Chinese New Year (CNY) is less than two weeks away. Families are preparing for the celebration. Some families have already book their reunion dinner slot at restaurant. Others have begun to stock up their freezer with fresh ingredients to prepare for the dinner. Still others ordered reunion buffet dinner for their families. There are some who have already book for a holiday during this season.
All these preparations were made long before the holiday season arrived. Every year families go through the same preparation process even though each year they may celebrate CNY differently. As Chinese, we are willing to go through this repeated process because we consider CNY as an important aspect of our identity. Similarly, other racial groups also repeatedly prepare themselves to celebrate their special holidays such as Deepavali, Hari Raya Puasa or Thanksgivings that they consider as an important aspect of their identities.
Four Plus One Facts
What are some important aspects of our identity as Christians? Through the centuries, the Christian community has developed a Christian Calendar that revolves around the life of Christ. There are at least four facts of Christ’s life that the Christian Calendar seeks to remind us. They are Incarnation (Christmas), Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension. There is a fifth fact, which is the Second Advent of Christ. These five facts sum up the life of Christ.
By celebrating these five facts of the Gospel, we are reminding ourselves who we are. We are God’s people, who are redeemed through Christ’s Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection from all lawlessness, and are waiting for the Ascended Christ to return for us (cf. Tit 2:11-14). Thus, the yearly celebration of the first four facts of Christ’s life is to remind us of our identity.
We are all familiar with the Incarnation (Christmas). We prepare ourselves for the celebration by giving gifts to one another. What is the purpose of giving gifts? It is not the content of our gifts that matter. If the focus on our giving, we will miss the point of Christmas.
The focus of giving gift is to remind ourselves and others that God has given us his indescribable gift (cf. 2Co 9:15). If we want to have meaningful Christmas each year, we should consider rereading the prophesy of Isaiah regarding Christ’s birth, the birth narrative of Matthew and Luke, the prologue of John, the humility of Christ (Phil 2:5-11) and other passage regard his birth. We could set aside the first twenty-four days of December to reread these passages to refocus on God’s indescribable gift.
Crucifixion and Resurrection
In the same way, we should reread the last few weeks of Jesus’s life before Good Friday and Easter. The Christian Calendar sets aside forty days, not including Sundays, to prepare for Good Friday. The first day of this forty days is known as the Ash Wednesday. This year it is on Wed 14th February 2018. This season from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday is known as Lent.
During Lent, the focus is on the suffering of Christ. When we think of the cross, we must not think that the empty cross is a sign of victory or resurrection. The cross is a sign of suffering and death. The empty cross should remind us that he was mocked, insulted, beaten, tortured, forsaken by God and friends, and killed. Jesus came down from the cross, not as the resurrected Christ, but as a lifeless corpse. He did not climb down from cross but was carried down as a cadaver. He was buried.
Between Good Friday and Easter, there is Holy Saturday. We normally skip this day and jump from Good Friday to Easter. We missed the opportunity to reflect on the significance of Jesus’s death because on Holy Saturday, Jesus’s cadaver was in the tomb. To Jesus’s mother, Mary, and his disciples, they woke up with emptiness in their heart on Saturday morning after the hasty funeral on Good Friday. They were hit with the realization that Jesus was dead. All their aspirations and dreams died with Jesus. They were disillusioned men and women because Jesus’s corpse remained dead on Holy Saturday. They were not thinking of the resurrection on Easter because they did not believe that he would be resurrected. They were hopeless.
On Easter, the mood of the disciples changed from despair to disbelieve, to delight. Jesus has resurrected and appeared to them. He did not remain dead but has returned to life. He is who he says he is. He sent them out with a mission after he breathed into his early disciples the Holy Spirit (cf. John 20:19-23).
The focus of Lent season then is to experience the pain of Christ’s suffering, the despair of the disciples in seeing Jesus died and then the unspeakable joy of seeing Christ alive again. There are many resources online where you can reread the events surrounding the last weeks of Christ’s life on earth. It will be great that you can start reflecting on Christ’s life starting on Ash Wednesday.
One way to identify with Christ’s suffering is to fast. It could be one meal a day or it could be to stop drinking coffee or to stop doing something you like from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday. The money saved from this exercise could be donated to your favorite charity or mission work. The key is not to hurt your body but to make it feel uncomfortable so that it may help you imagine how much Christ suffered physically for you and me.
Ascension and Pentecost
After the resurrection, Jesus remained on earth for another forty days. We are given sketchy information about what Jesus did. We know that Jesus appeared to his disciples on the first day. He commissioned them. He restored Peter (John 20-21). He traveled with two of disciples on Emmaus Road (Luke 24). He taught his disciples about the kingdom of God (Acts 1). He commissioned them to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28, Mark 16).
The Ascension is not a standalone. It relates to the Pentecost, which is 50 days after Easter and 10 days after Ascension. Jesus said the Holy Spirit would not come until he returns to the Father (cf. Joh 16:7-11). The Holy Spirit would live permanently on all believers from the day of Pentecost onward (Acts 1-2).
The focus of Ascension and Pentecost is the mission of the Christ, which did not end at the Ascension. Christ is now continuing his mission through his disciples whom the Spirit of Christ lives (cf. Joh 14:15-20). Just as the Father send Jesus into the world, Jesus now sends his disciples including us who would believe in the testimony of the disciples into the world (cf. Joh 20:19-23; Act 1:8). The mission is carried out by the Spirit of Christ living in the disciples and releasing his power through the disciples (Mar 16:20).
One way to focus on Ascension and Pentecost is to pray for the power of the Holy Spirit. From Easter to the Pentecost, we should spend time asking God to release his power through our bodies to touch the lives of people around. We should cooperate with the Spirit by confessing and repenting from our sins, worshipping and making melody to the Lord, learning to encourage one another and submitting to one another (cf. Eph 5:18-21).
One More to Come
When we remind ourselves of Christ’s life through Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension, we are demonstrating that we believe the fifth fact will also be fulfilled. Just as Christ has already come, he will certainly come again. The four facts of the Christ’s life assured us that the fifth fact will come to pass.
The days between Pentecost and the first day of December is known as ordinary days. The focus is on waiting for the return of Christ. During the ordinary days, we seek to be faithful and be alert in living our daily Christians life (cf. 1Th 5:8-11).
Preparing for Good Friday and Easter
Since we are entering the season of lent, it is appropriate to prepare ourselves for Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter. The following are some suggestions for your consideration. Do what is helpful for your relationship with Jesus and skip what is not helpful to you.
1) Use the stations of the cross to help you trace the footsteps of Jesus from Pilate to the Tomb. See the appendix 1 for the list of events.
2) Meditate on the Seven Last Words of Christ. Each day meditate on one word. Repeat the exercise. See the appendix 2 for the list.
3) Make your fast as a prayer-in-action. Choose to give up something during this season that you like to do. It could be a hobby or your favorite food. Whenever you remember that you are abstaining from these things, you take a moment to thank God for his love for you.
4) Read and reread John 12-21 during this season. One chapter per day.
Appendix 1: Station of the Cross
|1. Jesus on the Mount of Olives (Luke 22:39-46)|
|2. Jesus, betrayed by Judas, is arrested (Luke 22:47-48)|
|3. Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin (Luke 22:66-71)|
|4. Peter denies Jesus (Luke 22:54-62)|
|1. Jesus is condemned to death||5. Jesus is judged by Pilate (Luke 23:13-25)|
|6. Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns (Luke 22:63-65; John 19:2-3)|
|2. Jesus takes up his cross||7. Jesus takes up the cross (Mark 15:20)|
|3. Jesus falls for the first time|
|4. Jesus meets his mother|
|5. Jesus is helped by Simon the Cyrene to carry his cross||8. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry his cross (Luke 23:26)|
|6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus|
|7. Jesus falls for the second time|
|8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem||9. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem (Luke 23:27-31)|
|9. Jesus falls for the third time|
|10. Jesus is stripped of his garments|
|11. Jesus is nailed to the cross||10. Jesus is crucified (Luke 23:33, 47)|
|11. Jesus promises his Kingdom to the good thief (Luke 23:33-34, 39-43)|
|12. Jesus on the cross, his mother and his disciple (John 19:25-27)|
|12. Jesus dies on the cross||13. Jesus dies on the cross (Luke 23:44-46)|
|13. Jesus is taken down from the cross and given to his mother|
|14. Jesus is laid in the tomb||14. Jesus is placed in the tomb (Luke 23:50-54)|
See link for alternate versions
Appendix 2: Seven Last Words of Jesus
|Nos||Day||Seven Last Words|
|1||Wed||And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Lk. 23:34 ESV)|
|2||Thu||And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Lk. 23:43 ESV)|
|3||Fri||Jesus said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” (Jn. 19:26 ESV)
Jesus said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” (Jn. 19:27 ESV)
|4||Sat||Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46 ESV; cf. Mark 15:34)|
|5||Sun||Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” (Jn. 19:28 ESV)|
|6||Mon||Jesus said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (Jn. 19:30 ESV)|
|7||Tue||Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Lk. 23:46 ESV)|
Start the reflection on Ash Wednesday (14th Feburary 2018)
If you need a guide, you can use the links below: