Being “Jubilee” in Easter

The season of Easter begins at sunset on the eve of Easter and ends on Pentecost. The 50 days of Easter are born out of thousands of years of Hebrew religious imagery, metaphor, and numeric symbolism.

For the Ancient Jews, these days represented the 49 days from Passover to Shavuot; Hellenistic Jews gave this day the name Pentecost (“50th day”). Shavuot/Pentecost commemorates the TORAH (Law) given by YAHWEH through Moses to the Hebrew people on Mount Sinai. Every year on the holiday of Pentecost, Jews renew their acceptance of TORAH as God’s special gift of life to them.

After those earliest Christians split from Synagogue Judaism, they adopted The Great Fifty Days as the time Jesus appeared to his followers and encouraged them to continue the work of forgiving, healing, feeding, and caring for those who were least, last and lost. Much later, the church adopted Pentecost as the time the Holy Spirit came and empowered the disciples to keep Jesus’ cause to build the kingdom of God.

“Fifty” also has a special significance in Jewish history according to TORAH (Leviticus 25: 8–12)… The Year of Jubilee came every 49 years – on the 50th year. When the trumpet sounded on the 50th year, liberty would be proclaimed throughout the land and then all of the property that had been taken by others for unpaid debts would have to be returned to the original tribes. On that year the land would be holy to God and the nation Israel and everyone could “eat the produce of the field.” What a celebration that must have been! Everyone that had been indebted was then released from that debt and able to start over again by having their land returned to them.

The writer of Matthew includes another metaphor for Jubilee – the forgiveness found in God’s Kingdom. From within Jesus, himself, and through his mission we experience the Jubilee of God. We are released from debtor’s prison of sinfulness and our fortunes are restored and we can start again. As the anticipation of God’s Kingdom became more broadly understood, there were some who believed that God might be working up to a Jubilee of Jubilees ushered in by God’s Messiah. If the ancient Hebrew Jubilee was to be celebrated after 7 x 7 (49 years); the Jubilee of Jubilees would go further, coming after 70 x 7 (490 years). Seventy times seven. Does that sound familiar?

“Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’” (Matthew 18:21-23)

Peter’s eyes must have gotten very, very big, because, this isn’t just any random number. It’s a number associated with the end of exile, the number of God’s apocalyptic intervention to bring his Kingdom to earth. It’s the number of the Jubilee of Jubilees! And, since the core of Jesus’ ministry was “forgiveness,” he invites Peter and you and I to become the Jubilee as well.

If forgiveness is what defines you – then, you are the Jubilee. That’s what I think Jesus is saying to Peter when Peter asks about the limits of forgiveness. Jesus is inviting Peter, and all of us, to forgive as we have been forgiven. To become people of mercy and grace…

To proclaim, in our own lives, the year of the Lord’s favor so that we might become the Jubilee.

Blessings to all as we practice forgiveness and reconciliation celebrating the Great Fifty Days of Easter.

Faithfully, Barry

-The Rev. Barry Foster is pastor of Unity Moravian Church in Lewisville, North Carolina. This article was first published in the May 2017 church newsletter. 

Before the Lord Rises, We Clean the Graves

For many, Easter is primarily about giant bunnies and sugary Peeps. But Easter, for Moravian Christians, is much more. Beginning Ash Wednesday and running through Holy Week (with services nearly every night), Great Sabbath and into Easter morning (early!), we focus on the suffering, sacrifice, and, ultimately, joy of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. On Easter, many Moravians gather in God’s Acre (the church cemetery) to proclaim their faith in the resurrected Lord and celebrate newness of life as the sun rises. The Easter Sunrise Service gives us a chance to joyously proclaim our Christian faith, beginning with the opening words of the Easter Morning liturgy: “The Lord is risen!” We answer together: “The Lord is risen indeed!”

But we are a practical people too. At Unity Moravian Church here in Lewisville, NC, we don’t have a very large graveyard (like Salem) in which to observe our Easter service. But we take time each year to lovingly prepare the graves for our own Easter service, much in the same way the women visited the tomb that first Easter morning (see photos below). Yes, God’s Acre is a place to mourn and remember those who have died, but it is also a place where we rejoice because we know that even though our loved ones are no longer here on earth with us, they are now living with Jesus. God’s Acre is a place of peace, hope, and faith.

The links below provide some perspective on Moravian Easter, particularly as it’s celebrated in Winston-Salem, NC. Enjoy and remember, the Lord is Risen! That’s who we worship . . . a risen Christ.

We hope you join us at 11:00am Easter Sunday at Unity Moravian Church for a moving service which concludes on the graveyard, but we do also participate in a community sunrise service at 7:00am at Lewisville Square. All are welcome!

Finding That Easter Perspective

As we ponder the Easter season and the heart of our faith in Jesus, as the Risen Christ of God… how does the concept of resurrection impact your life? Is it real for you, or just a story told by a small group of ancient Jewish people over 2000 years ago?

We are continually challenged with the task of believing in truth or in fiction. None of us want to be duped by fake news stories we thought to be true or were told were true. So, we throw up a defense by saying that “you can’t believe everything you read, or hear.” Has our culture successfully molded us into cynics who are more and more willing to accept that things in life have no truth to them? If so, where do we place the art of storytelling to help us discover hidden truths, elusive truths, or God’s truths? Is storytelling just another way of saying something that isn’t true in order to find the truth? Admittedly, it can get a little complicated.

We humans have the mental and intuitive ability to discern what is factually true with regard to science and empirical truths of human and animal natures – at least the ones which can be repeated over and over, and witnessed by the masses. Throughout history, strong and healthy cultures and societies are built with common belief systems and strong disciplined adherence to the communal laws and institutions.

But what happens when trust in these become eroded? When does the truth matter? Does it matter in every aspect of life, say, in business, politics, religion, science, journalism, and entertainment? In the wake of the Madoff and other Ponzi schemes, Lance Armstrong, the Wall Street mortgage collapse, and the Edward Snowden intelligence scandal, perhaps some would say the truth only matters if you get caught.

In the case of religion – especially Christianity, we admit that the things we believe in are based in faith – not fact. We cannot prove or disprove “resurrection” – the very center of our faith.

What we do, then, is to listen to the stories from those earliest believers and try to hear from their words and experiences how believing in Christ’s resurrection reshaped their own view of God and of themselves. The truth they were living under about the Messiah was one truth, until they experienced Jesus. When he was crucified, that truth was also put to death. Then, the “unexplainable” experience of his resurrection allowed them to take a second look at Jesus and his hope for God’s kingdom to become real.

For those earliest followers of Jesus, after this experience, they realized that their error was a matter of believing and telling the wrong story…or, at least believing and telling the right story in the wrong way. But now, after encountering a risen Christ, and with the right story in their head and hearts, a new possibility started to emerge before them.

Would they dare suppose Jesus’ execution was not the clear disproof of his Messiahship, but that the cross actually validated his passion and his willingness to be martyred for God’s cause?

Suppose the cross was not one more example of the triumph of the Empire over God’s people but was actually God’s means of rising above evil once and for all?

Suppose this was, after all, how sins were to be forgiven and how this kingdom of love and inclusion of the “least in the world” was to come?

How often do we try to squeeze what we are told happened on Easter morning into our understanding of the world and how things work in the world?

And, then, after we have experienced what we might consider the worst thing that could happen to us or to our world, only to step back and see it from a new and different perspective – let’s say from an “Easter Perspective” – it’s the other way around.

Our new understandings of the world begin to fit into the reality of a resurrection world where we come to know a love that is more powerful than death, a love that conquers all, even the evil power of lies and injustice.

This, I believe, is the truth about resurrection. It’s Jesus’ way – the way of love – even love for the enemy. In John’s Gospel, Jesus says that when we follow his way – love’s way – we will come to know the truth, and the truth will set us free.

May this be a most meaningful Easter for us all!

Faithfully yours,
Barry

-The Rev. Barry Foster is pastor of Unity Moravian Church in Lewisville, North Carolina.
This article was first published in the April 2017 church newsletter.