drops of blood” (22:44). Modern medicine surmises that under extreme conditions of duress, capillaries in the head burst forth drops of blood literally pouring out of the skin like perspiration. Whatever the case, Jesus had never been in this much distress before—even in his wilderness testing—we have no other portrait of such extreme duress in prayer.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Pointing Fingers

For a world of finger-pointing, the day is ripe with opportunity. Today is “Spy Wednesday,” an old and uncommon name for the Wednesday of Holy Week, so-named because it marks the agreement of Judas to betray Jesus. As told by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Judas approaches the chief priests and asks what they would be willing to give him for turning Jesus over to them. They agree on a sum, and from then on Judas looks for opportunity to hand him over.(1)

Some commemorate the involvement of Judas in the story of Holy Week by collecting thirty pieces of silver, the exact amount Judas was given to betray Jesus, and later returns to the chief priests in regret. Typically, children gather the coins and present them as gifts to the church for the community. In a less congenial commemoration, tradition once involved children throwing an effigy of Judas from the church steeple, then dragging it around the town while pounding him with sticks. For whatever part of us that might want a person to blame for the events that led to the betrayal, death, and crucifixion of Jesus, Judas makes an easy target.

But nothing about Holy Week is easy, and the gospels leave us wondering if guilt might in fact hit closer to home. It is noted in Mark’s Gospel, in particular, that the moral failures of the week are not handed to any one person, but described in all of the actors equally: Yes, to Judas the betrayer. But also to weak disciples, sleeping and running and fumbling. To Peter, cowardly and denying. To scheming priests, indifferent soldiers, angry mobs, and the conceited Pilate. Mark brings us face to face with human indecency, such that it is not a stretch to imagine our own in the mix.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – A Day Without Hope

It was a day without hope, March 11, 2011. The 8.9-magnitude earthquake set off a devastating tsunami that washed away coastal cities in Northeastern Japan. Unfolding just 250 miles northeast of Tokyo was unspeakable devastation. Thousands of homes were destroyed. Roads were impassable, trains and buses, if not destroyed, were not running, and power remained down for weeks in the cold temperatures of early spring. Massive cargo ships and boats were swept on top of buildings as if they were miniature model toys and all around were scenes of desperation, as stranded survivors cried for help; buried alive under the rubble of what remained of their cities, communities and homes. Several districts were completely annihilated. Things couldn’t get any worse when the damage to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor was discovered as radioactive material leaked out into surrounding areas and waterways. The death toll from the tsunami and earthquake, the strongest ever recorded in Japan, was over 18,000 lives. Over 300,000 were left homeless. This was a day without hope.

March 11, 2011 was a day without hope for me, as well, for in my own way, I was among this community of mourners. On this very day, as I learned of the devastation in Japan, I attended a loved one’s funeral. And while I did not watch my life wash away in a tsunami, I did lose the life I had lived for almost twenty years on this very day. Like the people of Sendai, and Ishinomaki, this day for me was a day without hope.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Triumph and Defeat

In churches all over the world Sunday, children marched among the aisles with palm branches, a commemoration of the first jubilant Palm Sunday. The palm branch is a symbol of triumph, waved in ancient times to welcome and extol royalty or the victorious. Palms were used to cover the paths of those worthy of honor and distinction. All four of the gospel writers report that Jesus of Nazareth was given such a tribute. Jesus came into Jerusalem riding on a colt and he was greeted as king. The crowds laid branches and garments on the streets in front of him. An audience of applauders led him into the city and followed after him with chants of blessing and shouts of kingship:

Hosanna!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!

The King of Israel!

Hosanna in the highest!

The triumph of Palm Sunday is not lost on the young. Long before I could see its strange place in the passion narrative, I loved celebrating this story as a child. It was a day in church set apart from others. In a place where we were commonly asked to sit still and inconspicuous, on this day we suddenly had permission to cheer and march and draw attention.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Lament No More

A sales receipt long tucked between the pages of a book can tell a story of its own. I am known for using the receipt handed to me at checkout as a bookmark for the purchase I don’t wait long to read. Discovered years later, it often seems like a clue, giving away a snapshot of a former day and a former self—the date of the transaction, the location of the store, the other books I bought along with the one I chose to read first. Something more seems to be said about the book itself and the thoughts going through my head at the time—a memoir chosen on a road-trip far from home, a classic wandering story acquired during an uncertain time of transition in college. Moby Dick was purchased alongside Till We Have Faces, a novel I picked up simply because the title caught my attention and a book I would later describe as changing my life. It is a glimpse at myself often forgotten, a specific day in the past speaking to the present one: I was here. I was searching. And in hindsight, the present often seems to answer: And perhaps I was not alone.

A receipt fell out of a book I was rereading not too long ago. It was tucked in the pages of a small book depicting the fragmented thoughts of a grieving father. Written by a professor of philosophical theology, Lament for a Son relays the beating heart and exasperated soul of a man forced by a tragic accident to bury his son at the age of twenty-five. But the sales receipt that marked its pages furthered the illustration of grief therein: the book was purchased on the year anniversary of a lament that rattled me to my core.

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Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Consecrated Time

One author famously wrote: “The way to the future runs through the past.”(1) In our contemporary ears, this may not ring true. We seem to live with a suffocating sense of immediacy, where demands and events come at as fast and furious pace, and where the “past” for many of us means two days ago.

Within such a sense of time, the historical emphasis of the church may seem obsolete, irrational even. Growing up in Scotland in a home that was not focused on religious or spiritual things, I had little sense of time holding much weight beyond the moment or any sort of transcendent continuity. Time simply came and went. There were, of course, special times loosely connected to an earlier age, such as Christmas and Easter. But these came to primarily symbolize time off from school, special food, and presents. If they were tied to any bigger or wider story or meaning, my attitude was: Who cares?

After moving to Austria, I recall a very different scenario. I had by then become a Christian and we were living in a predominantly catholic country. What the church calls holy week was taken much more seriously there, and the sense of reverence, of something special, of consecrated time, all made an impact on me. Holy week was mentioned on the national news; preparations for the Easter service in the Stephansdom were highlighted. Something was in the air. This was also seen in people’s behavior. I was struck that events so long in the past, centered on the ancient Jesus of Nazareth and his death, were seen to have lasting and important impact on modern life in a modern nation.

Here in America, there is less of a national focus on holy week itself, which begins this Sunday. We, of course, know of holy week and many churches walk toward the vast and important events of Gethsemane, the upper room, and Golgotha. But outside the church, even inside some churches, it is simply one more thing in a list of occurrences. For some, holy week carries no more or even less weight than Valentine’s Day. For others, it may be simply a routine that has lost its import due to a trite familiarity. So what do you think of when you think of holy week?

The gospel is unflinching in its declaration that the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, that God was on a mission and it culminated in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus came to accomplish the Father’s work of restoration and his face was set like a flint to see that work all accomplished. In each of the gospel narratives, the passion of Christ, his wrestling in Gethsemane, his trial and torture, are a major portion of the narratives themselves. The gospel is simply not the gospel without this focused portion of history—the death of Christ and all that surrounded it. It was a significant death, a voluntary death, a purpose-filled death. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. If this is true, if this really happened, if indeed normal time was interrupted by an invasion of the healing, forgiving, loving, and self-giving God, then time itself was altered, history changed, life redirected.

Surely, surely, if such is the case, then some serious and dedicated time and space should indeed be given to it all. This is, I think, the meaning of holy week. It is inherently holy, because it centers us on the actions of God for us. In a fast-paced, moment-central world, this is the countercultural message of the church for the world. Holy week reminds us that the crucifixion of Jesus took place in real space and time, and therefore all of time—past, present, and future—is both important and impacted. And thus, our acts of remembrance, worship, penitence, and hope are also holy moments, moments which invite an eternal God to overshadow the immediacy of life and other lesser stories of time. Great things are indeed available: the love of God, the sacrificial death of Christ for the world, the forgiveness of sins, and the offer of new life.

The events the church remembers next week actually happened. They took place in a real city, in real time, with real people, and mercifully, real results. The crucifixion is not a story designed to make us feel good or guilty and guide the morals of culture and society. It was God’s redemptive initiative to heal the broken heart, strike the heart of evil, conquer death and sorrow, and open a way to a new kind of life and the restoration of all things. Holy week invites us to respond to who God is and what God has done, to celebrate the mercy, grace, and love of Christ in the gift of so great a salvation, to discover life in the cross for the glory of God.

It could be just another week for us, governed by speed, demand, shopping, news, politics, and entertainment. Or paying attention and setting our faces like flint toward the cross, it could be time touched and fulfilled by the Holy One in our very midst.

Stuart McAllister is global support specialist at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 20.

 

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