Happy Ascension Day

Today is Ascension Day, the 40th day after Easter, commemorating the day on which our Risen Lord ascended into Heaven and sits on the right hand of the Father Almighty.

It’s odd that the significance of Christ’s ascension is taken in two opposite ways: The Reformed say that it means Christ is ABSENT, no longer on earth, so that His real presence in the sacrament is impossible. Lutherans say that it means Christ, at the right hand of Power, His human nature assumed into the Holy Trinity, can now be omnipresent, so that He CAN be on every altar.

Ascension Day used to be a hugely important day in the church year. How can we bring it back?

Why Islam denies Christ’s crucifixion

Appended to that Jonah article we blogged about yesterday was another tidbit from Ronald F. Marshall explaining why Islam denies that Jesus was crucified:

According to the Koran, Jesus was not crucified on the cross. Some have it that he never was nailed to the cross but a look-alike was nailed there in his place, perhaps Thomas or Judas; others that he was nailed to the cross but was taken down and later resuscitated in the tomb.

On this view, the sign of Jonah (Matt. 12:39; Luke 11:29) says that Jesus will not die because Jonah did not die in the belly of the whale, and that alone is the true but forgotten point of comparison between Jesus and Jonah. This argument is made by Ahmed Deedat in Was Jesus Crucified?, published by the Library of Islam.

Islam denies the Atonement for two reasons. First, “the Christian concept of salvation presupposes the existence of an a-priori state of sinfulness, which is justified in Christianity by the doctrine of ‘original sin,’ but is not justified in Islam, which does not subscribe to this doctrine,” as one highly esteemed Koranic scholar, Muhammad Asad, put it.
Second, Islam denies vicarious suffering. The Koran teaches that we have to bear the burden for our sins all by ourselves. So the teaching that Jesus bore our sins in his body on the cross (1 Peter 2:24) is a corruption of the original revelation, the original coming in the Koran, where we are told that God gave to Jesus the way of good works. By following them we have peace with God.

The Koran describes salvation as repenting of sin and obeying God just as Jonah did. Jesus’ life reinforces this way. This is all that is left for Jesus to do if original sin and vicarious suffering are denied, as they are in Islam (and much of liberal Christianity). The sign of Jonah is the way of good works.

Sounds like the beliefs of some people who think they are Christians! No wonder so many of them think Islam and Christianity are basically the same. Rather than OPPOSITES.

John Updike on the Resurrection

In case you missed it, Tickletext, in his comment on Grunewald’s Easter painting, posted this poem by John Updike, who is one of our most distinguished and critically acclaimed contemporary authors and a Christian (brought up Lutheran, now an Episcopalian), and yet hardly any Christians read him because his novels have so much sex in them! But treasure this:

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

John Updike, “Seven Stanzas at Easter”

Happy Annunciation–and Anti-Abortion–Day

Today is nine months before Christmas, making it the festival of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, the time to commemorate the conception of God in the flesh. We have the perfect way to bring back this holy day into our culture: Make it a time in the church to mark and protest and fight the evil of abortion!

The life of Jesus began with His conception. We proclaim Christ as not just the Baby in the Manger but the Embryo in His mother’s womb. For Christians, the Annunciation proves that human life begins with conception. Read this post from Scott Stiegemeyer and celebrate this anti-abortion day.

UPDATE: I should have said YESTERDAY, March 25, was Annunciation Day. I hope you had a happy one.

IN MY OWN DEFENSE: I thought TODAY was March 25.

Anne Rice on Jesus, Faith, & Vocation

Anne Rice, who became famous for writing highly literate vampire novels, gives more details about her conversion to Christianity in a forum on the Washington Post online: On Faith: Guest Voices: My Trust in My Lord. Sample:

Look: I believe in Him. It’s that simple and that complex. I believe in Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the God Man who came to earth, born as a tiny baby and then lived over thirty years in our midst. I believe in what we celebrate this week: the scandal of the cross and the miracle of the Resurrection. My belief is total. And I know that I cannot convince anyone of it by reason, anymore than an atheist can convince me, by reason, that there is no God.

A long life of historical study and biblical research led me to my belief, and when faith returned to me, the return was total. It transformed my existence completely; it changed the direction of the journey I was traveling through the world. Within a few years of my return to Christ, I dedicated my work to Him, vowing to write for Him and Him alone. My study of Scripture deepened; my study of New Testament scholarship became a daily commitment. My prayers and my meditation were centered on Christ.

And my writing for Him became a vocation that eclipsed my profession as a writer that had existed before.

Why did faith come back to me? I don’t claim to know the answer. But what I want to talk about right now is trust. Faith for me was intimately involved with love for God and trust in Him, and that trust in Him was as transformative as the love. . . .

Before my consecration to Christ, I became familiar with a whole range of arguments against the Savior to whom I committed my life. In the end I didn’t find the skeptics particularly convincing, while at the same time the power of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John swept me off my feet. And above all, when I began to talk to Jesus Christ again it was with trust.

On the afternoon in 1998 when faith returned, I experienced a sense of the limitless power and majesty of God that left me convinced that He knew all the answers to the theological and sociological questions that had tormented me for years. I saw, in one enduring moment, that the God who could make the Double Helix and the snow flake, the God who could make the Black holes in space, and the lilies of the field, could do absolutely anything and must know everything — even why good people suffer, why genocide and war plague our planet, and why Christians have lost, in America and in other lands, so much credibility as people who know how to love. I felt a trust in this all-knowing God; I felt a sudden release of all my doubts. Indeed, my questions became petty in the face of the greatness I beheld. I felt a deep and irreversible assurance that God knew and understood every single moment of every life that had ever been lived, or would be lived on Earth. I saw the universe as an immense and intricate tapestry, and I perceived that the Maker of the tapestry saw interwoven in that tapestry all our experiences in a way that we could not hope, on this Earth, to understand.

This was not a joyful moment for me. It wasn’t an easy moment. It was an admission that I loved and believed in God, and that my old atheism was a façade. I knew it was going to be difficult to return to the Maker, to give over my life to Him, and become a member of a huge quarreling religion that had broken into many denominations and factions and cults worldwide. But I knew that the Lord was going to help me with this return to Him. I trusted that He would help me. And that trust is what under girds my faith to this day.

He saved others; He cannot save Himself

Grunewald's Crucifixion

Grunewald’s “Crucifixion”

(Note how the same artist of this utterly dead Jesus renders Him at Easter, below. You may want to save that view, as well as the other posts on the Resurrection, for Easter day.)