Pastor X: We recently received some memorial money, and the donor requested a single candle on a brass holder. (Oh, a Paschal Candle) Now I wasn’t even sure where to look that up! (??) But after some digging, I discovered it under “P” in the candle section (of course…Paschal starts with a P.) It’s called a Pashal Candle. (Weird pronunciation…) It stands for the light of Jesus and is lit on Easter–today–and other important occasions. (He is reading this from the brochure.) I guess I’ll have to look up what they consider important occasions. (Congregation laughs politely. I bow my head in disbelief. The organist looks over at me in puzzlement and asks me if I’m OK.)
My question is this: How can you be ordained a minister and not know what a Paschal Candle is and what it is used for? To be fair, this uninformed minister is not at my home church, and not even in the same denomination. This means to me that the seminary he attended was not very thorough about the symbols of the church.
This Easter Service did not include a confession of sins, just a quiet talk with God to see what he has in store for you. I picture Him going through the inventory in the heavenly warehouse looking for things with your name on them. It did not include a confession of faith. So we could come in, enjoy fellowship, nice music and an Easter breakfast without having to actually believe in anything.
The sermon centered around the raising of the dead. If Jesus rose, then, as he promised, we will rise to new life so we can have hope for the future. Yeah, well? Isn’t the bigger message that he rose because he conquered the BIG DEATH–separation for all eternity from God. That he took on the sins of all people–Jews and Gentiles, and took our punishment for us, and then came alive again to prove he had conquered was a miracle. It was a plan that spanned the entirety of human existence from Adam and Eve through Noah through Abraham, through Moses, through David, all the way to Jesus. The basic tenet of the popular beliefs is that everyone is basically good, and if they do something bad, or someone else does something bad, it’s an anomaly. If a person does something unethical or illegal or just plain mean, there’s a reason for it. We just have to root out the reason and correct it in our correctional facilities.
I think that is a mistake. The basic tenet of my belief is that everyone is basically confused. They can’t tell the difference between good and bad so if a choice has to be made, it is the one that benefits the person most. It is only in hindsight that a person will recognize whether it is good or bad. If everyone was basically good, that situation would never come up. When evil made its presence known, it was because it used half truths and greed to muddle the lines between good and evil. If you are self centered, you cannot be a basically good person because your needs will always supersede others’ needs. You notice now that it’s not considered bad unless you get caught? This means that though everyone is confused about what is good and bad, they will tend to the bad if it benefits them, therefore, people are basically not good. If you don’t go along with this premise, you are in the minority. But every week, we go to church, and confess that we have done bad things and need forgiveness even though we deserve punishment. God does not assume that our churches are correctional facilities. You will not leave church as a more perfect person, better than all those around you because now you’ve been through God Correctional Facility. You will still be less than perfect, but now you’re forgiven. You respond to this amazing gift by putting others first and by being more aware of your motivations for the things you do. You will fail over and over. But you continue to go to church because you receive forgiveness and love and encouragement.
If you’re basically good, you go to church to show off. “Ha HA! I didn’t kill anyone this week. My record still stands. I’m waiting for God to pat me on the back.” You don’t need forgiveness. You don’t need Jesus’ sacrifice and his submission to illegal trials and brutal treatment. You go to church to feel better about yourself and your future. “Yay! I’m going to be raised from death and have a body the Kardashians would be envious of!”
I will be glad to get back to my home church Sunday. I caught myself cursing in the church parking lot and I need to confess my shortcomings this week (and there are too many to list here.) No, I am not writing from prison.