Talk Like an Organist (Part Three)

We are working through the description of the instrument that CB Fisk is constructing for us: “a 3 manual tracker instrument of 39 stops in an eclectic tonal style.” If you have been following along, you can now explain to your neighbor or anyone else what a manual is and what tracker action is. Let's talk about those 39 stops now.

A stop is a group of pipes, one for each note or pitch on the keyboard. Even though each pipe is a different pitch, all of the pipes in the group will share a distinctive sound. When you look online at our specification: http://www.cbfisk.com/sites/default/files/instruments/specifications/153_spec.pdf you'll see stops numbered 1 to 39. When Grace is installed in our sanctuary, she will have 39 knobs with these names on them. The stop knobs, when pulled out, will allow air to that group of pipes. The organist will choose one solo stop or a group of stops to sound together.

There are four families of sounds: principal, flute, string and reed. Stops of each family are found in each division of the organ. The main sound of the organ is the principal family. It is a strong, clear sound. The flutes are lighter and gentler. The strings have a skinny sound because they are skinnier pipes. The principal, flute and string pipes are all flue pipes and produce sound in basically the same way. The reed pipes actually have a vibrating reed that puts the air in motion within the pipe. Some of the reeds that Grace will have are a bright solo trumpet, a trumpet that gets along well with others, a round, woody clarinet sound, a plaintive oboe and a big pedal reed that will be heard rumbling under the congregational hymns.

If you go back to that stoplist, you'll notice that there are numbers after the stop names. The stops that say 8' will be the same pitch as the piano. Middle C on the piano will be the same as middle C on the organ. It is designated 8' because the lowest pipe in that rank will be around 8 foot tall. Some of the stops say 4'. That rank will be an octave higher than piano pitch and the lowest pipe will be around 4 feet tall. A couple of the ranks say 2'. Those will be two octaves higher than piano pitch and guess what – the lowest pipe will be around 2 feet tall. The 16' and 32' will be one octave and two octaves lower than piano pitch respectively. The pipes that we will see on the front of Grace will be the Principal 16' so the longest one will be about 16 foot tall. So far we have talked about whole numbers. When you play a C you get a C, maybe higher or lower but still a C.

Some of the stop names have numbers with fractions behind them. These are mutations. When you play middle C with a 2-2/3 stop pulled, you get the G an octave and a fifth above middle C. Weird, huh? You wouldn't use that stop all by itself, but would combine it with other stops to make a beautiful solo sound. We'll save the discussion on harmonics for another day, but it works somewhat magically. (Unless you know something about physics, then it's physics.)

The mixtures have Roman numerals. When you play one note on the keyboard, you get more than one pipe speaking at various really high pitches.  I am of course skipping a bunch of details that would help you understand this better; but for now let's just say – the mixture is used in combination with other stops, adding a crowning sparkle. Grace has a tiara!

Grace has 39 stops with distinctive voices, ready to do solos and work with others. Be like Grace. Are you an outgoing principal with a clear strong voice and bold action? Or are you a flute or string providing the harmony in the background with beautiful things to say? If you want to be a reed you might relish opportunities for public speaking, or be the one who adds spice to a group, or the voice of sorrow or even silly jokes.  Like Grace, we have many distinctive voices. Let the music continue!

Talk Like an Organist (Part Two)

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We have contracted with CB Fisk Organbuilder to build a “3 manual tracker instrument of 39 stops in an eclectic tonal style.”  In the last article we started to define terms in that sentence so that we might better understand. In fact, here is the pop quiz for that article: what is a manual and why do we want three of them? The answer will be at the end of this article. Don't peak – you know the answer!

Let's look at the next part of the sentence now. We are getting a “tracker instrument”.  Again – one might ask what and why??

The what
The sound of a pipe organ is produced by air in pipes. To make the pipes produce sound, the musician depresses the keys of the manuals and pedal. The keys must be connected to the pipes in some manner. The traditional way for the keys to be connected to the pipes is by trackers – or thin strips of wood that connect each key to the valve, allowing air into each pipe. Very simple, right? In theory, yes. But I hope the kind people of Fisk don't mind if I have my nose poked in there while they assemble our Grace. I can't wait to see how they can design the most economical path to run those trackers from the keys to all of those pipes.

It is important that the path of the tracker is indeed economical.  Each extra inch of tracker or change in direction increases the effort required to depress the key. It is important that the action remain light and fluid and not become heavy and cumbersome when the music calls for many quick notes or big, fat chords. I said earlier that traditionally trackers were strips of wood. Modern trackers are actually carbon fiber rods. They are more stable and lighter weight than traditional strips of wood.

Our last instrument had a flexible 'umbilical cord' of wires connecting the console of keys to the pipes. That made it possible for the huge console to be rolled to different positions on the Chancel area or even into its garage. Grace's key desk will be attached permanently to the center front of the pipe chamber, so that those trackers have efficient paths to the pipes.

The why
Because mechanical action (another term for tracker action) is the simplest, it is also the easiest system to maintain. While electric actions will be needing significant repair or replacement in 25 or 30 years, there are many examples in Europe of tracker instruments that have lasted for centuries.

The most important reason for choosing tracker action however is to be able to make beautiful music.

The direct mechanical connection between the musician's fingertips and the valve allowing air to the pipes provides the opportunity for a great deal more control over the beginning and ending of each note. In an electric action the valve opens when a magnetic connection is made. It is simply on or off. With tracker action, the musician feels a slight resistance when the valve is about to open and can have some control over how the valve opens. If you push through the resistance quickly, air will rush into the pipe more quickly and the beginning of the pipe sound will have a 'p' or 't' at its beginning. If you push through the resistance a little more gently the sound will begin with a 'm' or 'n'. The same control is available with the closing of the valve. You can end the sound a distinct 'd' or 't' or ease it smoothly to the next note with 'l' or 'n' connecting them. This is of course extremely subtle and the listener may not be aware why the largest piece of furniture in the room, made of wood and metal, is able to sound as if it is singing to you with a human voice with human emotions. You can be sure however that the organist is very pleased to have such an intimate connection with the instrument and the opportunity to use music to weave together the hearts of a congregation.

And the answer to the pop quiz: A manual is a set of keys like on a piano. We are glad to have three of them so that the music can have the structure of sound allowed by contrasting manuals – like solo and accompaniment or echoes or duets and trios.

Talk Like an Organist (Part One)

If you fire up your internet and look at http://www.cbfisk.com/instruments/opus_153 you'll see a picture of Wesley! Hopefully soon that will be replaced by a picture of the model of our Grace. You'll read that we have contracted with CB Fisk Organbuilders to build a “3 manual tracker instrument of 39 stops in an eclectic tonal style” (as you know). But you may wonder what that might mean.  With just a few terms defined you can be talking like an organist! Let's break this down.

Three manual.  A manual is a set of keys to be played with your hands, like a piano. Organs usually have at least two. The piano has 88 keys while the organ has 61. I'll explain later why the organ still has a much greater pitch range.

Each manual represents a division, or group of sounds. On our instrument they are called Great, Swell and Choir.  Each division has a particular character. The Great is the foundation of the instrument. Most of the hymn-playing will be done on this manual. The Swell is a little softer with more colorful sounds. The Choir has even more solo sounds. Sometimes both hands are on one manual playing like you would a piano.  Sometimes one hand is on a manual with solo sounds and the other hand on another manual playing back up harmony or a contrasting melody. In other music both hands move from one manual to another to create an echo or contrast. Having multiple manuals makes it possible for organ music to have structure with a variety of sounds.

When you look at the front of our instrument, the pipes that you are able to see are of the Great division. The other two divisions however are enclosed. That means that each division is in a box with shutters on three sides. The organist is able to control how open or closed those shutters are, thereby controlling the dynamics (how loud or soft the sound is). Most builders would have shutters on only one side, but the fact that Fisk builds in this way will give a far greater range from loud, when the shutters are open, to very soft, when they are closed, and everything in between!

The other division is the Pedal division, the set of keys (just like a manual) to be played by the feet. The pedal division has 32 notes. They are arranged just like the keys on a piano, but sized for the feet. The pedal board is slightly concave to make reaching the keys on each end a little more convenient.

As I shared earlier, I was able to be at the dedication weekend for Fisk, Op 150. I thought it was interesting when in a discussion with people of Christ Church, Philadelphia David Pike, Tonal Director at Fisk, related the three divisions of their instrument to the three persons of the Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The Great could represent the strong foundational voice of the Father. Their new division was placed behind the organist on the balcony rail, closer to the people of the congregation, as the Son, Emmanuel, God with us, is close to us. The ethereal sounds coming from the upper part of the instrument could be related to the Holy Ghost. Three expressions of one. I won't try to push the theological relevance any further, but I did find it interesting!

In the next article we can look at the next part of the organ description “tracker”.

You are part way to “talking like an organist.”

Sally Potter
Organist, Wesley UMC

Organ Model

Allow me to introduce you to Grace, Fisk Op 153. Isn't she lovely? This is a picture of the model of our
Chancel area and instrument. The model is in the Fisk workshop. She was designed to look as if she
had always been a part of the Sanctuary and adds a complementary balance to the stories told by the
windows and the suspended cross with crown of thorns. Notice how many of the shapes in the case
reflect the shapes found in our windows. And see the little designs in colors? They are colors from the
windows. Her case will be of oak, like our pews, but rather honey-toned to integrate with the windows.
The facade pipes (the pipes that we see) are the Principal 16' on the Great. This will be the core of her
sound. The pipes of that rank are made of a hammered metal alloy of 98% lead. Metal pipes can be
made of various alloys of tin and lead and other metals. Those with high lead content like ours have a
warm, inviting sound and hammering gives them a lovely semi-gloss appearance. They won't be as
shiny as the pipes of our previous organ which were of high tin content with a brilliant sound. The
gilded mouths will be a nice contrast on the darker bodied pipes.

 

The case doesn't fill the entire width of the arches. That results in advantages aesthetically, acoustically
and practically. Aesthetically this design gives us the ratio of height versus width that is most pleasing.
In this view you may not be able to see that there are floor to ceiling pipes along the back wall. Those
pipes along both edges will be able to speak more directly into the room and support our hymn singing.
And practically speaking the side doors to the organ chamber are still accessible.

 

This physical model will soon be translated to a CAD model and construction of parts of our organ will
begin in earnest next month.

Through the generosity of memorials, we are able to add a cymbelstern to the organ. The cymbelstern is a set of little bells that ring in a pattern when they are engaged. They add a happy, whimsical
background to the music. But as my grandmother used to say, “Pretty is as Pretty does.” Grace will fulfill her role of adding to the visual aspect of our worship, but even more, offer a myriad of voices to add to our own in prayer and praise.

Sally Potter
Wesley Organist

Chapter 31: The End of Time

Yes, I am coming soon. —Jesus. Of the original apostles, only John remained to hear these words. He had experienced the climax of salvation history, but God was not yet finished. He had one more message to share with John and the growing churches to show His servants what must soon take place.

John was exiled on the island of Patmos for his faith in Jesus. It was here that the glorified Christ appeared to John with a message of His second coming. John saw someone “like a son of man” dressed in a priestly robe and ready to judge. He fell like a dead man at His feet. This John who had leaned against Jesus’ breast (John 13:25) could not even stand before Christ’s unveiled glory. Jesus presented Himself as the resurrected One who has authority over life and death. He stood among seven golden lamp stands, which represent the seven churches located in the province of Asia Minor on the mainland close to the island of Patmos.

Jesus had messages for each of these seven churches. From the three churches addressed in this chapter, a pattern emerges. First, there’s a unique description of Jesus that is related to the message. Then each message contains both a word of commendation and a rebuke for the congregation. He then gives an instruction or warning before an encouraging promise to those who listen and overcome the problem. Jesus who stands among the lamp stands was carefully watching His churches.

John then saw the throne room of heaven where he was shown visions of future events. God sat upon His throne in unimaginable splendor and beauty. He was surrounded by living creatures and elders who worshiped Him without ceasing. He held a scroll that no one was found worthy to open, causing John to weep. But John’s hope was restored when he saw the Lamb standing as if slain. For the Lamb was worthy to open the scroll and also to receive power and glory and honor and praise!

Shortly thereafter, the bride, who symbolizes all faithful believers, was ready, wearing clean linen and prepared for the marriage supper of the Lamb. Then John saw heaven opened and Jesus descended in full glory on a white horse ready to wage war and judge mankind. The King of Kings was ready to rule with blazing eyes and a blood drenched robe, a sharp sword and filled with the fury of God’s wrath. He was accompanied by the armies of heaven. His appearance is a dramatic reminder of the awfulness of God’s coming judgment upon those who reject the Lord. God’s final judgment from His great white throne is the final event of human history as we know it. The dead stand before Him in judgment. Those not found in the book of life are cast into the lake of fire.

Then John saw the New Heaven and New Earth and the New Jerusalem. In this future re-creation, God dwells among His people where He wipes away every tear. Many themes from His redemptive Story find their culmination in this place where all things are made new. The majestic and glorious New Jerusalem will be home to all the redeemed. Nothing impure will ever enter it. The water of life flows from the throne of God, the tree of life bears much fruit, and all are invited to partake. This place is the hope of every believer, for it is where God’s Upper Story and His Lower Story finally merge into one. It is here that the redeemed will enjoy the presence of God and of the Lamb forever. As Jesus concluded His message to John, three times He said, “Look, I am coming soon!” No wonder we are called blessed! Our King is coming! Come, Lord Jesus, come!

God has set a time for judgment. All of us must give an accounting of how we have lived. How should that affect us today?

Chapter 30: Paul's Final Days

If one could earn frequent traveler miles two thousand years ago, Paul might hold a record. After
spending nearly three years in Ephesus, he retraced his steps through Greece and Macedonia before docking in Miletus. There, he summoned the Ephesian elders for a tearful and final farewell. He charged them with shepherding the church of God. After a brief stay with Philip in Caesarea, Paul headed for Jerusalem, knowing that chains awaited him there.

Paul seemed to always be able to stir up a controversy. Just walking into the temple court stirred up trouble. The Jews tried to kill him in Jerusalem so the Roman authorities stepped in to arrest him. While being taken into custody, Paul gave his testimony before an angry crowd. The Roman commander brought him before the Sanhedrin to get some answers, but that only made the problem worse. Paul remained in protective custody and was transferred to Caesarea’s higher court where he remained for two years before appealing to Caesar.

When Paul wrote to the church in Rome while still on his missionary journeys, he told them that he planned to visit them. He probably did not anticipate his “fourth missionary journey” to be under these circumstances. Luke joined him on this cruise to Rome with Julius, a kind Imperial centurion, as Paul’s personal escort. Paul warned the crew that sailing on in bad weather would be disastrous, but they continued anyway. Conditions worsened to hurricane force winds off the coast of Crete driving their ship every which way. Weeks later the storm had not weakened, but all thoughts of survival surely had. Food was low, gear was gone, hope was gone. What seemed like a bad episode of Gilligan’s Island became unlikely opportunities for Paul to talk about God. The next morning they arrived safely ashore on Malta where the islanders showed exceptional hospitality. When Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake without incident, the people thought he was either a criminal or a god. Paul healed many of the locals during their winter stay there. Three months later they were finally able to set sail for Rome.

Paul was greeted by believers at the port of Puteoli, modern day Pozzuoli, about 150 miles south of Rome.  They encouraged him and he spent a week there before traveling on. When the Roman Christians heard he was coming, they joined him for the final forty miles of his trek to Rome where Paul was confined to house arrest under the supervision of a soldier. Paul invited the Jewish leaders to come to his house. There he told them about his conflict with the Jerusalem Jews and the fulfillment of the Scriptures by Jesus. Some believed, but others rejected his message. So, once again, Paul pronounced his mission to the Gentiles. He spent the next two years boldly teaching anyone who would stop by about Jesus (60-62 A.D). In his spare time, Paul corresponded with some old friends.

Paul had a special place in his heart for the church in Ephesus. He had spent three years there
developing the new church (Acts 20:31). He wrote to remind them of the high calling in Christ that is the basis of God’s plan to unite all believers—Jews and Gentiles alike—in one body, the Church.  Therefore, those who are called are to conduct themselves in the highest of ethical standards. Although the world is hostile, believers are to preserve unity in the Spirit. During his final Roman imprisonment (67-68 A.D.), Paul wrote to Timothy to encourage him to be faithful in preserving the gospel in the midst of persecution and false teachers. Timothy faced hardship in Ephesus. So knowing he was probably facing execution soon, Paul penned a heartfelt letter to strengthen this son even from a damp, cold dungeon in Rome.

What ways does God work things out for our good-even things that are difficult?

Patience, Graciousness, Praise and more Patience

On the weekend of May 4-6, I was able to visit Philadelphia for the installation of Fisk's Op 150 in Christ Church. I am thankful to have had this experience. It taught me a great deal and made me anticipate even more the time when we will install and dedicate Op 153 here at Wesley. Christ Church is in the historic Old City of Philadelphia and is where George Washington worshipped. Due to careful design and artistic production, their elegant new organ looks as if it had always been in that balcony, as our Grace will appear to have always been in our sanctuary. Some of the sounds we will hear on Op. 153 will be similar to some of the sounds I heard on Op 150. Each organ is designed or each sanctuary's acoustics and each congregation's specific needs – but we can look forward to scrumptious foundation sounds, pure dancing flutes, and colorful reed stops, as I experienced in Philadelphia.

I was able to talk to the organist there about his satisfaction with that instrument; information we can use as we design ours. But his strongest advice was that I should come back and preach 'Patience' to our congregation. People are of course asking about our progress. Compared to other churches, Wesley is on the fast-track to getting an instrument designed and installed, but he cautioned it will only get harder to wait and watch as the process continues. In February the organ will be delivered and installed. Within the month it will LOOK almost done, but that is when the next stage of painstaking work begins. Each pipe must be voiced (precisely adjusted) to sound right in our sanctuary. That will go on for months. Fortunately, we will be able to hear bits of the organ as it progresses, but won't have a finished product until the Fall of 2019. During this time we will have workers of the Fisk shop with us. It is our chance to return the gracious hospitality that was showered on me as I visited Philly and on our committee when we visited the Fisk workshop in April.

I attended a Saturday recital, the Sunday morning worship, and a dedicatory choral service of Evensong. Two themes seemed to keep running through these worship services: We are One Body and Praise.

We are One Body.

In my travels, I was struck by how often our interconnectedness revealed itself. I was touched by the number of people who said they had shared our grief when they saw on the internet pictures of our sanctuary with the cross suspended over the rubble of our organ. I was surprised to find that my seatmate on the flight from Chicago to Philadelphia had graduated the year behind me from MHS. I am excited to look forward to a young man from the Fisk shop being with us to install our instrument whose uncle is Mark Mitchell, owner of Contrary Brewing Company. We are woven together in ways we may not realize, but I find comfort in the discovery of our connectedness.

Praise.

Christ Church was happy to have fallen into Fisk's line up of contracts at such a time that their instrument became Opus 150. They related to Psalm 150. 'Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; ...with trumpet sound, ...lute and harp, ...tambourine and dance, ...strings and pipe,...clanging cymbals! Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!' Op 150 will do just that and will enable the congregation to praise in new ways.

Psalm 153. Shoot – there is no Psalm 153 to go with our Op 153. We will need to write Psalm 153 since none exists, or better yet, be Psalm 153. How will we be Psalm 153? We will practice patience and gracious hospitality as we Praise our Creator who weaves us together into the Body of Christ.

-Sally Potter
Wesley's organist

Chapter 29: Paul's Mission

Saul began his career as a radical Jewish scholar who was so convinced the Christians were wrong that he had them imprisoned and stoned. After an encounter with the resurrected Jesus he became a Christ-follower. Saul became Paul (his Greek name) who proclaimed Christ to the Jews first and also to the Gentiles. Led by the Holy Spirit, the believers in their home base of Antioch in Syria commissioned Paul and Barnabas and sent them out as missionaries to spread the news that Jesus the Messiah is raised from the dead. Their first missionary journey took them to the island of Cyprus where they encountered a Jewish sorcerer who opposed them and a Roman proconsul who embraced the gospel. They set sail for the region of Galatia (present south-central Turkey). They were invited to preach in the synagogue in Antioch and, after an initial favorable reception, they faced persecution so they turned their sights toward the Gentiles.

Paul was joined by Timothy, Silas, and eventually Luke for his second missionary journey. They visited many cities in Macedonia, including Philippi where a church was begun in Lydia’s home. The evangelists were beaten and thrown in jail where their faith convicted not only their jailer, but apparently the other prisoners as well. Many Jews and Greeks from Thessalonica believed before Paul and Silas were sent away for their own protection. Paul then met Priscilla and Aquila in Corinth where he was again opposed by the Jews. But Gentiles believed, so Paul stayed and ministered there for about a year and a half. He also wrote letters to these churches to teach and encourage them. He wrote the Thessalonians to encourage them to continue to be the model of Christianity that they had become in expectation of the Lord’s return.

After returning to his base of operations in Antioch, Paul set out on his third journey.  As he
strengthened the churches in the Galatian region, Apollos showed up in Ephesus where he met Priscilla and Aquila. He was a powerful speaker and strong disciple, but needed further teaching. Paul arrived in Ephesus, a hotbed of pagan idolatry, and as he began teaching in the synagogue, most Jews rejected his message. He stayed more than two years teaching both Jews and Greeks. Many people from the region came to hear him as the word spread. Some of the Ephesians believed and left their idols and witchcraft in exchange for a new life in Christ. This did not set well with the idol artisans who staged a riot to drive Paul out of town. While in Ephesus, he penned letters to churches in Corinth, Galatia, and Rome, though he had not yet visited there.

The Corinthian church had enjoyed a who’s who of early church leaders. This privilege should have prodded them onto Christian maturity but instead they chose sides like children on a playground. Paul chastised them for their divisiveness, corrected their immorality, and answered questions that they had about spiritual gifts. They needed to practice sacrificial love for one another. Some were even denying the resurrection so Paul gave them a remedial lesson on the essentials of the gospel and the hope of a future resurrection. The Galatian churches were confused by Jewish Christians who insisted they practice the Jewish ceremonial rites. Paul’s letter is a masterpiece on Christian liberty as he defended justification by faith alone. Paul’s pastoral desire to minister to the believers in Rome prompted him to write a letter to convey the foundations of the Christian faith. In spite of every form of opposition, the word of God could not be contained. God saw to it that obstacles became opportunities for Paul and others to take the gospel “even to the ends of the earth.”

Of all the counsel he gives to the different churches, which piece of counsel challenges you the most?

Chapter 28: New Beginnings

What could turn a group of gutless deserters into courageous, outspoken evangelists willing to be
imprisoned and even die for their cause? They had witnessed the resurrected Christ. He had proved Himself alive for forty days to various people in a variety of circumstances and places. Just before His ascension, Jesus told the disciples to wait for the promised power of the Holy Spirit so that they could be witnesses to His resurrection in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Ten days later on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit stormed in like tongues of fire. He empowered each disciple to declare the gospel. Peter became the first mega-church preacher and that day three thousand new believers were baptized. This new community of believers embraced teaching and fellowship and enjoyed the favor of nearly all the people. All but the powerful Jewish rulers, that is.

The new church continued to grow rapidly. The apostles were even able to perform miracles similar to those Jesus had done! As the apostles spread the word of the resurrection in Jerusalem, they incited outrage and opposition from the Jewish rulers. Peter refused to be silenced and continued to speak in spite of orders to stop. Even a severe flogging could not curb his zealous proclamation that Jesus was the Messiah. Stephen’s scathing sermon before the Sanhedrin showed how the Jews had repeatedly rejected God’s prophets and resisted God’s Spirit. The Sanhedrin dragged him outside of Jerusalem to stone him.  He saw a vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God and entrusted himself to the Lord.

Sparked by the martyring of Stephen, persecution drove Christians like Philip out of Jerusalem and into outlying areas like Samaria. While the opposition grew, so did the spread of the gospel message. A Pharisee named Saul made it his personal mission to defeat this movement once and for all, but his blinding come-to-Jesus moment on the road to Damascus really “opened his eyes.” Meanwhile, God prepared Ananias to deliver God’s marching orders to Saul: he had a mission to be God’s witness to the Gentiles. As Ananias laid his hands upon him, Saul’s sight was restored and he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Within a few short days, this persecutor of Christ became a preacher of Christ. Needless to say, his turnaround was met with suspicion and doubt, but trusted Barnabas vouched for him to the apostles in Jerusalem. Saul soon found himself on the receiving end of death threats, so he too was sent away from Jerusalem. The church spread throughout Judea and Samaria as God used even persecution to achieve His Upper Story purpose of spreading the news that Jesus is the risen Messiah.

God’s next move was so radical that He had to prepare both Peter and Cornelius for this new revelation. While an angel told Roman centurion Cornelius to send for Peter, Peter was given a vision of unclean animals on a sheet. A heavenly voice instructed him to eat this meat that was definitely not kosher. What Peter called impure, God now called clean. As Peter was trying to interpret the meaning of this vision, Cornelius’ servants arrived and summoned him to their master’s home. When he explained the gospel to a full house, the Holy Spirit was poured out on these Gentiles too! The Holy Spirit was now available to all who believed! Peter now knew his vision was not about food but about God’s plan to declare all people “kosher” who would believe in Christ. Peter’s ministry continued in Jerusalem where Herod Agrippa’s persecution grew deadly. Peter was imprisoned but even prison bars could not stop God’s plan. As his friends earnestly prayed for him, an angel miraculously freed him. Kings, rulers, and prison guards all found themselves fighting against God and helpless to stop His plan. While the Lower Story of persecution drove believers away from Jerusalem, the Upper Story of resurrection drove many to God.  He alone can redeem even the worst of circumstances. After all, He alone is the God who raised the dead!

How do you feel the Holy Spirit working in your life today?

Chapter 27: The Resurrection

Ashamed. Afraid. Absent. Mere hours after they pledged never to leave Jesus—even to die with Jesus—the Eleven were nowhere near the cross as the sun began to set. The Roman soldiers were still there though and pierced His side to prove Jesus was very, very dead. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, an unlikely duo, show up at the cross. These two members of the Sanhedrin shed their secret discipleship and took responsibility for burying Jesus’ body. Wrapping Him in enough spices for a king, they laid Him in a nearby tomb. Remembering Jesus’ words, the Jewish authorities and Pilate secured the tomb and posted a guard there to keep the three-day resurrection story from gaining any traction.

Sunday morning, a group of faithful women approached the tomb wondering who could remove the rock that sealed the entrance. Imagine their shock as an angel told them Jesus was not there, “He is risen, just as He said!” Hearing the news, Peter and John sprinted to the tomb. They, too, found it empty. As Mary Magdalene wept still in disbelief, Jesus appeared to her and she too believed. Later the same day, an unrecognized Jesus approached two downcast disciples on the road to Emmaus. They told Him all of Jerusalem was talking of the events of the last three days. The One whom they had hoped would redeem Israel had been crucified and they were discouraged. Some silly women even had an unbelievable angelic vision that the tomb was empty. Jesus admonished the two for their unbelief. Then He used Moses and the Prophets to teach them about the Messiah. Jesus dined with them that evening. When their eyes were opened and they recognized Him, He disappeared from their sight, but they believed! So they headed back to Jerusalem, full of joy to report their experience to the Eleven. They were interrupted there by yet another Jesus encounter. An empty tomb and two appearance reports later, the disciples still cowered and mistook Jesus for a ghost when He spoke to them. “Touch me and see,” He said as He showed them His hands and feet. When Jesus re-explained the Old Testament in light of all that had happened, He opened their minds so they too finally understood.

Thomas was not about to believe these second-hand stories. He wouldn’t believe it until he saw the nail marks for himself. A week later, Jesus graciously appeared to Thomas and the others just so he could touch the scars for himself. Thomas confessed, “My Lord and My God!” Yes, now he believed that Jesus was the God-man and that He was risen indeed.

Days later, Jesus appeared to the disciples by the Sea of Galilee. Having caught nothing all night, Jesus told the fishermen to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. The miraculous catch was so great that they could hardly get the fish into the boat. It prompted Peter to bail out and head to the Lord. Over a beach breakfast, Jesus three times asked Peter if he loved Him. Then He told Peter three times to care for His sheep. The Eleven met Jesus on a Galilean mountain where He commissioned them to continue to carry out His mission by saying, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

As God, Jesus had all authority to now commission His disciples to carry out the building of His new community of believers who would be identified with the Triune God. They, in turn, could accomplish their mission because, as Emmanuel (Matthew 1:23), He would be with them to do so. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ proved Him as the Son of God. It is the cornerstone of the Christian faith and the climax of God’s great story of redemption. The redemptive work was finished, but now the real work began to spread the good news. His ragtag group of disciples were just the ones to do it, armed with the power of God.

Why is it important for us to believe, as Christians, Jesus rose from the dead?