Sunday, March 27, 2016

Chesed Shel Emet; Easter and Sabbatarianism; New Life from Bitterness

I have three items for my write-up on church this morning.  Since today is Easter Sunday, the sermon was about Jesus' resurrection.  The pastor focused on the story in Luke 24.

A.  The pastor referred to the Jewish concept of chesed shel emet in discussing the women who visited Jesus' tomb with spices and ointments for Jesus' corpse.  Literally, the phrase means "kindness of truth" (depending on how you translate chesed----loyalty, piety, etc.).  It is a true act of kindness, a selfless act of kindness, since it is done for the dead, who cannot pay a person back for the kindness.  I can ask if it is truly an act of selflessness: it is a mitzvah, so would not God reward the person who performs it?  But I do not want to distract myself from focusing on a beautiful concept: a concept of doing something good for someone, without ego or a desire for reward; a concept of giving to Jesus out of love and appreciation for Jesus.

B.  The pastor raised the possibility that Saturday was the first day of Jesus being risen, and the disciples had missed it.  That stood out to me on account of my Armstrongite background.  Armstrongites were seventh-day Sabbatarians in that they observed the Sabbath on Saturday.  Against Christians who honored Sunday and defended their practice by saying that Jesus rose on the first day of the week (Sunday), Armstrongites would argue that Jesus actually rose on a Saturday.  After all, in Luke 24, when the women went to Jesus' tomb on the first day of the week, Jesus had already risen. 

I doubt that the disciples or the women would have been able or willing to visit the tomb on a Saturday.  Not only were they not expecting Jesus' resurrection, but there were restrictions on what they could do on the Sabbath.  Luke 23:56 says that the women prepared the spices and ointments, then rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.  On the first day of the week, the day after the Sabbath when they were allowed to work, they went to Jesus' tomb to anoint the body.  They could not anoint the body on Saturday, so that is why they waited until the first day of the week to do so.

The issue of a Saturday resurrection raises questions in my mind. 

Armstrongites, of course, have argued that, because Jesus rose on a Saturday, that is just one more reason for people to keep the Sabbath on Saturday.  On a Christian dating site I used to be on, a Pentecostal woman who kept the Seventh-Day Sabbath argued that, because the women were resting on the Sabbath according to God's commandment after Jesus' crucifixion, that shows that Jesus' death did not annul the seventh-day Sabbath: it was still God's commandment, to be observed. 

But here is a question: if Jesus rose on a Saturday, was he not working on that day by rising from the dead?  Interestingly, Seventh-Day Adventists, who also keep the Seventh-Day Sabbath, differ from Armstrongites by believing Jesus rose on Sunday.  Former Seventh-Day Adventist (yet still a Seventh-Day Sabbatarian) Desmond Ford wrote that Jesus rested on the Sabbath in the tomb, then rose on a Sunday.  According to Ford, Jesus in his death was keeping the Sabbath.  But what are the implications if Jesus rose on a Saturday?  Was Jesus violating the Sabbath by rising?  Or was Jesus showing that something was more important than the Sabbath?

If Jesus rose on Saturday and the disciples learned about it on Sunday, could a lesson from that be that Jesus brought the old to an end on the Sabbath, and the next day, Sunday, marked a new week, a new dispensation? 

Here is another question: Maybe it was not Jesus' death, per se, that marked the beginning of the New Covenant, but Jesus' resurrection, and that would be a way to respond to the Christian Pentecostal woman who argued that the Sabbath is still a requirement under the New Covenant because the women were observing it as God's commandment after Jesus' death.  Seventh-Day Sabbatarians have responded to this, however, by saying that Jesus' death marked the ratification of the New Covenant: the stipulations of the New Covenant needed to be set forth before Jesus' death, for Jesus' death was what ratified the New Covenant.  If I recall correctly, they appeal to Hebrews 9:16-18 to support this point: "For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.  For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.  Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood." 

And yet, did not Jesus in John 16:12-13 imply that the disciples would learn new truth after his death and resurrection, indicating that not everything needed to be stipulated before Jesus died?

C.  The pastor was talking about looking inside ourselves at our brokenness and cynicism and asking if we can find Jesus there, ready to bring new life out of that.  The pastor talked about Peter, who had made mistakes, yet was willing to take a chance at belief when he heard from the women about the empty tomb and the angelic visitations.  Peter in Luke 24, after all, ran to the sepulchre after hearing the women's experience, whereas others were dismissing what the women said as an idle tale.

It is hard for me to see how Jesus can make new life from my brokenness, resentment, and cynicism, especially when Christians have said that God will not forgive me or hear my prayer if I am bitter (see, for example, Matthew 6:15).  I have difficulty envisioning myself without resentment, even though some days I feel better than others.  If there is anything good in my bitterness, it is that it makes me go to God in prayer more often for healing, and it makes me more sympathetic and less judgmental towards others who have bitterness. 

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