It’s still Saturday – the stone has yet to be rolled away…

cross-hill

After this, knowing that everything was already completed, in order to fulfill the scripture, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was nearby, so the soldiers soaked a sponge in it, placed it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips. When he had received the sour wine, Jesus said, “It is completed.” Bowing his head, he gave up his life. – John 19:28-30

“If this week of Christ’s Passion has brought us anywhere at all then it has brought us to our knees, and that is where we must stay today…”

It’s Saturday of Easter weekend. Often, this is a difficult day to know how to handle. If that’s not something you’ve thought about before, then let me explain:

  1. This week started out with a huge exclamation point (!!!!), the enthusiastic celebration of Palm Sunday! The children, the parade, the palm branches, the evidence of what it could mean to follow Jesus.
  2. Then – if you’ve been keeping up – you probably read several accounts of the massive disruption Jesus was causing in and around Jerusalem. It’s not that he was needling the religious authorities deliberately, more that the implications of his message became that much more obvious on the big stage that Jerusalem provided.
  3. By Thursday the tension was palpable, and Jesus spoke to his friends over dinner that night with the intensity and focus of someone who knew this was the last opportunity he was going to have to wrap up his spirit, his thoughts, and his love in words. What amazing words they were, and remain (John 13-17).
  4. Hopefully you took advantage of the opportunity to attend a Maundy Thursday communion observance with your church family. If you did, then you made your way quietly out into the dark night with Jesus on your mind, thinking about how he walked across the valley and into Gethsemane to pray, to give his future over into the Father’s will, and to be arrested.
  5. Then there was Good Friday. What a solemn day. More evidence of what it could mean to follow Jesus. If you didn’t attend worship Friday evening (and I know that most of you did not), then I honestly can’t imagine what it is anyone could have been doing that held more weight than gathering with other disciples to give thanks, to pray, to contemplate the Passion, and to feel our burdens lifted?

Easter Saturday:

IMG_8965
Good Friday at WFPC

All this makes Saturday difficult. Jesus is alive, yes, and nothing can change that beautiful transformational truth. But all the same, the momentum of Holy Week is designed to let Friday’s sacrifice stay with us in spirit until Sunday morning. And, if this week of Christ’s Passion has brought us anywhere at all then it has brought us to our knees, and that is where we must stay today, driven there by the weight of our own culpability, our own poverty of spirit, our profound longing for grace and mercy, our deep need for a Savior.

Simply put, the Empty Tomb is far less compelling absent an occupied cross; and Easter morning nowhere near so wonderful without two dark nights of sorrow between the crucifixion and the risen Lord!

rembrandt_-_the_three_crosses_second_state_-_wga19086
Rembrandt

The Empty Tomb is far less compelling absent an occupied cross; and Easter morning nowhere near so wonderful without two dark nights of sorrow between the crucifixion and the risen Lord!

So please, especially if you had let Good Friday slip by essentially unnoticed, remember today that Jesus did not die in general, dispassionately, incidentally, or as a take-it-or-leave-it – impersonal – side-effect of Roman brutality; no, Jesus died specifically for me, absolutely for you, with his eyes and his heart wide open, avoidably, agonizingly, and soaked through with love.

That is where we are today. We are in a temporary vacuum that is so much easier because we know the rest of the story. But let us at least experience just a few desperate gulps for air before we breathe hungrily of his refreshing life tomorrow morning. Let us at least be aware of the emptiness Jesus died to fill.

It’s still Saturday – and the stone has yet to be rolled away – DEREK

faith and hope rooted in good planting

IMG_9004For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord…”Jeremiah 29:11-13

IMG_9002-001Rebekah and I have a Good Friday tradition. We like to plant something as a testimony to new life. Sometimes we do it in honor of someone who has passed away during the year; always we do it in the spirit of resurrection.

This year we enjoyed the added bonus of playing in the dirt with our grandchildren. Naomi drove in from Richmond with David and Beks so that they could plant apple-trees with Great-Grandpapa-David.

The location was out on Larry Roper’s land, several miles east of Wake Forest. Larry has a generous heart and a very green thumb, so we put in four apple trees (including my dad’s favorites, a Bramley and a Pippin).

IMG_9007FAITH: It was a beautiful afternoon. We spent a couple of hours digging, fertilizing, and getting our hands dirty; the children had a great time, and my dad simply enjoyed being out in the countryside.

I thought about what happens when we plant a tree. There is a lot of faith involved. Preparing the soil, working in the right ingredients, making sure there’s a ready supply of water. Then belief. You plant in the belief that – two or three years down the road – this tree is going to produce good fruit.

It’s faith and belief rooted in the story of past experience, but then practiced in the context of what Jeremiah refers to as “a future and a hope.

David presses in the soil
David presses in the soil

Hope like this hasn’t anything to do with wishful thinking; this is hope affirmed in our history as God’s people, in our families, in God’s good word, in our day-to-day experience, and in this ongoing relationship with have with the Living God!

I’m talking about the fruit trees, about our faith community, about today, about tomorrow, and about this coming season of our life. Good Friday always gives me pause, because it reminds me of what is at stake when we talk about faith, and promise, and hope, and the opportunity for a restored relationship with our Creator.

This is big stuff! Huge. If you are someone who sees showing up at church on Easter Sunday simply as a feel-good experience that keeps you vaguely in touch with the Christian traditions you were raised with… then for goodness sake, broaden your horizons!

This weekend lays it all out with the kind of clarity we need to engage with our eyes wide open! The good news of Jesus is good news for every single day, and every possible aspect of what it means to be alive!

IMG_9003Seriously, friends, Easter is the kind of news that you don’t want to miss! It’s that real, it’s that vibrant, and it’s that important!

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord…”

In love, and because of love – DEREK

(more pics from Good Friday planting!)

 

 

“it is finished” = our call to begin

IMG_8901
Rebekah preaching Thursday evening

The season of Lent presents a progression of ever-increasing opportunity when it comes to deepening our spiritual walk. Six-weeks for preparation; eight-days of Holy Week; three days if your observance begins with Good Friday.

For me, one of the most moving is “Maundy Thursday,” and the occasion of The Last Supper.

For many Christians, it’s an event that’s not really on their radar. Ash Wednesday – check; Palm Sunday – check; Good Friday – check; Easter Sunday – check; Maundy Thursday – not so much.

gathering for the Lord's Supper
gathering for the Lord’s Supper

BENEDICTION OF GOING: So I was pleased to see so many people show up at Wake Forest Presbyterian Church Thursday evening for dinner, worship, and communion around the same tables. We enjoyed fellowship together over a good meal, we sang songs of praise, Rebekah shared a powerful message, and then we took the bread and the wine, serving one-another.

Finally – as the scriptures report of those first followers of Jesus – we sang a hymn and left in silence, a benediction of going, the lovely spring night air punctuated only by the sound of feet carrying the good news into the world.

The mixture of solemnity and joy – fellowship and communion – provides, I believe, the perfect transition from the routine of life-as-usual to today’s deep apprehension of suffering, and the shroud of grief we connect with so vividly on Good Friday.

Here is the Good Friday meditation I shared with our WFPC family:

IT IS FINISHED!

When Jesus had tasted [the wine], he said, ‘It is finished!’ Then he bowed his head and released his spirit. John 19:28-30

DSC_0643In 2012 Rebekah and I traveled on an amazing adventure to Cairo, Sinai, Jordan, Galilee and then Jerusalem. Essentially, we traced the geography of the biblical narrative from the Exodus through Easter.

When we finally arrived in the Holy City, we negotiated the crowded, uneven, Via Dolorosa (Way of Grief), before sharing communion at the site of the Garden Tomb.

“Jesus was likely crucified,” our guide said, “at a busy crossroads. The Romans wanted the suffering to be accessible, visceral; right in front of as many people as possible.”

“It is finished!” Jesus said as he died. In a sense, he meant that his work was completed. In another sense, Jesus intended to say, “The rest of my work has just begun…”

And that is where we come in, as followers of The Living Way. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life; our opportunity is to be partners with Jesus in the rest of God’s work.

DSCF0516“It is finished” stands as our invitation to discipleship.

PRAYER: Gracious and generous God, help us to understand the gravity of your words, not just historically, but for us, personally. Teach us your way, so we may walk in your truth. Amen.

– DEREK

 

 

Love Beyond Reason; Promise Beyond Understanding

Rebekah speaking at WFPC Maunday Thursday services
Rebekah speaking at WFPC Maunday Thursday services

Today is Good Friday. It’s a day when love stepped up beyond reason, set all defenses aside, and allowed hate to nail the best hope history ever saw to a wooden scaffold.

However, rather than being ground into obscurity under the heel of fear and brutality, love transformed the crudely assembled cross from a symbol of torture and repression into the most enduring emblem of victory, promise, and redemption this world has ever known.

But that’s what Jesus was all about – what Jesus is all about. Jesus is in the business of redefinition. He redefines words such as peace, power, life, death, light, victory, healing, eternity, and love; and he stands ready to help each one of us redefine the very nature, the substance, and the promise of our lives.

WAKE FOREST TODAY COLUMN: That’s just a part of my word for Good Friday. You can read the balance of my thoughts in “Let’s Not Hop Right Over Holy Week,” this week’s local news column.

Here’s an excerpt, you can read the rest by clicking one of the links:

I understand that it’s easy to become distracted, but that’s the point of taking this kind of journey one deliberate footfall at a time. My story for the remainder of this week is going to be the story of moving from the enthusiasm I experienced on Palm Sunday to the startling celebration of Easter, without skipping the darkness of The Passion.
Fact is, if we do the “Easter-Bunny” thing and hop right over Friday’s Crucifixion, then there’s really not that much to get dressed up for on Sunday. (read more…)

Maunday Thursday: communion around the tables
Maunday Thursday: communion around the tables

Seriously, friends, let’s not do the Easter-Bunny thing and hop right over The Passion. Believe me, Easter Sunday is the story of New Creation, the narrative of re-Creation. For that to happen, first something has to die.

In the hope and promise of Easter – DEREK

there is a time for every season under heaven (photographs and memories)

 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:-12)

IMG_3660
Derek & Geoff, circa 1963

Yesterday would have been my brother Geoff’s 59th birthday. So I drove down to Sarasota and had lunch with my parents. After enjoying my dad’s excellent cooking we sat down (with a cup of tea) to look through some old family photo albums.

It’s always a startling journey through time to pull out old photographs! My favorite was the classic school picture of Geoff and me together, taken circa 1963. We were both students at Harcourt Primary School in Folkestone, England. Gotta love the grins, the creative tie-tying, and the possible evidence of Brylcreem in the hair!

IMG_3662My next “pick of the crop” is this image of my dog, Lassie, taken sometime in the late 1960’s. Of course – and it’s the same with all of us and our family pets – we knew she was the best dog ever in the world. She was my great friend from around the time I was seven through the year I turned 18. Forget “dog-years,” eleven is a huge number in “kid-years” too.

A FAMILY: I was six-weeks old when this next photograph was taken. Look at my parents; my dad was still 27 and my mum was 24! What strikes me is how they had absolutely no clue as to what the next 18 years Geoff and I were both at home would look like.

IMG_3658I was about to write “when the dust settled in 1974,” but, to be honest, the dust never did settle. Fact is it never does. That’s the beauty, and the great challenge, of life as a family.

I look at this photograph, and I see the hope and the promise of a family grounded in love and in faith.

But life as Mauls turned out to be real: at times idyllic and at times difficult; beautiful, messy, joyful, fun, rich, disappointing, rocky, smooth, surprising, heart-wrenching, serendipitous, always soaked in prayer. It was nothing like the romantics like to imagine; it was (and is) everything like a real adventure of living as disciples.

DSC_4785EVERYTHING APPROPRIATE IN IT’S TIME: And so life continues. By the time Thanksgiving 2011 rolled around, the family photograph had grown to look like this joyful conglomeration!

Then, last year, Geoff’s journey took the sharp turn toward eternity. But now his daughter, Hannah, has added a toddler and an infant she and Andrew Roberts are fostering. Our Andrew’s Alicia has joined the family, and in June Naomi and Craig’s second child will be born.

There is a time. There is a season.

There’s a season for everything
and a time for every matter under the heavens:
     a time for giving birth and a time for dying,
a time for planting and a time for uprooting what was planted,
     a time for killing and a time for healing,
a time for tearing down and a time for building up,
     a time for crying and a time for laughing,
a time for mourning and a time for dancing,
     a time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones,
a time for embracing and a time for avoiding embraces,
     a time for searching and a time for losing,
a time for keeping and a time for throwing away,
     a time for tearing and a time for repairing,
a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking,
     a time for loving and a time for hating,
a time for war and a time for peace.

 What do workers gain from all their hard work?  I have observed the task that God has given human beings.  God has made everything fitting in its time, but has also placed eternity in their hearts, without enabling them to discover what God has done from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-11)

“Amen” – DEREK

Compact Benediction

Gathering for Maundy Thursday dinner and communion around the tables - at FPCBrandon

Yesterday evening was our “Maundy Thursday” dinner and communion at First Presbyterian Church. It’s one of my favorite special event services, and sets the tone beautifully for the coming darker shades of Good Friday.

Today, April 6th, is Good Friday, and this morning Rebekah and I will drive down to Sarasota to be with my niece when she scatters her dad’s ashes.

It’s not my brother’s memorial; that’s done, the March 25th service provided a sense of poignant and appropriate conclusion. It’s not a funeral either. Scattering the ashes is simply one more punctuation mark in the narrative. Maybe one more dot in the series that makes an ellipsis… or more properly a semi-colon; yes, that’s more like it.

Today is both an appropriate and a difficult day to do this, and the best word I can offer is the Good Friday chapter from REACHING TOWARD EASTER. If you have the book, then excellent. If you don’t, then here’s a freebie for today.

Peace and uncommon blessing – DEREK

Jerusalem - The Garden Tomb

Compact Benediction (pp 126-127)

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

So far, this has been a week of amazing contrasts and eternal significance:

  • Dinner in Bethany
  • Triumphal Entry
  • A week of growing controversy and tension
  • A Last Supper
  • Gethsemane
  • Betrayal
  • Arrest
  • Questions
  • Denial
  • Trial
  • Abuse
  • Crucifixion
  • Death
  • Finality

“It is finished.” This stage of the plan is now completed, achieved, accomplished, consummated, fulfilled. The iconic statement is Jesus’ last deep breath, the kind you take after completing a long and arduous task. It is a successful conclusion, a shout, a punctuation mark in bold print. It is, in effect, a compact benediction.

The Garden Tomb, Jerusalem

COMPLICITY: Jesus’ ministry here on earth had been remarkable to the extreme. His three years of public service were so crucial, so important, that he had spent thirty years in preparation. Thirty years! Thirty years of groundwork for the mission of Emmanuel, three decades of foundation for God Incarnate to get to work. Jesus did not rush into his ministry.

Therefore, as terrible as it sounds, Jesus’ statement, “It is finished,” serves more accurately as an exclamation point affirming that the Son had been completely successful in his mission, not as a concession to defeat. Because the moment Jesus died, the possibility of our redemption was born.

When Jesus uttered the statement “It is finished” on that Good Friday and it echoed across the enormity of time, he opened the door of possibility so that we could be restored to God as if we actually were worthy. In fact, and because of Jesus, I really am worthy; we all are.

Regardless of how I understand it, that dark day on Golgotha saved me. The best I can do in response is to live in the truth of such generous love.

Reaching Toward Easter

For me, and for each one of us, this life of redemptive grace made possible by the events on Good Friday has only just begun.

Prayer: Thank you, God, for giving us all a new beginning because of Jesus. Thank you for restoring us to the possibility of grace. Thank you for being willing. Amen