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Q & A
Q&A: Reaching Toward Easter Mary Jacobs, Jan 16, 2012
Derek Maul’s new book, Reaching Toward Easter (Upper Room) is the Upper Room's Lenten selection for 2012. With daily devotions and weekly discussion guides, the book can serve as an individual devotional or as part of an eight-week group study during Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22.
Mr. Maul, a news columnist who has been featured in The Tampa Tribune, Newsweek, USA Today and Guideposts magazine, has authored three other books for the Upper Room. He worships at First Presbyterian Church in Brandon, Fla., where his wife, Rebekah, is senior pastor. He spoke recently with staff writer Mary Jacobs.
Why another devotional for Lent? What led you to write this? I was observing that people would be all excited on Palm Sunday, then there’d be this concentrated week of Holy Week—and then nobody was really quite ready for Easter. I think that in the Protestant tradition, we’ve let go of Lent and some of the sacred rhythm of these seasons needs to be recovered.
Tell me what you mean by sacred rhythm. The idea of sacred rhythm came out of a conference I attended a few years ago, which was called A Pastor’s Sabbath, for a bunch of Presbyterian preachers and their spouses. Walter Brueggemann, a retired Old Testament professor from Columbia, was talking about the Sabbath and the way it’s built into the rhythm of creation, with six days and then a day of rest, and how important that sort of refreshment is. The Hebrew word is actually nephesh—it means “refreshment”—it’s about refreshing the whole spirit. He argued that God has placed into creation a sense of rhythm, of timing. I applied it to the idea of the ecclesiastical year. We have Lent, Advent, the season of Epiphany, Pentecost—all of these things, which if we observe them—help us to be in rhythm spiritually, where the heart beats with the creation.
How might someone benefit by undertaking regular devotions during Lent? I think it’s so that we can take seriously all that Christ gave to us through his passion and through Easter. So that we can be prepared spiritually to really enter in our own journey to Jerusalem, our journey of the cross, a pilgrimage almost. So that we cannot treat Easter in a perfunctory way that we tend to do—“Oh, it’s just one more special event.” No, this is something that created Christianity, we’d better take it seriously. There’s too much on the surface level in our spirituality, especially contemporary spirituality. I play guitar in the praise band, so I’m all about contemporary worship, but I think that there’s a sense of surface experience, without a depth of devotion, in a lot of modern Christianity. I think preparing adequately for Easter devotionally helps with that.
The title of your book is Reaching Toward Easter. What does that mean? I think reaching toward Easter means that if we are not intentional, then we miss it. “Reaching” has a sense of intentionality about it, a sense that, “Yeah, there it is, I’m going to grab ahold of it and make this a part of my spiritual experience rather than just another day on the calendar.”
Will you do anything differently this year during Lent? Not really. I’ve really developed a very powerful devotional routine that’s with me all of the time. This is an opportunity for people to begin a devotional routine and not stop once we get to Easter. In fact, the last chapter is actually the day after Easter. Because that’s the “So what?” question. We’ve taken all this trouble to prepare ourselves for Easter, well, so what? What difference does that make in my life? So it’s the beginning of the rest of our lives and keeping the momentum going. My last chapter goes beyond Easter and talks about how this is going to affect our lives and how we can keep this going.
How might all this affect our lives? The last chapter is called, “Eighth Day Believers.” It’s the idea that we are re-created, we are new people, because Jesus rose from the dead. We are participating in the second week of creation. Jesus has opened up something new for us. So we are transformed into new people once we get on board with Jesus. It’s living in the truth of what Easter makes possible—fully engaged lives. This has been a theme in the last two books I’ve written, this idea that we have been designed to live to capacity—and that’s only possible when we’re more deliberate in our relationship with God.
A lot of people give something up at Lent. Will you give anything up? I don’t like that. It’s a negative orientation, unless you think of it as giving up something up that gets between me and my relationship with God. I like to think, “What do we add during Lent?” instead of what we give up. So, instead of giving up chocolate, how about adding five minutes of prayer? Instead of giving up TV, how about adding a devotional exercise or some Christian music? Do something that enriches your spiritual life, rather than just saying, “Well, because of God I can’t have any fun anymore.”
Too often we think of God as “putting the brakes on” and stopping us, whereas what God does is, he opens things up and lets us loose to live in the way we were designed to live. So that’s always more, not less.
The Upper Room, in partnership with BeADisciple, will be offering an online course based on Mr. Maul’s book during this Lent (Feb. 22-April 8). Visit www.MyUpperRoom.org to register.