Friday, March 29, 2024

Resurrection Sundae

In episode #9781 of “Things I Never Saw Myself Doing Growing Up In The Churches of God,” last weekend I had the opportunity to help serve a group of teenagers “Palm Sundaes” to mark the beginning of what some traditional churches call Holy Week. While most of the teens accepted the waffle bowls we offered, a few brave - or crazy - souls ate the ice cream directly from the palms of their hands.

Was it silly? Definitely.

Was it memorable? Absolutely.

And more importantly, it gave us an opportunity to share a poignant story from the life of our Savior with the teens - one that I’m pretty sure I never heard during my teen years. As a teen in the COGs, I never developed the deep fear and loathing toward Easter that I did for Christmas. It’s probably because it was the same season I tried desperately to clean every last cookie crumb out of my sock drawer, despite the fact that I wasn’t allowed to eat in my room.

At Christmas, there were no other distractions, so I was free to spend all my time feeling morally superior to those placing donations for needy children under the horrific tree. During the spring, however, I was vaguely aware that Easter was happening, but was mostly focused on making it through the Days of Unleavened Bread without screwing up.

When xHWA asked me to start contributing again, from a perspective of someone who has left and moved on, I knew that I would definitely write about Easter. My first Easter, I cried like a baby. It’s honestly probably my favorite mainstream Christian holiday. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have as much baggage to work through as I did with Christmas. Or maybe it’s because it’s a celebration that’s just bursting with hope. 

I’ve had a lot to say about why I think the Days of Unleavened Bread, as celebrated by the COGs, are so toxic. We focus for weeks on cleaning every speck of leaven, representing sin, out of our lives, even though we know that yeast spores live in the very air we breathe. We gather for a solemn ceremony commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Then the next night we gather for a lavish meal, even though the One sent to save us is, chronologically speaking, still in the tomb. We never actually talk about Him rising, because that would be too Protestant, although we make vague allusions to the wave sheaf offering. Then we wrap it all up with a final holy day - during which we usually discuss our dietary slip-ups more than we do our Savior.

The Days of Unleavened Bread, as the COGs celebrate them, can’t help but land us in the ditches of self-righteousness or despair. Since we don’t fully comprehend what Jesus did for us, we can end up feeling pretty good about ourselves, because we haven’t murdered, stolen, or eaten shrimp. On the flip side, since we feel like our salvation depends on our track record, others may feel defeated, worried that we will are doomed since we never be able to get it all right in this lifetime.

The true gospel lifts us out of either ditch. It teaches that all humans are fallen creatures that have sinned, but that God loved us enough to make a way of rescue. That Jesus took on our sins as a substitute, in our place. And that by repenting and placing our faith in God’s promise to rescue us, we can be freed from the eternal wages of our sin through imputed righteousness.

This message short-circuits both of those toxic impulses toward self-righteousness and self-loathing, giving us both the freedom to admit we’re not perfect and the freedom to forgive ourselves when we fall short. Teaching about experience in the life of our Lord and Savior underscores both messages. Brushing past these scriptures on the way to the things that “really” matter, like His comments on jots and titles and the Sabbath diminish what He did and shows what we believe, deep down, plays a more urgent role in our salvation. 

Since I’ve already mentioned the topic, let’s consider Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem - the Palm Sunday passage I mentioned earlier.

A week before His crucifixion, Jesus enters Jerusalem shortly after resurrecting Lazarus and performing other healings. It’s one of the few stories that appears in all four of the gospels. The crowds hailed Him as a King, laying down their coats and palm branches and hailed him as the King coming in the name of the Lord, fulfilling the prophecy found in Zechariah 9:9. However, an earthly King would have entered on the most imposing warhorse, but Jesus rode into town on a beast of burden, a donkey. This humble act, also predicted by Zechariah, helped to reveal His true nature and mission, and the posture His followers must follow and adopt as well.

In the COGs, the story stops there. Possibly before the part about humility, if the story ever got started at all. But let’s keep reading, from Luke’s account, in chapter 19, starting in verse 41. Jesus literally weeps over the city. Over the structures that will be destroyed, years down the road. Over the people in the city, who will suffer. The children who will die. 

He is pitying the people. Not shaming, not blaming, not shaking His head. He is pitying the people He fed, the people who saw Him heal. He pities the people who celebrated His entry into the city. The people who hailed Him as King. The people He knows will call for his crucifixion just days later. The people who have His blood on their hands, as we all do. That’s the message those teens needed

And then He went ahead and did it all anyway. Because of His love for humanity, His love for us. He made a way. He promised abundant life for those who believe. Who place their full faith in Him. And His resurrection proved all His claims were true - that He was the Son of God, that His promises of forgiveness and eternal life because of our faith were true.

Yes, the resurrection really IS something to celebrate. That’s the message those teens needed to hear. And it’s the message you need to hear, too. The resurrection is more than just the pathway to salvation, more than the sprinkles on top. It's THE thing.

The lines on how the COGs present salvation have gotten muddier over the years. Some groups still present a hardline view that individuals must meet certain works-based requirements in order to enter God’s Kingdom. Others blur the lines to the point where dissecting their teachings sound like I’m nitpicking, which is one of the reasons I stepped away from writing in the first place. 

In my decade attending mainstream churches, it would be easy to get disillusioned by some of the behavior I’ve seen. That much of HWA’s teaching was true. After all, that’s how the devil deceived Eve in the garden - mixing an element of truth with a lie. I’ve seen many people praise the name of Jesus yet fail to follow His example. How the COGs and evangelical Christianity define that failure is very different, but at any rate, the lack of fruit on the part of some is frustrating. But that doesn’t mean we change the gospel message. Rather, it means that WE need to do our best to faithfully live it out. And to try our hardest to show grace, because we know there are days where we fail to follow Him faithfully, too.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to this: Does anything in addition to Jesus’ sacrifice get you into the Kingdom?

If so, then you believe in salvation by works. Which explains why Easter, Pascha, Resurrection Sunday, or anything else you want to call it doesn’t give you hope. And why you don’t pause to celebrate or even discuss it even on another day with less baggage. Because it really didn’t accomplish much for you. Because deep down, on some level, you’re still relying on yourself to enter God’s Kingdom. That’s not a slam or a criticism. It's simply a statement of fact.

You can’t have your full faith in two places, or it isn’t 100 percent. You can’t sit in two chairs at once. And you can’t believe in Jesus’ sacrifice as the gate for your salvation and your obedience as the key any more than you can serve both God and mammon.


It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )

Acts 17:11



Miller Jones/Lonnie C Hendrix said...

Great post! The fact of Christ's Resurrection is central to the writings we refer to as the New Testament and to the faith of TRUE Christians everywhere. Yes, Christ commanded us to celebrate his sacrifice for us with the Eucharist, but the ACOGs seem always to forget that after his death and burial - HE WAS ALSO RESURRECTED! It's NOT a footnote to the story.

xHWA said...

(I COR. 15: 14) And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.

NO2HWA said...

Great post! I am glad to see you posting again.