Easter Sunday – Joe Bettridge

April 12, 2020

We are blessed to have a number of retired pastors who worship in our congregation. For Holy Week, we asked them to each write a blog post on a different day of Holy Week. Our final post comes from Joe Bettridge:

What If the Resurrection is a Placebo?

If Christ hasn’t been raised, then… your faith is useless… If we have a hope in Christ only in this life, then we deserve to be pitied more than anyone else. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead.”

1 Corinthians 15:14, 19-20

What if John Lennon’s song Imagine was an accurate statement of theological truth? He famously sang: “Imagine there’s no heaven? It’s easy if you try. No hell below us, above us only sky.” Such skepticism about God’s promise of eternal life in our Risen Lord Jesus is no new thing. In 1 Cor. 15:12 Paul asks the Corinthians: “How can some of you say there is no resurrection?”

What was the context in which these folks didn’t believe in Jesus’ resurrection? Well, in the First Century, the common pagan notion was that death meant oblivion. So, Paul says to the doubters: “OK let’s assume that everything Jesus taught is a fairy tale and let’s assume that Jesus is dead. If this is true, what then, do you believe will happen to you after you die?” And they answered: Well, we don’t know. But our guess is that we’ll be disembodied spirits floating in the spirit-world.

And the best that contemporary skeptics of Jesus’ Resurrection can say is something like this: “Well, Jesus’ resurrection is a happy idea but we don’t believe in an actual bodily resurrection. That’s fiction. It’s enough for us to think of Easter as a symbol of happy new springtime beginnings or something.” In other words, Jesus’ Resurrection is, for the skeptical mind, a kind of ‎spiritual placebo. A placebo is a “dummy pill” usually made of starch. It’s used in the blind testing of new medications. So, when a placebo is taken by a subject who doesn’t know if it’s the actual medication or not, he/she often feels a positive effect. It’s called the “placebo-effect.” And it’s explained as a psychosomatic response of the brain to positive expectations. But this response is only a mind trick since a placebo has no actual, organic ability to cure physiological illness.

So, here’s Paul’s point to the skeptics: “Suppose Christ is not actually raised from the dead and all our thinking about Jesus is an illusion about an imaginary friend. In other words, it is a theological placebo; a “make believe thing for gullible people.” I know a guy who told his children that heaven is only a “pretend” thing that church people tell their kids to make them feel better when someone dies. But in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul speaks to the doubters: “If Christ has not been raised your faith is futile. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead.”

So, here’s the wonderful Easter mystery: those who believe in the Risen Jesus will experience eternal life. When Jesus died His physical self was transformed by the power of God until his old earthbound humanity and was raised into an imperishable spiritual body; a new kind of undying human flesh.

Paul teaches us that when God raised Jesus from the dead, His Resurrection power became available to us, right now, here in this life– so that at the very moment we believe in Christ, we become spiritually linked to The One Who will never, ever die again. So, let us affirm that Easter is not a placebo, but in fact, Christ is risen and through His risen humanity, we too will flourish for all eternity in an imperishable resurrection body.

Joe recently completed 46 years of pastoral ministry in the Presbyterian Church and now is an honorably retired member of Northwest Coast Presbytery. Joe came to faith in the First Presbyterian Church of Tacoma and was spiritually nurtured at University Presbyterian Church in Seattle. He has served long term pastorates in Alaska, Arizona and recently in Friday Harbor, WA. Joe graduated from Stadium High in Tacoma and the University of Washington. He received his Master of Divinity, Master of Theology and Doctorate of Missiology from Fuller Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Becce, are delighted to now be part of the CKPC family.

Holy Saturday – Rich Buckham

April 11, 2020

We are blessed to have a number of retired pastors who worship in our congregation. For Holy Week, we asked them to each write a blog post on a different day of Holy Week. Today’s post comes from Father Rich Buckham:

I write this as our country is being stalked by the COVID-19 virus. Many are scared half-to-death; others are in denial that they could be infected. We hear on the news about the suffering people go through as attempts are made to save them. Into this crisis Holy Saturday comes to us.

I believe that Holy Saturday has generally been neglected by the church in its theology and proclamation. We Christians commemorate the Lord’s crucifixion, step over the day he was dead in the grave, then commemorate his resurrection. As one example of this we might expect Holy Saturday to be emphasized in a thoroughly liturgical book like the Anglican Book of Common Prayer which has special services for just about any important event in the church year. But we notice that in its liturgy for Holy Week seven pages are devoted to the crucifixion, eleven pages to the resurrection, and only one page to his actual being-in-dead in the grave:

O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified
body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy
Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day,
and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reins with
you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

Note that nothing is stated about his burial, his actually being-dead-in- the-grave; this one page only points back to his crucifixion and forward to his resurrection. (Note also that he was buried and in the grave on the Sabbath, a day of import for understanding Holy Saturday.)

Now in a way this omission makes sense. Both his crucifixion and resurrection were out in the open, open to public view and witness, especially by his followers. Think of the drama of Peter’s denial in the courtyard as Jesus was being accused and sentenced to death; think of the drama around the discovery on Easter morning that he was not dead. There could be no story full of drama about something totally hidden from view, something totally silent. There were no words from the grave, no words from heaven (unlike the Angels proclamation when he was born). No, we have only the seven words he spoke on the cross, particularly and most significantly his cry of dereliction: “from noon until mid-afternoon there was darkness over the whole land. About the middle of the afternoon Jesus shouted in a loud voice” Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani” which means, “My God, my God, why did you abandon me?” There were no words from God to Jesus or from Jesus to his followers that all would soon be well, that victory was in sight, that they should not give up hope. No, they were surprised, startled, even stupefied when they discovered on Easter morning that he was not dead.

And yet he was dead on that Saturday. Really dead. Death had conquered him. We neglect a significant part of God’s message to us if we do not give due attention to the reality of death in all of its manifestations in human existence. It should not surprise or startle or stupefy us. But we are predisposed (at least in the West, even in our churches) to deny death as the power that is behind human dysfunction, destructive relationships, distorted beliefs and values and attitudes and discriminations, all that can make human life so easily darkened and deadly.

Holy Saturday should draw us to this good news, that death does not have the last word. True realistic Christianity is not a “victorious” Christianity, not “peace and prosperity,” not customary theology about the doctrine of Jesus’ death but a totally realistic understanding and picture of death for what it is.

Are we missing something important to our Christian identity, our life in the Lord by not giving full weight to his being-dead-in-the-grave in its sheer reality, a reality none of us has experienced and lived to talk about. I suspect our focus on Good Friday (as we are right to do) and the death and suffering by crucifixion (the means by which Jesus was killed) can divert us from the power and reality of death that Paul speaks to in one of his deep reflections on death in Romans 6:

Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into the Messiah,
Jesus, were baptized into his death. That means that we were
buried with him, into death, so that, just as the Messiah was raised
through the Father’s glory, we too might behave with a new
quality of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death . . . [and if] we died with the Messiah we believe that
we shall live with him. We know that the Messiah having been
raised from the dead will never die again. Death no longer has
any authority over him. The death he died, you see, he died to sin
once and only once. But the life he lives, he lives to God. In the
same way you, too, must calculate yourselves as being dead to sin
and alive to God in the Messiah, Jesus. (N.T. Wright’s translation).

What does it mean now to be buried into death with Jesus and yet still experience the power of death; that Jesus died to sin, yet we must calculate ourselves dead to sin. These are only some of the (often neglected) questions raised in this passage that need to be internalized and incorporated into our lives.

Holy Saturday should draw us to this gospel, this good news that death in all its power (we all die!) does not have the last word with us just as it did not have with Jesus.

We modern Christians often think we need a “felt experience” to realize God’s presence with us, to give us what we think we need to maintain our lives in the Lord. I do not believe Jesus had any such felt experience on the cross; we might not have the benefit of such an experience as we come under the grip of death, especially suffering in its power to demand our full attention. No, we will be dead. Fully dead with no control over what’s happening to us, no felt confidence we will be raised from the dead.

No, the good news is that even if we cannot prepare ourselves for death, even if we die alone, isolated from family, with no words of assurance from a pastor that death does not have the last word, even then it is not those words that our hope shall carry us through death into the Father’s presence. What will happen is that we will be raised “through the father’s glory” in its power to undo death.

Father Rich Buckham taught psychology in Iowa for 6 years.  In 1982 he and his wife and 2 small children moved to PLU where he  received training for clinical practice in marriage and family therapy.  The family moved up to Kitsap County in 1983 where he began work as a licensed psychologist after getting his Ph.D. in psychology from University of Nevada -Reno.  He got an M. of Theology from Fuller Seminary.  He was the pastor of a small Anglican church for 20 years.  He is currently semi-retired from his clinical practice.  He loves reading theology, philosophy, history and cultural studies.  He has an outdoor HO train layout which may never get done.

Good Friday – Bill Kettenring

April 10, 2020

We are blessed to have a number of retired pastors who worship in our congregation. For Holy Week, we asked them to each write a blog post on a different day of Holy Week. Up today is Bill Kettenring for Good Friday

Well, this has been the most challenging Lenten season I’ve ever known. That whole personal-sacrifice-for-the-common-good has taken on a more mature meaning. I’m never going to hear about giving-up-chocolate-for-Lent in quite the same way, again.

Good Friday is like that. Where Easter Sunday gets top billing for resurrection and celebration, it’d be just “back to work like usual,” if there was no victory over cruxifixion and death. “Turn the other cheek”and “go the extra mile” are but simple quotables, and even only ancient muttering without “enduring the cross, despising the shame” as evidence of Jesus’ integrity and reliability:  He did (and does) what He called us to do.

Good Friday is our day of At-One-Ment. We remember that, as dark as it was, how unfair, inconvenient, frightening, Jesus went through it. He did feel abandoned by God, but never so much as to stop crying out to God. In spite of the hatefulness below him; he asked God to forgive them.  And he finshed his work and he knew it. 

And all I’ve been asked to do today is, love God, love my neighbor as myself (in times like these!) and, uh, to stay home.

Rev. Bill Kettenring was just getting his legs under him, what with all the Men’s breakfasts, occasional luncheons, sleeping in and general meddling he was doing after retiring from almost 30 years in Child Welfare.  Then the pandemic hit and he had to start retirement all over. Bill is ordained as a Free Methodist Elder, but the Presbyterians at CKPC have been nurturing, tending, prodding, feeding and praying for him since 1994. There are signs it’s working.

Maundy Thursday – John Haberlin

April 9, 2020

We are blessed to have a number of retired pastors who worship in our congregation. For Holy Week, we asked them to each write a blog post on a different day of Holy Week. Today’s entry comes from Dr. John Haberlin:

The Desired “Last Meal” Jesus Desires to Eat with Us

Maundy” Thursday … No! Not Monday Thursday! Maundy, another “insider” word (Churchese), puts one of faith’s most vital concepts on the dusty library shelves of historic theology. Hopefully it will come alive as you read. Jesus thought what happened on what we call “Maundy Thursday” was so important it was the focus of the last hours of His life before he was arrested.

Think of our word “mandate”. The Latin version used “mandatum” in translating Jesus’ words “YOU SHALL love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus combined quotes from Exodus and Deuteronomy.

Maundy is also linked to the stories of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet and Jesus washing the disciples’ feet that fateful day. This humbling act of cleansing makes us so uncomfortable that it is seldom part of our experience. Humility is hard.

All four gospels record this Passover, though differently. I encourage you to compare the four gospel views and also Paul’s words in his letter to Corinth (Matt. 16:24-30; Mark 14:10-26; Luke 22:1-22; John 13, 1 Cor. 11:23-28).

The context of the Jesus’ Maundy experience was the Passover. Passover reenacts the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. To avoid the fatality of the tenth plague a spotless lamb was to be sacrificed and be the main course of this memorial meal. The lamb’s blood was to be spread at the top and sides of entry door. The “angel of death” would “Pass-over” each house and the first born male child would die if no blood was there. Even Pharaoh’s son died. Thousands of Hebrews fled crossing the Red Sea safely but the waters engulfed the pursuing Egyptian army. (see Exodus 12)

By God’s commandment, a Passover feast was to be the first thing done after they successfully escaped and it was to be celebrated every year after that … and it continues.

The meal is central to the celebration. Different from our meals, there is symbolic meaning with each prescribed part. The meal was and is to reenact the story of the Exodus. Many details deal with the preparation, specific foods and when and how they are a part of the drama. I will deal with those parts Jesus made central.

The symbolic meal has five essential parts. Four cups of wine are consumed at specific moments in the feast, the cups of: Remembrance, Deliverance, Salvation and fourth, the Cup of the Coming Kingdom. Between the second and third cups, the meal is eaten, lamb is the meat.

Initially, the Israelites were told to “Remember!” specifically to remember the exodus, how God led them from Egypt. Jesus was bold to say “Do this remembering Me!” For those hearing this it must have been disturbing, shocking. This, if you think about it, was heresy. Take time to ponder this. Reread the story of Israel’s escape from Egypt and ponder our escape from slavery of sin.

A dramatic part of the dinner rehearsed the pain from which the children of Israel were delivered. They individually consume bitter herbs, hot horseradish, so with the tears generated every generation would identify with the pain of exile. Could you now stop and take some bitter herb and cry with those of the past that have suffered ultimately for our benefit?

Next a mixture of apple, dates, nuts and wine passed among them. It looked like the mortar their slave ancestors were forced to make into bricks in Egypt. It was and is a sign of the necessary unity of the faith community: “If we don’t work together we will die!” At this point Judas dipped, looked Jesus in the face and left on his journey as a traitor, while the rest of the disciples questioned, “Is it me?” Here we can stop and ponder: have we betrayed Jesus, have we broken the unity of the faith community?

Before the meal, three pieces of “unleavened” bread were presented, the middle piece broken in half and hidden to be revealed after the Sacrificial Lamb had been consumed.  It was called “the Hidden. Watch for this later.

Central to the Passover feast, a “sacrificial” lamb was consumed. Remember John the Baptist’s announcement, “Look! The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!” In the exodus, the blood of that Lamb was placed on the door frame so the angel of death would “pass over.” Here is the heart of the Passover and the heart of our faith, Christ’s horrible, sacrificial death in our place. Stop and ponder, I dare say, “Consume Him.”

The hidden bread is then revealed. Jesus retrieved the bread and sent everyone into a spin: “This is MY body, broken for you. Do this in Remembrance of ME!” He gave it to his disciples. Shock! Confusion!

Then Jesus took the third cup, the “cup of salvation.” Paul made it clear that it was the “cup after supper.” He filled it, lifted it and he said, “This is the New Covenant /Testament in MY blood. All of you drink from it.” What spun in the disciples minds? What goes through your mind when you hear these words? Heresy??? Ponder!

The final cup, the cup of the coming kingdom, was consumed. Someone was sent to the door to see if Elijah the prophet was there. No one seen, they would say, “Next year in Jerusalem.” Just a thought: Jerusalem means “City of Shalom/Peace.” We too join together watching and waiting for the return of Christ. Our communion concludes with: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you show forth the Lord’s death until He comes again.” Jesus said, “I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes.”

This is a time to remember God’s deliverance, to remember people’s pain, to experience God’s salve (salvation) and move into the future trusting God.

Rev. Dr. John Haberlin grew up in West Seattle, attended Seattle Pacific, Fuller Seminary and received his DMin from Louisville Presbyterian Seminary. He began at Westminster Presbyterian in Yakima, moved to First Presbyterian in Hayward, California, served as founding pastor of CKPC, was Associate for Church Growth at General Assembly, and finally pastor at Harrison Square Presbyterian in Centralia. He is married to his lifelong friend, Pamela (who painted the Last Supper image above following da Vinci’s). They have three children and six grandchildren.

Palm Sunday – Jim Davis

April 5, 2020

We are blessed to have a number of retired pastors who worship in our congregation. For Holy Week, we asked them to each write a blog post on a different day of Holy Week. Our series begins with Dr. Jim Davis’ Palm Sunday post:

Palm Sunday: is it “the end of the beginning” or “the beginning of the end?”

Well, in one way it’s clearly “the end of the beginning,” because it’s the end of the events of Jesus’ life that lead up to it.

  • The prophecy Anna gave Jesus’ parents when he was just days old; “this child is set for the rise and fall of many in Israel”
  • The baptism of Jesus where “the Spirit descended on him like a dove”;
  • The call of the disciples, the conflicts with the Pharisees, the crowds who “came to him from everywhere,”
  • The message about God’s kingdom, the miracles, the messianic confession of Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”

All of it is prelude leading up to Palm Sunday and one word … “Hosanna! It means “Save Us!” Literally!
And it was time to say it. Time for all Jesus had done to come to this: a plea.

  • For the crowds shouting it, it’s a plea for political salvation from occupation and domination by a foreign power, the empire of Rome.
  • For the Jewish leaders hearing it, it’s a naïve plea for a person named Jesus to do something he obviously couldn’t (defeat Rome), and be someone he obviously wasn’t (a Messianic King).
  • For the disciples, (interestingly), it’s a plea they probably listen to with a mixture of hope and fear. (Luke suggests, the disciples may have joined the “Hosannas.” But Matthew, Mark and John say nothing about what the disciples said that Palm Sunday.)

It probably means the disciples were hearing the “Hosannas” but remembering other words, Jesus’ words.

“And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem. Jesus was walking ahead of them … and those who followed were afraid. Taking the 12 Jesus began to tell them again what was going to happen. ‘We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said “where the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes who will condemn him to death … but after 3 days he will rise.’” (Mark 10:33).

So, which was it? The end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end?

And today?

For you and me? Is Palm Sunday supposed to be a joyous celebration of Jesus as our King, or a somber reminder that our King is about to be crucified?

A few years ago, John Leax, an English professor at Houghton Christian College and a poet wrote that Palm Sunday “seems the strangest holiday of the year; a celebration of misunderstanding!” And he’s right! It was and often, it still is! For if we celebrate the end of the beginning on Palm Sunday without at the same time remembering it’s the beginning of the end, we’re misunderstanding. Because it’s both! But it’s even more!

For the word “end” has 3 meanings. Sometimes it means the “culmination” of something. Sometimes it means the “extinction” of something. And sometimes, sometimes it means “a goal, the “end” you’re hoping to reach.” (Think football for a minute and hoping to reach something called the “end” zone and the “goal” line!)

So, what’s the real “end” of Palm Sunday?

  • Is it the end of the beginning?
    • Yes, it’s the culmination of Jesus’ earthly ministry to that point. But that’s not all.
  • Is it the beginning of the end?
    • Yes, if you’re talking about Jesus’ earthly life. But that’s not all either.
  • So, what’s left? What’s the goal?

Scripture says it so well. It doesn’t leave us in doubt.
“Since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came through one too. In the same way that everyone dies in Adam, so also everyone will be given life in Christ. Each event will happen in the right order: Christ, the first crop of the harvest, then those who belong to Christ at his coming, and then the end, when Christ hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he brings every form of rule, every authority and power to an end.” (1 Co 15:21-24).

So, this Palm Sunday,

  • CELEBRATE! Shout with joy! “Hosanna! Jesus is the Messiah, the King!”
  • REMEMBER, and say it softly. “Hosanna. Jesus you’re my Savior who went to the cross for me.
  • AND SAY IT WITH HOPE, SURE AND CERTAIN HOPE. “Hosanna! The real goal, the ‘end-zone’ lie beyond Jerusalem and beyond the cross. It lies in the New Jerusalem for Jesus and all of us who receive him as our King and Savior.


Rev. Dr. Jim Davis was the second Senior Pastor of CKPC (from 1999-2007).  He left to take a position as Senior Pastor and Head of Staff at a large church in Texas where his three grown kids live, but when it was time to retire, he and his wife Carolyn knew they wanted to be back in Kitsap and at CKPC.  They live in Seabeck now, looking out at Hood Canal and the Olympics and feeling blessed. Jim still teaches New Testament part-time and online for Fuller Theological Seminary.