Making Arrangements

Gift giving at our house was never a time for surprises.   Our gifts were so predictable we would could have dispensed with wrapping paper altogether.   My parents assured me they wanted the same things at every gifting opportunity.  For Christmas, my mother received chocolate-covered cherries and a flip calendar refill and my father a new can of Borkum-Riff.   At Father’s Day, my sisters and I would collaborate on new white dress shirt.   After the presentation of home-made cards and crafts, we would present our gift.  He would shake it and feel of it, then carefully, and with great suspense, open the package revealing to no one’s surprise a white Van Heusen dress shirt.  

Though it was Sunday, my father would never wear his new shirt on the day it was received.  We would implore him to, as a matter of ritual.   But he was unmoved.  He would lovingly place the unopened shirt in a special draw in his closet and declare, “I will save that one for my funeral.”   Why he felt the need to say this, I never knew.   He would, of course, eventually wear the shirt.  But we never noticed exactly when.  As far as we knew, he had indeed saved it for his funeral.   But, if so, that would have been his only funeral plan.    

My father was not a procrastinator.  He was a planner.  He loved to plan and organize.  Long after my sisters and I moved out, he would mail us detailed agendas of any road trip he might take.  He had files of files and lists of lists.   He was always a man with a plan.  Except, that is, when it came to funeral planning.  He had absolutely no interest in thinking about those things.   Any suggestion regarding funeral planning was met with swift rebuttal and redirection.

But as a pastor I have noticed how helpful advanced funeral planning is for a grieving family.  From decisions about burial places and furnishings, to the logistics of services, down to the music and readings – all these things give you the opportunity to make sure what matters most is shared with those who matter most as they grieve.   The thoughts shared at a funeral set the trajectory of grief and establish hope beyond the grave – hope that this is not the end, but only the end of the beginning, hope that there is more to come.

At first glance, it seems that Jesus’ burial arrangements were anything but planned.  The only clear preparation the gospels refer to is the anointing of Jesus at Bethany by Mary, the sister of Lazarus.  Victims of crucifixion could be claimed by their family for burial, but if not, they were thrown unceremoniously into unmarked graves.   The circumstances of Jesus death made it virtually impossible for his family to claim his body.  But as Good Friday ebbs away toward the Sabbath, events unfold which reveal that Jesus’ Heavenly Father had providentially made remarkable plans for his funeral, plans foretold hundreds of years before by the prophet Isaiah, who wrote, “And they made his grave … with a rich man in his death.” (Isaiah 53:9).

Jesus burial established a remarkable trajectory of hope for all who believe in him.  Had Jesus been tossed into a Roman burial pit, many clear and compelling proofs of the resurrection would not have been possible.  But in God’s advanced funeral planning for His Only Begotten Son, he is buried in a prominent place, in a grave secure from unseen access, in a new, unused tomb, wrapped in graveclothes that would be abandoned, and sealed and guarded tenaciously by his enemies.   God works through the courage of Joseph of Arimathea and the cowardice of the religious leaders to assure us that Christ is risen indeed.  Every detail of Jesus’ burial furnishes forensic proof of the resurrection and assures us of  our own redemption. 

Join us on Facebook Live at 10:30 am this Lord’s Day, April 5, as we examine Luke 23:50-56 and consider amazing importance of the death and burial of the Lord Jesus.  For updates on our current plans for worship while practicing social distancing go to our post, COVID 19 Update.

COVID 19 Update

Each month as we come to the Lord’s Table we are reminded that our fellowship there extends much further than that table.   As we move out from the Lord’s Table to every other table in life, you hear exhortation from Hebrews 10:24-25.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

But in the brave new world of social distancing how can we continue to live life, “not neglecting to meet together.”  The word translated, “meet together” means to bring together at one place or time.  Yet, the origins of this word emphasize the fact of gathering and the unity of gathering, not the location of the gathering.    For this reason, the Westminster Confession and our ARP Directory for Public Worship view the “where” of worship as one of those circumstances that must be ordered in light of “Christian Prudence.”

“Certain matters or circumstances concerning worship have not been fixed by a definite rule in the Holy Scriptures, such as the order of worship which is to be followed, the appointed time or place for the gathering of God’s people … must be guided by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.” ARP Directory of Public Worship, II.3

Why is the important?  Because we take seriously the importance of corporate worship in the life of the Church.   But at the same time, our elders, in exercising their care and oversight for the congregation, must weigh carefully how to balance the demands of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Commandments.   

We believe that faithfulness to these commands demands that we continue our Lord’s Day gatherings via only live streaming at least through the month of April.   All other gatherings for prayer or Bible study will take place through video or audio conference.  Our Session will meet the first week of May to reassess our plans going forward. 

We will gather each Lord’s Day at 10:30 am via Facebook Live.  This stream will be simulcast both to our River City ARP Facebook page as well as to the Pottsville ARP Facebook page (Lord willing).   If there are technical issues, the video will be posted on YouTube for later viewing.

The service will be simple.   We will have a call to worship and response, I will lead us through our confession of sin, assurance of pardon, and confession of faith.  Then we will share a time of teaching.  Our service will conclude with a pastoral prayer, the Lord’s Prayer and then the Benediction.

I will email a full order of service each week which includes the lyrics to some of the songs included on the YouTube playlist.   You may listen to these or sing them together in your home gathering.  We will not sing them together via the live stream.

Of course, some elements of gathering are hard to reproduce as we practice social distancing: fellowship, service, and giving.

Experience fellowship through the means of virtual communication.   Take time to revive the old custom of writing letters and cards to one another.  And, of course, use all the modern means God has given us.  

Serve one another.  Find out what others need.   You may be surprised by the needs of others.  Need for conversation, need for encouragement and of course practical needs.

Continue or begin your faithful giving by giving online or for other options go to the Giving link on our website. But if you prefer, you can either:

  1. Mail your tithes and offerings to:  River City ARP Church c/o Matt Wylie, PO Box 156, Pottsville, AR 72858 or
  2. Set up “Bill Pay” from your online banking to send a check to the address above.

One of the remarkable things about the church is that it is a community that creates culture, it is not a community created by culture.  It thrives and flourishes in every place, in every people and in every language.   It transcends its circumstances and creates community and culture no matter what soil it is planted in.   God has placed us here as the church in a very unique time in our history.   Graciously He has also given us remarkable means to express our community as the Church in a way that enables us to meet together even when we are not together.  

This pandemic will end.  When it does, some things will go back to the way they were before, but in God’s providence, there will be many things we learn from this trial about living life together and about engaging our world with the gospel that will change us as the Church.   Now is not the time for fear, but a time for worship.   I look forward to seeing you here, online, this Lord’s Day at 10:30.