Day 7: Holy Week

Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go, select lambs for your families, and slaughter the passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood in the basin. None of you shall go outside the door of your house until morning. For the Lord will pass through to strike down the Egyptians; when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over that door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you down. You shall observe this rite as a perpetual ordinance for you and your children. When you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this observance. And when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this observance?’ you shall say, ‘It is the passover sacrifice to the Lord, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, when he struck down the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed down and worshiped. The Israelites went and did just as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron.

~ Exodus 12:21-28

We begin the day outside the eastern walls of ancient Jerusalem, overlooking the Kidron Valley. From where we stand we can see the Temple Mount, the city wall with its gates, and a vast cemetery full of tombs and monuments. It is fitting that we begin our day’s study with a contemplation of death, as today we reflect on Jesus’ last days: his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, his prayer and betrayal and arrest in Gethsemane, his crucifixion outside the city walls, all before we remember with joy his resurrection from the tomb on Easter morning. All this happens the week of Passover, the high Jewish festival of remembrance, celebrating God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. Jesus’s arrest, trial, torture, and crucifixion during Holy Week retell the story of Israel’s Passover, with Jesus Christ as both sacrificial Lamb and delivering God. But before we can celebrate that new life of deliverance from slavery, we must first lose the old one. A great paradox: we must die to live.

Mount of Olives | Palm Sunday

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately. This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

“Tell the daughter of Zion,

Look, your king is coming to you,

humble, and mounted on a donkey,

and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

~ Matthew 21:1-5

We consider here the “triumphal entry” of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, when Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem through the Golden Gates, surrounded by crowds waving branches and carpeting the dirt path with their coats, all while shouting from Psalm 118:

“Save us, we beseech you, (Hosan-na!) O Lord!

O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.”

We celebrate Palm Sunday in our churches with upbeat praise music, led by our children waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna!”, relieved that it’s finally the last day of Lent. It’s a party atmosphere. And maybe that’s how it was on that first Palm Sunday: a party. But read again what they’re actually saying: “Hosanna!” is not the same as “Hallelujah!” “Hosanna!” is a desperate cry for help: “Save us!” The people are greeting Jesus Christ as they would a conquering Messianic King, expecting him to be a king for the people, a political savior. But look how he comes: riding a donkey, not a warhorse, followed by fishermen, not soldiers, coming in at the eastern Golden Gate, the gate through which the Messiah was to come, but without any fanfare other than the voices of everyday people.

Across the city, at the Jaffa gate, Pontius Pilate would probably have been arriving from his villa at Caesarea Maritima, surrounded by Roman legions, in preparation for the Jewish festival of Passover. This is the arrival of a king, not the rabble on the other side of Jerusalem.

The Pharisees are quick to chastise Jesus for this inappropriate display (Luke 19:39). We shouldn’t read this as an angered outburst of jealousy from Jesus’ enemies. One of the most interesting things I learned on this trip was that Jesus had a more nuanced relationship with the Pharisees than I had assumed. The Pharisees probably saw Jesus as a prospective addition to their number, except for his problematic tendency toward the prophetic. We’ve heard a few times now how Jesus’ views align very well with the Pharisees’ views on most things, and these Pharisees might even have been following Jesus to learn from him. They’re simply asking for some restraint in the crowd’s celebration of Jesus’s arrival in Jerusalem. The Pharisees are not comfortable with Roman occupation, and they certainly don’t want to exacerbate tensions in Jerusalem.

And all while the festive atmosphere builds, and the Pharisees worry over the implications of an ill-timed party, Jesus weeps.

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”

~ Luke 19:41-44

A church has been built at this spot on the way into Jerusalem, named “The Lord Wept” in Latin (Dominus Flevit). And as we look from the church yard out over the Temple Mount, we see now exactly what Jesus foresaw then: the inevitable and lamentable religious and political conflicts that have come, “because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” Christ has come, the Light of the World, and yet the darkness has not understood it (John 1:5). We weep with Christ for the countless people still living in darkness, torn by the prolonged conflict. Lord, have mercy.

Gethsemane | Maundy Thursday

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”

~ Matthew 26:36

We were given time to walk around the garden connected to the church that stands here to mark Gethsemane, the Mount of Olives. We, as Jesus’ present-day disciples, are here in the warmth of the morning, observing the beauty of the flowers and wondering at the age of the gnarled, knotted olive trees, surrounded by other pilgrims and visitors. How different that night almost 2000 years ago must have been for Jesus’ contemporary disciples – cold, dark, lonely. We were reminded of what we learned in Nazareth Village at the olive press:

Just as the oil from the first press is pure, and used in temple rites of purification; and the oil from the second press is clean, and used in preparing foods and medicines; and the oil from the third press, while impure, is still useful for burning for light and heat; so the blood and sweat poured out in the prayers of Jesus are useful and beneficial for our purification, nourishment, and comfort, poured out for us. Thanks be to God!

Three times Jesus returned to intense, wringing prayer, after pleading his disciples to stay awake, and to accompany him in prayer. His poured-out prayers for himself, for his disciples, and for God’s will, are a model for our own intercession and petitions.

“My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.”

~ Matthew 26:39

“My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”

~ Matthew 26:42

First, Jesus prays his heart’s deepest pleas not to a distant, indifferent deity, but to a God who is intimately interested in his good, and infinitely capable of providing what he needs. He calls the God to whom he prays “Father,” “Abba.”

Second, he expresses his plea simply and honestly, without bargaining or hiding or justifying. Jesus pleas, certainly, so intensely that drops of blood are wrung from him (Luke 22:44). But the depth of feeling in Jesus’ prayer do not lead him to “heap up empty phrases” (Matthew 6:7).

Third, he concludes his prayers by entrusting his words and his very life into his Father’s hands. He trusts his Father in heaven to work for only his best in any and every circumstance. Jesus closes his prayers with “Your will be done” because he knows and believes that “Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and glory forever.”

Just like our Lord and Rabbi Jesus, we can pray for what we need simply, honestly, and courageously to God as our loving and trustworthy Father, entrusting our prayers and our lives to Him who is ready and able to answer them for our ultimate good.

Of course, we cannot remember Jesus’ prayers for safety and deliverance without also remembering the way his prayers were answered:

At once [Judas] came up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you are here to do.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

~ Matthew 26:49-52

No wonder why we experience both fear and resignation when we reluctantly or perfunctorily pray our own “Thy will be done”s, if this is how they turn out. Jesus prayed thus, and immediately afterward was betrayed and arrested, so it seems that it must be God’s will that his own beloved son should be killed. And, we reason, if God would want His own son killed, how must he feel about us, poor sinners that we are?

But what if God’s will is grander and greater than manipulating all the pieces of the chess board? What if God’s will was not merely for his son to die, but that all people — indeed all creation — were reconciled to Him, through His son? And what if His will were not an arbitrary edict, but motivated by His immense, overwhelming, all-consuming love for His creation, for us? Then we could pray courageously and trustingly “Your will be done!” because we would know that in everything, God is out for our ultimate good, because he loves us.

So God is not to blame for Judas’ kiss. Judas is. And God is not to blame for the priests’ arrest. The priests are. And God is not to blame for Peter’s assault on the servant. Peter is. God is not a dictator, and His will does not override ours. Judas betrayed Jesus because of greed: the priests paid him to provide an intimate way to indicate Jesus out of the huge Passover crowds to the temple guards. The priests had Jesus arrested out of jealousy and misguided religiousity: he was a threat not only to their social status but also to their carefully balanced political peace with the Roman authorities. Peter attacked the priest’s servant out of vindictive love for his Rabbi: he did not strike to kill, only to wound, in order to preclude him from the strictly observed qualifications of physical wholeness required of temple employees.

We are responsible for our own decisions and actions. We cannot use God’s will as an excuse. This is precisely why we should take great comfort in praying “Your will be done.” If left to pursue our own wills, we invariably spiral away from our good and the good of others toward destruction; if we align our wills with God’s will, we will always be directed toward our ultimate good, even if that route passes through the valley of the shadow of death…

Kidron Valley | Good Friday

The Kidron Valley runs south along the east wall of Jerusalem, surrounded and filled with tombs. Because death and the dead were ceremonially unclean, burials were not permitted within the walls of Jerusalem. We walk the Kidron Valley path, filing past historic tombs with grand monuments and humble tombs with stones — each speaking of a family visit — thrown on top.

We pause here to hear about crucifixion, a favorite form of political execution used by Rome throughout its empire. Crucifixions, if certain historians are to be trusted, may have been a nearly constant occurrence here along the road into Jerusalem. Criminals of all sorts would have been placed here, probably at eye level, to remind travelers and pilgrims into the city to behave themselves during their stay, or suffer the same consequences. This is most likely Rome’s reason for crucifying Jesus. He was the self-styled “King of the Jews,” a publicly recognized insurrectionist, and he needed to be made an example of publicly, to warn anyone else who aspired to the same thing.

From the Jews’ perspective, Jesus was a blasphemer, a man who sacreligiously claimed too much of himself, potentially leading God’s people away from Him and toward a false concept of god, toward idolatry. As a religious leader, this would be a noble and right cause to censor or exile a false prophet. But Jesus was more than a kook on a street corner. He was a celebrity, and what is more, the people believed him because he spoke as one with authority, unlike the Pharisees and scribes. So it would take more than exile to get rid of Jesus; they also had to get rid of his ideas. And for that, a public execution as a political criminal was the best bid. After all, if Jesus was violently, publicly, bitterly executed for saying such things, then so would anyone else who said the same things.

I wonder, then, if the Jewish leaders were so justified in executing Jesus, according to their understanding of their faith, then why hold his trial in the dead of night, at the high priest’s home? Why not in broad daylight, in public, for an audience? Wouldn’t that only add to his indictment as a criminal? Perhaps they used such secrecy because it was Passover, and they wanted this taken care of urgently, before the major events, or at the margins, to not distract from the main ceremonies. Or perhaps the trial was held clandestinely in order to keep from inciting a riot in favor of Jesus, which is more likely. I wonder if the whole Sanhedrin was present? Or was this only a small group of only the upper management? I wonder…

Golgotha

So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them…The place where Jesus was crucified was near the city.

~ John 19:16-20

Golgotha

From a biblical perspective, the details of Jesus’ crucifixion clearly point to him as the fulfillment of Israel’s sacrificial system, begun all the way back in Egypt, at the first Passover. We read that Jesus breathed his last at 3:00pm, “the sixth hour,” on a hill called Golgotha (now enshrined just outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre). At that moment on another nearby hill, the Temple Mount, a priest would have ascended to the top of the Temple and blown a ram’s horn, announcing to all of Israel that the atoning sacrifice had been made for the sins of the whole nation. Other astonishing signs are recorded in the gospels’ account of Jesus’ death: an earthquake, premature darkness, tombs opening, dead bodies resuscitated, and most telling of all, the Temple curtain dividing the Most Holy place from the inner sanctuary is torn in two, from top to bottom. At the moment of Jesus’ death, the earth is wracked in grief and veils its face from the light; yet forgiveness fanfares ring loud, life breaks forth, and God’s presence is offered to all.

To grasp the exchange that occurred on the cross, we were reminded of what we learned at Tel Dan: blood is the physical manifestation of the life God gave us; our sins and our sinfulness mark us for death, and must be removed by life, by blood. This is the essence of a sacrifice, a specific sequence of redemptive events: a representative death, the manipulation of blood over what is to be cleansed, a burning of the remains (sometimes completely) in order that it “go up” (the literal translation of the Hebrew “offering”) to God, and a feast (sometimes featuring the sacrificed animal after it’s been cooked). These events were prescribed for Israel’s worship, not arbitrarily, but as a context for communion with God. In Christ, these events are fulfilled: in his death, ours is represented; in the shedding of his blood, our sinfulness is cleansed and our sins are forgiven; in his ascension, Christ “goes up” to God, bearing with him his blood (Hebrews 9); and in the sacrament of communion, he has instituted a regular feast of his own body and blood for our joyful remembrance, communion, and hope in and with God.

Notice that the cross is not the end of the sacrifice, but the beginning! And the exchange of the cross is not itself the purpose, but the means to our enjoying perfect union with God.

We discussed a yet more complex element to sacrificial or atonement theology. It must be asked, What is the nature of our separation from God, that sacrifice is necessary to attain union with God? Have our sinfulness and sins so ruined us, that God is no longer even able to look on us, unless we pay the price of our wickedness? If this is so, then sacrifice is necessary as a propitiation, a gesture from us to God to win His love and favor. This is like a husband who does the dishes for his wife to gain her approval, because doing dishes is better than sleeping on the couch.

But what if the separation we experience from God is not because of His absence from us, out of wrath or disgust for our sin(s)/fulness, but rather our absence from Him, our rebellion or distractedness or selfishness. Then sacrifice is not primarily our gesture to win God, but is in fact God’s act of expiation to remove the offense that keeps us from Him. This is like a husband who does the dishes for his wife because the dishes need to be done before they can spend the evening relaxing together.

The sacrifice of Christ is not the actions of an abandoned son trying to please a demanding Father in order that a ruined creation might be restored to its original splendor before God will love it once more. I fear this is how many of us understand the story of salvation, even if we would never say it in these words.No, the sacrifice of Christ is the ultimate gesture of embrace of a good and loving Father giving what is most precious to Him — the very life of His own Son — in order to win back the world He loves. Christ himself, as God’s beloved Son, loves his Father in heaven, and therefore loves what his Father loves, and willingly gave his life as a sacrifice for us, being obedient even unto death. For this we rejoice, that our God is a God of love!

Church of the Holy Sepulchre | Resurrection Sunday

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.

~ John 20:1

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre standing today is a crusader church built in the 1100’s over the traditional spots of both the crucifixion and the resurrection. But for the skeptics, who look for discrepancies between church tradition and factual history, we were told there are 15 evidences that this is the actual spot. What is most surprising about this to me is that the cross and the tomb were so close to one another.

This is not one church, but in fact a honeycomb of churches, one building hosting 6 different denominations of Christianity: 3 major churches – the Roman Catholic Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, and the Armenian Church – and 3 minor churches – the Ethiopian Church, the Assyrian Orthodox Church, and the Coptic Church.

As much as this church is a center of Christian unity — the one site on earth we all have in common, and where so many branches of the Christian family tree worship together — this is also a place where we saw the still great division among Christians. These 6 churches do not worship together, but each in their own separate languages, in their own chapels within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. As a humorous caricature of this disunity, we were shown a small wooden ladder that we were told has remained on the facade of the church for over 90 years, because no one church will take responsibility for putting it there. We were also told that a Muslim family has held the key to the doors of the single most important Christian holy site for over 700 years because that is the only way these churches know to share the same building. The empty cross and empty tomb of the living Jesus Christ is the one place on earth that should unite the Christian community in worship and peace, and instead it is marked by evidence of division and factions.

Bethesda

Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”

~ John 5:2-6

Most of our touring today was focused on the events of Holy Week, from Palm Sunday to Resurrection Sunday. The healing at the pool of Bethesda was not part of Holy Week, as far as we know, but was very appropriate for considering the new life that is ours in Christ Jesus.

We finished our day’s pilgrimage at St. Ann’s, an 18th-century French church on the site of the pools of Bethesda. This place is long associated with healing: this is also the site of the ancient Roman Temple of Asclepius, where the baths, along with the use of opiates, helped to heal and restore people.

In the biblical episode at Bethesda, Jesus encounters a man by the side of the pool, as if the man is interested in being healed of whatever illness afflicts him. And yet if that were true, the man would presumably been more active in pursuing restoration. This is not the case. Perhaps he’s enjoying the secondary benefits of his illness, like the pity and the attention he gets from caretakers. Or maybe he’s simply afraid of what a life without illness might look like, as he’s forgotten what it means to be well. Either way, Jesus sees this man exactly where he is, and recognizes his reluctance to be really well. He wants to stay close to where he could be made well, certainly, but he doesn’t desire wellness.

Could we be like this man? We find ourselves over and over and over again at the cross of Jesus, praying for forgiveness and asking for new life, and yet we don’t actually pursue the assurance of complete restoration and healing that Jesus offers us in his resurrection from the dead. Jesus offers us a gospel of life, abundant life, life that burst forth from the tombs we often resign ourselves to. And still we find ourselves stuck believing a gospel of sin management, as though that’s the best we can hope for. Jesus encounters this unfortunate man again, and we see again that Jesus is more like the Pharisees than we often assume. Jesus prioritizes life over law.

Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him,“See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.”

~ John 5:14

The invitation to new life, to wholeness, to spiritual health and vitality, comes with this charge: “Sin no more.” We can hem and haw and explain this away, telling ourselves and others that we are always going to be bound to our sin in this life as fallen sinners. But our risen Lord and Rabbi Jesus has given us a command: “Sin no more.” We must commit ourselves, as redeemed ones in whom Christ dwells and delights, as resurrection people, to lives of serious obedience.

Indwelling Holy Spirit, empower us to live the new life of trust and obedience that Christ came to give us here and now. 

***

Other sights from the day:

Evening Speaker: Salim Munayer

Through My Enemy's EyesSalim is a Palestinian Christian, who works for an organization called “Musalaha,” which means “Reconciliation.” He shared with us more specific, personal examples of the injustices the Palestinians face in what was once their homeland. But what impacted me most was not to hear a diatribe against the Jewish occupation, or a litany of grievances against U.S. involvement in Palestinian oppression, or a passionate plea to us to side with the Palestinians for peace and justice.

Salim shared with us his sharp theological mind, turned not against Israel or toward Palestine, but fully fixed on God as revealed in Jesus Christ, seeking to live as a disciple of Christ in an impossible situation. He offered us some of the theological questions he daily wrestles with:

  • How would Jesus cross a checkpoint twice every day?
  • How would Jesus respond to this lose-lose situation: if he acts, he will be labeled a terrorist; if he does not act, his land will be seized for settlements?
  • How do we respond to the realities of this conflict when the occupiers use the same Old Testament Bible to support their occupation? Do we give up the Old Testament entirely, or simply question its authority in every situation?

Salim did appeal to us, as American ChristiaThe Land Cries Outns, to think carefully about our theological positions, their biblical foundations, and their political consequences. He shared with us that American “Evangelicals” (read “Premillennial Dispensationalists”) give $200 million annually to the State of Israel, all because of a bad theology of land. Zionists misunderstand the role of land in Scripture, and God’s relationship to it, and throw their lot in with disastrous outcomes. It is not enough for us to leave the conflict to others. Christians are already involved in this conflict. But how are we called to engage it? Are we called to take one side over the other? Or to be peacemakers?

Salim offered us a surprising solution: remembering. He reminded us of the memory that “Yad Vashem” encourages: “Never forgive; never forget.” But our Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible, teaches a very different kind of memory, a memory it seems the Jews have forgotten in their efforts to occupy and re-settle their Promised Land. The memory of Passover is “You were once a stranger in a foreign land; when you enter the land I have promised you, love the foreigner and the alien.”

It is striking how prevalent and powerful the sense of victimization is here. Both Israel and Palestine claim more and more loudly that they are the world’s greatest victim. Being a victim means that the world, and especially its powerful, owes them everything. At the same time, the party in the wrong, their enemies, are entirely responsible for peace: “It’s their fault, we’re just the victims!” Both sides refuse to consider the pain of the other, and therefore shut themselves off from feeling any responsibility for the ways they have wronged the other. This makes repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation impossible. Lord, have mercy. Salim’s words are powerful:

“We find God in our enemies. We find ourselves in our enemies. Our enemies are always our neighbors: our future depends on how we treat our enemy-neighbors.”

Metamorphosis

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:16-20)

He is Risen! 
He is Risen Indeed!

This weekend has been a wonderful reminder of the immense, transformational power found in Christ’s resurrection. Something entirely new happens here, something that flies in the face of the expected, the norms, the patterns of this world. As one of my professors loves to say, “The only things certain were death and taxes, and now it’s just taxes!”

caterpillar

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. (v.16)

My family visited us from Iowa for the long Easter weekend. What a profound gift to share together in remembering Christ’s death on Good Friday by participating in Western Seminary’s unique service of shadows during morning prayers, and then to share together in remembering Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday with the people of God.

Perhaps the most beautiful part of the weekend, however, was our trip to a local butterfly exhibit on Holy Saturday. We spent the afternoon — the silence of Sabbath rest, and the stillness of Christ’s burial — by watching all kinds of butterflies fluttering and feeding and flirting around us. The butterfly’s metamorphosis as a metaphor for spiritual transformation is very familiar to me.

But as I saw the caterpillars eat and crawl and rest, I was stunned by the profound potential hidden away within.As a child, caterpillars were just elaborate worms, creepy and wiggly and smushable. The metaphor, therefore, clumsily suggested that the period before transformation is somehow ugly, or inferior. But Paul asks me to give up my “human point of view” and to consider myself, others, and especially Christ, “no longer in that way.”

chrysalis

So if anyone is in Christ… (v.17)

The simple phrase “in Christ” has been a blaring anthem over my Systematic Theology class this whole semester long, and I have come to hear in it more than just an encouraging sentiment. Looking at the butterfly in its chrysalis stage reminded me that to be “in Christ” is to be in the furnace of transformation, at the precipice of potential change. This is in a very real way a tomb, a burial, a coffin. At this point, the caterpillar ceases to be. From here on, it is no more.

This semester has been a kind of chrysalis for me: a spiritual dying to self, an acknowledging of my Shadow, an enclosed encounter with my pervasive depravity. While this has been a dark, discouraging season, I also have come to see in it the promise of my most profound discovery of the goodness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the place where I have the most potential to grow up into Christ. Thank you, Lord, for your company in the darkness, and for the gift and promise of new life.

 butterfly_1

…there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (v.17)

Easter’s glory is, of course, the empty tomb: Christ is not here; he is risen! He lives! What is more, he has paved the way for us to join him in new life as something entirely new, completely remade, sharing in Christ’s resurrection splendor. There is no more caterpillar in this new creation; it is radically different. The crisis of being sealed in the dark coffin chrysalis of dying to self is overwhelmed by the vitality and freedom of Easter resurrection.

butterfly_2

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. (v.18-19)

What is occurring to me in new and significant ways is how this new life is not ultimately for me, but for the sake of the world. The landscape is not my own personal satisfaction; the horizon is not even my eternal salvation. I am made new in order to bear witness to the new life in Christ. This is the “ministry…and…message of reconciliation:” to no longer view others with human eyes that see only external differences, but to see within them the same profound possibility of Christ’s new life in them as is in me; and to offer them the peace of radical hospitality and gospel fellowship as ones found “in Christ.”

butterfly_3

So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (v.20)

Lent is over, but the disciple’s invitation to follow Jesus is really only just beginning. I have been following the Christian calendar — or liturgical calendar — for my own personal spiritual formation, and have been profoundly blessed. As Eastertide begins, may God’s Holy Spirit continue to use his Word, the life of his Son, and his people to shape and inspire my faithful apprenticeship. Amen.

“Come and See”

I can’t do better today, Good Friday, than to simply bear witness. “Come and See” (John 1:39).

GOSPEL | JOHN 18:1-19:42

1After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. 2Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” 5They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them.6When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they stepped back and fell to the ground. 7Again he asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.” 9This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, “I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.” 10Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. 11Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

12So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. 13First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.

15Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. 17The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.”18Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.

19Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. 20Jesus answered, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.” 22When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” 24Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

25Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” 26One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 27Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.

28Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. 29So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 30They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” 31Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The Jews replied, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” 32(This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)

33Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?”36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” 37Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 38Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”

After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him. 39But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 40They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit.

1Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. 3They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. 4Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” 5So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” 6When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” 7The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.”

8Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. 9He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” 11Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” 12From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”

13When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. 14Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” 15They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.”16Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

So they took Jesus; 17and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. 18There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. 19Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. 21Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.'” 22Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” 23When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. 24So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.’ This was to fulfill what the scripture says, “They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.” 25And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.”27Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

28After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” 29A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

31Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. 32Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.35(He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) 36These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.”37And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”

38After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. 39Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. 40They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

The Gospel of our Lord:

Praise be to you, O Christ.

“Do”

GOSPEL | JOHN 13:3-4, 12-15, 34-35

And during supper  Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,  got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 

12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?  13 You call me Teacher and Lord — and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

“You also should do as I have done to you” (v.15)

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day/night we remember Jesus’ last supper with his disciples. This is a big night: the disciples and Jesus celebrate the Passover together, and Jesus reinterprets the whole occasion and institutes what we call “The Lord’s Supper,” or communion, or Eucharist; Jesus is betrayed by Judas, and arrested, and denied by Peter, and tried illegally by the Jewish religious court. But before any of this happens, today’s lectionary text asks me to focus specifically on Jesus’ washing his disciples’ feet.

I have a thin understanding of “love,” as Christ teaches it and enacts it. Christ’s love is specific, intimate, personal. He asks us to look, to watch him washing each disciple’s feet in turn, and to see in this servile act his real, radical love.

I haven’t trained my eyes to see this specific, intimate, personal love and think “Christian.” Sadly, I think “Christian” when I see sunny, pastel colors; smiling, clean faces; “good,” moral living; “right,” “true” knowing. None of these things involve my stripping down, donning a towel, and washing someone’s feet. (In fact, most of these involve my pointing my fingers or shaking my head at those who don’t “fit,” and trying to assert why and how they have to change.)

Other times, I am asked to see “Christian love” in signing a petition, or wearing a symbol, or speaking out for others. I really do see Christians do these things because they are motivated by the power of the Gospel to love others as much as they can, and to do so within our political and social systems. But I also see that I can do these things without getting my hands wet or dirty from my neighbor’s feet, or looking my neighbor in their eyes, or even breathing the same air my neighbor breathes (i.e. “loving” them).

Christ tells me, “You also should do as I have done to you” (v.15). This is far more radical than “the Golden Rule:” to do to others what I want done to me. This is not a rule of mutual benefit; this is a receive-and-share rule: I have received Christ’s love; I have to share it with others. What is more, I have received Christ’s love concretely, intimately, and personally; I cannot in turn love others abstractly, distantly, or generally, and say that I am following Christ.

Teacher and Lord, Jesus Christ,

You washed the feet of your disciples, one by one,

even Judas, who would betray you for silver,

even Peter, who at first refused to be washed, and later would deny you.

You have washed me,

even me, who hordes your love and cannot share it

for fear of running out of love,

for fear of getting dirty, or smelly, or uncomfortable,

for fear of compromising my reputation.

I am sorry. Forgive me. 

As Good Friday approaches, Lord,

Send your Spirit upon me,

that I may see more clearly and experience more concretely

your divine,

self-dirtying,

self-emptying love for even me,

So that I will be unable to restrain myself,

but love my neighbor with simple, solid gestures

of care, hospitality, and service. 

I love you, Lord; help me to love you and my neighbor more fully, more freely.

In your precious, powerful name I pray: Amen.