RESURRECTION
PEOPLE, BUT FIRST?
 

This year when Lent began, we had expectations of how the season would go. We’d give up our chocolate or soft drinks and spend a little bit more time reading our Bibles and praying. During Holy Week, we’d wave palms and shout “hosanna,” wash one another’s feet on Thursday, hear the story of Jesus dying on the cross on Friday, then gather together on Easter Sunday to celebrate the empty tomb and our risen Savior. However, Holy Week became really different really fast. Suddenly we had to give up more than soda; we sacrificed our routine and sense of normalcy to protect our neighbors. Adults have wrestled with technology while teens have struggled with balancing responsibility and escapism in their online habits. The loss of normalcy has brought uncertainty and loss. Canceled graduations, proms, sports meets, vacations, and mission trips scratch only the surface for those whose families have also lost income or stability. What we have known as normal has died.

 The season of Eastertide runs from Easter Sunday to Pentecost, observed on May 31 this year, and is typically a time of celebration. While there are still worthy celebrations this Eastertide, it may be more difficult knowing that even by the end of the season life still may not be back to normal. So what do we do with our grief and our sadness during a season typically marked by celebration? Death and Resurrection Easter is one of the most significant moments in the Christian faith. Jesus, fully divine and fully human, died a real death and was buried in a real tomb—but he didn’t stay there for long. The good news of the gospel is this: God is more powerful than all things, even the ultimate physical distancing measure of death. The God we worship is all about making new things out of dust, like a phoenix rising from its ashes. While this is good news for our future, the reality can feel really dim. Scripture tells us the stories of many people, including Jesus, who encountered death and grief.

Job 7:1-21

 

Journey to the Cross

It is a disconcerting thing to Journey with Jesus to the Cross. If you don’t believe me continue reading John’s account of the story. Chapter 12 records it in rather swift fashion.  The raising of Lazarus has caused quite a commotion in the town of Bethany. A large crowd had heard about Jesus raising Lazarus and came to see for themselves. This sign inspired many to believe in Jesus and angered the Pharisees to the point that they plotted to kill Jesus and Lazarus. This crowd followed Jesus into Jerusalem and were among those who celebrated his triumphal entry.  This entire event stirred the streets of Jerusalem and caught the attention of some Greeks who came to celebrate the Feast of Passover.

Prayer

Almighty God, you have sent Jesus into the world to suffer, die, and rise again for our sake. Give us courage to confront our sin as we approach His cross.  Give us faith to believe that your love is more powerful than the consequences of our thoughts, words or deeds. Open our eyes to the darkness in our heart. Help us to experience your transforming resurrection power in our life. We offer our prayers in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Scripture: John 12:20-36

Contemplation

John writes his account of Jesus’ life so that we “… may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God…”  This gospel is divided into two parts the “Book of Signs” and the Book of Glory”.  The seven signs, the first 11 chapters of John’s narrative point to the coming of Jesus as the Christ.  The latter part of John’s gospel, the “Book of Glory” tells the story of Jesus glorification through his passion and resurrection. Chapter 12 serves as the turning point in the gospel.  It comes after the rising of Lazarus which caused many to believe in Jesus.  John tells that the disciples did not understand what was happening at first, but the crowd believed in Jesus and gave witness to Jesus’ rising of Lazarus.  Their witness caused a great disturbance among the Pharisees who said that, “…the whole world has gone after him.” 

The Greeks came to Phillip and asked him, “sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Phillip told Andrew and they went and told Jesus.  At this point things take a drastic turn.  Up until now Jesus has been very open to meeting with people.  He attended a wedding feast. Jesus meets with a Pharisee named Nicodemus in the cover of darkness.  Jesus intentionally sought out a woman at a well in the town of Samaria and held a life changing conversation with her. Blind men encounter Jesus and he restores their sight.  Each story is told to show that faith in Jesus moves people from darkness to light, from blindness to sight.  But now things start to change abruptly. 

There is no account given in John’s Gospel that the Greeks were able to see Jesus on that day.  Jesus simply answers the disciples request by saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  It is as if Jesus is saying to the disciples and the Greeks the time for talking is over. The time for seeing Jesus has ended, now is the time to follow and be with Jesus.   

Jesus uses this as a teaching moment. The kind of teaching moment that happens when something big has just occurred and you are struggling to fully understand its significance. Here Jesus pauses to teach about the meaning of discipleship.  This is a troubling moment and an uncomfortable lesson. One of Jesus’ hard saying moments. Listen to his words. “Wheat falls into the earth and dies. Its death bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also.” These words are not spoken tritely. They are not cliché.

The discipleship that Jesus is describing here is demanding, confronting and intrusive. This is not a form of cheap grace. It is not a grace that requires of us nothing.  It is indeed grace, but it requires of us much. Death, loss of life, hates life, follow me, where I am my servant will be! You get the picture. Jesus will soon encounter his cross.  An act of sacrificial self-giving.  He does this willingly because he loves you and me more than we could possibly every know. 

The life of a Jesus follower is to be characterized by sacrificial self-giving.  It is easy to follow Jesus when we receive things from him. The answer of prayer, the forgiveness of sins. We all like to follow Jesus down the road that leads to salvation.  It is easy to follow Jesus when it costs us nothing,

Lent, the events of Holy Week remind us that to follow Jesus is to give up something to lose our self in him.  If anyone serves me Jesus said, he must follow me.  I don’t like the word “must”. It is a form of command.  Jesus intrudes into my life, invading my hopes, my dreams and my plans.  Who wants to follow a God like that? One who tells us to hate our life?  To be frank, I love my life and the people in it. I am quite comfortable with how I live and I don’t see much reason to change, I don’t like it when people tell me what I “must” do.  I don’t know about you but sometimes Jesus requires more of me than I am willing to give. He leads me into places that I am unwilling to go. He asks me to do things that I am uncomfortable in doing. 

The Greeks, the crowd and the disciples will all see Jesus soon.  It is not a sight to behold. The Jesus they will see is flogged and beaten. A crown of thorns pierces his brow. They will witness in mockery the soldiers adorn his body with a purple robe. They will see Jesus carry his own cross. They will hear the soldiers humiliate him and the crowds mock him.  This is the moment of Jesus’ glorification. A time when disciples should be with him. A moment when his true followers must support him.  Instead, the crowds shout crucify him and most of his closest disciples flee.  This is how Jesus enters his glory. Hanging on a Roman cross between two convicted criminals. Some glory!

Jesus knows this is how it all will end.  The suffering, the humiliation, the abandonment and the God forsakenness.  It is all a part of God’s divine plan. This is the way God will bring salvation to all who will believe.  Jesus said, “…when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” Jesus’ glorification is his crucifixion. Through his death we are made alive. In his dying Jesus became sin so that we could become righteous.  The hinge point of receiving all of God’s gifts for us in Christ: forgiveness, salvation, eternal life comes with one single word, “If”. “If anyone serve me, he must follow me; and where I am there will my servant be also.  If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” The key to receiving all that God has planned for us is to make a choice. To choose eternal life through surrendering our self to Christ.

Meditation

  1. What do the words, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” mean to you?
  2. In what ways do you feel Jesus is intruding into your life?
  3. What does this story mean to you and how will you apply it to your everyday life?

 

 

 

Monday of Holy Week

With the celebration of Palm Sunday, Christians around the world began the observance of Holy Week.  For us it is the most sacred time of the year for it is during this period that we commemorate and remember the events that lead to Jesus’ Passion.  The scripture reading, daily devotions and prayers prepare us to celebrate the two greatest events in human history…. the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus. On Holy Thursday as we retell the story of the last meal that Jesus had with his disciples known as the Eucharist, Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion. Depending on your faith tradition.  On Good Friday we hold in solemnity the events of Jesus’ Passion and their meaning for our life.

During this week’s devotions, I will focus upon the events that led up to Jesus’s betrayal, arrest, trial and crucifixion. My goal is to help us remember the last events of Jesus’ life and the people with whom he shared them.  I hope they deepen your understanding of the Christian Faith and help prepare you for the celebration of Jesus’s resurrection.

Prayer of Thanksgiving

Most generous God

with thankful hearts we rejoice in your goodness towards us

and in the many blessings that we receive each day.

In love you provide for your people’s needs

and you accompany us along the way.

We give you our thanks

for the physical gifts that sustain us

and for the added blessings which make life more joyful and full.

We rejoice that you freely pour out the perfume of your love,

even though we are not worthy to receive it.

We are thankful for those who have been bountiful towards us,

giving of their time, their skills and their love.

As a token of our gladness, may we also bless others,

being generous with all that you have bestowed.

 

Scripture Reading:  John 12:1-8

 

Contemplation

This week’s story begins a day before Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem as John records it.  Jesus is at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. He has just raised Lazarus from the dead. This inspired many to believe in him while provoking anger among the Pharisees who call a council and plot to kill Jesus.

Lazarus hosts a banquet to celebrate his rising and the gift of a second chance in life. He invites Jesus and his disciples. Martha is busy as usual preparing the meal while Mary does the unthinkable.

Praise God for scented candles! We go to extravagant lengths to make sure our house and body smells good.  After all who wants their home to smell like a dead corpse and who wants their body to smell like… well you provide the adjective.

Before scented candles were even a thought, back in the day, ladies used potpourri and eucalyptus to deodorize the house. To freshen things up a bit. My mother was the best at using this technique.  She had a bowl of potpourri in every room in the house. Each bowl was filled with its own oddly shaped pieces emanating a pungent smell. Cranberry, cinnamon sticks, orange peelings, nutmeg, clove and rosemary poured into a bowl. She even had a pot full simmering on the stove.  Added to those smells were the stems of eucalyptus stuck in every vase she had and placed throughout the entire house.  To be honest it was more than my sense of smell could handle.  By the end of the day sensory overload would set in and a throbbing headache emerged.  Mother’s intensions were well and good. After all she had a husband and two stinky boys to contend with. I often wondered what my cloths actually smelled like when I left home or what my friends thought when the visited.

Maybe that was what Martha was thinking when she invited Jesus and his disciples to a banquet in celebration of Lazarus’ rising.  When reading the story of Lazarus, the smell of death abounds. He dies and is placed in a tomb. Jesus arrives, talks to Mary and Martha and asks to see the tomb. He commands the stone to be rolled away and Martha cries out, Lord, it has been four days since he died. He stinks!  The Pharisees plot to kill Jesus and Martha anoints Jesus’ body for burial. The smell of death, a decaying body just stinks. Anyone who passes roadkill on a hot July summer day knows just how bad and the stench lingers long after the body is gone.

When Jesus arrives at the home of this family, he is greeted by many smells. The smell of freshly baked bread, the smell of recently poured wine. The smell of death lingering from Lazarus’ body and grave cloths. The smell of Mary’s extravagant love and the smell of his own impending death.

Holy week is the week in which death and life merge. Jesus, the one who said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life”, now comes to dine with them. The life-giving Spirit of Jesus is now residing in their home and it brings them joy and a reason to celebrate. Their mourning has now turned to laughter. Instead of a mourners table they gather for a banquet feast. This is how God works. He takes our darkest moments, and our hopeless situations and turns them into new life. God is at God’s best when life turns its darkest.

The fragrance of Mary’s love for Jesus is palpable. The aroma from Mary’s broken alabaster box fill the room in which they are sitting.  In her outpouring of love, Mary offers the very best she has as a gift of faith and love. She is overwhelmed with joy and throws herself at the feet of Jesus. And, in an act of deep intimacy anoints his feet and wipes them with her hair.  She held nothing back! Her heart, her reputation or her costly ointment.  Every aspect of her being poured love into Jesus. In this one single solitary moment she shows what it means to love Jesus with all her heart, soul, strength and mind.    

Contrast her act of discipleship with that of Judas.  He follows Jesus for what he can get out of him.  He talks a good game, but his acts of devotion are only self-serving. Judas is in it for himself; he chastises Mary for wasting such an extravagant valuable ointment.  For him it was a lost chance to dig deeper into the community coffers. Jesus sees right through his superficial self-interest and loves him anyway. 

John makes it clear that Mary’s gift was for an anointing.  In Jesus’ day, kings were anointed with oil as an act of consecration. Setting them aside to rule and protect God’s people. ointments were used to anoint a person’s body for burial.  Lazarus’ body was anointed before he was placed in the tomb.  Mary anoints Jesus and consecrates him to become King. This event would happen just a day later when he rides into the streets of Jerusalem to shouts of Hosanna. Jesus’s body was anointed for his burial.  It is certain that Mary’s gift of love served as a foretelling of Jesus’ death.  Perhaps she was the first of Jesus’ followers to understand that Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem was a journey to the cross. 

Meditation

  1. In the breaking of the alabaster box, Mary’s true heart was poured out. What are the things that you are carrying around because you don’t pour your heart out to God? How much pride, How much resentment, unforgiveness, anger or bitterness? What are the emotions that contaminates your heart? What sludge in your life when poured out becomes the fragrance of faith?
  2. Knowing that Jesus values every act of service, every gift you offer every prayer uttered and every person you serve, what does it mean to you?
  3. Mary and Judas provide two distinct views of discipleship. With which do you really identify? Why? What do you need to let go of to be fore like Mary?
2 Corinthians 2:15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing