God likes colour.
God likes details.
God likes surprises.
God likes creativity and imaginative design.
God likes grand statements, and intricate whispers.
God likes to reveal himself, and to work invisibly.
We know these things because God reveals himself in Creation. Through nature God shares the things he likes with the people he loves.
This past Sunday our church held our annual Worship in the Park. Each year we enjoy lots of good food and games for all ages. We also worship in the open air surrounded by a wall of trees… and harassed by numerous insects.
My text this year was Isaiah 66:1-2. In preparation for this special service I started reading a new book by Hicks, Valentine & Wilson titled Embracing Creation. I’ve really enjoyed it so far as the authors draw attention to God’s love not only for humanity, but creation as a whole.
“Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
Could you build me a temple as good as that?
Could you build me such a resting place?
My hands have made both heaven and earth;
they and everything in them are mine.
I, the Lord, have spoken! Isaiah 66:1-2a (NLT)
The opening lines of this text describe heaven and earth (Creation) as God’s self-built temple or dwelling place. He then contrasts this with any temple or dwelling humans could construct for him.
When we think of Creation as God’s temple, the next logical step is to recognise Eden as his Holy of Holies. Eden provided the focal point for God’s presence and there he communed with humanity.
If God created the universe as his temple, it gives meaning to psalms such as Psalm 148 that call upon all nature to praise God. The temple is a place of praise and honor.
Science does a wonderful job of telling us how bird songs reflect mating calls, or statements regarding territory, or warnings of danger. But Christians also view the world through a more poetic eye. We recognise that birds sing not for our enjoyment, but to praise their Maker.
As the temple of God, Creation’s well-being correlates with humanity’s relationship with God. In Genesis 3 Creation bears the curse resulting from Adam & Eve’s sin.
Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field. Genesis 3:17b-18
In Isaiah 55 God invites his people to renew their covenant with him. If they will return to him he describes the consequences. Notice how God’s Temple, Creation, rejoices as joy and peace once more characterise the relationship.
You will live in joy and peace.
The mountains and hills will burst into song,
and the trees of the field will clap their hands!
Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow.
Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up.
These events will bring great honor to the Lord’s name;
they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.
It is then unsurprising that Revelation describes nature responding in torment to the affliction of God’s people. As those worshiping in God’s temple are persecuted…
I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Revelation 6:12-14
I’m not suggesting that every natural tragedy can be paired with a sin. Rather, highlighting how God views the created world. I believe that if we walk through life and walk through nature regarding it as God’s temple, we’ll find ourselves seeing God around us. I believe we’ll interact differently with nature when we have the attitude that we’re engaging the temple of God. How we regard nature influences how we worship God.
Thus in the closing scene of Scripture we again find God coming to dwell upon the redeemed new heaven and new earth. The temple has been purified and humanity is once more invited into the Holy of Holies as God shares what he likes with the people he loves.
And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” Revelation 21:2-3
In the 1970’s Tony Campolo delivered what has become his signature sermon, “It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Coming“. The sentiment of that sermon is the basis for this article.
I understand why many churches hold special services on Good Friday. There is something particularly meaningful about meeting here today knowing that on this Sunday of Passover weekend a couple of thousand years ago, by 11:30 in the morning the disciples were in shock as the processed the news that God had raised Jesus from the dead. We can imagine what we would feel like if we’d gone at sunrise to a grave and met and angel, or if we’d met Jesus himself – alive. There’s something special about that happening today.
So while my church only has a Sunday service, I ‘get’ the value of a Friday service. It’s an opportunity to walk through the events of the day with Jesus. I know he was crucified in another time zone and climate, but because it’s the exact day (in relation to Passover) I can project my weather, my sunrise, my daily schedule onto his experience. It places me more in the Bible story of the crucifixion in a way that other Fridays don’t.
In my mind, Friday and Sunday often find themselves in competition with each other. They’re different. They prompt different emotional responses. The message they each proclaim differs from the other. Sometimes I find myself trying to decide which is the most important or valuable. All the while I know the truth that Sunday and Friday need each other to have any meaning.
Obviously resurrection never occurs without Jesus first dying. On the other hand what would be the point of Jesus dying for our sins if there was no resurrection. Although it may not be obvious, Friday finds meaning in Sunday just as Sunday has no significance without Friday.
In my experience, for most of the year churches generally emphasise Friday over Sunday. Here are some characteristics I associate with Friday:
- A legal transaction;
- Propitiation (whatever that means, it’s a Friday word);
- Grace; and
In Churches of Christ each Sunday we participate in the Lord’s Supper. We do this to remember Jesus. Specifically, we sip some grape juice and nibble a cracker because Jesus told us, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Lk 22:19) In Paul’s account of the Last Supper in 1 Cor. 11, the NIV & KJV read “this is my body broken for you.” So the emphasis of the Last/Lord’s Supper is Friday, where Jesus gave his broken body for our benefit.
I also think that for many of us Isaiah 53 has become the dominant lens through which we think about Jesus death. It’s a wonderful passage as it describes Jesus’ death and the benefits we receive from him. Psalm 22 provides a similar description of Jesus’ suffering and is even quoted by him from the cross. While we focus upon the elements of these passages that clearly connect with the cross, both Isaiah and Psalm 22 continue past the suffering to describe scenes of God’s reign and glory. Although they never directly describe resurrection, the cross is not the end of the story.
Around Easter I often hear Church of Christ members make statements like, “the world takes some time to think about Jesus death and resurrection at over Easter, but we do this every Sunday at the Lord’s Table.” Comments like that stir up a lot of emotions within me. I’m thankful for Easter. I’m thankful for Sunday. I personally spend too many Sundays thinking about Friday. It is rare for the thoughts presented with the Lord’s Supper to remind me of the resurrection. They usually bring an Isaiah 53 perspective.
We often overlook in both the Gospel accounts and Paul’s summary that at the Last Supper Jesus assumed the resurrection as he cast his vision beyond the cross to the coming Kingdom of God.
“… you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (I Cor. 11:26)
“I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” (Luke 22:18)
Using the Lord’s Supper to remember Sunday’s resurrection brings a different set of words to mind. These words are optimistic and forward looking. But because of their relationship with Friday they don’t ignore or gloss over those realities of the crucifixion. I’m thinking of words like:
- New creation;
- Jesus interceding for us;
- Purpose; and
Friday needs Sunday just as Sunday doesn’t exist with Friday.
Friday is “Good”.
So is Sunday.
While both days are inextricably connected, I choose to live on Sunday looking back with gratitude and awe to Friday. Too many people, Christians and not, get stuck in the guilt and suffering of Friday so that they never truly experience the freedom of Sunday.
Let’s make sure we’re Sunday Christians!!!
…as well as Friday.