Easter letter, 2019

To the members and adherents of our church:

Greetings.

I hope that in the coming week you are able to reflect on the powerful and true story of Easter: that our Lord entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, taught four days in the Temple, was arrested on Thursday, was tortured and killed on Friday, and that he rose from the grave on Sunday morning. Those facts change everything.

I want to encourage you today to reflect on another, less famous part of the story: Saturday. What happened on Saturday? Nothing. That’s what is so shocking about it. The story is action-packed every other day of that week, but not Saturday. Why? Its stillness calls to us.

All day Saturday, Christ’s body lay in the dark tomb. The tomb was carved out of rock, and the body was as cold and as motionless as that rock.

All day Saturday, Christ’s followers rested, observing the Jewish Sabbath. They held themselves back from going to the grave to finish their burial customs. Their hearts were spinning with discouragement, confusion, guilt, etc. But they obeyed the Bible: they remained still. It was a day of obedience, and of patience.

All day Saturday, Christ’s enemies must have boasted to themselves that they had won. We ask, where was God? Why would he allow such evil people to feel so proud of themselves? But even the “Judge of the whole earth” rested from his judgments and his vengeance on that day. Even for God, it was a day of patience.

 

This past year, God has been challenging me with the theme of “patience.” I don’t mean being patient with annoying things or people. That’s different. I mean the patience of the Saturday before Easter. I mean trying to enter into what God is doing when he seems to be doing nothing. I mean trusting his heart and his plan.

God’s patience moves us to change. God commands us to love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. When we fail to do that, it is sin. It’s like a lady who told me this year that she surprised herself when she realized that it is sin not to try to be in church Sunday mornings (she is right). But reflecting on your guilt will only take you so far: it might make you want to change, but it won’t help you actually make the kinds of changes that matter. Instead, the Bible says that it is God’s patience and kindness that lead us toward repentance (Romans 2:4). (She knows this too.)

I spoke with another lady, who started coming to church every week after years of not. I asked what she had learned about God. She said she finds he is incredibly patient, waiting for us to come to him, not wanting to hold our sins against us. That is the patience that God displayed on the Saturday before Easter: he had placed our sins on his Son the day before, and he waited with us for the big change that would happen the next day.

God’s patience teaches us how to help each other., People are going through times of deep troubles, both in our church and in our broader community. Many people are dealing with mental illness in themselves or loved ones. Others are going through heartbreaks and family troubles of various kinds. And so many people are incredibly lonely, which makes everything else worse.

How can we help and serve each other in a time like this? God may lead us to do a variety of things, but they will all take patience. People are very slow to open up with each other about their problems. Why? Perhaps because they fear others won’t be patient with them. If we really commit ourselves to being with each other for the long haul, then we are more likely to get some insight into how to help, and, ironically, improvements are likely to come a little bit more quickly.

God’s patience calls us to withdraw. Everything was so still on that Saturday. Even in their confusion, the disciples must have remembered how often Jesus took them away to solitary places: to be still, to pray, and to learn about God together.

God has been challenging me: I get too caught up in news and entertainment, in busyness, and in idle talk. If I want to accomplish more for God, then I need to withdraw more and, sometimes, do less. I sense that many people in our congregations need to learn the same. We need to recommit ourselves to prayer, to learning our Bibles, and to being quiet in our hearts. All of that requires big chunks of stillness.

God was preparing his disciples to change the world forever. That’s why he gave them that Saturday of stillness: for them to work through some of their confusion and fears, and for them to prepare their hearts to embrace his surprise on Easter morning. May God work mightily through us as we enter into patient stillness with him.

 

Some announcements:

  • We would be blessed for you to join us Easter morning at our weekly time of worship, 9:30 AM.
  • We are pleased as a church to continue to impact the world. We continue to be able to give over 12% of our revenue to ministries outside our church: it goes to various causes that are local, regional, and global. In addition to that, our benevolent fund provides care and relief to local people in times of crisis.
  • A number of Mexican migrant workers continue to be touched and blessed by our churches here each year (and us by them). Please pray for God’s hand of leading and strength for us to serve them well as they arrive back here at the end of this month.
  • Our Baptist denomination has been working hard at its goal to plant 60 new churches in Atlantic Canada by 2025. Last I heard, there have been about 40 new church plants or re-plants. Not all of these efforts take root, some of them flop. But that is how it was when old churches like ours were first planted. Please pray for the folks involved in these efforts to experience the renewal of Easter morning, and also the patience of Saturday.
  • Do you find yourself doubting the truth of the Bible or of the Christian faith? I read a very good book called The Reason for God by Timothy Keller. He is very thoughtful and patient in how he engages many of the big objections people make to the gospel. If you would like me to get you a copy, I would be very pleased for you to read it, and even more pleased to discuss it with you.
  • Please find attached a poem by Edward Shillito, called “Jesus of the Scars.” It is a good reflection on the uniqueness of Christ, and our need of him.
  • Please also find a response card attached. It is to help you communicate with me as your pastor and with us as your church. Please use it if it is helpful. But please also do not hesitate to get in touch with me throughout the year.

May God richly bless you this Easter,

 

Yours in Christ,

 

 

Pastor Sam Jess

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