Tag Archives: Easter

Easter Sunday Service Is Now Available

The Easter Sunday service for April 4, 2021 is now available here. You can also view a list of past Sunday services here.

We welcome visitors joining us and ask that you go here to let us know you were here today. There is also an option to sign up for our weekly newsletter at that link so that you can keep up with the activities of our church.

Visitors are also invited to join the online prayer meeting at 11:00 am after the Sunday service. A servanthood meeting for church members will follow the prayer meeting.

To balance the spiritual needs of church-goers with the physical health risks from gatherings and COVID-19, Riverside Baptist Church is offering online Sunday services. Rev. Mumejian shares the word of God and a bulletin guides you through the service. Through these online resources, you can continue to connect with God and the Riverside community.

Down To The Cross

Friends, this week we have a meeting to attend. It’s not a business meeting, so no business casual attire, and no business class seats (or pews), with a window view from which we can look down upon the world, and our fellow humanity. We are traveling by foot, down an unpaved road, on a crowded street. It is a meeting with Jesus down at the foot of the cross. But before we get there some decisions must be made. You see for our meeting to take place we must decide to go with and stay with him there. This is not a moment of pomp and circumstance, but of abandonment and transformation. A decision to follow him, will mean checking your status, your pride and worldly education; (not brain) at the door. To follow him to this cross may mean death for us, but guaranteed death for him. Understanding the true Gospel of Jesus, in today’s nationalized, center left or far right, commodified religions is not easy.

His birth and presence challenged an empire. An empire which sought to acquire, control and define the peoples Worship. This society was numb to the pain, suffering and despair of this broken but beautiful world. We will talk about beauty another day, but today I want us to see the tragic murder of an innocent man named Jesus from Nazareth. The very same empire sent his mother, Mary, fleeing from her homeland to save the life of her newborn baby. Why? What had this child full of promise done? After some time away, for safe keeping he returned a boy, ready to become a man. A child full of promise, steeped in the knowledge of his purpose and mission, he began his ministry. He would not pass by the woman at the well. He would not allow a woman accused of committing adultery to be stoned. He would not allow the crowd on the banks of the river to leave hungry, and after showing them compassion and healing them he feeds the multitude with two fish and five loaves of bread. This caused such a disturbance to the religious, contemporary and earthly authorities’ way of life, that a plot to kill him was ultimately conceived. The empire which claimed and comforted that prominent religious community, struck at night. Attempting to hide their acts by cover of darkness. Jesus was there announcing a new “Kindom” (Rev. Starlette Thomas). Yes, as in those whom you oppose and oppress are my Kin, they are my family. And, as his time with us will be short, the Word made flesh demonstrated the power of God. The same power which will liberate us.

He does not come to bring peace, nor to enlarge our territory. No, he comes with a sword. He comes with a word, words which still keep the powerful up late at night, words which strike fear into the heart or mind of the rich and powerful: “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” Something must be done. And with their hands wringing, and minds spinning, a trap is set. One of his closest friends will sell him out! An arrest is made. He will be beaten all night long and mocked. A show trial is had, and the verdict pronounced. GUILTY. Pilate tries to wash this man’s blood from his hands, but the water is powerless to make him guilt free. Just as our baptism with water alone does not, and will not guarantee freedom from our transgressions, or a guilt ridden conscious. His execution is scheduled for Friday morning. A rugged cross is made for him, a crown of thorns pressed in his head, and he is made to walk a road to a hill of skulls. Along the way a black man is seized and made to carry the cross behind Jesus. “Luke 23:26, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus.” His unwitting participation paints a map for the journey we too shall take.

We too must be seized by the spirit, in order to carry this cross. It alone ensures the ultimate downfall of empires which mock God, as they brutally attack and oppress the innocent. Author and scholar: James Cone’s book: “The Cross and The Lynching Tree”, expresses the theological significance of this poignantly. As we make our way to our own meeting with Jesus; remember to pack light. Take nothing with you for your journey. No race, no class, no currency and no hate. Our Great High Priest became a sacrifice for the liberation of the oppressed. The Son of God, The Word made flesh, signs a New Covenant for us in his blood. To partake in this covenant requires more than rituals, or membership in good standing. It will require more than an allegiance split between God, career and country. It announces a reckoning; “Repent, the Kindom of God is at hand”. The Gospel makes reordering of our very way of life necessary. It will mean symbolically leaving behind the world which welcomed him not, and still holds hostility for the immigrant. It brings an end to the dominate social order and brings about the Reign of Christ’s Grace and coming Glory. This sounds like foolishness to some folks, yet 1 Cor. 1:18 says “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’” And as we find ourselves in this Holy meeting, at the cross of Jesus, may we come to see in God’s wisdom and righteousness, just how foolish and often cruel, this world so loved by God truly is. May we find the strength to re-prioritize, be re-educated, and renewed as we go with Jesus; down to the cross.

The Politics of Good Friday

We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

Martin Luther King Jr.

I often hear, “You shouldn’t politicize (this or that),” in reference to a number of things. More often than not, that sentiment comes from a place of privilege. It’s a privilege to experience various circumstances in life and not make political connections to real needs. Jesus is often invoked as someone who was politically neutral. When I hear this, it makes me chuckle a bit because it shows the person saying this hasn’t spent enough time reading the red letters in their Bible. Jesus was extremely subversive and political. Simply look at the Lord’s Prayer we recite each Sunday. When we pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done,” we pray a very political petition to God.

Good Friday is no less political. We recognize the injustice found in the killing of Jesus, an innocent person if there ever was one who was brutally executed. Yet, how often do we look at the criminal justice system that sentenced Jesus to death? Do we notice the poverty of Jesus and his family which prevented any sort of bribe being offered that would perhaps sway his release, or in today’s term he didn’t have the means to post bond? When we read the account of Jesus’ trial, we find Pilate declaring Jesus “not guilty” multiple times (Luke 23), and yet he was handed over to be crucified in what James Cone would describe as a lynching.

Though it may feel like long ago, it was just last month Nathaniel Woods, an African American from Alabama, was executed for a crime he did not commit. How do we know he was innocent? The person who committed the crime confessed multiple times that Nathaniel Woods had no role in the crime whatsoever. Nathaniel Woods is unfortunately the tip of the iceberg of such injustices. I’m sure many of us can recall the names of numerous men and women who were either wrongly convicted of crimes or worse, experienced in a single moment the horrifying effects of an antagonist acting as judge, jury, and executioner. I would be absolutely remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the prevalence of such injustices are often within African American communities.

And so Good Friday speaks to us today imploring and encouraging us to be watchful and steadfast in our pursuit of justice in all its forms (criminal, economic, healthcare, equality) for all our neighbors. Good Friday tells us God loves us unconditionally and is with us, truly with us in all aspects of our lives. God is with us as one who, at times, feels forsaken as Jesus did when he quoted Psalm 22 before his death. God is with us as the parent who lost their child, as the family member who lost their loved one. God is with us as the victim of oppression, power, and greed. God is with us as the person with insufficient funds struggling to make ends meet. God is with us as the one who enlists to sacrifice themselves for the sake of others. On Good Friday we see the political context of the crucifixion; on Good Friday we see God is with us and we are with God.

~Rev. Nick

God Forgives Even Judas

The band U2 has a song which is sung from the perspective of Judas. In one of the final verses of the song Judas is meeting his demise and says, “I reached out for the one I tried to destroy. You, you said you’d wait ‘til the end of the world.” I’ve always found the song interesting as it is one of the few forms of art in which we are presented with Judas’ perspective. I often think about Judas during this week and on Maundy Thursday in particular. In many ways I find him far more complex and “real” than how some of the other disciples are represented.

Yes, Peter denied Jesus three times after he insisted he would never do such a thing, and then eventually finds reconciliation with Jesus after the resurrection. And John was seemingly faithful till the end, being one of the few who stayed near Jesus until his death. But how often is it that in life, circumstance, temptation, “stuff happening” reveals we are a little more like Judas? Some who may be reading this will surely say, “Speak for yourself, Rev. Nick.” I don’t mean to generalize and lay blanket statements, but I’d like to think I have a little understanding of the human condition. And for many on the day before Good Friday we find ourselves contemplating and confessing our own sins.

I think what fascinates me about Judas was that he was set to be the fall guy before he had any idea of who Jesus even was. Just as God had hardened Pharaoh’s heart against the Jews (Exodus 9), God also had a specific role for Judas to play in the salvation history of His people. Staunch Calvinists would state that this is who God is, a God who elects those who will receive mercy and a God who elects those destined for punishment. Luckily, I’m not a staunch Calvinist and find myself as more of a Christological optimist. In other words, I think more of Jesus.

Back to that lyric, the one where Jesus’ reply to a desperate Judas is to say that Jesus would wait till the end of the world to intervene. How Easter of Jesus. I rather like that. I can’t imagine the lead singer of U2 is a scholar of early church history, yet this lyric makes me think of the teaching of the Early Church Father Origen, one who taught the theory of apokatástasis.

“Ok Rev. Nick, first U2 lyrics, then empathy for Judas, and now crazy Greek words?!”

Apokatástasis means a return to the original order, before sin; a doctrine that teaches a time will come when all will share in the grace of salvation. Remember, Jesus is the Second Adam who came to make right what the first Adam made wrong. Jesus brings life to all just as Adam had brought death to all. In the end when all is said and done, God reconciles and brings all things back into the fold, even Judas. And that my sisters and brothers is a very hopeful thought as we enter the bleakest time in our church calendar.

In Jesus, not only is Peter forgiven, but even Judas is given his reprieve. God’s “YES” engulfs and swallows up our “no.” Sure, many of us may not be betraying the savior of the world, but we do mess up a great deal, at least I know I do. I’m not advocating that we use this grace as a license to sin (the books of Jude and Hebrews warns against that), but I am suggesting that no matter your circumstance, no matter what you’ve done, no matter your shame, no matter what, in the end you are still God’s beautiful child, you are still loved, and you are reconciled.

~Rev. Nick


P.S. –

I want to apologize to those who were attempting to join the Wednesday night Bible study via Zoom and could not. Zoom had an update yesterday that created a few extra hurdles in joining the meeting that were not originally there when the Bible Study was created. I am sorry for those who had difficulty. These matters should be resolved and we hope to resume next Wednesday in a regular manner.

The Holy in the Midst of the Profane

 

Jesus is flogged. Sculpture at the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona by Michael Bledsoe
Jesus is flogged. Sculpture at the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona by Michael Bledsoe

Journeying through Holy Week is also a journey through the profane.  If there is something “holy” then by necessity there is something profane.  Each term is identified by what the other is not.

I encourage you to take those salacious headlines about the profanation of the White House by its current occupant; take the rumors of war and the unyielding refusal of communities to hold accountable those who murder Black citizens (Sacramento and Baton Rouge only the most recent of a too-long list); take the suffering of the poor preyed upon by the hollow policies of politicians who cannot conceive that they might be called to hallow the world instead; take these to Golgotha. And of course, take yourself for all of us participate at some level in the ruin of the world.

We journey to the Holy while in the midst of the profane.  This is a stinging truth that culminates in the lynching of the Christ by Roman soldiers dedicated to the empire.  The consumer world around us spins toward Easter. We on the other hand travel with Jesus, to a solemn last supper, to a hill outside the holy city, Jerusalem, to a borrowed tomb.  Let us cry for our world, for ourselves and then by God’s grace, let us awaken on the third day.

Maundy Thursday Service is at 8pm at Westminster Presbyterian Church at 400 I Street. We will participate in a service of “stones of remembrance.”  I will be preaching and we will be joined there with Westminster and Christ United Methodist.  Easter Sunday we will worship at Jefferson Middle School at 10 a.m.  May we find our way to the Holy One this Holy Week. ~See you Thursday and Sunday

How To Begin Holy Week How to End Holy Week

salvador_dali_crucifixion
Holy Week begins this Sunday, Palm Sunday.
This is how to begin Holy Week: take one step toward Jerusalem, very carefully look for a Galilean whose face is set like flint and who holds in hand a trampled palm frond.
On Monday, be brave and ask him where he is headed.
 On Tuesday, offer him your pillow, because for three years, his head has rested on a stone each night.
 On Wednesday, do not say a word. Do not try to talk him out of where he is going.  Cry for yourself and all that is irretrievably lost in the world.  Then smell your favorite perfume or cologne and pretend you have anointed him for his burial even while he was taking bread from a leper’s hand.
 On Thursday, drink wine and rejoice in the presence of the Galilean and then look at it and think, this looks like blood.  Sing a hymn.  Worship with others if you can so you are not alone in the night, as he prays over there in the garden alone.
 On Friday.  On Friday.  On Friday.   Hammer a nail into a tree. In the evening of the Sabbath, weep because we killed the Son of God.
 Saturday, find some holy place in order to ponder how it is that humans always name holy ground after the most unholy things possible, like battle fields, cemeteries, and a hill of skulls called Calvary.
 On Sunday, when the sun dances along the edge of the horizon and birds sing doxologies worthy of Mozart, put on  fresh clothes and run to a holy place, so you can hear the news that Magdalene proclaimed first  . . . so you can hear the words that Magdalene proclaimed … so you can hear.
 Pray this all week long.  Christ have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.
In the Name of Christ let us walk now, bravely, fully, into Holy Week. I will see you on the other side of Friday.  Sunday is coming.
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The Cross Alone

“He was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”   (Isaiah 53: 12)

Crux sola nostra theologica est  

The Cross alone is our salvation.     ~Martin Luther

On this Good Friday, may we find our way through contemplation and prayer to the garden of resurrection and hope.                                      ~ See you Sunday