Tag Archives: Holy Week

Fight, Flight, Freeze: Holy Week Unraveled

We work so hard to keep Holy Week well-orchestrated: bulletins pristine, lilies in place, songs rehearsed. It’s an important celebration in the life of a church – in the life of The Church; a highlight of the liturgical calendar. We should have our vestments ready, Easter baskets ready, shoes by the door, hearts rightly adorned and aligned. Ham or lamb or lemon something waiting in the refrigerator.

In the space between the eggs and the hunt, something moves, caught by peripheral vision, sensed by hyper-alert ears. It’s probably fine; you’re probably safe; but the nearly-ignored motion is unsettling. Maybe it was the quickly darting shadow of someone off to sell out their friend and meet tragedy. Maybe it was the slow-motion wave of a drawn sword slashing lethally toward the head and neck, managing only to find a subordinate’s ear. Maybe it was the flick of water from dripping fingers washed in refusal of responsibility, dried of moral imperative, patted with averted gaze while a haunted wife’s warning was ignored.

From start to end, Holy Week was a chest-thumping rush and slide and crest of adrenaline. Crazed crowds pressed, desperate for rescue – hosanna, save us, rescue us, get these occupiers out – the welcome parade had the glee of a crowd watching an existential buzzer-beater three-point shot. A patient Christ sat in cold rage braiding a whip before overturning tables, the carpenter splintering any woodwork that supported oppression. Before Pilate reached for a basin, Jesus reached for one; away from noise, people, intrusive eyes, requests – between welcome parade and death march – before the disciples scattered like chaff on the wind, one lost forever – Jesus pulled sweaty, dirty feet near and tenderly cleaned his friends’ calloused heels. Later, Jesus’ distress wrung blood from his forehead while he faced the slicing weight of darkness. Sleepy friends – ashamed to be caught off-guard? – surged with adrenaline again. The sounds of the crowds, the waving palms, the smells of the city, the sounds at the temple, the crack of a whip, the pouring of water, the breaking of bread, the breaking of fellowship, and here is Judas, friend, fellow traveler, not meeting their gaze, not looking them in the eye, not admitting he knew why the money bag always felt light. Everything unraveled.

Fight, flight, freeze – Simon reached for his sword, disciples ran and scattered. Some froze, then followed at a distance.

This isn’t how it’s supposed to go.

It was supposed to be a victory lap, a coronation, a revolution, a vindication, a proof.

Across the street, a bent and broken palm leaf lies dusty and abandoned.

What did Judas just do? Surely not. He was one of us.

What did Simon just do? The flash of the sword, the yell, the splatter of blood-red, the ripped body; the tone of command, the severed ear fused seamlessly in place, vessels re-knit, nerves reconnected over a bloodied neck and shoulder.

The pulse doesn’t lie; words may deny the Christ, sever him from acquaintance, claim not to have cast out demons in his name. But the quickened heartbeat betrays the liar to himself. It does matter; he does know; he is known.

Everything unraveled.

Fight, flight, freeze – adrenaline surged early; nurses donned their gear. Teachers logged on to a box of squares. Chaplains held iPads, screens for goodbye.

This isn’t how it’s supposed to go.

The beeping wouldn’t end, the oxygen alarms kept blaring, the sounds wouldn’t still. Coding, and coding, and coding again. People got testy. Pastors got yelled at. Budgets were torn up and cast aside like yesterday’s palm branch – useless now.

Everything unraveled.

But the pulse doesn’t lie; lying awake, tossing and turning, isolated and cooped up, tired but wired. What started as a wave of energy slumped into a numb blur. Out of nowhere, unneeded adrenaline burrowed up at inconvenient moments, startling at shadows instead of substance, leaving a shepherd shaking through what surely was a heart attack. No; the panic would ebb, drained weakness in its place.

Severed – not just ear from head.

Voices cried out from cities that had street-view peeks of coffee shops, parks, hospitals with patient reviews. Google Translate shifted the familiar but unknown alphabet into familiar characters: the neurosurgeon here was very good, they were helpful, I have recovered well; whether the former patient in eastern Ukraine is still well – who knows? Where concerts had rung out, air raid sirens blared with uncanny dissonance, folding 70 years like accordioned paper, bringing past to present: buildings smashed to rubble, civilians starving. Severed – the illusion of peace; the illusion of fellowship. A pastor on one side of the border pleads for support for refugees; a pastor on the other side denies their nation is responsible.

The explosions wouldn’t end, the alarms kept blaring, the sounds wouldn’t still.

Fight, flight, unraveled –

Everything, freeze.

This isn’t how it’s supposed to –

Surely not.

The numbness creeps, the slump insists: no more. More? Hasn’t it been enough? How can we bear to bear witness?

But the pulse doesn’t lie. The quickened heartbeat betrays the truth. It does matter; we do know; we are known.

Judas was undone; he tried to unravel the web that choked in around him, tried to return the money that burned a hole in his psyche. Face to face with Christ, he had splintered, shattered; later, he spilled out in a field.

(But – he tried though; tried to give the money back, take it all back, rewind, undo the damage. He couldn’t; but he wanted to. Wanting to is not for nothing.) Judas took flight, unspooling along the way like a human banner of confession.

Simon was undone; he did what zealots do, tried to use muscle and steel to defend the Creator of the universe. Maybe he was slow or the servant was fast but Jesus didn’t refasten a head, only an ear. Simon’s adrenaline was quelled by Christ – what? Why? Wasn’t it time to impose the kingdom? It was supposed to be vindication. Simon was undone; enraged by simple questions that poked at his pride. He was like a fish flopping in one of his nets, a fish out of water. He’d waited for bigger things, he’d seen the miracles, he’d collected baskets of leftovers, and now at the point of proving himself, swore at servant girls and denied he’d ever dreamed of being anything other than a fisherman.

Mary was – surely not.

Mary was –

(This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.)

Mary –

Mary knew fight, she’d fought stigma and rumors and whispers and gossip.

Mary knew flight, she’d gathered him up and with Joseph run to Egypt as refugees escaping a vindictive tyrant.

Mary – did she know freeze? Maybe; she didn’t freeze at the wedding in Cana. If she knew freeze, it wasn’t inability to respond, for her. It was frozenness; being rooted to the spot; rooted, watching her boy die, unable to –

Watching her beloved son, in whom she delighted, suffer because of soldiers who were “just doing their job.”

Mary was undone.

Like mothers before and since, undone. Like survivors who glance instinctively to smile at missing loved ones. Like children who reach for the hand that isn’t there.


And when she ran out of clothing to rend and tear in grief, God took pity and tore the temple curtain clean in half.

The Spirit howled and churned up rock, dimmed the sun, and let Creation scream. In the shockwave, some of the dead were ransomed back, the universe reeling.

Something deep, undone.

There can be loveliness in an elegant Holy Week choreographed for worship, ultimately for celebration.

But there is no shame in a Holy Week smeared in mud, numb, ears ringing, drained, undone.

There is no shame in fight

or flight

or freeze.

There is no shame in finding that you are undone.

Something moves in the space between.

Wrap up what has died; buy the spices, pack them up. Cry, or having cried all your tears, wait in the darkness for morning. Don’t obsess over whether you should have fought instead of fled, or frozen instead of fought, or fled instead of freezing.

Something moves.

Like the dry scrape of stone against stone,

like a boulder shifted – and moved –

we are all undone.

One day at a time, one thread at a time, like a bird twisting twigs for a nest perched over a naked tomb,

hope darts

stitch by stitch.

Featured image courtesy Mel Poole via Unsplash.

Maxie Dunnam ~ Serving Like Jesus

The cross is the symbol of Jesus’ most radical expression of submission and servanthood. At the center of Good Friday was Jesus’ “obedience unto death—even on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). This cross-shaped attitude is a pattern for us to implement and imitate.

By opening ourselves to the shaping power of the indwelling Christ, we grow into the likeness of Christ. Serving is one of the most important disciplines because we act our way into Christ-likeness.

The Cross Style of Submission and Serving

Jesus’ way was the way of the cross, and this was essential to his ministry. He chose the way of humiliation. He “emptied himself,” refusing to hang on to the glory that was his with the Father. He reversed all notions of greatness and power. He became weak that we may be strong, poor that we may be rich. And he chose obedient submission even to death on the cross (Philippians 2:5-11).

So, his was a cross-way of life, which made his teaching the most revolutionary in history. His call was to a cross-way of life. “He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me'”(Mark 8:34).

He minced no words: “He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.'”(Mark 9:35).

Perhaps the most dramatic witness of this cross style was his action at the last supper with his disciples in the upper room. No one was around to perform that common act of a servant when persons came in off the hot dusty roads, that is, washing feet. This was a borrowed room; thus there was no servant or head of the house or anyone to see that the menial task was performed. Jesus provided the unforgettable picture of submission, of the cross style, by washing the disciples’ feet.

Lest the ongoing meaning of this be lost in the bafflement of what was happening, Jesus made it clear. After washing their feet and taking up his garments again, he sat down, explained to them what he had done and why he had done it, and plotted their course as his disciples: “You call me ‘Master’ and ‘Lord’, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Then if I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example: you are to do as I have done for you” (John 13:12-15, NEB).

Servants After the Style of Jesus

It is clear as we read the New Testament that serving is the most distinctive quality of Jesus’ style of ministry. And Jesus leaves little doubt that it is the style to which he calls us: “The disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master” (Matthew 10:24).

“Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Matthew 20:26-28).

Not only does Jesus call us to this style, he gives life through this style: “those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).

It is clear. The style to which we are called is that of serving:

But not many of us want to be servants, do we? Also, there is a vast difference between the way most of us serve and Jesus’ call to be a servant. The way most of us serve keeps us in control. We choose whom, when, where, and how we will serve. We stay in charge. Jesus is calling for something else. He is calling us to be servants. When we make this choice, we give up the right to be in charge. The amazing thing is that when we make this choice we experience great freedom. We become available and vulnerable, and we lose our fear of being stepped on, or manipulated, or taken advantage of. Are not these our basic fears? We do not want to be in a position of weakness (Dunnam, Alive in Christ, 150).

Here is the conflict. Even though we make the decision to serve, undisciplined as we are, we continue to choose when, where, whom, and how we will serve. Thus we continually run the risk of pride, and we are always vulnerable to a “good works” mentality that sends us frantically to engage ourselves in whatever deeds of mercy we can devise. How do we deal with these snares?

Guarding Against Pride and a “Good Works” Mentality

Thomas Merton reminds us that,

he who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity and capacity to love, will not have anything to give others. He will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressiveness, his ego-centered ambitions, his delusions about ends and means. (“Contemplation in a World of Action,” 178-79).

If we think we know others and their needs perfectly well, our serving will often hinder rather than help. To combat pride, we must be attentive to the other – a form of submission. We must be patient, intent on serving the genuine needs of the other, rather than serving our own need to serve. In this fashion we will diminish the possibility of being on our own. We will be open to the Spirit to guide us in discerning need and in making appropriate responses to need.

Given a decision to serve, we think we must immediately spring into action. We must guard against two pitfalls. Our desire to serve may be poisoned by a desire to please. Also, there is the snare of turning our servant action into controlling power over another.

One antidote for a “good works” mentality is an ongoing sensitivity to our own unworthiness. The Bible’s witness is clear. Awareness of a calling to service is accompanied by a sense of personal unworthiness. A “good works” mentality is also dissolved by keeping alive the conviction that our salvation depends upon God’s grace, not our performance. A third antidote to a “good works” mentality is an ongoing awareness that our serving is not redemptive within itself. Our serving provides the environment, sets the stage, and releases the energy for the person we are serving to be genuinely helped, even healed.

Now we return to the central issue. We discipline ourselves in serving, deliberately acting as servants because we are servants of Christ. Thus our choosing to serve elicits no false pride.

In a disciplined way we choose and decide to serve here or there, this person or that person, now or tomorrow, until we take the form of a servant and our lives become spontaneous expressions of the cross style.

As we practice the disciplines of submission and serving, we are freed from the terrible burden of always needing to get our own way, and we find the freedom to value and serve others. The primary purpose of these two disciplines, like all spiritual disciplines, is to cultivate the mind of Christ in us. We act our way into Christ-likeness.

Karen Bates ~ Egg Salad and Easter Sunday: Preaching the Messiness of Hope

Holy Week is a special time to reflect as Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection are commemorated.

I also get to remember how deeply loved I am, when I consider Jesus willingly suffering and dying on the cross for me. I love guiding people through the significance of Jesus’ journey to the cross and his resurrection.

Once during a ministers’ conference, the speaker said that on Easter, too much talk about the crucifixion and the events surrounding it is “a downer.” Talk about the good parts, we were told, because it gives people hope — focus on the resurrection. People are not coming back to the church to hear about the crucifixion, the speaker claimed.

But I wonder: Are there any bad parts to the story?

Talking about Jesus being denied by a friend, betrayed by a disciple, and turned on by a crowd is not bad. Isn’t it an opportunity to allow people to meet Jesus in his humanity and divinity? Jesus experienced the same messiness of life many of us are experiencing or will experience. But he knew his destiny; and though he could have walked away from the divine assignment, he didn’t.

Jesus had a choice and decided I was worth the torture and pain he was experiencing. He knew he was going to be resurrected. He knew the resurrection would be a bridge connecting me to his Father — our Father. When people understand the depth of love exhibited by this act, it draws them to the Savior.

Recently, while picking up coffee, I heard a store clerk shouting at a man in the aisle to bring the candy he was putting in his pocket to the counter to pay for it. He put the candy on the counter; however, the clerk did not see the sandwich and treat he was holding in his other hand. When she realized it, he was running out of the store. The clerk prepared to chase the man while the store owner called the police. A customer agreed to pay for the items if the owner would not call the police.

When the man realized no one was chasing him, he looked surprised and scurried up the street.

I wondered how hungry the man was to steal an egg salad sandwich from a convenience store. I also wondered how he would have reacted to the customer’s kindness.

He left without knowing his debt was paid. He was free to go. The food belonged to him.

That information probably would have surprised him. A stranger thought enough of his plight to free him from arrest (even though the man likely deserved the punishment for taking the items).

I thought about the spiritual implications, too. What the customer did for the man was what Jesus did for me. It made me sad because the man did not know he was free to go. I wondered how many people live with the burden and guilt of sin, but don’t know they are free to walk away from it.

Commemorating Jesus’ last week on earth reminds us of John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” That is why sharing all that happened to Jesus leading up to the crucifixion at calvary is important.

Life’s problems do not disappear. They didn’t disappear for Jesus. How Jesus handled problems was different. Inviting people to see the messiness of what happened to Jesus and how he handled it is something that gives us all hope — not just the Resurrection.  

Jesus loved Peter despite Peter denying him. Jesus washed Judas’ feet even though he knew he would betray him. He accepted the crowd’s praise, even though he knew they would demand he be crucified.

Jesus also knew the end of the story.

In Mark 8, after Peter said Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus talks about his death and resurrection. “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.”

Telling the whole story is a holy adventure that provides examples of ways to navigate through life’s challenges.

Reflecting on those challenges and the triumph over them is a fresh reminder of how Jesus’ love for others pushed him to endure torture so he could lay down his life for his friends. It is also an opportunity to tell somebody who doesn’t know about the beauty of Jesus’ love. They need to know that the cost of their sins, and the guilt and shame that accompany them, are covered.

People need to know what led to the morning when women, coming to slather fragrant oils on a decaying body, found the stone rolled away from an empty tomb. This is a time to remember why Easter is a celebration. It’s not just about the resurrection, but everything that surrounds it. 

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ The Terrible Precipice of Knowing: Black Holes, Enlightenment, and the Divine

There is a moment you stand on the brink, or the brink stands on you. The inexorable draw pulls you in, like gravity, like the current; at the moment you must fight to get away or be drawn in forever, you are the most tempted to pause with quickened breath as you weigh whether the knowledge of what lies on the other side is worth the possibility of your own extinction – before you can say what it is you’ve seen.

“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.”

In the quest to see the truth, what if you are blinded? Is a blind woman happy who has lost her sight in order to bear witness to the Beatific vision? Would terrorist Saul have chosen blindness and disorientation to see Christ, or did Christ need to blind Saul temporarily so that he would perceive properly?

Today is an odd moment in human history; scientists have collaborated across continents, in multiple time zones, to set up equipment on the world’s mountains so that humanity can use plastic, metal, and glass tools that fit in your pocket or sit on your desk to communicate with each other almost instantaneously and see images of a black hole. Computing isn’t identical to information and information isn’t identical to knowledge, but today you can pull out a piece of equipment, use a high-powered search engine, type the words, “black hole photo,” and see the results of decades of hard work. Just 150 years ago people learned of the death of their loved one in the U.S. Civil War by checking the newspaper or receiving a letter from the dead person’s friend. It could take weeks, months. Now a mystery in our galaxy is viewable on the rechargeable machine in your pocket.

Black holes are mesmerizing, terrifying, and little understood. Using math, calculations, formulas, equations, scientists guess. What appears to be true is that, in a way, light itself can be sucked down the drain and condensed into a tiny, heavy ball with extraordinary gravitational pull. (Note: this is an inaccurate description of a complex reality by someone who is not a scientist.) What science fiction writers like to play with is the moment – the event horizon – in which light or matter (or a fictional character) can no longer escape the gravitational pull.

You still have time you still have time you still have time it’s too late.

Who can rescue you from knowledge that will be your undoing? No rescue craft can hover at the event horizon, lowering a rope to you.

How can knowledge burn but set you free? There is a knowing that singes you to breaking point, then propels you forward.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

Light, we are told, cannot escape the power of a black hole.

Perhaps not.

Or at least, perhaps not for a long, long time, until that condensed matter explodes outward – propelling, igniting, cascading.

Jesus swallowed up the darkness that appeared to swallow him. The darkness came close; the darkness thought that Jesus Christ stood on the event horizon, and fell in.

On this mountain he will destroy
    the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
    from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
    from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken. – Isaiah 25:7-8

What is Holy Week about? It is about Jesus letting himself be drawn into a black hole. It is about the sky going dark, the earth shaking. It is about hours of eerie silence – hours and hours. It is about hope vanishing in the blink of an eye.

It is about a black hole quivering. It is about a black hole beginning to get smaller. It is about the Light of the World swallowing the heavy darkness with such inescapable draw that the darkness cannot escape. It is about the Light of the World entering a hole of black darkness and absorbing it from the inside.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Standing on the brink, looking into the abyss, Judas Iscariot and Pontius Pilate stood.

The inexorable draw pulls you in, like gravity, like the current; at the moment you must fight to get away or be drawn in forever, you are the most tempted to pause with quickened breath as you weigh whether the knowledge of what lies on the other side is worth the possibility of your own extinction – before you can say what it is you’ve seen.

What does it feel like to betray the Light? Judas held that knowledge. So too did Pilate. And it swallowed them whole as they were consumed by the ever-hungry darkness.

Standing on the brink, looking into the abyss, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, Mary Magdalene, and other women stood, peering into an open, empty, echoing tomb. Comprehension failed them. Lightning-colored beings shouted nearby from an eternity away. Fight or flight kicked in. Hope is deadly, and they did not want to die.

At the moment you must fight to get away or be drawn in forever, you are the most tempted to pause with quickened breath as you weigh whether the knowledge of what lies on the other side is worth the possibility of your own extinction.

Had Light escaped the darkness?

What does it feel like to witness the Light? Mary and Joanna held that knowledge. So too did Magdalene. And it swallowed them whole as they were consumed by the ever-lifegiving Light.

It is not the brink that is the problem; it is not the cliff’s edge, the event horizon; it’s whether you’re jumping into darkness or into Light. Holy Week brings us to the brink, reminds us of what it feels like to peer over the edge into humanity’s bent toward self-destruction, pushes us toward letting go of all safety railings as we free-fall into the Light of the World.

Featured image courtesy Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration/National Science Foundation.

Edgar Bazan ~ Remember Me: Grace Among Criminals

I have met many people who believe they need to earn God’s favor. They are insecure about the goodness of God. They believe they need to give something up, to pay the price or suffer in some way in order to merit God’s blessings.

I also have met people whose issue is not insecurity but pride: those who feel they have paid their “dues” and are entitled to the blessing. The teaching of today’s word will address these issues. And this is the premise: God looks to our hearts, not to our works, to grant us grace. So, what does it take for anyone, regardless of their path, to experience the blessing of God, the healing and wholeness only God can provide?

To answer this, we are going to look at what happened to Jesus and what he did in the last moments of his life. Let’s read from Luke 23:33-43 (NRSV). This is the story of the crucifixion of Jesus:

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

For most of the Gospel accounts, we see the attractive side of Jesus: healing people, protecting the powerless, going after and saving the lost, feeding the hungry. In very few instances do we find Jesus struggling or in sorrow. But today we do as we recall the crucifixion. In this text, we find Jesus among criminals dying nailed to a cross after being rejected, betrayed, and despised by his enemies. Death by crucifixion represented the most shameful and worst way to die. It meant that God (or the gods) had cursed you. The place called The Skull was a place of death. The sight is that of a horror movie; worse because if you were there, you could actually smell the rotting flesh. The smell was so thick that anyone could hardly breathe.

Furthermore, just to help us get in the context of this event, consider the following. It was like going to a funeral, except that the people coming were not family and friends joining to celebrate the memory and life of a loved one.

This was a death-bed among enemies.

There were no cookies and coffee before or after, nor were you there meeting your third cousin for the first time. Instead of being surrounded by people who loved you, you were surrounded by people who cursed and despised you. And if this was not bad enough, you were not even dead yet, but you were the main attraction, expected to become the last punchline of mocking and humiliation.

It is in this context that we find Jesus’ last moments. In most artists’ conception of the crucifixion, Christ is painted as valiantly facing death, straight and committed with a glow of light all around him stronger than all others around the Cross. But this picture is not the one the Gospels paint. In the crucifixion, Jesus is weak, collapsing, tired, miserable. In the eyes of his enemies, he did not die a hero, but a criminal. In the eyes of his friends, he did not die in victory but in shame and defeat.

Sadly, if this wasn’t bad enough, most of his disciples failed at this time. He was abandoned, forsaken. Judas Iscariot betrayed him for thirty pieces of silver; Peter denied him three times with oaths and affirmations of a strong nature. The exceptions were his mother, Mary, along with a handful of disciples. She didn’t want to be there; she was witnessing her firstborn son crucified in shame and dishonor, in between thieves, but she had no choice, she was a mother and loved him as such.

However, Jesus was not weak nor was he a victim.

He freely, willingly, deliberately took the journey to the cross. It was not Judas Iscariot’s treachery, or the hate of his enemies, or the power of the Roman Empire, or Pontius Pilate who brought Jesus to the cross. What brought Jesus to be crucified before them all was his love for them, his very own enemies; he brought himself to this occasion because of his love for each one of us. He suffered our guilt, being himself innocent, dying among criminals.

And here is where the answer to our question lies. It is not found with the disciples, or even with Mary, mother of Jesus but with the thieves.

The clue for us to learn the path to healing is found among the condemned.

Let me recall, “when they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.” In my opinion, paradoxically, love and grace are nowhere illustrated in Scripture as well as in this case. Our healing, love, and grace are found among the criminals. Let’s be clear, these vile men had no “good works” to rely on. They had no high standard of morality. Rather, they were wicked men; they respected neither the law of God nor the law of man. There is no way that either could say they had earned God’s favor. They were thieves, lawbreakers, arrested, tried and condemned. Their misery was immense, and they were receiving the reward of their deeds. No time for good works, for getting baptized, becoming a member of the church or anything like that, if salvation was to be attained in such a way.

However, for one of them, the time he had left was enough to mutter one of the most consequential and profound words we read in the Gospel: “Remember me.” He had a change of heart. He recognized that Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah, that he had the power to help him. (Exell, 589-591) And instead of mocking him, he rebuked the other thief and challenged him with these words: “Don’t you fear God since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

The thief hanging felt his guilt, but his faith was also unhesitating, full, confiding. (Exell, 589-591) The thief was changed in an instant, gained spiritual discernment on his deathbed and was able to see beyond the broken humanity of Jesus. He saw a king. And he did not ask for a favor, for blessings, even for mercy. In his misery, he dared not to ask anything, but to be remembered.

Somehow, he understood that Jesus was not a pretender, and as he looked across he saw not another dying man, but the Messiah, and decided to place his fate in him.

How can any kind of human being have such faith in such dark, hopeless and excruciating moment? Yet here we have the poorest of them all, being convicted by the Spirit of God, finally understanding in the grimmest hour the gravity of his sins, and his inability to provide for his own redemption; a humbled, broken soul. A miracle in the making.

And it is here that we see the promise of Jesus being fulfilled when he said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” To be poor in spirit means to know our place in God’s creation. It is not about lacking, but about an honest assessment of our need for God. It is the time when we realize that we can’t make it on our own. It is the time when we are totally and completely dependent upon God. Here is a poor man.

And Jesus heard the cry of this poor soul, honoring the exercise of his faith by blessing him as he had promised and answering, “I tell you the truth, you will be with me in paradise.” The thief asked Jesus to remember him, but Jesus goes further by saying in essence, “you will be with me, you will not only be in my thoughts but in my presence. You will be home.” In the context of being mocked about his claims of saving others, Jesus extends salvation to yet another person. (Nolland, 1153)

Jesus took this broken cursed man, a thief that was dying for his crimes, straight with him to paradise. Jesus escorted a lowly sinner saved by God’s grace beyond the gates of hell and through the gates of paradise. How effortlessly can divine grace raise the vilest, rudest and worst of us by a simple request just to be remembered?

This man found what he had missed his whole life, and it was on a deathbed. He found hope where there was only death, pain, and despair. He had made choices throughout his life that pushed people away; he had already been abandoned. He was the shame of his family, yet no one had experienced what he did at that moment. This is love and grace; this is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is what he does for us. It is the gift only God can give, one that we can’t earn or win.

I personally have discerned that grace is what God does for us, not based on what we deserve but on what we need. This man next to Jesus is proof that none of us have to reach a certain standard or level of holiness before God accepts us as a child. That thief is proof that we don’t have to get our lives under control to merit approaching Jesus and be blessed by him. The thief on the cross is proof that salvation is by faith and grace alone, and anyone that calls on his name can be saved.

What does this mean to us?

No matter where you are right now in your life, where you are coming from, or what you have done, hope can find you.

I know the past has a way of haunting us; don’t be possessed by it. Even if you find yourself on a deathbed figuratively of literally, feeling forsaken, abandoned, doubtful, confused, or scared to death, hope will find you. And it has today. Hope will dare to go to the darkest places to find you. And it has today. If you would only open the eyes and ears of your heart, you will see hope right now standing before you with open arms. And it will suffice only to say, “remember me” to have access to all God’s goodness, love, grace, forgiveness, and hope through Jesus Christ.

This is the Gospel.

So today, would you ask to be with him? And I do not mean it as in, “rest in peace.” But to be with him as you continue to walk in this life, so your journey may lead you to paradise too. Would you ask to be remembered?

My friends, I take this Word today on the assumption that there are those of us who are seeking God, either because they have never yet found him or else because their faith is weak and they have lost assurance that they belong to God. I take this Word to those of you who also have relied on personal merits and efforts to approach God.

These are my last words as you are being convicted by the Spirit of God and considering how to respond to this invitation. In his own weakness and suffering, Jesus learned yours. He knows of your suffering; he knows of your pain; the things you can’t tell anyone else, he knows them all. Whatever is your experience right now, today, we all are offered salvation. What is there to do but to rely on Jesus’ compassion? No payment is needed, no prerequisites demanded but a humble heart. To quote Psalms 51, “a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

Let’s place our life, our destiny in Jesus’ hands. Let’s be blessed and healed.

Don’t be forgotten, be remembered.

Works Cited
Comfort, Philip Wesley. Cornerstone Biblical Commentary. Tyndale Publishers, 2005. Print.

Exell, Joseph S. The Biblical Illustrator: St. Luke Volume 3. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1963. Print.

Nolland, John. World Biblical Commentary. Vol. 35c. Thomas Nelson, 1993. Print.

Nouwen, Henri. Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit. HarperCollins

e-books, 2010.

Kevin Watson ~ Embracing A More Meaningful Holy Week

There are several moments from when I attended seminary at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D. C., that have stayed with me in the years since I graduated. I remember the class “Methodist History and Doctrine” when Dr. Doug Strong’s summary of the Wesleyan way of salvation brought so many things together for me and made me feel in my bones that I was a Methodist; it was a major catalyst for where I am today. I remember Dr. Amy Oden reminding us in every class of “Church History” to ask the “so what?” question when we studied the past. I remember Dr. Sondra Wheeler’s passion for clear thinking and her ability to challenge students to be consistent and carefully consider and probe unexamined ethical assumptions. I remember Dr. Scott Kisker sending us out into the streets of D.C. to ask people about what grace meant to them. And I remember Dr. Kendall Soulen saying that you could put a host of different things as descriptors of Jesus, but at a very basic level the gospel was simply, “Jesus saves.”

I learned a lot in seminary and had some amazing teachers. Perhaps the image that has stayed with me more than any other came from Dr. Laurence Hull Stookey’s “Corporate Worship” course. Dr. Stookey was discussing the Christian calendar, and he was trying to help us see that the purpose of the Christian calendar was more than a circle where you do the same things over and over again. He described the Christian calendar as being like a spiral staircase: you come to the same point in the circle each year, but you have ascended higher up the stairs each year than you were the year before, or at least that is the purpose of the Christian calendar.

Dr. Stookey’s image of the Christian year being like a spiral staircase has helped me understand why Christian time is itself a means of grace. Every year we go through seasons of repentance, self-denial, and fasting. Each year we also go through seasons of celebration, rejoicing, and exultation. And every year we go through seasons of ordinary time when we are in a season of “regular” living.

I have come to appreciate many things about the Christian calendar. I appreciate the way the Christian calendar helps you practice what real life is like. As I have ascended the spiral staircase, I have become better at rejoicing – really celebrating –what God has done for the world – and for me. I have also learned how to grieve, to lament, to say no to myself and others, and to notice the heartbreaking extent to which things in the world are not okay. Perhaps what has surprised me the most about the major rhythms of the Christian calendar is that I have come to appreciate ordinary time, the gift of un-extraordinary days, even seasons when you experience normal rhythms and routines.

This week, Holy Week, is the highlight of the Christian calendar. To speak in a way that I suspect Dr. Stookey might not approve, Holy Week is like the Super Bowl of the Christian calendar. It is packed with meaning and is like the entire Christian year packed into one week.

Observing Holy Week has had a significant impact on my life. There are many different ways I could mark my growth as a follower of Jesus Christ, but a major part of my growth as a Christian came when I started to attend Holy Week services. Attending worship on Thursday and Friday of Holy Week is a highlight of my year as a follower of Jesus. Attending these services has prepared me to celebrate – really celebrate – the news that Jesus Christ is risen.

As I have, by the grace of God, ascended the spiral staircase of the Christian calendar, I have discovered that Christians (especially including myself) have a lot of room to grow in discipline and self-denial. I have been surprised to find that Christians are often actually worse at celebration than they are at self-denial. Easter is not one Sunday, it is eight weeks. But I have yet to attend a church that has had the celebratory stamina to throw an eight-week party. I have been to some amazing Easter Sunday services, but I don’t remember a single worship service from the sixth Sunday of Easter.

It is here that Dr. Stookey would want to remind us all that every Sunday is a little Easter. Christians celebrate (but do we really celebrate?) the resurrection every single Sunday.

I urge you to do whatever you have to in order to attend Holy Week services this week. We need to prepare to celebrate this Sunday. And God, in God’s graciousness, has given us an entire week to prepare to celebrate the best news the world has ever heard.

Dr. Stookey would, I think, also want me to tell you that you can’t get to the resurrection without the crucifixion. The cross of Christ is itself a potent means of grace. But our ability to celebrate the empty tomb will always be impoverished if we show up to hear the astounding news of an empty tomb, but have not heard all that happened so that death’s power could be broken from the inside.

No matter what your previous experience of Holy Week has been, there is room to enter more fully into the amazing grace of God. We can continue walking up the staircase, growing in holiness with each step.

By the grace of God, may we each experience a more meaningful Holy Week this week than we ever have.



This article first appeared on Wesleyan Accent in 2015.

Facing the Pain of Passionate Faith

People tend to consider me a passionate person.  

Maybe that’s why I love the word passion. In English, passion can mean to be fully engaged. The thesaurus lists the opposites of passion as indifference or casual interest. That’s because passion means to be committed with everything you’ve got. If you are passionate about something, all of you is wrapped up in it.  

As we look at our lives, usually the people who have had the most profound impact on us were passionate people. It’s passionate people who give the world symphonies and beautiful pieces of art. Our favorite books were written by passionate people. People of passion invent life-changing tools, discover life-enhancing medicines, and solve human problems. Passionate people aren’t conformers. They aren’t casually interested. They are completely immersed and give from the depths of their entire being.  

Jesus was a passionate person. He didn’t just engage the Pharisees in measured, polite debate; he challenged them, calling them hypocrites and a brood of vipers (Matthew 3:7; 12:34; 23:33). He didn’t just quietly ask the Temple vendors to reconsider what they were doing; he overturned their tables, raging with a whip that they had turned God’s house into a den of robbers (Matthew 21:12-13; John 2:13-16).  

Jesus was full of passion, which makes following in the Jesus way a passionate endeavor. It isn’t easy. It’s not for wimps. It’s not about celebrating the joy of Easter every Sunday; it’s filled with Maundy Thursdays and Good Fridays.  

We can see the intensity of the Jesus way in Luke 22. Jesus goes with his disciples to the garden to pray. He has finished his last meal with his followers and is in need of some time alone. Jesus asks the disciples to pray that they might not be tempted (or as some translations say, that they might not enter into a time of trial). He then moves off by himself and begins to pray, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine” (Luke 22:42, NLT).  

In his humanity, Jesus was struggling. It was taking everything he had to come to grips with what lay before him. The struggle was great: “He was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44, NLT).  

Following in the Jesus way is not easy. It isn’t about getting what you want—not even for Jesus himself. In the garden, Jesus was pleading with God, “Do you have a ‘Plan B’? Can you think of some other way?” That sounds a lot like most of us. “God, this is what I’m facing; do you have a ‘Plan B’? Can you think of some other future that doesn’t involve having to go through this? Can you take this cup away?”  

So often we want a God who will soften the blow of our failures. I’m sure I am not the only one who has prayed for a life without pain. “Please, God, take this away from me. Protect me and keep me out of harm’s way. Make my children’s lives safe and secure.” But we can’t just celebrate the joy of Sunday and still follow in the Jesus way. We’ve got to experience sleepless nights.  

Jesus was experiencing a sleepless night in the garden. I’ve experienced sleepless nights, but usually I assume it’s because something is wrong. My assumption is that I shouldn’t have sleepless nights. The reality, however, is that following in the Jesus way with passion, becoming a passionate person for Jesus, involves losing sleep.  

As Christ followers, we often have certain preconceived notions about how life is supposed to be: If we do our part and play by the rules, life should turn out a certain way. The disciples felt the same way. They had been following Jesus for three years. They had left their jobs, their homes, everything they had. They had certain expectations about how the future was going to turn out; after all, Jesus was the Messiah. They had witnessed his miracles and healings, they had heard him preach and teach. He was the real deal. Now they were going to Jerusalem for Passover. What an exciting time this would be!  

But then they got this news from Jesus himself: “When we get to Jerusalem . . . the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die and hand him over to the Romans” (Mark 10:33, NLT). Great. That’s not what we expected. “They will mock him, spit on him, beat him with their whips, and kill him” (Mark 10:34, NLT). Wonderful. We can’t wait to get there.  

What happened is not what the disciples expected; and if we didn’t know the story so well, it’s probably not what we would have expected. From the beginning, it stunk. The betrayal stunk; the trial stunk. The disciples did what they never dreamed they would do: desert Jesus in his greatest time of need. To make matters worse, God was silent. Jesus, however, slips something in when he is telling the disciples about their upcoming weekend. He’s almost sneaky in the way he tacks it on at the end: “but after three days [the Son of Man] will rise again” (Mark 10:34, NLT).  

I think most of us are in favor of a God who brings people back from the dead. That’s our kind of God. Our problem is that we don’t always want God practicing on us. We want to skip the pain part. We prefer to pass over the death thing. Let’s just get right on to the eternal life part.  

But that’s not the Jesus way. God doesn’t dispense with death. God resurrects us from it. The truth is that the Jesus way isn’t about God taking pain away from God’s people; it’s about God providing us with strength, courage, and meaning, with abundant life, often in the midst of pain. We prefer to have no doubt, but God doesn’t make our doubt disappear; instead God gives us faith to cover our doubt.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ A Full Basin: The Purpose of Orthodoxy

Orthodoxy gets a bad rap these days. At a time when distinction is seen as an evil – this or that, one or the other – orthodoxy is seen as presumptive, divisive and unwarranted. To say one thing is right or rightful is to deny the right or rightfulness of something else – an inconceivable vanity, a tired, predictable power-play of the literal-minded who have not yet grown beyond certain categories in their faith formation.

Passing over the irony that the denial of a creed is, in itself, a creed, what exactly is the purpose of orthodoxy? Too large a question for a short reflection, and one that academics would undoubtedly plumb in detailed excellence. But let’s go for broke and at least sketch a few characteristics.

The purpose of orthodoxy is to align followers of Jesus Christ with God and with one another. Yes, this assumes that it’s possible to get out of alignment. But even if we say that judging is a great evil, we practice it regularly in real life because we must: we align our tires, we align scientific instruments, we align our habits with healthy guidelines, we align our behavior with our beliefs. If we neglect realignment, we face the hard reality of entropy – our tires are unaligned, our instruments are unreliable, our health suffers, our behavior harms ourselves and others. “But God is beyond understanding in a way you cannot compare with our comprehension of how to make a car run well. How can you align with someone or something you can’t claim to comprehend?”

The purpose of orthodoxy is assert an embodied, knowable reality that is knowable truly even if it can’t be known fully. The Word Made Flesh means that almighty God knew how to make the heartbeat of Trinitarian love known to our well-meaning but tiny minds. Orthodoxy points us again and again to the idea that we can know because the Incarnation reveals that God wants us to know. If we even hesitantly reach for the idea that the Word Became Flesh, that infinite God took on humanity, then we accept the idea that something of God can be known because God made sure of it. So if we out of hand reject the possibility of the Son of God being born in carbon-based, fetal-heartbeat reality, then we immediately make a statement about what we think can be known of God – or not known.

The purpose of orthodoxy is to proclaim that God so loved that God so revealed the internal nature of God through Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the ultimate revelation of the nature of God, and we treasure Holy Scripture because we trust that the same grace that revealed itself in Christ preserves the redemptive narrative of God’s interaction with humanity in the pages of Holy Scripture. And this is a reality of beauty.

Orthodoxy is beautiful because it aligns us with Jesus Christ and with one another. It is beautiful because it asserts an embodied reality that is known truly if not comprehensively. It is beautiful because it proclaims that God loves the world so much that God revealed the divine nature through Jesus Christ.

The creeds that house these heirloom beliefs of the Christian faith are beautiful. They are not ugly or divisive or a predictable will to power.

If we do not agree about how God has revealed the inner workings of God’s own self, we may still affirm each other’s humanity, each other’s value, each other’s beauty, each other’s worth. We may live in kind regard and friendship. We may live as caring neighbors. We may live in service to each other. We may donate a kidney to each other. We may cheer each other’s kids in sports. We may send emergency relief in tragedy. But we do not share the same heirloom beliefs of the Christian faith, and we probably cannot worship together indefinitely. And that’s alright.

The beauty of orthodoxy doesn’t leave room for ill-will: it simply doesn’t. It washes the feet of friend, neighbor, enemy, the same. Common worship is essential for any connected faith body. The Amish and Mennonites and some contemplative Catholics all submit themselves to this reality: with pacifist intent, they order their worship as they best understand and wish others well, ready and active in serving those of other faiths or no faith at all. There is a time to celebrate the Eucharist, and a time to celebrate a service of foot-washing. Maybe the time has come for the latter. That is how we might lovingly pay honor to each other as, with mutual respect, we might depart to order our common worship as we best see fit.

So there is a gentle beauty to orthodoxy that sounds a great deal like leather sandals being slid off of calloused feet, like the splash of water being poured from a pitcher into a basin, like a cloth being wrung out, like a towel rubbing against a cracked heel.

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. – John 13:1-5, 12-17 (NIV)


Featured image courtesy Fabien Bazanegue via Unsplash.

Elizabeth Moyer ~ Easter’s Frayed Red Carpet

450px-2013_Golden_Globe_Awards_(8379844352)Resurrection Sunday was a couple weeks ago, and Christian congregations rolled out the red carpet to welcome all who would come. The “church” was on its best behavior: egg hunts, special music, sunrise services, breakfast, foot washing, and so much more as local churches gathered (mine included), all in the name of Jesus. On that holiest of Sundays I was tense.

I can now articulate the source of that tension.

I was frustrated with the fakeness demonstrated by the “church.” Yes, I, a seminarian, college and young adult pastor, called the actions of the church fake. Why?

Because we, the churched minority, rolled out the red carpet – the same red carpet we put away for this week – and we did not always mean it. On the day when we had the least amount of time to tend to the needs of others, we boldly said come join us. Our families were visiting, our special dinner needed to be prepared, we were in a hurry, or we had brunch reservations, but we still asked people join us. I spent most of Resurrection Sunday thinking about this week. What would we do this week? What face would the stranger see this week? No fancy banners, no breakfast, no foot washing, nope – nothing special going on here…this week.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these. Mark 12:30-31 (NRSV)

In the middle of my tension with the church, God inquired of my love for my neighbor.

I had the opportunity to see or ignore a stranger, a first-time visitor. I saw her tears as she bolted to the restroom at the end of worship. I saw her fighting back more tears as she sat in the lobby. Honestly, I was even tempted to ignore her: I was tired and frankly not in the mood to deal with someone else’s brokenness.

But truth, my love for God and my love for myself would not let me ignore my love for my neighbor. I asked one simple question: “would you like me to pray with you?” She said yes. I found a quiet space and we stood silently; I let her cry, and we prayed. I hope she knows that I was sincerely happy that she and her daughter chose to worship with us, and that I sincerely hoped they would join us again.

Here is the deal: the church should not be in the business of rolling out the red carpet if we do not have time to see people and meet them in their brokenness.

If I am not going to show you love, I should not invite you into my home, let alone the house of God.

Be intentional about seeing people; be intentional about meeting people in their brokenness…

Cole Bodkin ~ A Maundy Thursday Covenant

In his latest book, The Death of the Messiah and the Birth of the New Covenant: A (Not So) New Model of the Atonement, Michael Gorman argues that the ultimate purpose of Jesus’ atonement was to “create a transformed people, a (new) people living out a (new) covenant relationship with God together. Moreover, this people will not simply believe in the atonement and the one who died, they will eat and drink it, they will be baptized into it/ him, they will be drawn to him and into it. That is, they will so identify with the crucified savior that words like “embrace” and “participation,” more than “belief” or even “acceptance,” best describe the proper response to this death.”

Certainly the Last Supper is of great import when we reflect upon the Lord’s death and its significance for his disciples. For many, Maundy Thursday might be one of the few times that they will partake in the Lord’s Supper. So it might be worth more reflection, before we “do this in remembrance” of Jesus.

Intriguingly, it is only in this scene where we find the word “covenant” coming from the mouth of Jesus. While most of us are eager to gravitate towards high-volume words, this is an instance where less is more, and it deserves much more attention.

While this word “covenant” tends to grab our attention, especially with the idea of it being a (re)new(ed) covenant (Luke 22:20; see Jeremiah 31:34), I was recently made aware of something extremely significant preceding it, for which the word covenant is describing, namely, the “blood” of the covenant (Mark 14:24 and parallels).

We may suppose that this has something to do with the Passover meal, since, after all, the Evangelists introduce us to this meal by mentioning that it took place during Passover. But as Paul Penley states, “[t]he Bible never calls the blood of the Passover lambs in Egypt the “blood of the covenant.” The “blood of the covenant” first comes from the oxen sacrificed in Sinai mentioned in Exodus 24. The only other reference to “blood of the covenant” in the Bible refers to the sacrificed body of Jesus. That connection must not be missed” (Reenacting the Way (of Jesus), p. 196). After doing this, they have a meal (Exodus 24:11).

What is the significance? Well, before Moses sprinkles the blood of the covenant on the people, the people commit themselves (twice!) to do something: “all that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient” (Exodus 24:3, 7). So if this happens to be the background, what sort of implications would this entail for those of us who partake of the Lord’s Supper today? Penley explains,

The “blood of the covenant” doesn’t just signify God’s willingness to accept a sacrifice as payment for human sin. It signifies a two-way commitment. God will reach out and over the sins of many, but those whom he reaches have a major responsibility. The responsibility is obedience. God’s ways become your way of life if you want God’s sacrifice to become your forgiveness (197).

Newsflash: that’s how covenants work! A covenant between parties is a two-way street. We aren’t mere recipients of Jesus’ salvific act. We aren’t coming to the table just to “remember,” and proclaim a big hearty “thank you.” We are called to obedience, to be faithful to the covenant in which we have been inaugurated. We are eating and drinking the atonement. We are being baptized into it. We are committing ourselves to the baptismal life, the-dying-and-rising-to-Christ life.

Some may feel suspicious towards this “background” info. Check out the discussion of the old and new covenant in Hebrews 9 where we find the author arguing “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works in order to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14). Paul, likewise, states that “[Christ] died on behalf of all in order that those who continue living might no longer live for themselves, but for the one who died on their behalf and was raised (2 Corinthians 5:15).” He died for us, we die daily for Him.

Do we realize that when we take the bread and wine we are committing ourselves to faithfulness to God?

Penley suggests we help set the stage for the seriousness of the Lord’s Supper by responding in unison to the biblical reading: “all the words which we have spoken, we will do.” Another practical suggestion is:

reading out loud a portion of Jesus’ teaching each time communion is taken. Take a section of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 and read it out loud. Or take a section of Jesus’ teaching on the topic being discussed or taught that day. This way participants can specifically consider the commands in the covenant to which they are committing— to which they are declaring in action, “all the words which you have spoken we will do” (210).

This also should make us consider the Commission the Lord gave us, especially the “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” We are making disciples who are agreeing to enter into the new covenant. We are inviting them to partake and commune with the Lord of the new covenant. Thus, we must ask ourselves: if we are making disciples of the new covenant, then ought it be best to know and do all that he commanded us to do?

Thank God for the mercy of this Lord, and the forgiveness he has offered, and the prayer that he has taught us to pray. Nevertheless, when we approach his Table, let us remember and do all that he has taught us, and enabled us to do through the power of his Spirit.