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

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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:

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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!

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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

Lent: truth in the inward being

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You desire truth in the inward being;
    therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
 Purify me from my sins, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow (Psalm 51:6-7 NRSV/NLT)

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of the season of Lent. At WFPC we offered two worship opportunities, one before lunch and one after supper. For me this served as an opportunity to set my intention toward a season of self examination and inner cleansing on my personal road to Jerusalem, the Cross, and Easter morning.

I set my intention toward a season of self examination…

img_8121I really appreciate the words of Psalm 51. There’s a lot to learn from this scripture, especially in this era when truth seems to have lost its bearing. God – the Psalmist writes – wants us to experience truth at the deepest levels of our own being. Stop casting aspersions at others, look into our own hearts! Simply reflect, and meditate, and pray, and seek God to the extent that we experience truth where it really counts, and that is in an honest, open-spirited relationship with God.

Purify me from my own sins! This is the journey I’m taking over the next few weeks; Reaching toward Easter.

So yesterday evening, as scores of people lined up to receive the mark of the cross in ashes, I felt drawn toward the desire for truth in my inner being. It’s going to be quite a journey.

 I felt drawn toward the desire for truth in my inner being. It’s going to be quite a journey.

Peace – DEREK

 

more about living like we mean it (because God certainly meant something when we were created)

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Live like you mean it! Because God certainly meant something when we were created!

Wednesday my men’s Bible study enjoyed a discussion around the story Jesus told about the guy who buried his talent instead of putting it to work for God (Matthew 25:14-28).

We talked about the various gifts God has given us, about the trust God places in us to live the kind of lives we were created for, and about how much we have to trust – and believe – when we step out in faith to live without reservation.

Bottom line, it takes courage to live faith out loud, and it can be tempting sometimes to put all those possibilities and challenges in a box, bury it somewhere, and opt out of discipleship.

Once in a while when I’m speaking at a conference or retreat, I have an epiphany that takes me “off script.” Sometimes I actually remember to write the epiphany down before I forget what I said. It was a couple of years ago in Florida, I was talking about what is at stake when we decide to follow Jesus, and I wanted to say something that gave the guys pause, hopefully inspiring them to follow Jesus more closely.

DSC_0147“Imagine Jesus on the cross,” I said, “suffering and dying so that you – and so that I – might have this chance to be reconciled to God and to live an abundant life. Now imagine Christ looking at you, at your life, at the way you follow him from day to day…. Does Jesus nod his head in satisfaction, and say with conviction, ‘This is why I’m suffering, I’m glad I gave my life for him.’ Or does Jesus shake his head in frustration and disbelief, ‘This is what I’m dying for? I’m on the cross so he could live this pitiful excuse for a witness to me? Oh good grief….

I didn’t think about this Wednesday evening, and so I didn’t share it with the group. But it’s a great question to think about. What exactly it is that we’re burying? What are we sitting on, rather than investing in God’s Kingdom? Are we causing Jesus to shake his head in frustration and disbelief?

Jesus has given us all light – light and life. We can either shine, investing the light of Christ’s love and goodness in the lives of those around us, thereby increasing the light two-fold, ten-fold, a hundred-fold and more… or we can keep it under wraps, effectively buried for all the good it is doing the kingdom.

That’s why this passage finishes with the man left in darkness. Our imperative is to shine! The darkness is always our own decision. If we’re not willing to allow God to shine in and through us; if we don’t rekindle the fire; if we forget that being a disciple also involves making disciples; if we don’t believe enough to trust, trust enough to risk, risk enough to require courage….

If we don’t believe enough to trust, trust enough to risk, and risk enough to require courage, then we are likely not telling the world anything compelling about the gospel.

So shine already – DEREK   

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Wounds, nails, promise, healing, and redemption

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home again!

It’s Monday morning, we’re back home, and – if I don’t leave town over the next three days – I will have spent exactly 9 days in Wake Forest during the month of April!

Interestingly, this month has also seen a record number of views at this blog. As of this morning Life, Gratitude, Faith, & Passion has 1,235 “followers,” plus (on average) an additional 350 views per day.

Maybe my travel photos are the explanation for attracting all those hits? If so, that’s OK, because great pictures do help to frame a story, and April has been full of some good ones (just scroll back through the month if this is your first visit).

1st Pres, Morehead City
1st Pres, Morehead City

SUNDAY MORNING, after we’d packed up the beach house, Rebekah and I worshipped at First Presbyterian Church of Morehead City. We were hoping our old friend, Tim Havlicek, would be preaching, and we were not disappointed.

Tim’s message was spot on, and brought the week after Easter into clear focus. He talked about “wounds,” focusing not only on the wounds Christ voluntarily received, but about the fact that Christ still wore those wounds after the resurrection.

We, human beings living in a broken world, are the walking wounded. Christ’s word is, “Look, I’m carrying wounds too; and – if you’re willing – I’ll carry yours.”

The work of The Cross is ongoing. The invitation is – always – to allow Jesus to carry our wounds.

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Pastor Tim Havlicek

At church yesterday morning in Morehead City, Tim invited members of the congregation to write something about their wounds on a piece of red paper, to come forward during the offering, to pick up a long, heavy-duty, nail from the front pew, to drive that nail through the paper, and to throw (not place, but pretty-much hurl) the wound onto the linen cloth, covering wooden boards from a cross, at the front of the church.

The response was moving. The sound of the nails hitting the wood created an uneven, staccato, redemptive rhythm over the five minutes or so it took the congregation to walk to the front of the church and to respond to Jesus.

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the wounds and the nails

The invitation is still open. Some of our wounds are deep; some are fresh; some seem, to us, too personal. But Jesus is willing to carry them still.

Peace, Promise, and Gratitude – DEREK

Jerusalem: The Last Day (part one)

Crowded streets in the Old City

Reading from the Gospel of Matthew: After they had mocked Jesus, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”).

Our last day in Jerusalem was – as expected – packed. We saw a lot of wonderful things, including the actual Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, but the definitive experience was the long, slow walk we took through the Old City, following the route known as the Via Dolorosa.

Narrow streets of the Old City

What struck me about the “Way of the Cross” was the narrow, crowded, marketplace atmosphere. This, our guide pointed out, would have been they way the city felt when Jesus was forced to carry his cross (in all likelihood the cross-beam portion) to the place of execution.

It was the intention of the Romans to make crucifixion as public a spectacle as possible. They wanted the suffering – the horror of the experience – seared into the hearts and minds of as many people as they could. And, as I helped Rebekah and her painful ankle hobble through the narrow, uneven streets, crowded with people and goods and food and merchants – the throbbing pulse of a living city – it was not a stretch to imagine Jesus, weakened by a vicious flogging, struggling under the weight of it all and stumbling as he went.

Rebekah receiving encouragement from Lonita

BIG CHALLENGE: We started the day with a wheelchair for Rebekah. But we soon realized that “accessibility” is seldom compatible with history. The idea of retro-fitting a historic site is impractical, we understand that, but what did surprise us was the “too bad about you and your wheelchair” attitude at Jerusalem’s premier museum. “The Israel Museum” is a showpiece of archeological presentation, housing not only the Dead Sea Scrolls but hundreds of other important artifacts. Eventually, after more than an hour of aimless wandering, Rebekah and I finally found an exit we could roll the wheelchair through. Then, once we reached the room featuring the scroll from Isaiah, she still had to crawl up a flight of steps to get close enough to see.

At the Israel Museum

We learned a lot about accessibility.

Then the miracle occurred. There is no way to take a wheelchair into the Old City of Jerusalem, so we left it on the bus and told our guide we’d catch up at the Garden Tomb, our final destination. Rebekah put all her weight on my right arm and we simply determined to “make it happen.”

It turns out we never became separated from out group. It helped that, this time, movement from point A to point B was not a forced march! But the ankle loosened up. It hurt, but we were able to move. And that, given the scope of what we were witness to on our final day, was a blessing from God.

Church of the Holy Sepulcher

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was constructed at the place tradition holds as the site of Christ’s crucifixion. We like – as evidenced in hymns such as There is a green hill far away… to imagine the crucifixion on top of a hill. However, more typically such brutal executions were performed at some busy intersection on a busy highway – something you simply couldn’t avoid.

The church, also known as The Church of the Resurrection, is an interesting complex, containing chapels administered by a variety of Orthodox and Catholic groups. In a way, the place is beautiful.

Rebekah with the key-minder

Rebekah rested by the front door and struck up a conversation with the man sitting beside her. Later, our guide stopped by and said, “Do you know who that is you’re sitting with?”

“Oh yes,” Rebekah said, “we’re friends already. He’s the official key-minder and gatekeeper. He showed me his humongous key and I have his card!”

I have to finish here for today – tomorrow we’ll continue down the Via Dolorosa to the Pool of Bethesda and then communion at The Garden Tomb.

The Door to the Church of the Resurrection

DOOR: But look – here’s a photograph of the door. I guess today’s post is really about accessibility: Accessibility of The Kingdom… of peace… of people we want to keep in the shadows… of the Good News. All this and more.

We wished we could have had more time to simply wander through the city, talking with the merchants and the gate-keepers and the regular people who call this place home. Jerusalem is a place like no other, but it is a real place and not some museum exhibit.

Ultimately, taking in the sites and the history without taking in the real people who pulse life through the Middle East would be a tragic mistake. Essam, Mohamed, Michele, Avi, Hoosam (some of our guides and drivers) – these folk all live and work and struggle and raise families in the middle of the politics and the unrest and the fear. Simply put, we’ve got to spend more time sitting on a bench and listening to their stories….

Peace – and I really mean that – DEREK