Gethsemane – leaning on the everlasting arms #HolyWeek

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Garden of Gethsemane

Jesus told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour?” – Matthew 26:38-40

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Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives

Jerusalem is an amazing place. On one hand it’s a truly modern international city, teeming with people from all over the world – and on the other it’s easy to wander into an ancient quarter and find yourself transported in time to the First Century, Roman occupation, and the life of Jesus.

It’s not just the sites, the archaeology, the artifacts, and the museums, but the spirit of the place that speaks so clearly. The evidence of The Greatest Story Ever Told goes deeper than the excavations, Hezekiah’s tunnel, David’s palace, the Wailing Wall, walking on the same paved surface Jesus and the disciples walked outside the temple, the Pool of Bethesda, the Mount of Olives, the Via Dolorosa, or even The Garden Tomb.

Gethsemane:

GethsemaneThe effect is cumulative, a kind of density, the weight of all the stories. Whatever it is, you can feel it, and maybe nowhere more profoundly than Gethsemane; the garden where Jesus went to pray after that last dinner party with his closest friends; the sanctuary where The Prince of Peace was arrested by the religious police; the place where Christ’s anguish, and commitment, and love came together in a prayer that still resonates today: “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

  • The garden where Jesus went to pray after that last dinner party with his closest friends;
  • The sanctuary where The Prince of Peace was arrested by the religious police;
  • The place where Christ’s anguish, and commitment, and love came together in a prayer that still resonates today: “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

Reaching-Toward-EasterScientists have dated some of the ancient olive trees at well over two thousand years. And there, across from the old city of Jerusalem, I was able to sit on the stony ground and lean against a tree that Jesus himself may have leaned against on that awful, blessed night.

I imagine that – deep in the heart of that particular tree and resonating in the prehistoric stones – are the literal echoes of the Teacher’s courageous words. Words addressed to all who listened then and who listen still, to every person willing to grasp the timelessness of God’s intention and the integrity of Jesus’ willing sacrifice…

Jesus was flesh and blood, human being – faced with the horror of torment, shame, and painful death. Jesus was and is God made flesh so that he could bear the burden of our shortcomings. And he did this voluntarily, with his eyes wide open, of his own free will… (Excerpt from Reaching Toward Easter, pp 124-125)

And so on this day, Thursday of Holy Week, my mind always wanders back to Gethsemane, to the Mount of Olives, to that wondrous view of the old city from the place where Jesus thought of me, loved me, and chose to die in order that I might live.

@[696483709:2048:Derek Maul] on Mount of OlivesToday those ancient trees are fenced off from the touch of casual tourists, and I am grateful to have been there at a time when I could literally sit on the ground and lean into the ancient wood.

But we all can lean into the ancient arms, the everlasting arms, and feel the embrace of pure goodness and unselfish love. That’s what I’ll be doing this evening when I meet with my church family for communion. Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Maybe I’ll see you there…?

– DEREK

learning more about faith – on another visit to the hospital

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Morning in Wake Forest, NC

“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling…” – 2 Corinthians 5

IMG_8836This morning I’m back with my familiar friend, Wake Med! This time it’s with my mum. We went into the ER yesterday lunchtime, and spent the afternoon being evaluated; they decided they wanted to admit her and take a closer look. Her vascular system has been pumping steadily and generously for eighty-five and a half years, and it may be time for a tune up.

This is why it’s so good that my parents live next door, and that I have the flexibility of working from home – or wherever I happen to be. I always write about real life, and there certainly is a lot of real life happening here in this hospital. Medical centers are essentially crucibles, points of tension (and possible transformation) physically, psychologically, and spiritually.

So for my mum, this crisis was precipitated by suspicion we might be heading toward a stroke. I paid attention, got her to the ER, and now we’re consulting with a team of neurologists and cardiologists. Early intervention, and then follow up over the next week or so should add up to a positive outcome.

I’m not sharing this in order to plaster my mother’s medical history all over the Internet, but to illustrate how our entire lives are a series of challenges, points of tension, crises, interventions, and consequent outcomes.

None of us live in a bubble; not physically, not spiritually. The way we move forward is to pay attention and to respond accordingly.

I believe that this time of the year, the weeks leading up to Easter, are critically important to our spiritual prognosis. We are given this unique opportunity to walk the dusty path to Jerusalem, to invite Jesus to walk alongside us, to respond to what we learn about ourselves, and to move forward into our tomorrows with a more focused, productive, healthy, spiritual identity.

We are given this unique opportunity to walk the dusty path to Jerusalem, to invite Jesus to walk alongside us, to respond to what we learn about ourselves, and to move forward into our tomorrows with a more focused, productive, healthy, spiritual identity.

Today is Wednesday. This coming weekend, Holy Week launches with the dramatic and enthusiastic celebration of Palm Sunday. Wherever you are as regards your spiritual health, I urge you to show up at your local church, wave a palm branch, and engage the opportunity afforded with the serious intention of a disciple.

Physical; Mental; Spiritual:

The more years I have under my belt (and there are quite a lot by now), the more I realize that my spiritual life is the most important aspect of my profile. Physically I am aging; mentally I won’t be this sharp for more than another couple of decades; spiritually there is always the potential for renewal, more growth, reinvention, and moving into a more vibrant future.

Physically I am aging; mentally I won’t be this sharp for more than another couple of decades; spiritually there is always the potential for renewal, more growth, reinvention, and moving into a more vibrant future.

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author Derek Maul

It’s certainly something to think about, whatever your chronological age – and especially as we approach the celebration of Easter.

– DEREK

be a Holy Week Jesus radical and reject “business as usual”

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Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives

And they were not able in the presence of the people to trap him by what he said; and being amazed by his answer, they became silent. – Luke 20:20-26

This morning I’m struggling to pack a lot of detail into a busy day. At the same time, I’m conscious that this is “Holy Week,” and I want to be deliberate about living with a conscious awareness of what it means, so that I won’t stumble into Good Friday and Easter weekend without fully engaging this critical moment in the story of redemption.

Essentially, after Jesus rode into Jerusalem to such excitement and acclaim, every situation highlighted the stark contrast between “The New and Living Way” and “Business as Usual.”

Bottom line, Jesus was disruptive to the way of life that characterized First Century Jerusalem. The uneasy balance, the walking on eggshells peace, the brutal reality of the Pax Romana, the relentless religious code that not only gave the Jews their identity as a people but kept them at rules-length from God.

Jesus stood in the market, the temple, the busy streets, the gathering places; he sat at people’s tables, the places of teaching, under the shade of a tree; and he poured himself out over those last days, teaching, observing, healing, listening… being.

So I’m wondering out loud here, with you – my readers – looking over my shoulder; how does Jesus disrupt my business as usual? How should Jesus disrupt my day-to-day life?

It’s already Tuesday; but there’s still time. I’m inviting you – all of us – to be a radical for the next few days. But here’s the twist: Don’t be radically political… or radically loud in your “witnessing;” don’t be obnoxious for Jesus… Instead try being radically kind, exorbitantly generous, prodigiously loving, enormously humble, outrageously peaceful, boundlessly self-sacrificing, extraordinarily submissive – radically like Jesus.

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Derek Maul

Instead try being radically kind, exorbitantly generous, prodigiously loving, enormously humble, outrageously peaceful, boundlessly self-sacrificing, extraordinarily submissive – radically like Jesus.

Let love be your guide this week. Fall in love with Jesus, and become a prodigious witness to mercy and grace.

– In love, and because of love – DEREK

“it is finished” = our call to begin

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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

 

 

Easter egg hunts, grandchildren, and Italy (all this and more)

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People were bringing children to Jesus so that he would bless them. But the disciples scolded them. When Jesus saw this, he grew angry and said to them, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children. I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.” Then he hugged the children and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)

IMG_2739Now that I’m finally settled back at home, I can write the closing post from my 12-day Connecticut granddaddy odyssey.

Friday night I prepped the kids by giving them baths and getting them snug in their PJ’s; Beks was already fast asleep when their mom and dad’s car rolled into the driveway. After all that time, I was the status quo, so David’s face lit up with both delight and surprise when he recognized the familiar footfall on the stoop.

But I think it was Naomi who was the most excited. It was the first time she’d spent even a night away from Beks, and seeing the children again plugged a growing void in her heart. Italy was wonderful, but coming home was even better.

For me, one of the highlights turned out to be something I didn’t even witness first hand. It was the fact that our two children, Andrew and Naomi, voluntarily spent a week-plus together – along with their spouses – and that they had a wonderful time being a family.

Craig, Naomi, Alicia, Andrew (in Venice)
Craig, Naomi, Alicia, Andrew (in Venice)

I’ll just include the one photograph from Italy, but keeping up with their adventures via Facebook provided me with such a charge of joy that I’d often find myself grinning from ear-to-ear, just knowing they were all together.

Saturday morning we all headed over to the little Congregational Church for the Easter Egg Hunt. Cuteness reigned! We teamed up with Naomi’s friend Jen and her little girl, Kayla. Being free to roam around with my Nikon produced an entirely different set of images than the hastily snapped iPhone shots when I had them by myself!

DSC_0274So the odyssey ended and I came home. But I came home with a new relationship with my grandchildren that couldn’t have been achieved any way other than “in the trenches,” 24/7, nurtured in the complete immersion of love.

In love, and because of love – DEREK

(lots of really great pics below… especially if you like Easter egg hunts!)

Hosanna in the highest heaven!

Dogwood this morning, welcoming me back to NC
Dogwood this morning, welcoming me back to NC

It’s Palm Sunday! I’m back home! I’ll share guest blogger Rebekah Maul’s Lenten devotion for today.

Peace – DEREK

“Hosanna!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.”(Mark 11:9-11)

It’s Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. Today in church we’re going to have our own brand of palm branches to wave around, and the CLC will be full of people and beautiful music as we begin the last steps to the Cross.

I wonder how grand that parade truly was… the one where Jesus was riding into Jerusalem on a colt? How many people were in that crowd waving palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna in the highest!”?

In all likelihood, there was another parade that day coming in on the other side of the city. It would have been a truly impressive sight. The Roman garrison was marching in, fully loaded with weapons so that everyone could see how powerful they were. There were probably trumpets and drums… lots of excitement… officers on grand horses. Of course, they were making a spectacle of this entrance because it was the week of the Passover Feast, and extremists would want to take advantage, so this garrison would help to keep the peace. Which parade would you have wanted to see?

The Prince of Peace rode a symbol of peace… the untried colt… not very exciting by comparison. The scripture says there was a crowd, and I would like to think that I would have been in that parade.

But, we also know that the crowds quickly dispersed, just a few days later when it became clear that Jesus wasn’t a safe person to be associated with. He was going down, even though he had done nothing wrong (other than threaten the status-quo). Distancing oneself was just common sense.

We still use this reasoning today… just when the alternative to our lives (that we say we hunger for) begins to be within the realm of possibility, we retreat.

It’s safer to be a fan of Jesus, where we can sit in the stands and cheer, and then go home. But it’s a very different thing to be willing to go to the foot of the cross and watch the Savior of the world die. There is always a choice.

Prayer: Lord, this is going to be a tough week of reflection. We ask that you guide our thoughts, but also our hearts as we move closer to the empty tomb. Will we choose to look for you… to see where you have gone… to follow you into the world? We’re asking in Jesus’ name. Amen.

A Reflection for Holy Saturday

First Presbyterian Church of Brandon
Tenebrae @First Presbyterian Church of Brandon

It may be “Easter Saturday” today, with beautiful sunshine, clear air, and Easter-egg hunts around the church campus, but I still can’t get Good Friday out of my head.

I have always felt the crucifixion more profoundly the day after Good Friday than the day itself. Maybe it’s because, like the disciples, it takes a little while for the weight of it to sink in.

If Friday is the shock and the horror of the cross, then Saturday is the reality, the resignation, the sinking in.

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.  Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:44-46)

IMG_3668TENEBRAE: At my faith community, First Presbyterian Church of Brandon, we mark Good Friday with an evening Tenebrae service. Surprisingly, even more people attended than Thursday evening’s deeply meaningful communion experience.

The service is simple but profound. Solemn, thoughtful organ music fills the sanctuary as we gather, and then there’s a brief welcome from the pastors. The message is a powerful dramatic reading from John’s account of Christ’s trial and crucifixion. There’s also a solo, a couple of meditative hymns, prayer, and meditation.

DARKENING: Then, one by one, 12 disciples (pastors, elders, youth, Stephen Ministers, choir members, etc.)  lead the “Service of Shadows.”

Walk to the communion table. Read a sentence of confession. Extinguish a candle. Take one of the symbols. Exit the worship space. Pause. Meditate. Repeat.

IMG_3670Each time a candle is extinguished, one more set of lights is turned off, incrementally darkening the sanctuary by measurable degrees. And – one by one – the communion cup, the candlesticks, a leather whip, a piece of purple cloth, a rooster, the cross… are all removed from the front of the church until, finally, we sit in complete darkness, meditating in silent prayer.

And the last three sentences, uttered as the last three candles are snuffed out, are each the same:

  • “And we denied him”
  • “And we denied him”
  • “And we denied him….”

IMG_3666BENEDICTION: Finally, over the next ten minutes or so, the church exits in silence, just a few at a time, as the words of vivid truth strike home.

Today it is Saturday. And all the world waits. We know that Sunday is coming; yet we wait all the same. There is eternal work being accomplished today. And yet the invitation to participate in Resurrection remains unanswered by so many….
– Derek

on being younger and more alive (includes video-post)

Here’s the “Wednesday Video-post.” Same message, different slant: “Holy Week, New Life Every Day!

DSC_0002Today is Wednesday of “Holy Week.”

However, and despite:

  • being deliberate about my observance of Lent,
  • reading daily devotions from The Upper Room,
  • receiving Lenten Treasures every evening from our church,
  • reading entire books of the New Testament each week for my Everyday Christianity class,
  • and re-reading the text of my own book, Reaching Toward Easter

… I won’t be in the place I intend to be – spiritually – until I take a deliberate few moments with God and specifically invite Jesus to be my companion and guide for THIS day.

That’s because this following Jesus thing is a decision that must be made, and renewed, at the very least daily and, more practically, at intervals as each new day unfolds.

birthday pic with (much younger) Rebekah
birthday pic with (much younger) Rebekah

AGING (OR NOT): The idea fits quite well with our discussion about age, and about (yesterday’s “birthday-post”) being the youngest 57-year-old imaginable. I think what I’m really talking about is having a young spirit. I am born anew… born again… born from above… each and every day that I invite newness into my life.

I often tell Rebekah that she’s obviously a lot younger than many people who are in their (chronological) thirties. And I mean that. It’s not flattery or rhetoric. She has a young spirit.

Here’s the thing: a young spirit is not an accident of nature, it’s a byproduct of renewal.

Here’s the thing: a young spirit is not an accident of nature, it’s a byproduct of renewal.

“Renewal” – To be made new again. Not dressed up; not rehabbed; not a cosmetic makeover; not some kind of a spiritual face-lift. But made new again. A new creation.

@[696483709:2048:Derek Maul] - the precipiceFORWARD: Owning a young spirit is also not about going backwards. I’m not talking about winding the clock back or living in the past. This is Jesus we’re talking about, not Peter Pan. Newness is always forward moving. When scripture talks about a “new creation” it’s not suggesting the old creation, dusted off and restored to mint condition.

And so – lest I stray any further away from the course I set in talking about Wednesday of Holy Week – my opportunity on this day is to be a young spirit, alive and vibrant, a new creation. Lent may be a journey, but it’s also a decision.

In the spirit of newness – DEREK

Click here for video-post

Holy Week: Post Palm Sunday Push-Back for Jesus

[Jesus] is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. (Hebrews 1:3)

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Children at First Brandon on Palm Sunday

Along with all the buzz and excitement of yesterday’s Palm Sunday celebration (BTW, the choir rocked!), my “Everyday Christianity” Sunday study group enjoyed a very productive hour discussing the New Testament book of Hebrews.

To date, during 2013, my class has read the following New Testament books (We’re looking at them in the order – best scholarly guess – that they were written).

  • I Thessalonians
  • Galatians
  • I Corinthians
  • Philemon
  • Philippians
  • II Corinthians
  • Romans
  • Mark
  • James
  • Colossians
  • Matthew
  • Hebrews

The-book-of-HebrewsOnce again, reading an entire book in a single sitting (Hebrews took about 45 minutes to read carefully) facilitated a refreshing exposure to The Word that was (and always is) an entirely different experience than the practice of picking out a few select verses for in-depth analysis.

CENTRAL FOCUS: As a complete piece of work, Hebrews focuses on the idea that the “New Covenant” Jesus established has made the first one obsolete. In fact, to help us out, the writer essentially hangs a “This is the main point” flag on the first verse of chapter 8:

Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being.

Temple worship, Hebrews 8 continues, takes place in a setting that is “a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.” In other words, Temple Worship is at best a flawed approximation.

But Jesus is not a shadow, not an approximation, not a copy, not a hint… Jesus is the real thing. Jesus is – in the words of Hebrews Chapter One – “The radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.”

And so today, Monday of Holy Week, it’s easy to see how “The Jesus Way” threatened the entire raison d’être of the ruling class. In Jerusalem, the triumphant entry was yesterday’s news and “push-back” was the order of the day.

As Jesus said in Luke 13:34: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing…”

cropped-dsc_00181.jpgLike Jesus, let’s engage this Holy Week with our eyes wide open, and our commitment to be subversive in our culture redoubled.

– DEREK

Palm Sunday – riding high on a dream

The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,

“Hosanna!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the king of Israel!” (John 12)

IMG_3618Today has always been one of my favorite Sundays of the year.

I love the enthusiasm, the air of celebration, the sense of spontaneity  I love the idea of Jesus riding into the city in an act of simple, beautiful, eloquent subversion. And I am drawn to the unspoken dark undertone of the knowledge of the coming of The Last Supper, Good Friday, and the crisis of The Cross.

All the emotion of Holy Week seems to lie just beneath the surface of Palm Sunday’s promise. And that is especially true at my church, because today’s worship services are both led by our chancel choir, telling the story of The Passion through music and word.

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If Lent is an extended special discipline, designed to prepare ourselves for a more deliberate spiritual journey, then Holy Week is potentially a microcosm of those 40-days, a spiritual training mini-camp if you will.

In other words, this coming week offers each one of us a unique opportunity for profound spiritual growth.

I’ll see you in church! But stay tuned to this space, we’ll walk through this week together, day by day.

Peace, blessings, and celebration! – DEREK