Holidays in Freedom Season
In the SYNC annual cycle, holidays all fit into the big picture of the biblical story, and they follow the Genesis to Revelation sequence from January through December. This makes all our current celebrations more meaningful, and, even more importantly, it gives us some great reasons for additional annual parties.
SYNC calls us to at least one annual party for each season--Life, Roots, Freedom, etc. Some seasons include more than one holiday event, giving us multiple opportunities.
Each SYNC holiday party is a celebration of the biblical event that gives us that seasonal gift. For example, on the New Year's Day holiday, we celebrate the event of God's creation of the world, which gives us life.
SYNC holidays use the traditional Christian, Jewish, or secular name for the holiday and they often are tied to its traditional meaning. The few exceptions will become obvious as we go through the year.
Palm Sunday, April 2, 2023
The Freedom King enters the capital
Palm Sunday is the most bittersweet day of the year in the SYNC calendar. The human race almost got it right that day. We were so close, and yet so far away. The crowds hailed Jesus entering Jerusalem in exactly the way the ancient prophet had predicted the Messiah would arrive into the capital city--on a donkey (Zechariah 9.9). They called out "Hosanna," which means "Free us! Liberate us!" They called him "Son of David," i.e., rightful heir to the throne of King David. (Matthew 21.9)
They had come to celebrate Passover, the national "Freedom Day," on Friday, and they were going wild at the thought that Jesus from Nazareth might be the Messiah they had been waiting for for centuries. He had never said in public that he was the Messiah, but he had fed people's suspicions. They all realized that Jerusalem would be the perfect place to declare he was the Messiah, and Passover would be the perfect day to do it. Then he would take power and the new messianic era would begin. All of this is the sweet part of "bittersweet".
The bitter part of the day is the ominous part. Jesus's enemies also realized that with the crowds behind him, Jesus could declare himself the Messiah at any moment. They feared a bloodbath if he did, because under a Messiah the nation would revolt against the control of the Roman Empire. Jesus had no military experience, no revolutionary training base in the mountains, no alliances with any neighboring armies. He would be leading a peasant revolt, and Roman legions would crush it in no time. He had to be stopped before he made his announcement. The Palm Sunday parade convinced his enemies that they did not have much time.
In the following few days, the guardians of the old order used their power to arrest him, condemn him, beat him savagely, and execute him. Nothing could have been further from the mind of the Palm Sunday crowd that had called on him to bring them freedom.
Maundy Thursday, April 6, 2023
The King allows his enemies to arrest him
Each of us has a few decisive moments in life, or perhaps just one—one moment, one situation, one decision—that changes everything from that point on. Everything else has led up to the moment; everything to come will be influenced by it.
For Jesus this was Thursday of what we call "Freedom Week," the week from Palm Sunday through Easter. Jesus the Liberator was on a roll this week—hailed by the crowds, successfully asserting his authority in the Temple, turning the tables on the religious “scholars” with their loaded questions, and speaking confidently about the end of the world.
But Jesus had no illusions that this roll would continue. He clearly sensed that the time of his ordeal had come, and he used his last available hours to full advantage. First he shockingly reoriented the Passover meal to himself, which would be a little like re-naming the Fourth of July “Biden Day,” using the traditional focus of the day only as a backdrop for celebrating the person who leads the new reality.
Then Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane for the final showdown, knowing his betrayer was on the move, bringing the forces to take him away to trial, torture, and execution. He was more than smart enough to make an escape plan or prepare some defenses, but he was wise enough not to. He only prayed. He knew that the real showdown was not with Judas and the soldiers, it was with his own desires when they did not match the Father’s.
The whole situation is reminiscent of another crunch time, a time in Eden. The question is the same in both: “When one option looks better for me and the other is the one God has decided on for me, which one do I go with?” Adam and Eve got it wrong, losing their freedom and ours. Jesus got it right, suspended his own view, signed off on the Father’s will at any cost, and won freedom for us all.
This and not Good Friday was the day Jesus “lost his life” in the sense he was describing when he told his followers, “Whoever saves his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Lk. 9.24). In other words, freedom is not freedom to indulge our desires and choose our preferences. The only way to get freedom is to lose it, losing ourselves in Jesus and his mission, laying down our personal desires for the sake of his campaign. There is no better day for that than Maundy Thursday.
Good Friday/Passover, April 7, 2023
The King lays down his life for the freedom campaign
“That’s not fair!” Those are often the first words out of a baby’s mouth after “Mama” and “Dada”. Nothing runs deeper in our psyches, and nobody ever had more profoundly justified reason to say, “That’s not fair!” than Jesus on the cross. No matter what you have been through, you can be sure of one thing--Jesus was more abused than you have been or ever will be.
One of the biggest tragedies in the world today is that so many people are still defined by some victimization in their past or present circumstances. Laws and revolutions are attempts to end widespread victimization—a noble objective. But laws and revolutions focus on eliminating or crippling the victimizers. Jesus shows us how a victim can remain free even when the victimizers are still in full force, doing their worst.
The closest he came to sounding like a victim was when he said while hanging on his cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27.46, quoting the first verse of Psalm 22). For 20 more verses that Psalm goes on as the appeal of a desperate victim.
Then it suddenly changes from, “Save me from the horns of the wild oxen” (v. 21) to, “I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you” (v. 22). Nothing in the circumstances changed between those two verses, but nothing from there on sounds like a victim, all the way to the final triumphant line, “It is finished” (v. 31). And Jesus's last words were that triumphant quote.
In other words, freedom does not depend on a change in circumstances, an end to injustice, abuse, or betrayal. Before the circumstances change, the victim is already free to declare by faith that God is faithful. And there is more.
The victim is also free to forgive the victimizers, even before they realize what they are doing or begin to apologize for it. In other words, the victim still has the upper hand! The victim is still taking the healing initiative God wants instead of letting the evil of the victimizers define how he/she will react.
The cross is often seen as the cross that brought us forgiveness, which it certainly did, but we also need to realize that by setting us free from the victim mentality, the cross has freed us from the inner working of the most basic part of our own sin problem, the part of us that says, “The most important thing in my world is the unfair thing that is being done or was done to me.” The person who thinks that way has never really seen the cross, where the ultimate victim snapped the heavy chain of the victim mentality.
Note on Passover date. We list Good Friday/Passover as being on April 7; however, Passover actually starts on April 5th this year. By combining the two events, we are emphasizing that in the year Jesus died, his execution occurred on Passover. The reason they differ this year (and most years) is that the Passover date is still set on the Jewish calendar while Good Friday is set on the Gregorian calendar.
Easter, April 9, 2023
The King is raised from death to keep leading the campaign
Yogi Berra famously said, “It isn’t over till it’s over.” Because of Easter we can go one better—“Even when it’s over, it isn’t over.” In other words, Jesus’s death and burial did not define him. The soldier who put the spear in his side defined Jesus as “dead,” and he was right—temporarily.
Easter shows us that the destroyer who seems to be in charge of the world is really not in charge of it, and the leader of the freedom campaign (who seems to have been defeated) is actually taking over. The plan to prevent Jesus from liberating the world backfired on Satan and all others who wanted this King dead. In fact, his death and resurrection empowered and accelerated his campaign instead of blocking it.
The risen Jesus extended the open enrollment period for his kingdom. Even after all he had been through, he still allowed people the freedom to choose whether to become citizens of the kingdom he rules or not. That is why he did not walk back into the court that had condemned him to give them an ultimatum to kneel or be destroyed on the spot. He only appeared to people who already believed in him, and he sent those people out to the world as his "witnesses," that is, the eyewitnesses who had seen him alive in his body after the resurrection (Acts 1.8). The people who heard the witnesses were free to believe them or not.
The witnesses were not supposed to start talking until they received "power from above" (Luke 24.49), but we will talk about that when we get to the Pentecost holiday, May 28th this year.