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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Tag: Surprised by Hope

The trumpet shall sound: Merry Christmas!

jenmichel@me.com

Song (Image courtesy of Joetography)

She's a small, stooped woman in the second row. Her two adult daughters flank her sides. Her hair is grey, having been carefully set and combed out and slightly teased. Age has made severe the lines of her downturned mouth. And she isn't smiling, although she is enraptured. When I notice her, the bass, Brett Polegato, is singing the text of 1 Corinthians 15:

The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality.

Changed. Incorruption. Immortality.

[embed]http://youtu.be/CYTQ6gpcuYA[/embed]

The Canadian baritone Brett Polegato agilely climbs and descends on these words, luminous and breathtaking and brilliant with promise. The room absolutely stills at this part of the oratorio, and as the Toronto Star describes it, "Polegato’s Air, 'The trumpet shall sound' brought patrons to the edge of their seats."

This, however, cannot fully describe what I saw from my seat on the second balcony behind the orchestra. I was looking into the audience—at the grey-haired woman. Between the moments where she looks with spellbound gaze into the face of Polegato, she alternatively sobs into her hands. Then, willing to compose herself, she dabs her eyes and forehead with a handkerchief and looks up. Her rapture renews, her gaze holds unwaveringly. Then she breaks all over again and buries her face in her hands. This happens six or seven times during the eight-minute aria. It's the only movement in the auditorium that, like bellows, fills with the air of biblical hope:

The dead shall be changed. The corruptible must put on incorruption. This mortal must put on immortality.

Nothing wracks in her aged body. There are no apparent shudders. Hers is a prim and collected grief. At first, I'm almost not sure if she's crying or dizzy—until her daughter drapes an arm consolingly over her shoulder.

The storyteller in me explores the narrative possibilities. Her husband of more than fifty years has recently died. It's her first Christmas alone. Or she herself is terminally ill, living with the sentence of imminent death. Or maybe one of the daughters has been recently diagnosed. Or maybe a grandchild has unexpectedly died.

And maybe it's not grief at all that makes her cry. Maybe there has been no traumatic and unexpected event. Maybe she is seized by the pure and acute joy of knowing, as I do, that death itself will one day die.

That we shall be changed.

It is Christmas—the occasion for thinking of the birth of God. But maybe N.T. Wright is right to lament that Christmas has "outstripped Easter in popular culture as the real celebratory center of the Christian year—a move that completely reverses the New Testament's emphasis."

"We sometimes try, in hymns, prayers, and sermons to build a whole theology on Christmas," says Wright in his book, Surprised by Hope, "but it can't in fact sustain such a thing. . . Easter should be the center. Take that away and there is, almost literally, nothing left."

This Christmas, I'm thinking of God, the baby. I'm also thinking of God, the man. The crucified man. And finally, I'm considering the empty grave—and the resurrected Christ.

I'm hearing the sound of trumpets, and remembering that all exile—even death itself—shall end because Christmas assures the welcome of God and sinners' right of return.

The Word became flesh. We have seen his glory. To all who received him, who believed in his name, He gave the right to become children of God.

Merry Christmas.

Easter's Hope: What IS will not always BE (And some recommended book titles)

jenmichel@me.com

I have been struggling to bring myself back here. To this blog. I don’t know that I’m struggling to write. Maybe that’s true, too. But maybe what’s most true is that sometimes I’m afraid of the vulnerability that is forced upon me when I come to the keyboard and publish raw, unedited thoughts.

I don’t always like myself. And I can’t imagine that you always like me either.

Writing scares me like that.

When I first started writing, I did it for purely selfish reasons. I did it for myself. I drove myself to the discipline because of my own inner tumult. I had to rescue my thoughts from their indistinct form, and I needed my thinking to take shape.

I needed to understand. And I needed to hear my voice.

But of course that really doesn’t sound all that spiritual, does it? Except if we were to begin believing that part of the process of drawing closer to God is drawing closer to oneself.

What have we to bring to God except ourselves?

Easter reminds me of this. I have nothing, NOTHING, to offer to God.

And God has everything, EVERYTHING, to offer to me.

I tell Ryan yesterday that I think I like Easter more than Christmas, that if there is one day of the calendar year that I cannot live without, it is Easter and its promise of new creation.

Because I am so tired of myself: the jealousies, the indifference, the fragility and fear, and I am longing for the moment of final rebirth, of reconfiguration, when I shall see Him and be made like Him.

Because I am so tired of this world and its perpetual ache. Even this week, I await news of a friend’s death, hating that cancer can ravage the body of a young woman, a mother. This should not be.

But Easter reminds me that this will not always be: me and the world, freighted by our sin and suffering. The first Easter has inaugurated a new order of reality, and it’s the reality of the kingdom of heaven coming to earth.

“The resurrection of Jesus offers itself, to the student of history or science no less than the Christian or theologian, not as an odd event within the world as it is but as the utterly characteristic, prototypical, and foundational event within the world as it has begun to be. It is not an absurd event within the old world but the symbol and starting point of the new world. The claim advanced by Christianity is of that magnitude: Jesus of Nazareth ushers in not simply a new religious possibility, not simply a new ethic or a new way of salvation, but a new creation.”

 

(N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope)

So what is Easter except hope, hope that what is will not always be?

Hope is a certifiable promise of God, verified in history when Jesus of Nazareth gave himself into the hands of Roman soldiers to be executed and three days later, left behind his grave clothes.

I believe in the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“Even in those same moments of strained belief, of not knowing where or if God is, it has also seemed that the Christian story keeps explaining who and where I am, better than any other story I know.” (Lauren Winner, Still)

* * * * *

I know that some of you who read my blog aren’t followers of Jesus Christ. And I’m really so glad you are here, humbled that you choose to read.

If you’re interested in exploring the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, I want to commend to you Lee Strobel’s, Case for Christ.

If you’re interested in exploring the implications of this historic doctrine of the Christian church (what does it mean?), read N.T. Wright’s, Surprised by Hope.

If you simply want an introduction to the Christian faith (and have some critical questions to ask), Tim Keller’s, Reason for God is excellent.

And if you just want dialogue with someone, feel free to email me: jenmichel@mac.com.