Healing Line

Healing Line

Reflections on Lent, Easter and Pentecost

by Francis MacNutt
Apr/May/Jun 2013

To me a great mystery of the Lenten–Easter time of year has always been that the experienced joy of the Easter celebration often doesn't measure up to the experienced suffering and penance of Lent. Maybe this paradox isn't as clear these days when Christians aren't required to fast as much or to abstain from entertainment (such as movies) during Lent as they were in the past. But it still seems to be so.

Why is it, for example, that all the fun of the season is concentrated in the popular culture with vacationing in New Orleans to attend Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday — the day before Ash Wednesday) with its big parades and all night parties? The next day our foreheads are smeared with ashes and we are told to remember that our bodies will return to dust. It seems that the "world" (or perhaps Satan) gets credit for all the fun, while we Christians concentrate on sad things like death and dust.

Now, of course it is good to ponder our mortality, as long as we experience a great celebration of new life at Easter. The realization of Christ's resurrection should eclipse the hollow merriment of Mardi Gras, and the sorrowful watch services of Good Friday. Although there are wonderful sunrise services at Easter, somehow the experienced life at Easter doesn't always equal the experienced death of Good Friday.

Rejoicing and sorrowing — Jesus experienced both, didn't he? Why do we concentrate on the sorrowful side, when the Gospels mention Jesus going to at least 17 parties! We soften the impact by calling them "banquets" which makes them sound formal and stuffy. The "banquets" couldn't have been too stuffy. Jesus was criticized for being a drunkard and a glutton, and for hanging out with sinners, like Matthew and Zacchaeus, who both threw parties in Jesus' honor.

It's a great paradox, isn't it, that Jesus promised us life and joy in abundance, but he also said we would meet with suffering and persecution? Intense joy and deep peace such as the world cannot give, but also intense suffering and persecution — we are to expect both in this life too. Yet, it seems more common for many Christians to emphasize bearing the cross than experiencing spiritual joy and peace.

Ask yourself the question: When I receive communion do I truly sense its power? It's not just a bite of food to remind me of Jesus, but the bread represents Jesus' body, broken for me. The wine signifies his blood, poured out for me. If I allow my self–will to be broken for him, and my life spilled out in obedience to his will, then he will feed me with the bread of life itself, and fill me with the joyous wine of the Spirit. Because of Jesus' great Easter victory, when it comes time for us to experience our Good Friday, in place of abandonment we will find Jesus at our side to lead us into the resurrection light where we will see God, life itself, and all our friends who have gone before us into that joyous kingdom.

Easter, the greatest feast of the Christian year, is like a giant exorcism. Jesus took all the evil of the world into himself: physical suffering, abandonment (by friends, as well as seemingly by his Father) and finally death itself, the apparent victory of Satan. Then all this evil, condensed into his spirit and body, was expelled on that first Easter. God transformed it all into life; and now as our risen Lord, he sends us his life, his joy, his peace and his health, even in this life, and fully in the next life.

If we don't see as much life, as much joy, as we would like to see in our churches, it must be that we are not as united to Jesus in his life as we need to be. This in–pouring of life comes through the Holy Spirit, and I believe we need a mighty renewing of prayer for the empowering of the Spirit in order to experience the kind of vibrant lives which are our high privilege. We believe and we walk Jesus' path in part, but not as fully as we could.

I once heard a theologian say to a group of priests: "Regardless of how you figure it out theologically, the question to ask yourself is: has what happened to the disciples at Pentecost happened to you? Are you on fire to share the Gospel? Have you experienced any of the gifts of the Spirit in your own life, such as inspired preaching, healing, tongues or prophecy? We can't just say 'I'm already a Christian,' or even, 'I'm ordained."

Were the apostles believers? Yes, they had walked with Jesus for three years and had seen him after the Resurrection. Thomas had even put his fingers into Jesus' wounds and exclaimed, 'My Lord and my God!'

But something was still missing. Jesus told them they had to wait until the Spirit descended upon them. Even though they were believers, even though they knew Jesus, they weren't yet ready. They had received the Spirit for them to have faith, and yet the power of the Holy Spirit was still missing.

As a Christian, the Holy Spirit already existed within me through baptism, confirmation and ordination. But it was not until I was prayed over for a release of the Holy Spirit's power that I was baptized in it.

From that point on, my life changed in many exciting ways, and I began praying for countless other people who were seeking more of God. And they, in turn, found that Pentecost happens today much the same as it did 2000 years ago.

Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Apr/May/June 2013