Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, April 15, 2001
The following is a chronicle of the week that led, at long last at the age of 59, to my entry into the House of Christ, the Heart of Christ and the Body of Christ, as a Jew. It tracks the (to me) amazing hours from my baptism to my first Holy Communion and begins on Palm Sunday, April 9, 2001 and ends at a new beginning on Easter Sunday, April 15, 2001.
It’s been more than 30 years since I began my atheist’s quest for the Truth. With the patient guidance of my best friend going all the way back to our years in Potomac, Maryland, Karen Hartenberger, I arrived at this glorious week – a place I never thought I’d be. She spent endless hours answering my questions and making me even more curious about that light in her eyes that came only from Jesus Christ.
Born a Jew 59 years ago and having spent most of my life as an atheist and then as an agnostic, today is the first (official) day of the rest of my life with Jesus Christ – on earth and in heaven. While I came to know God only 7 years ago, not realizing at the time that God and Jesus are One, it wasn’t until Christmas of 1999 that I came to know Jesus and ask Him to be my Lord and Savior. That was my real conversion and baptism into the Holy Spirit, terms I’d have derided only a few years ago.
Since then it’s been a whirlwind of study, reading, prayer and learning. My arrival at this glorious place was guided by reason, leading me to a place where it was inevitable that I must take the Leap of Faith so necessary to my completion in Christ. Reason can take a person quite far, but only so far. After that, God waits to see if you are willing to go the rest of the way on faith - in Him. My own conversion was the farthest thing from “blind faith” as it gets. God knew that I was not one to take anything on faith alone, so He spoke to me for many years in the language I’d understand best according to the way He wired me: books, audio tapes and video tapes by Christian Apologists, and conversations with other converts, clergy and strong Christians. This went on for about 30 years in order to build my conviction about the truth of His existence and the Messiahship of Jesus Christ.
My background of atheism served me well as a learning tool for more than 50 years because it taught me how “the other side” thinks and what they read to bolster their preconceived, although erroneous ideas. In my studies, I also investigated Judaism, the faith into which I was born. After all of this, there was still the dangling silken cord waiting to be attached --- to what, I didn’t know. I just didn’t feel right – incomplete. Free-floating. That cord had to close the circle at some attachment point, and Judaism didn’t close it for me for reasons only God knows.
Had I stayed in Judaism or agnosticism and atheism, the cord would still be dangling, tossed by whim and wind, flailing about by oral argument and spiritual astigmatism. Today, though, that whiplash silken cord is firmly secured to the page where we enter the New Testament with the words, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (KJV)
The recognition of Jesus as the Messiah was the logical route which began in the Old Testament at the Creation. It led me through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to Moses, through Jesse and the House of David to Jesus Himself. It’s all there in the Bible, all the prophecies, and all the promise. Yes, the Leap of faith was ultimately my own, but my path to the jumping-off point was paved with the divinely inspired writing in the Bible, and that of many rational and reasoned Christian Apologists, and other writers too numerous to mention.
God had no small hand in this unlikely conversion – it was all His doing. But He did it gently and softly, according to His plan for me. God knew what I could accept and what I could not accept; He knew I had to be able to wrap my mind around concepts first – before leaping in the direction of Faith. In His patient love, it was He Who created me and it is He who put the cerebral food in front of me to digest, which I did for decades and with great gusto.
It is my belief that fifty-two years of atheism and agnosticism was necessary and beneficial to me because of God’s gracious purpose for me. Without it, I would not be able to speak to atheists, seekers and non-believers in their own language, which I am convinced is what God plans for me on however small a scale. Jews figure heavily into this picture too – they are God’s original “Chosen Ones” according to The Word, and as such warrant utmost attention. How God plans to do this in my life is something I will leave to Him. I will just follow.
Here then, are the events leading up to my baptism and first Holy Communion, at age 59, in perfect physical and mental health with nothing on my mind but God. This is not a “deathbed conversion”. It is the culmination of more than three decades of questioning and study and learning. My graduation degree is God’s Grace and The Cross. Some people come to the Lord being weary of pain. I came being weary of pleasure, pleasure that never satisfied the way Jesus Christ does.
Palm Sunday, April 8, 2001
My first Palm Sunday church service. Lovely!
Monday, April 9, 2001 – Born Again!
It was 11:13 am on Monday, the day after my first Palm Sunday Church service. The house was empty. I had only just toweled off my naked body from a post-exercise shower, when it happened.
I saw my nakedness in the full-length mirror and in the flash of frozen time, God revealed two things:
First, He showed me some of the highest moments in Biblical History, from the Creation through to Jesus’ resurrection. The shower was symbolic of birth, the nakedness, of The Fall.
All of this happened in under a minute of our time with the Holy Spirit moving to cover my entire body in a breath of warmth from His Divine Grace. He poured His love and His vision onto me. Eyes closed and barely breathing, I let the feeling wash over me and bathe me in its otherworldly gloriousness.
After a year or more of waiting for God to send the right circumstances
for my Baptism into Christ’s church and thereby into His heart, I received
a phone call yesterday that my Baptism will be done on Good Friday, the
day following the remembrance of the story of the Exodus of the Israelites
from Egypt and from bondage, and the day of the Lord’s Supper!
On Easter Sunday, two days after my Baptism, I will take my first Holy Communion at St. James Episcopal Church on James Island, South Carolina. As a final gift from God, my loving Catholic husband told me that for the first time in his life, he would take Communion outside his native Catholic Church so that he will be able to join me in my first Holy Communion.
In a single week of my life, God will gather me into His comfortable arms and into His Church, but He will also permit me to share in His sacrificial Body and Blood with my husband. What gifts!
Second, in the sequence of events from shower (birth), to viewing my own nakedness (The Fall), to the Baptism (converting, repenting, accepting and entering into Jesus’ Holy Church), to Holy Communion (remembering and partaking of Jesus and His sacrifice), to Easter Sunday (the Resurrection), I was born again.
The feeling was extremely intense and not thought out on a conscious level until now, as I try to put words to paper.
After the feeling subsided, I dropped to my knees and cried, thanking God for His Patience with this sinner and for his Love and joy at giving me this precious gift; God enjoys giving gifts to His children. I could almost see Him smiling at my recognition at what He had done for me. For certain, He was looking for just the right moment for this special gift, and in my vulnerable childlike nakedness, He let me glimpse eternal history and paternal Love - because He is Our Father who art in Heaven……………………
7am Good Friday service
Somber, sorrowful, serious, painful………but anticipatory. Good Friday is necessary for Easter Sunday.
Preparing for Baptism
It is truly amazing how many “coincidences” happen when God is happy about something you are doing in His name. At age 59, a Jewish ex-atheist, I was about to do something that was apparently going to make God very happy, because from this day until the end of Easter Sunday, miraculous things happened.
Maybe they were not Lourdes-type miracles and no, I didn’t heal anyone’s broken legs, but they were the kind of small miracles that might have gone unnoticed unless God’s megaphone was turned up high. To my ears, His megaphone was turned up to “unavoidable.” To my eyes, His sun was turned to “magnify”. To my heart, His love went off the scale.
In preparation for my baptism, I spent the day in quiet solitude – reading the Bible, praying, listening to wonderful spiritual music and getting into the right frame of mind. As I sat with my Bible on my lap and my 3 cats haphazardly and sleepily sprawled around me, I prayed for God to reveal to me the best passage in the Bible for Jack to read so that he could be a part of the Baptismal service. With my eyes closed, the Bible fell open to Psalm 118.
There was nothing that stood out about verse 1 but my heart almost stopped
as I read verses 2 and 3:
“Let Israel say: His love endures forever.
Let the house of Aaron say: “His love endures forever.”
What is so heart-stopping about that? As a Jew, the word “Israel” plays music in my heart for reasons I can only assume God knows, since I have never visited Israel in my life. But the really striking phrase, “Let the house of Aaron say…….” was what made the very breath catch in my throat. Why?
Aaron was Moses’ brother.
Their sister was……Miriam!
God was clearly telling me that he was standing beside one of His Chosen as she came home again from the wars of secularism and half a century of murky Godlessness. He was watching. He approved and was Divinely happy about it. It was Daddy saying, “You’re a good girl and I love you, Meriam of the house of Aaron. I am glad you have come home.”
Further on in Psalm 118 verses 20-21 are the words, “This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter. I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation.” It struck me that the “gate” is the baptism through which I was about to pass to enter the Body of Christ and His church.
Then in verse 22, the connection between the Old Testament and the New
Testament was made: “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone…..”,
a clear reference to Jesus, one widely acknowledged by most lay-Christians
and Christian theologians alike. Jesus was rejected, and then became the capstone
of the Christian church. By choosing Psalm 118 for me, God connected my
origin – the Old Testament, with my destiny – the New Testament.
The rest of this psalm was one of thanks to God, exaltation of God, praise of God. It’s beautiful!
As in the “Born Again” shower-event on Monday where I was shown my place in eternal history, the connection between God’s covenant with the people of Israel and their Messiah, Jesus, was crystal clear. God was showing me that not only was I important to Him, but my coming home to Him was joyfully recognized because I am a child of Israel by blood. He poured his love into my heart by revealing the historical connections between Moses and Jesus, and my place in that line. There was an unbroken silken cord of God’s love and faithfulness that tied the “house of Aaron” to Jesus’ house of many mansions.
Good Friday, April 13, 2001
It’s 6pm, only two hours since I was baptized into the heart and soul of Jesus Christ and into His church. I feel light. I feel happy. I feel welcomed. I feel His arms around me.
Funny, though………mostly I feel a deep sense of joyous responsibility more than anything else. Like a horse at the starting gate, I feel anxious to get going with my mission, my race, my calling, if you will – to bring others like me, non-believers, into the fold. In Mark 1:38 Jesus said, “Let us go somewhere else, to the small towns that are nearby. I have to spread the Good News in them also. This is why I have come.” I, too, will do that if God leads me there. I must also adhere to Jesus’ new commandment to “Love one another as I have loved you.” I will do that.
Though I’d gotten most of the anticipatory crying out of my system several hours earlier on this Good Friday, April 13, 2001, there were still a few happy tears at ceremony’s end today because for both me and Bernie, my closest Island friend, this was the apogee of our respective spiritual lives. She had wanted to be re-baptized in the River Jordan, but circumstances wouldn’t permit it. I had been waiting for Jesus all my life, although I didn’t know it until a year and a half ago, when I privately converted to Christianity from my birthright Judaism. We were both ecstatic.
The day is stunningly beautiful here on our back deck on Kiawah Island in South Carolina. More often than not this time of year, the gnats are so pesky as to be oppressive but today they vanished, right on cue, in time for the ceremony. There was a slight breeze on our back deck as Bernice Cole (she will always be “Bernie” to us) and I were Baptized in a dual-ceremony; she for the second time – this time as a consenting adult, and I for the first time. With the sounds of birds chirping and water rushing past us…..we began.
Both dressed in pure eggshell-white from head to toe with almost no makeup at all, the lively and cheerful blue-eyed clergyman used the sea water Jack had collected the day before in a small jar to baptize us. I placed half the water in one small Lenox China bowl rimmed in gold, the other half of the water into the identical Lenox bowl rimmed in silver and placed both bowls on the railing of the back deck which was surrounded with bright Spring flowers. Not that we needed Lenox China bowls, that’s for certain, but gold and silver seemed fitting because Bernie and I held each other’s hands for so many years leading up to this point. Gold and silver. Salt and pepper – she with her blond Gentile look, I with my darker Semitic look.
Jack read the parts of Psalm 118 I had highlighted before the actual ceremony. He had bought for us two huge bouquets of lovely Spring flowers, each tied with a white satin ribbon-bow, symbolizing our Baptisms. He also bought Bernie a book on the history of the English Bible with a personal inscription for her, and he bought me a small book called, “Grace”, with – again – the perfect inscription. Camera at-the-ready, Jack took photos of us after the ceremony ended. God’s hand lay soothingly over all of today’s events. Could this be more perfect?
After such a long wait to become a Christian, I am at last officially one of Jesus’ children. Bernie has always been a Christian, but since she was baptized as an infant not knowing what happened to her at the time, all her life she’s wanted to become re-baptized so that she could tell Jesus how much she loved Him and loved being born into His Kingdom. Today was the day. She glowed. Together with Jesus, we could have lit up the world.
At last…I am now officially a Christian. While God already knew that I
became a Christian a year and a half ago, which is what really matters,
this is the frosting on the cake, a birthday cake. But instead of one candle
on my cake, I have one and a half. I gladly offered and devoted my heart,
mind and soul to Jesus Christ on Christmas of 1999, a year and a half ago.
The rest is just scrollwork.
What an incredible day! Thanks be to God! This is the day the Lord has made.
Saturday Resting In The Lord
The day after my baptism and the day before Easter Sunday when I would be taking my first Holy Communion, was a day of rest, of preparation. After all the phone calls from friends asking about my baptism, I was able to bask in His glorious gifts to me. What a week so far!
Surely God’s plan for me was to make Easter Sunday equally special in remembrance of Jesus’ resurrection. Since His hand was all over all the events beginning with Palm Sunday, I was content to know how happy God was for me and how happy He was to have one of His children come home.
However, God had more “birthday” presents for me!………..
Easter Sunday, April 15, 2001
Anticipating what my first Holy Communion was going to feel like, I awoke in plenty of time to shower and dress all in white, as a bride goes to her wedding. Splashing coffee into my grogginess, I hummed along into the kitchen where Jack was reading the Sunday funnies, as he always does.
Not being one to read the newspaper much these days, Jack said, “Hon, I think you should see this.” As he held the newspaper out to me, I mentally rolled my eyes imagining what corny comic strip he planned to show me. He said, “No, hon, I mean it. This is serious.” Serious? In the funnies?
He handed me one of the most divinely inspired comic strips I’ve ever seen. It was Johnny Hart’s comic strip, “B.C.” Inspiration comes from many sources, so here again, God’s hand was manifest in my personal sacred events of this Holy Week. God’s unbroken connection between Israel and Jesus was made glitteringly clear:
(click for large view)
I was stunned as I saw my Jewish roots turn to Christian completion on the day I readied to “do this in remembrance” of Him for the first time. Another “coincidence”?
First Holy Communion and another gift from God!
Easter Sunday’s church service at St. James Episcopal Church on James Island, SC was spectacular. Bright colors, joyful music, voices robustly singing “He Is Risen, He Is Risen!”, hymns and songs sung with great Hallelujah-chorus fervor and vitality. Smiles, laughter, hugs as the Spirit of the Resurrection moved in giant sweeping bright brush strokes of rainbow colors throughout the congregation! Flowers everywhere, clapping, singing at the tops of some not-so-young lungs, we were caught up in the joy of the event, the remembrance that we are who we are today because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us and His rising from the dead. Glory to His Name!
After all the songs were sung at the start of the service, I was given yet another small-miracle gift from God out of His recognition that I was in His heart and on His mind today, my big day, the day of my first Holy Communion! He takes such big pleasure from such small people as I!
As I opened the church bulletin to the page that began the readings, what leapt off the page is that the first reading was PSALM 118! God was so happy to see my joy and delight at his detailed coordinated personal touch to the festivities of Resurrection Day! I looked at Jack with my mouth agape and said, “I can’t believe this!” Then after thinking a few seconds said, “Yes. I can believe this. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you Lord!” The odds against God choosing the same Bible verse for both my baptism and my first Holy Communion, are out of the question. It simply could not have happened without God’s hand.
When I had recovered sufficiently from that wonderful surprise, soon it was time. As the pews on both sides of the center aisle emptied in two’s like Noah’s ark filling up, we began to walk toward the Bread and the Wine, the Body and the Blood of Christ. Jack was behind me with a hand on each shoulder. He gently kissed the top of my head because he wanted me to know that he loved me too and was happy for me.
It was the first Holy Communion Jack had taken outside the Catholic Church and he did it for me, to be with me in this most special of times. Noticing that God didn’t strike him dead on the spot, he knows it’s all right, that God doesn’t care what denomination is written outside the Church doors.
As I inched closer to the big moment, I quietly examined what I was
doing; I was entering, officially, into the Body of Christ and into His
church. But I was also entering and partaking of Him – in actuality. The
impact didn’t hit me fully until I reached our pew again and knelt on the
kneebar to pray. I began to cry and just put my head down in my hands. Feeling
Jack’s gentle stroking of my back, a joy filled me because I was …..home.
I’d come home. God was smiling because one of His “Chosen People” had come
home again. Imagine how happy He will be when the “remnant” of Israel comes
home! (Isaiah 10:20-23)
I reveled in the significance of the last few days’ events and surprises, and toward day’s end I was emotionally drained. God knew I needed a good night’s sleep, some peaceful rest, so He gave it to me……………because he wasn’t done yet. There were still more birthday presents!
Yet Another Gift
Monday, April 14, 2001. It’s the day after my first Holy Communion. I had shared the “Psalm 118 story” with my friend Susie Keefe and a few other friends and like me, they were equally astounded. As if that were not enough, I got an email from Susie this morning with the subject line reading, “You’re not going to believe this, Meriam!”
A friend of Susie’s had forwarded to her, out of the blue, an email about Psalm 118! After removing all the carat marks that pop up when a message has been forwarded several times, the text of Susie’s email follows:
The Center Of The Bible
What is the shortest
chapter in the Bible?
(Answer - Psalms 117)
What is the longest
chapter in the Bible?
(Answer - Psalms 119)
Which chapter is in
the center of the Bible
(Answer - Psalms 118)
There are 594 chapters
before Psalms 118
There are 594 chapters after Psalms 118
Add these numbers up and you get 1188
What is the center
verse in the Bible?
(Answer - Psalms 118:8)
Does this verse say something significant about God's perfect will for our lives?
The next time someone says they would like to find God's perfect will for their lives and that they want to be in the center of His will, just send them to the center of His Word!
It is better to trust
in the LORD than to put confidence in man."
Psalms 118:8 (NKJV)
Now isn't that odd how this worked out?
Or was God in the center of it? ~Author Unknown~
Clearly Psalm 118 is meant to have a personal significance for me. I have read it over thoroughly and it’s truly exquisite. Written by David, it has a clear code and a lovely song, and I would do well to live by its words. I will do my best.
1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.
2 Let Israel say: “His love endures forever.”
3 Let the house of Aaron say: “His love endures forever.”
4 Let those who fear the LORD say: “His love endures forever.”
5 In my anguish I cried to the LORD, and he answered by setting me free.
6 The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?
7 The LORD is with me; he is my helper. I will look in triumph on my enemies.
8 It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man.
9 It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.
10 All the nations surrounded me, but in the name of the LORD I cut them off.
11 They surrounded me on every side, but in the name of the LORD I cut them off.
12 They swarmed around me like bees, but they died out as quickly as burning thorns;
in the name of the LORD I cut them off.
13 I was pushed back and about to fall, but the LORD helped me.
14 The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.
15 Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous:
“The LORD’S right hand has done mighty things!
16 The LORD’S right hand is lifted high; the LORD’S right hand has done mighty things!”
17 I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done.
18 The LORD has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death.
19 Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the LORD.
20 This is the gate of the LORD through which the righteous may enter.
21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation.
22 The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone;
23 the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
25 O LORD, save us; O LORD, grant us success.
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.
From the house of the LORD we bless you.
27 The LORD is God, and he has made his light shine upon us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.
28 You are my God, and I will give you thanks; you are my God, and I will exalt you.
29 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.