Tag Archives: Lent

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.

Prayer & Fasting: When Flawed Humans Follow Jesus

The apostle Peter is one of my favorite people in the Bible. He reminds me of me. Following Jesus is not always easy for me; from the very beginning, Peter seems to have experienced a similar sense of struggling as he sought to follow. Peter was a searcher with a good heart. He stumbles but tries his very best to follow. He’s always open to growing in his relationship with Jesus, even if that growth involves some pain. Peter was full of emotion, giving himself completely to Jesus at one moment, but then fearfully retreating from Jesus the next.

In Matthew 16:13-16, we read, “When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.'” (NIV)

What did Peter proclaim about Jesus? But now in Matthew 16:21-22, we see, “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!'” How is Peter responding now?

Peter was genuine in all of his interactions with Jesus. He boldly declared his belief that Jesus was the Messiah (Matthew 16:16), and then immediately questioned and chastised Jesus for talking about the suffering that lay on the horizon (Matthew 16:22). That last bit may have been bumbling and inappropriate, but it was genuine. Peter genuinely offered Jesus his entire being – the good and the bad. 

We read about these contrasts between the good and bad sides of Peter throughout the gospels. He simply didn’t always know what it meant to follow Jesus. When Peter witnessed the astonishing event of Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah on the mountain, all he could think to do was to offer to build shrines, places for each of them to live. (Matthew 17:1-11, Mark 9:2-9, Luke 9:28-36). When he sees Jesus walking on the water, he boldly climbs out of the boat, seemingly full of confident faith, yet when the wind and waves appear too much, he flounders in fear. (Matthew 14:22-33)

Washing another person’s feet was a common way of expressing hospitality and servanthood in the first century. Jesus washed the disciples’ feet on the night he was arrested. (John 13:1-9) When it was Peter’s turn, he felt completely unworthy, so he declined. And yet, when Jesus responded that it was necessary in order for Peter to be a part of him, Peter’s love poured forth: “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (John 13:9, NRSV)

Peter genuinely desired to follow Jesus, even if he didn’t always know exactly what that meant; and he was willing to offer his entire self, even his shortcomings.

 The question for each of us is, how willing are we to offer our entire selves to God – including our shortcomings?

Peter was willing to offer Jesus his entire self – shortcomings and all – because intuitively he knew that Jesus had created safe space between them. His intuition was correct. Jesus had created safe space, because Jesus understood Peter. Jesus knew how truly human Peter was. He knew that deep down in his heart, Peter desired to follow him, even though Peter’s understanding and capabilities were dramatically limited.

Jesus knew Peter well enough to call him the rock upon which he would build his church (Matthew 16:17-19); yet also knew him well enough to predict accurately that before the rooster crowed twice, Peter would deny three times that he even knew him at all. (Mark 14:26-31)

We are all like Peter. We too are truly human, with all of the frailties and limitations that brings. Just as he understood Peter, Jesus also understands us. Jesus knows that there are times when we want to follow; there are other times when we choose to shy away. But Jesus’ call to Peter was to follow, not at a distance—not in the shadows, afraid of what might happen next—but to move into the light and follow boldly, whatever came his way.

This is Jesus’ call to us as well. Jesus knows how limited our resources are. He knows that life is full of choices, temptations, and complex situations where we become confused and frightened. Yet he desires our faith to be real and authentic, and so he calls us to follow him anyway, closely, not at a distance. 

We are in the midst of Lent, working our way toward the week of Jesus’ crucifixion and death. As you fast and pray, reflect on the idea of a “safe space” between you and God. Do you sense the safety of that space? If not, I pray you will use your time of prayer to bring that experience honestly before God, opening yourself to the movement of the Holy Spirit in response to your need.

Jesus would go on to say, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”  (Matthew 16:24-25, NLT)

During this next month, use your time of prayer and fasting to become more aware of the ways in which Jesus may be calling you to step out of the boat. And then step out in courage, knowing that Jesus understands that you are fully human, with all the frailties and limitations (but also with all the creativity and boldness) that brings.

Join the World Methodist Evangelism Prayer and Fasting Community here.

Adapted from original publication at World Methodist Evangelism; used with permission.

Featured image courtesy Emiliano Arias via Unsplash.

Lenten Love: Make Things Better

The Lenten season has started. Lent is six weeks (excluding Sundays) dedicated to prayer, fasting, and reflection to prepare for the grand celebration of Christ conquering death and his resurrection.

When I think of Lent, I am reminded that Easter is coming. We will soon celebrate the victory of Jesus over death through his resurrection and the gifts of forgiveness of sins and eternal life to all those who believe in him. In light of this, this Lenten season invites us to a particular time of reflection about our relationship with God and how we practice what we say we believe. As we are reminded of the meaning and purpose of our faith, we are also confronted with the realization that we may not be living up to the expectations of Jesus’ teachings.

Are we living up to Jesus’ teachings? Are we there yet? If you are like me, then you are far from it. We are trying; we stumble now and then, but we are not in denial, and we are making progress, even if it is just a little bit every day. With this in mind, I invite you to a serious and responsible self-reflection about how you are living your faith, but most importantly, how your relationship is with God and with one another.

Henri Nouwen described Lent as a time to refocus, to reenter a place of truth, to find ourselves in God once again. This is precisely what I want us to do this Lenten season: to find our place in God and affirm our identity as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Let’s begin with a simple question: how are you observing Lent?

Are you fasting, reading Scripture, praying? Great! That’s what the church traditionally has done for many centuries. Lent is a time of faith renewal as much as it may be a time of reconciliation with God. Fasting, reading Scripture, and praying are means of grace that help us be strong in our faith and close to God. So if you are practicing this, that is wonderful; keep doing it!

Today’s challenge is to go beyond a personal renewal of our faith and reconciliation with God. What if we commit to practice our faith to make the world better: more loving, more kind, compassionate, truthful, and empty of hate and evil? What if we show our faith to others in ways that make life better for them? What if we are a tangible blessing to others?

One of the most prominent critiques I make is that often, we are primarily known for what we are against than for what we offer. Our faith is more about how we make things better for all people, just like Jesus did. With this in mind, here is an idea of how we can observe Lent this year. The reading from Romans 12:9-21 using The Message translation encourages us like this:

Don’t fake your love, be real. Run away from evil; cling to good. Be good friends who love deeply. If you see someone in need, do something about it. Don’t be a cause for others to trip over but bless those even when they disagree with you. Laugh with your friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Discover beauty in everyone. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do, but be generous in your goodness to all people. And last, don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.

As you can see, in this Scripture, Paul describes how Christians are to love each other and how we are to engage in our relationships with others. Paul explains that Christian behavior is doing everything for all people’s common good.

Our text doesn’t just say, “Love others more,” but it describes specific behaviors for loving others that Jesus himself modeled. This helps us see that Christian love is not just being nice to people; Christian love has a moral orientation toward the good. When we show love toward someone, we are moving them toward God’s goodness, so they too may find themselves in God. That is what Christian witness is, both during the Lenten season and throughout the year.

Since our faith is less about what we don’t do and much more about how we make things better for all people – just like Jesus did – let’s make part of our Lent resolutions to bring people to Jesus by practicing genuine love and showing generous goodness.

Featured image courtesy Ante Gudelj on Unsplash.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ A Prayer for the Raw & Ragged

Breath of Life,
You humble us with the piercing memory of a man six years ago begging to be treated with dignity: I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.
He spoke the truth; we were busy.
And now we’re all struggling to breathe.
Some on ventilators.
Some in panic.
Some in stale rooms we didn’t choose, didn’t plan to inhabit
hooked up to the life support of Wi-Fi.
We need your Breath of Life.

We need your Breath of Life, your Spirit-Wind that slowly fills our lungs with quiet life,
that slows our breathing away from
or flight
billowing into our cells
the warm, still calmness of being.

Breath of Life,
we wait and watch (what else can we do?)
gathered in our upstairs rooms
by ourselves
or with two or three
away from Dan or Karen or Dave
with them in worship
as we use our air to sing together on Sundays
while the internet strains to take it all.

We wait and watch (what else can we do?)
for your Holy Spirit to pour out on us gathered
and there
a mighty rushing wind,
a theophany of fire on the heads of women and men, young and old, day laborer and C-suite.

We wait and watch (what else can we do?)
for your Holy Spirit to pour out on these gifts –
what gifts are in our pantries?
What can we bring you from empty store shelves,
from online stores crushed from the weight of inventory of others’ worry?
Pour out on these gifts – what do we have to bring you?
Bread and wine? Juice?
It has not always been so:
some find you’ve made rice be for them the Body and Blood.

We wait and watch (what else can we do?)
for your mighty rushing gifts poured out on our scraps:
stale end pieces of dried bread; instant rice; canned biscuit dough near expiration.
We don’t want to give you this.

We wanted to give our best – our best foot forward, a good vintage, a rich bread.

We don’t want to give you this – a rigged ventilator adapted for two; cloth face masks needing nightly bleaching; Hefty bag hospital gowns.

We wanted to present our best side – our best foot forward, a royal tour of a new hospital wing, a display of how your major gift was put to use, your name on the gleaming building.

we believed we could breathe on our own
our own steam
our own will
our own can-do spirit.
we thought giving our best
was how the Wind came.

You’ve known otherwise.
You always have.
You have poured your mighty rushing gifts on
old technology
illiterate minds
stale bread crusts
empty cupboards.

It’s always been your Breath we borrowed.
It’s always been Breath of Life
infusing frailty
trading waste for life
one breath at a time.

And that is all we have, Breath of Life:
one breath at a time.
My bread will be here today, gone soon in hungry bellies.
I don’t know what store will have what goods – flour or yeast or bread, or not.
We can give you what is in our pantry
That is all.
That has always been all.

You’ve been waiting and watching (what else could You do?)
prompting us, preparing us for the moment
when we would stare at crusts and apple juice,
at rigged ventilators and make-shift masks,
at rice and water
and say

we want to give you this.
It’s all we have.

You’ve been waiting and watching (what else could You do?)
so that you could pour out Your Holy Breath
in sight of us all
on everything that embarrasses us in its stale dryness.

We believed we could breathe on our own. But our breaths do not belong to us.
We need your Breath of Life:
the Spirit-Wind that slowly fills our lungs with quiet life,
that slows our breathing away from
or flight
billowing into our cells
the warm, still calmness of being.

Pour out your Holy Wind on us gathered
and there.
Pour out your mighty, rushing gifts.
Speak the truth; we are not too busy.
We need your Breath of Life.

Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

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.

Jackson Lashier ~ The Story of Two Mountains: A Transfiguration Meditation

The redemptive story of scripture can be told in many and various ways. I like to tell it through the story of two mountains. Not the characters one normally pictures when thinking about the story of scripture, I admit. Yet, like the Appalachians in the East and the Rockies in the West of America, these two mountains tower over the biblical narrative and in many ways define its landscape.

The first one is well known: Mt. Sinai. Located in the vast rocky wilderness of the peninsula separating Egypt from Canaan, this mountain first appears in the early chapters of Exodus. It’s not a pretty mountain. In fact, the other name it goes by in scripture, Mt. Horeb, means ‘wasteland,’ which perfectly reflects the state of God’s story at this point. For the children of Israel have been toiling in slavery for 400 years, and Moses has fled for his life from Pharaoh’s court and found himself in the wasteland near Mt. Sinai. One day, while Moses is on the mountain, God appears to him and calls him to lead his people out of slavery. Moses, though frightened and unequal to the task, returns to Egypt, confronts the Pharaoh, and leads the people out of slavery. As God commanded him, Moses brings them back to this mountain where God calls him up to give the law that would define Israel’s way of life for the next 1,000 years.

While Moses is speaking with God on Mt. Sinai, he gathers the courage to ask a question. “Show me your glory,” he says. God responds:

I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, “The LORD”; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But . . . you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live . . . See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen (Exodus 33:19-23).

This was a bold question. To see God’s glory, after all, was to see God, and no one had seen God since Adam and Eve walked with God in Eden. Their sin, which passed to all humanity, had now made this vision impossible for the holy God cannot be in the presence of sin. For if they saw him, God told Moses, they would die. So God does a most gracious thing here. He allows his glory to pass by Moses so that the prophet sees the “back” of his glory, back being a sanitized translation of the Hebrew word meaning “backside.” This is the most of God that the greatest prophet of Israel was ever able to see.

The second mountain in our story is not so well known: Mt. Tabor. Located in lower Galillee, at the eastern end of the Jezreel Valley, this mountain is smaller than Mt. Sinai but much prettier, with rows of green trees covering its heights. And unlike Mt. Sinai, which dominates the first part of scripture, this mountain only appears once, in a relatively short story from the Gospels. At this point in his ministry, Jesus has been preaching throughout Galilee for several years. In fact, he has recently revealed to his disciples for the first time that he had to go to Jerusalem to be handed over to the authorities and crucified, a sure sign that he sensed his earthly ministry was coming to an end. Shortly after this troubling revelation, he takes his closest disciples, Peter, James, and John, to this second mountain. The Gospel writer continues:

And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone (Matthew 17:2-8).

In this mysterious moment, known to history as “the Transfiguration,” Jesus reveals to the disciples his true nature. And to their shock, his true nature is the glory of God shining from his face. Present with the disciples, and beholding the same incredible sight, is Moses, the prophet who had asked on Mt. Sinai to see God’s glory. Only now, on Mt. Tabor, does he get what he hoped for. Only in Jesus does he see God face to face.

In the story of the two mountains, bound together in the figure of Moses, we hear the redemptive story of God, that the God who revealed himself incompletely in the law, which is to say he showed us his backside, reveals himself fully in Christ. That the God whose holiness did not allow him to be in the presence of sinful humanity without causing their deaths is now able, through Christ and his sacrifice, to dwell fully with humanity. And that the God of the cosmos speaks with us face to face, as he always intended. As I noted earlier, this story can be told in many and various ways. The apostle John puts it this way: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, that makes him known” (John 1:18). And the apostle Paul says: “For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

If you notice from the story of Mt. Tabor, Peter wanted to stay on the mountain. But Jesus, no longer transfigured, leads them down the mountain and then, not long after, on to Jerusalem. You see, there is one more mountain in this story. It’s called Golgotha. It’s the smallest of the three and the ugliest. It takes its name from the odd formation in its rocky surface, that of a skull. From this third mountain, Jesus will show God’s glory in a different way. He will show it through a cross.

Jesus’ walk down the mountain, then, is a movement from his ministry to his passion, which the Church marks in the movement from Epiphany to Lent, a 40-day period of intentional reflection on Jesus’ sacrifice.

Honestly, it’s not a joyful time in the life of the Church. Methodists, like many traditions, begin the journey by placing ashes on our heads and remembering that we are made from dust and returning to dust. Other traditions refuse to say the word “Hallelujah” during this season. Still other traditions fast regularly to identify with Jesus’ sacrifice. My guess is that all of us, like Peter, would rather stay on Mt. Tabor, basking in God’s radiant glory forever. But as we saw from Moses’ experience on Mt. Sinai, this would be impossible if it were not for the sacrifice on Golgotha. Only by this sacrifice can the glimpse of Mt. Tabor become an everlasting reality for those who follow Jesus and have the Spirit.

So we say on Transfiguration Sunday, hallelujah for the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus. And we will not say it again until Easter Sunday when death is defeated in resurrection and the veil of God’s glory is forever torn.

Let’s enter these next 40 days with hope that death never has the last word. Let’s remember that the hope we have in Jesus is a face to face relationship with God and that no sin we have done, no hurt we have caused, no brokenness we have experienced, and no shame we have felt can ever again hide that glory. Let us walk with confidence in this wasteland knowing that we shall soon see the glory of God.

Andy Stoddard ~ The Gift of Brokenness

I’m a pretty happy and optimistic guy.  I tend to believe the best of other people, and by and large, I expect things to work out alright.  I take Romans 8:28 literally and seriously – God will somehow work out things for good.

I tend to be an optimistic and grace-full preacher.  I believe in hell, but I’m not a hellfire preacher. I tend to think that grace is a greater motivator to faithfulness than fear is. I have always taken Paul’s words in Romans 2:4 to heart with my preaching: “Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” I like to leave people with a pep in their step on Sunday morning.  I like to leave them with grace on their lips. I want them to enter into the world hopeful, peaceful, and more focused on Jesus than on their sin. 

Except for Lent. 

In Lent, yes, we need to know that we are loved.  But there is something else we need to know. We need to know this – we are sinful.  We are broken. We are fallen. We are ashes, and to ashes we will return.

We can’t run from this.  No matter how powerful, wealthy, famous, or holy we are, we are ashes.  No matter how great of an influencer on social media we are, we are ashes. No matter how big a church we are part of, we are ashes.  We are ashes. We are broken. We are sinful.

And you know what? 

This realization of brokenness is one of the greatest gifts we can ever receive.  Lent is a powerful and beautiful reminder of the gift of that realization. Once we receive this gift, we can truly live.  This realization gives us several life-changing truths.

First, brokenness is equality.  We are all the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.  We all inherit original sin. In our age, we like to talk more about “sins” than our “sinful nature.” Sins are things we do (what I jokingly call smoking, drinking, and cussing).  In our minds, there is always someone worse than us. Yeah, we’ve messed up, but look at themThey are much worse than we can ever be. 

If we look at our brokenness in terms of sin, then there are stratifications. There are better and worse than’s.  But that is not how we are called to look at it. We are all sinful. It isn’t just that we have all messed up, but it is that we all have a broken, sinful nature. We all desire that which is sinful.  You, me, our moms and dads, our preachers and bishops, all of us. We are all “sinful.” Jesus didn’t just come to forgive for our sins; he came to free us and restore us. When Adam and Eve fell, our nature was corrupted. That affects every last one of us.  Charles Wesley put it this way in his great hymn Love Divine:

Take away our bent to sinning;

Alpha and Omega be

We all have that “bent to sinning.”  Everyone one of us. All of us. You are sinful.You are broken. You are. Yes. You. Me.  All of us.

But here is the joy: that truth doesn’t make you the scum of the earth.  It makes you human. We are all broken. We are all sinful. We are all frail.

There is equality in our brokenness.  We all stand equal before God, no matter what. We are all broken. That makes us all equal, no matter what.

Second, brokenness is clarity.  If we ever, ever, ever really understand our brokenness, then we have the ability to see ourselves as we really are.  Broken and in need of a Savior. When we understand that, then healing can really begin.

One of the best books I’ve ever read is The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. If you’ve not read it, you need to stop what you are doing, go and buy it, and read it. In this book, he deals with our need for grace and the reckless God who gives us grace, unearned. Listen to what he writes:

At Sunday worship, as in every dimension of our existence, many of us pretend to believe we are sinners. Consequently all we can do is pretend to believe we have been forgiven. As a result, our whole spiritual life is pseudo-repentance and pseudo-bliss.

This clarity – you are sinful, I am too – when we realize that, when we truly know that we are sinful, then we are able to clearly see how amazing God’s grace is.  God knows the worst about us and loves us anyway. Our brokenness gives us clarity to see ourselves as we are, and to see just how much God truly loves us. 

Finally, brokenness is opportunity.  When we know our brokenness, as well as God’s great love for us, in spite of it all, we have an opportunity – an opportunity to be remade, reformed, reborn.  We go from being the Pharisees thankful that we are not tax collectors to the tax collector simply thankful for God’s love.

Understanding our brokenness allows us to truly reveal and marvel in God’s grace.  Understanding our brokenness puts on the path of recovery, the path of wholeness, the path of holiness. This path that understands it’s not about our morality and getting it right, but it’s about our humility and submission to Jesus and following Jesus. 

Our brokenness is our opportunity to be truly faithful.

This Lent, you are sinful.  You are imperfect. You are broken.  So am I. May we take this realization as a means of grace. And may we allow ourselves to be recreated into the people that God is calling us to be.  We are equal in brokenness, we are equally in grace. May this gift make us whole.

Interview ~ Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett on Lent

Wesleyan Accent shares the opportunity to explore the Lenten season with Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, who serves the Birmingham Episcopal Area of the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church in the United States.


Wesleyan Accent: Growing up, Ash Wednesday was something vaguely Catholic-ish printed on the calendar; I didn’t observe it until later in life. What role has Ash Wednesday played in your life? How has that changed (if at all) depending on what season of life or ministry you’re in?

Bishop Wallace- Padgett: I was first introduced to Lent as a child. Ash Wednesday was a big deal to me during the early years of my Christian walk because it was the day when I would “give up something for Lent.”

As a child I usually eliminated chocolate or candy from my diet as my “sacrifice” for the season. I thought my practice had much more integrity about it than what my buddy did. He gave up peas- a vegetable he didn’t like!

As I grew into young adulthood, Ash Wednesday became more to me than the day that launched Lenten observances. Though I still observed a Lenten fast, Ash Wednesday was the entry way into a 40-day experience of penance and reflection. I found special meaning in the imposition of ashes as a powerful reminder of my mortality and brokenness.

WA: What’s been one of the most surprising or poignant Lenten experiences you’ve had personally? Have you ever had a particularly difficult Lent?

Bishop Wallace-Padgett: My most poignant Lenten seasons have occurred when I have fully engaged in observing multiple Lenten practices such as reading a daily Lenten devotional, observing a Lenten fast, participating in special Lenten and Holy Week worship services, giving money to an outreach ministry and adding an extra act of service to my weekly routine.

I have discovered that there is a correlation between the depth of my Lenten journey and the height of my Easter experience. Lenten practices do not make me “holier” and thus more ready for Easter. Rather, like other holy habits, they increase my openness and readiness to experience Christ’s presence in my life.

WA: Some of us have been on both sides of the altar during Lent – receiving ash or bestowing it, observing Lent or planning sermon series for the season. I would imagine that there are a couple of layers of additional swapped roles when you find yourself in a place of ministering to pastors from the episcopal level. How has your perspective on Lent changed as you’ve moved from role to role? 

Bishop Wallace-Padgett: My perspective on Lent has changed over time. This has been affected more by changes in my own personal spiritual journey than by the different roles in which I have served. As my relationship with Jesus Christ has deepened, my Lenten journey has grown more meaningful. I loved journeying through Lent as a local church pastor with a specific congregation. This was a rich and bonding experience.

In my current role, I am journeying with an entire Annual Conference through Lent. I preach often during Lent, including Holy Week services. I also attend as many special services during Lent as my schedule permits.

On another level, it feels appropriate that much of our appointment-making work happens during Lent. The reflective, prayerful posture required by the appointment-making process fits with the mood of Lent.

WA: Lent always seems like a strange play between individuality and community – it’s highly personal on one level, and yet a communally shared experience of traveling the church calendar together. How do you think this dynamic is beneficial to Methodists?

Bishop Wallace-Padgett: One of the strengths of Methodism is the dynamic between individuality and community. On one hand, John Wesley’s heart was strangely warmed, indicating a deeply personal experience with Jesus Christ. On the other hand, he developed a system of accountability within the context of community through class meetings and bands. We are a community of people who are on our way together in our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Lent and Ash Wednesday have survived as Christian observances because we need them. Our souls long for a deeper faith. While these special days are sometimes misused and trivialized, for those believers who observe them earnestly, they are a powerful influence for growth in our walk with Christ.

Lent is a season that calls us to personal introspection. It also is a time that accents our life together in community. You are right. Lent brings with it a unique dynamic that emphasizes both the individual and the communal nature of our life together.

WA: And as always, is there something we should have asked but didn’t? Do you have any other reflections or comments?

Bishop Wallace-Padgett: Thank you for inviting me to participate in this conversation. My prayer for us both and for those reading this interview is that we will have deep, meaningful and life-giving Lenten experiences that prepare us for a joyful and powerful Easter.



This originally appeared on Wesleyan Accent in 2015.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ The Persecutor

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

On the road, an interesting question is posed. First of all, consider what we know of Saul in the early portion of the book of Acts. He watched the coats of the witnesses who approved the men creating the first Christian martyr, stoning Stephen. Later Saul “breathes murderous threats” against the followers of Jesus. For all intents and purposes, this man is a persecutor of men, women and even children.

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” When Jesus Christ appears to Saul on the road leading to Damascus, the statement slices through the air: average women and men may be suffering, but Saul is actually acting out against Jesus Christ, Word Made Flesh, fully God and fully human. This doesn’t downgrade the suffering of Jesus’ followers: it elevates it. Saul, when you raise your hand against these people, you strike the second person of the Triune God.

Second, consider Saul’s zeal. He was chasing people down, hunting them out like a religious bounty hunter determined to get his dues. Saul wasn’t an internet troll spewing hateful comments; he wasn’t just a jerk spouting opinions. He was actively determined to physically intervene in the lives of those who believed differently than he did.

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” This powerful man stands up from the ground with his world flipped upside-down. He is led by the hand like a child, taken into town blinded by truth, stunned. He doesn’t eat or drink for three days. He does pray. The big raid planned for Damascus has turned into a completely different scene. God speaks to Ananias (maybe someone on Saul’s list of suspects?) to go and pray over Saul. Ananias coughs and splutters. When Ananias arrives, he addresses the famous scourge of Christ-followers, knowing this man will have a difficult road ahead: “Brother Saul…”

What do we learn from the persecutor who would later be chased down, shipwrecked, beaten, and tossed in jail – eventually to himself be martyred?

We learn that anyone can have an encounter with Jesus Christ at any time. It doesn’t matter who you deem evil; it doesn’t even matter if that person has caused you personally to suffer greatly because of your faith. No one is beyond being confronted with the blinding light of Christ, in this world or the next. Followers of Jesus are actually told to pray for those who persecute them.

We learn that those who receive a hard lesson of a spiritual truth need help along the way. Saul, whose hands had dragged believers, was led by the hand, completely helpless until someone came to him. Ananias prayed for him, and Saul depended on others to baptize him and get him something to eat as he regained strength.

While praying, Saul had seen a vision of someone named Ananias coming to him. Why? Was he despairing? Thinking he would be blind forever? Was he terrified of the people in Damascus, fearing retribution once it became known that the great persecutor was helpless and vulnerable? Was he in need of some profound gesture of grace – the kind of gesture it would be if he knew Ananias’ profile already when he had gotten the priests’ permission to go to Damascus in the first place? Saul needed to know Ananias was coming. He needed to know he was going to be healed, to be welcomed into the family. And then he heard the words, “Brother Saul.”

We learn that a converted persecutor doesn’t lose his zeal. Immediately, Saul began preaching in Damascus that Jesus is the Son of God. Saul after the vision on the road to Damascus is, after all, still Saul: the same temperament, the same personality. Believers slowly creak into acceptance after initial (and not unwarranted) skepticism, fearing a trap. And almost as immediately, Saul now is the one hunted, the one on the run, escaping death threats and traps, even being lowered over the city wall in a basket as an escape measure. The hunter is the hunted, but his zeal doesn’t wane. The persecutor now proclaims.

Why does this matter?

Because during Lent we have the opportunity to examine our lives for ways in which we persecute others. You may not have lit a match to burn someone at the stake in modern-day North America; but what about the words we speak, the characters we assault, the gossip or slander that slices at speaker, listener and subject with the cold, deep bite of a sword? What about the violence we express in our interactions with others, rage that pours out and refuses to be scooped back up and contained? What about the thoughts in our minds as we assess in the blink of an eye the character of another person because of her skin tone or language? What about the ways in which our selfishness steals opportunity or joy from others when self-will motivates generosity and twists it into manipulation?

Because our brothers and sisters in this world are suffering for their faith. Complex geopolitical matters aside, the facts remain that recently a mass beheading was carried out because the victims professed Christian faith. While we pray for the victims’ souls, the victims’ families, we are also entreated to pray for the executors by none other than Jesus himself: “pray for those who persecute you.” We are called to imagine a scenario in which someone zealous for their cause bumps up against Jesus Christ on their way to raise havoc. We are called to extend a hand, to pray for and to proclaim, “brother…the Lord, who you met on the road, has sent me…”

Because we need to remember our own hate, our own anger, our own zealousness, our own ungentle or damaging words, our own ability to destroy. What more is Ash Wednesday than this? To bow the head, receive the ash, and be led by the hand to a time of fasting and prayer? What more is Lent than putting to death the inner persecutor and praying determinedly for the outer one?

From dust we come…

Saul? Saul?

And to dust…

Why are you persecuting me?

We shall return.

Matt Sigler ~ Lent with a Wesleyan Accent

Interestingly, John Wesley omitted the Lenten season from the Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America, his edition of the Book of Common Prayer that he sent to the Methodists in America. His omission is likely because of the emphasis he placed on the constant practice of scriptural holiness. Methodists were not to limit their pursuit of holiness to particular times of the year. Wesley’s omission is more of an indictment of the nominalism of much of the Church of England during his day than it is on Lent itself. Yet this was my response when, as a college student, I was asked over lunch what I was giving up for Lent. My rather self-righteous reply was “I don’t need a particular season in order to practice fasting.” Since then, however, my position on observing Lent has taken quite a different turn. Here are three reasons why I observe Lent as a Wesleyan.

One Great Motivation

The Christian practice of observing Lent is motivated by one great longing: “I want to know Christ…” Paul’s words are the cry of all of us who love the Christ. Every attempt at knowing Jesus leads us to the cross. We are reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 16 that if we want to “come after” Jesus, we too must go to the cross. This is the godly motivation of observing Lent; something that can all too easily get obscured by the giving up of trifle indulgences on the one hand, or self-flagellation on the other—the type of Lenten practices Wesley rejected.

Full Surrender is the Catalyst for Christian Perfection

Observing the season of Lent forces us to be intentional about dying with Christ. Lent provides us the opportunity to journey with Christ in the desert and remember that all of the devil’s promises are rooted in one great lie: that we can find ultimate fulfillment on our own terms. The spiritual practice of fasting—something Wesley did weekly—is given pinpoint focus during this time. We fast to remind ourselves that only Jesus is enough. And in this time we are called to fully surrender our lives to Him. This is an exercise of our will, a laying down of all that we are. As Wesleyans, we should note that fully surrendering our lives to Christ is the prime catalyst for sanctification.

Amplifying Easter

It should come as no surprise that Wesley kept Easter in the Sunday Service as the primary Christian feast. He, like most Christians, recognized the centrality of the Resurrection. Lent, in fact, is ultimately about Easter. A celebration of Easter without a prior descent into the grave is dishonest and naïve, just as observing Lent without the uncompromising proclamation of the Resurrection is hopeless. The liturgy that bookends the Lenten/Easter journey reminds us of this. It begins with acknowledging our mortality and utter need for the Lord: “From dust you have come, to dust you will return.” Lent ends with the ancient, joyous proclamation: “Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!” During the Lenten season, we journey to the cross in hopes that we might die with Christ to be raised to life with Him. In observing Lent as a Wesleyan, I am reminded that John and Charles Wesley were persons clearly gripped by the Story of God. This is what Lent is ultimately about: living more fully into that Story.

About five years after my conversation in the college cafeteria, I decided to dive into the season of Lent for the first time. My desire was simply to follow Christ into His Story. It was a powerful forty days that ended with the Easter Vigil, an ancient service that traces the story of God’s salvation in Christ, marking the transition from Lent to Easter. During the service, I was struck, in a way too deep for words, with the reality that I had died and my life was now “hidden with Christ in God.” The memory of that moment continues to be one filled with grace.

John Wesley did not live to see the significant changes that were made during the Second Vatican Council. He was never impacted by the Liturgical Renewal Movement of the 20th century. In many respects, both movements sought to reform the observance of Lent in a direction that Wesley would have been quite pleased with. As a Wesleyan, I fully embrace the season of Lent as a season of renewal; not a time of temporarily embracing certain spiritual disciplines, but a season to dive deeper into the Story—an opportunity for God to continue His sanctifying work in me.


This post originally appeared on Wesleyan Accent in 2014.