Holy Week: Monday…No Turning Back!
And when he drew near and saw the city he wept over it, saying, “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation.” And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.” And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people sought to destroy him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people hung upon his words. (Luke 19:41-48 RSV2-CE)
What a beautiful picture of the purity of Jesus, both human and divine. What a profound illustration of His great love. To see the Son weep over the city of His Father, and to watch Him drive out those who were violating the Holy Temple brings me to tears and distress as well. Jesus knew what was about to happen. He knew there was no turning back. It was all part of His Father’s plan for salvation, but still He wept over the city He loved and cried out against those who had turned His Father’s house into a den of thieves.
Most of the time in my life, my “no turning back” moments have brought me sorrow. I can be an impulsive person and my cries of anger have often been from selfishness instead of righteous indignation. And even though I have committed my life to Christ, there have been times when I have wondered if I am truly all in for Christ. Sometimes my Christian walk has felt like some holy poker game: I have put all my chips on the table, but inside my hand was a little weak. What if God asked me to lay down my life for Him? I would die to protect my family, but when I am fearful about speaking to a coworker about my faith, how can I be sure I am ready to go all in for Jesus?
Thanks be to God that HE provides the strength I need to accomplish my goals for Him. Each day, as I move closer toward heaven, I can take comfort in the fact that it is God who has sovereign control over my life. My “job” is to tune my heart to Him more and more so I can learn to listen to what He is calling me to do. I need to tune my heart to hear those things that should raise righteous anger or holy sorrow. Only then can I pray about how I can respond to what I experience. Is there a cause worth winning? Is there a lonely soul in need of comfort? Are there poor or sick or prisoners who could use my finances? Are there brothers and sisters who could use my time, talent, or treasure? And what about the gifts God has given me – in my case, words: am I using them for Him, not just in writing, but in my daily interactions with others? All of these become the challenge that today’s reading raises for me.
When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51 RSV2-CE)
Jesus never shrank from His purpose. Though He was tempted in the wilderness, at every encounter with His enemies, in the Garden, and even on the cross, He never gave in and He never gave up! Until He cried from the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), Jesus continued His lifework and completed the task He had come here to accomplish. He accepted pain, humiliation rejection and the agony of taking upon Himself all of humanity’s sins as He fulfilled perfectly what was required. No one else could have accomplished our salvation except the perfect Son of God!
When I am feeling inadequate over my calling as a Christian, when I feel alone or misunderstood, outmatched, overwhelmed, or totally lost, I can look to the cross and see the One who satisfied of the debt I owed and opened the way for me to spend eternity in heaven. It is there that all those doubts will be swallowed up in that perfect victory, that perfect resolution of spirit, that perfect love!
Father, this will be a time of no turning back. To contemplate just what your Son did for the world means I must examine who I am. I know that I fall so short, but I also know that Jesus has won the victory I could never win. In that I find comfort, strength and joy! As I continue the journey to the cross this week, may I honor you with my thoughts, my prayers, my deeds and my life. I offer them all, in Jesus’ name, Amen!
Holy Week: Tuesday…Curing a Fig Tree, Lamenting a People
In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he was hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside he went to it, and found nothing on it but leaves only. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. (Matthew 21:18-19 RSV2-CE)
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'” (Matthew 23:37-39 RSV2-CE)
Some years back, I wrote a novel called, Jacob’s Dream, about a man who helped prepare the earth for the return of Christ. Throughout of the story, Jacob lamented over those who would be lost when Jesus returned and all was said and done. It was an intense struggle for him, to know that, in the end, there would be many who would reject the Lord and be condemned to the everlasting fires of hell. He had to let go and move forward in obedience to the One who had saved him from a sentence of death. I found it to be one of the hardest parts of the story to write because it was something I too was reluctant to face as a believer. I understood it in my mind because God’s Word said so, but this made it no easier to write that kind of resolve into the main character. But I knew that it was exactly what I needed to do.
Some will accept Jesus’ message and others will reject it. Those who receive the Good News will find heaven. Those who reject the Good News will end up in hell. It is as simple as that. Jesus understood this all too well, He wept openly for His people, but it did not prevent Him from walking into the Holy City and all the way to the cross as He completed the task His Father had given Him to do.
After the cleansing of the temple, the stage was set for the crucifixion. Jesus’ enemies began to seek a way to capture Him and condemn Him to death. The hour of darkness was approaching and what was Jesus doing? He was in the temple teaching the people He loved! But His teaching had a strong message of condemnation for those who would reject His message.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus told a series of parables, all meant to convey the same message to those who believed they held the power. They had challenged Jesus’ authority in an attempt to shut Him down and trap Him, but Jesus saw into their hearts and He delivered a scathing sermon of denunciation to those who were supposed to be the guardians of the People of God. The first story was The Parable of the Two Sons. A father asked one son to work in the vineyard. He answered, “I will not!” but later had a change of heart and went. The father asked the second who said, “Yes Sir!” but never went. The teachers had said “Yes!” to God but had refused to follow His direction. The prostitutes and tax collectors and other sinners had said, “No!” but had a change of heart in the presence of the One who offered them hope. It was they who would enter the Kingdom, rather than the teachers of the law.
The second story was The Parable of the Tenants. A landowner had leased out a vineyard to tenants and it was time to collect His share of the Harvest. He sent servants, but the tenants abused and killed them. He sent his son but the tenants said, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.” They took him outside the vineyard and killed him. Jesus certainly knew what the leaders were planning to do to Him; and they certainly understood that He was accusing them of rejecting the Father’s messengers and ultimately, rejecting Him.
The next story of was The Parable of the Wedding Feast. A king threw a wedding banquet for his son and invited all the right people; yet they rejected the offer and never came, and even abused and killed his servants. So the king invited the people on the highways and byways and they entered the feast, though even then, some were still not properly dressed for the occasion. Jesus was making it clear that the Kingdom was being taken from those who rejected His message and given to those with hearts open to receive it, even the sinners.
Jesus had come looking for a harvest among His people and they were unwilling to yield to his message. So, like the fig tree, they were cursed, never to yield any fruit in the world. Later in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus condemned the Scribes and Pharisees with a series of “woes” (Matthew 23). His condemnation was so clear and complete that there was no room for doubt what was to come. Jesus lamented over Jerusalem, the city He loved so much. He had longed to spread His love over them, but they rejected His message again and again. Their house would be left desolate, and the people would be condemned, though one day they would cry, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” whether they wanted to or not! This was a difficult but necessary part of the journey to the cross for our Lord. He continued to teach the people, knowing it would lead to His own death at the hands of the Jewish leaders. He did this because of His great love for us, a love so powerful that it led Him to speak the prophetic words of condemnation at the same time He spoke the eternal words of hope.
As you continue the journey to the cross with Jesus, take time to let this truth sink in. Jesus’ death meant heaven for some, and hell for others. It was part of the pain He faced. May it spur us on to reach out to others with that same love while today is still today, before “too late” comes!
Father, I know that there were those who rejected you then and there will continue to be those who reject you right up until you come again. May I ponder in my heart the great love you had in walking the journey all the way, facing the pain of rejection and the knowledge that many would be lost. Help me to reach out to as many as I can with the message of the Gospel while it is still called today. May I learn the lesson of the fig tree and may my own life yield the fruit of the Spirit in all I say and do! Thank you for your Son and for His atoning death on the cross. I offer you my life this day, in Jesus’ name, Amen!
Holy Week: Wednesday…The Silent Day
Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. And even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.”…
…Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Laz'arus, come out.” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:21-27, 39-44 RSV2-CE)
Many commentators call Wednesday of Holy Week “The Silent Day.” They speculate that Jesus, after two exhausting days of ministry, spent time in Bethany at the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. I wanted to look at the story of the raising of Lazarus from a different perspective. This is a story that speaks with subtle silences against the silence of the grave.
When the messenger came to Jesus to tell Him that Lazarus was sick, He responded by saying, “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it.” (John 11:4 RSV2-CE) But then He delayed two more days – no explanations, just silence. When He said it was time to go to Judea, His disciples reminded Him about the Jews and their attempt to stone Him, but Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any one walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if any one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” (John 11:9-10 RSV2-CE) Most likely this was not quite the answer the disciples had expected. One can imagine that the trip to Bethany was filled with silence as well.
When Jesus arrived in Bethany, He was confronted by Martha and Mary. His response to the two sisters appeared incomplete, but what Jesus did not say spoke volumes. He intended to raise their brother, but He wanted to impart to them the mystery and majesty of the Resurrection; and that mystery was that He, Jesus, was the Resurrection and the Life. Then came the time before the silent tomb. Jesus filled the silence with tears and prayers to His Father, and then He brought life back to Lazarus! The brother of Martha and Mary stood up and walked out of the grave, still bound in the wrappings, most likely silent and standing still, in awe of what the Lord had done for him.
The story ended with Jesus commanding that Lazarus be unbound. After that, it was the authorities who were doing all the talking. They plotted to kill Jesus, and later, plotted to kill Lazarus as well. But the very next scene in the Gospel is what completes the story. Jesus friends held a dinner and Mary anointed the feet and head of Jesus with expensive perfume. There was an angry voice in the crowd, Judas, who complained about the cost of the perfume and waste it was to use it all up on Jesus. Jesus, however, silenced him by saying, “Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial. The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” (John 12:7-8 RSV2-CE) The silent actions of Mary spoke truth that Judas could never see. She understood what was coming and was preparing her Lord for the day of His burial. It was so profound, everyone was silenced by it.
After all this, it is not so hard to believe that Jesus spent time with His friends in Bethany and I find it quite wonderful that the Gospel writers choose to keep silent about it. It expresses truths that give me hope. I like to believe that Jesus found supreme comfort in spending these precious hours with His friends and seeing their surrender to His impending death. I can imagine that much of their fellowship was spent in silence, the kind of silence where words were not needed and love was shared through looks and touch and the beauty of being present to each other. I imagine they talked of their love and concerns, said their goodbyes, and prayed about what was to come. And in the end, whatever was unclear to the three friends was pondered in silence until the time when Jesus rose and it all began to make sense.
There are only traditions about what happened to Martha, Mary, and Lazarus after Jesus ascended to heaven. The Bible is silent on that. And I think that is a good thing. It leaves me to ponder their lives and their love for the Lord in the silence of my heart. It also leads me to think about my commitment to Jesus and what that means. I challenge you to take time in the silence of your own hearts to contemplate what the death and resurrection of Jesus means to you.
Father, there are many silences in the Bible, many times when we must look in faith to what the stories of Jesus’ journey to the cross means for us. In taking time to think about those who encountered Jesus, I am challenged to think about my own relationship to my Savior as well. Thank you for this day of silence where I may do that. And thank you for sending your Son, who went silently to the cross for me! I offer my thoughts, my prayers and my life to you today, in Jesus’ name, Amen!
Holy Week: Thursday…The Last Supper
Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. And during supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter; and Peter said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “You are not all clean.”
When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.. (John 13:1-15 RSV2-CE)
Every year, I read through the Passion stories and hear them at church. When it comes to the Last Supper, I love reading about how Jesus offered the bread and wine as His Body and Blood, just as I love receiving the Eucharist today. It takes me back to the Upper Room and to the cross where He made the ultimate sacrifice for me. But it is John’s account of the washing of the Disciple’s feet that brings me to my knees in awe. For whatever reason, John chose not to focus on the bread and the wine. Maybe it was because it had all been said in the other Gospels. I like to believe that this story moved John so deeply that he chose to include it in his Passion story. It speaks so powerfully to the love and purpose of Jesus. Imagine the Son of God, the Creator of the universe, the Second Person of the Trinity, stooping like a slave to wash the dirty feet of His friends! It was His example of perfect service that found its greatest fulfillment in the cross!
The Church has a foot-washing ceremony on Holy Thursday as part of the worship service. There have some Christians who say that, just as Communion is a Sacrament, foot washing should be a Sacrament as well. While I do not agree, I do believe Jesus commanded that we serve others, even to the point of washing their feet! Over the years, I have worked in hospitals and group homes with physically and mentally handicapped individuals. I must confess that there were times when I found myself put off at having to wash and clean up after them. I have since come to understand that this is a powerful way of sharing in the love of Jesus, who humbled Himself to care for me, especially when I was dirty from all my sin!
I would not to want to leave out the institution of the Eucharist. Our Lord took the bread and wine of the Passover and offered it to His Disciples saying, “This is my Body…This is my Blood! Do this in memory of me!” I know there are different beliefs about what Communion is. Some believe Christ is present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the elements of bread and wine, while others see a spiritual presence, and still others see it as a symbolic act to commemorate the event and celebrate the death of Jesus until He comes again. I find it hard understand how anyone after reading John chapter 6 could not see Communion as a Sacrament – a sacred sign of Jesus. Eucharist is a way to experience Christ in an incarnational way. Some see that as superstitious or silly. But when I think about how the Son of God took flesh and came to “pitch His tent among us” I find it quite reasonable. Jesus came to gaze into our eyes with His, to walk the dusty roads of life with His feet, and to touch the sick and the crippled, the blind and the deaf, with His sacred hands. I find the things that others call symbols to be places where I can connect physically to the One who became a physical being for me.
The Last Supper is made complete in the wonderful words of Jesus that John has recorded in chapters 13 through 17 of his Gospel. Jesus was going to His death and He wanted to leave His disciples with words of comfort, strength and peace. It was His final testimony to them before He walked the final road to the cross. I used to wonder what it would be like to be there and hear these words in person, but as I think about it, I realize that these are living words. All I need to do to travel back to the Upper Room is to read the passages once more with an open heart. These words are forever, spoken in both time and eternity. I will list what to me is the most moving of those sacred words:
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. This I command you, to love one another. (John 15:9-17 RSV2-CE)
What else could anyone say that could fully express the deep meaning and the perfect love expressed in those words? What better response can we give to the great love of Jesus Christ than to love one another as He has loved us? Ponder that today and seek ways to live it out every day of your lives!
Father, I marvel at the love of your Son, the Word incarnate, who stooped to wash the dirty feet of His disciples. It was the ultimate expression of submission and servanthood! I thank you for the Great Sign Jesus left us in the Eucharist, a way to taste and touch Him and carry ourselves back to that Upper Room as we remember – we relive – the great sacrifice He made for us all! Help me to take His perfect love into my heart and let it spill out into love for others, wherever you may send me this day and every day. Thank you for the Resurrection. Thank you for Jesus. It is in His name I pray, Amen!
Holy Week: Friday…Words from the Cross
I invite you to celebrate Good Friday in your church with other believers and to take time to read the Passion and meditate on its message. I would like to offer some brief commentary and prayer on the final words of our Blessed Savior from the cross…
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34 RSV2-CE)
Forgiveness for enemies, from the cross – the cruel cross! Such love from the Savior is unfathomable and overwhelming! He could have spoken condemnation and rebuke, words of righteous anger and indignation to the foolish people who were putting to death their Savior. But instead, He offered forgiveness and love. How the rulers failed to put a stop to the whole thing then and there is astounding! Yet they were blind to the great Son of God, pouring out His love and lifeblood before them.
Forgive me Lord, for the sins of my life that placed you on that cross. I hear my mocking voice among the crowd yelling “Crucify! Crucify!” and I am put to shame. Thank you for forgiving me and saving me…
And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43 RSV2-CE)
The two men who had been crucified with Jesus had been mocking Him; when suddenly, one of them came to his senses and rebuked the other man. He knew that they were getting a just punishment for their deeds, but Jesus had done no wrong. With the exception of the Tax Collector in Jesus’ parable (“God, be merciful to me, a sinner!), there has probably never been a more concise plea for salvation. The “Good Thief” asked that Jesus remember him when He came into His kingdom. Jesus assured the man that “this day” he would be with him forever in paradise. At that moment, Jesus was both comforted and comforter! At the moment of His death He found joy in the repentance of one more sinner.
Lord, the grace and love that you extended to this man is incredible; and yet I think it would be too easy to overlook just how profound it really was. Thank you for hearing my pleas for forgiveness and for welcoming me into your kingdom as well…
When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home (John 19:26-27 RSV2-CE)
Two strong souls stood at the cross, unafraid of the Romans and the Jewish authorities, held there by their great love for Jesus. Even in His agony, He still took a moment to see to His mother’s care. And, He raised her up in honor before His beloved disciple. This was His mother and the disciple He loved so dearly. Now, in Him, they were together as family as well.
Lord, may I honor your mother and the great gift she gave in giving birth to you and suffering the sword that pieced her heart when she watched you die for the sins of all humanity. And thank you for my brother John who cared for your mother and who gave us His Gospel, that great love letter from you to us all…
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, la'ma sabach'-tha'ni?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 RSV2-CE)
Jesus was quoting from Psalm 22, and in quoting the first verse, He was calling the whole of the psalm to mind. The leaders failed to understand and thought He was calling out in Hebrew to Elijah instead of submitting to His Father. But Jesus was showing that He was the Great Suffering Servant, the One who was despised and mocked, whose bones were out of joint and whose heart was poured out like wax. But perhaps the most profound thought in all this is that, at that moment, the Father turned His face away from Jesus because the weight of all the world’s sin was upon Him. Jesus became sin so that He could free us from all our sin.
Lord, I weep at the thought of your Father turning His face away from you. I cannot comprehend the agony you suffered for me. I recall the words of the 22nd Psalm in its entirety and I weep for the rejection you experienced at the hands of men. Yet, you endured all this so that we could experience salvation in you….
After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfil the Scripture), “I thirst.” (John 19:28 RSV2-CE)
Jesus had lost so much blood and he was dehydrated. But how much more so, did Jesus thirst in His soul and long to fulfill His purpose on earth, to complete the task His Father had given Him to do. It was almost complete. It was almost at hand.
Lord, you thirsted for my salvation; you longed for my redemption from sin. All your lifeblood was drained away. You had given your all for humanity! I am in awe. I weep for you and rejoice in the great gift of your life given for mine…
When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, “It is finished… (John 19:30a RSV2-CE)
The Greek word for finished (or completed), “tetelestai,” which means “paid in full.” Jesus was saying that the great debt of humanity that had been posted upon the wooden cross was now cancelled and ink had been wiped away. The purpose for which Jesus had come had found its fulfillment in this moment, this holy and profound moment!
Lord, thank you for cancelling my debt, a debt too immense for me to pay. You took that debt and paid it yourself with your very life. It is only in this that I am set free. No work, no prayer, no words and no deeds could have secured for me my salvation; but your great sacrifice on the cross paid it all…
Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46 RSV2-CE)
To the very end, Jesus placed His life into the hands of His heavenly Father. He did not despair on the cross but surrendered everything to the will of His Father. With a loud cry of triumph, in victory and joy, He laid down His life on that cross for us all!
Lord, you died – you gave up your life – for me! You submitted yourself to your Father’s will perfectly and completely – never once deviating from the divine plan! Thank you for dying for me, so that I can be with you forever in heaven! I love you and I thank you – AMEN!
Have a blessed Good Friday!
Holy Week: Saturday…Sealed in the Tomb, Free from the Pit
I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up,
and have not let my foes rejoice over me.
O LORD my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
O LORD, you have brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints,
and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment,
and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may last for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
As for me, I said in my prosperity,
“I shall never be moved.”
By your favor, O LORD,
you had established me as a strong mountain;
you hid your face,
I was dismayed.
To you, O LORD, I cried;
and to the LORD I made supplication:
“What profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it tell of your faithfulness?
Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me!
O LORD, be my helper!”
You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,
that my soul j may praise you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you for ever. (Psalm 30 RSV2-CE)
The Lord had been laid to rest in the tomb, wrapped in a cloth and left in silence. The stone had been rolled in front of the entrance, a seal had been set, and guards had been posted. Even in His death, Jesus caused the rulers to fear. They worried someone would steal His body. Or was it that they worried that the prophecies might just be true? The Sabbath had come and all had to depart. When the Holy Day had passed there would be time to anoint the body with spices. But not today.
The beauty of Christianity over any other religion is that our Savior actually rose from the grave. No other religious system can say that about its founder. No other faith has their god coming to earth to pay the price for our sins. Only Christianity has the Creator of the universe leaving His throne to enter this life in poverty in order to be with His people and love them in His humanity as well as His divinity. No tomb could hold this Savior. Every other religious leader is either in the grave or someday will be. Jesus is the only One who could not be held in the tomb.
What happened between Good Friday and Easter? 1 Peter gives us a clue:
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him. (1 Peter 3:18-22 RSV2-CE)
It is said Christ went into Hades or Sheol or Hell to preach to the souls there. Some say His preaching was to invite them to repent. Others say it was to pronounce judgment. Still others say this was all symbolic. The Apostles Creed – the one we use today – says that Jesus “descended into hell.” Whatever happened during this silent time, I know one thing for sure. It did not last. The grave could not hold Jesus. The Father would not abandon His Son. Jesus conquered sin and death and on the Third Day rose in victory!
How can you honor the Savior on this silent day when Jesus was in the grave? One way is to meditate on things that Jesus said and did when He walked the earth, or to contemplate how the psalms and the holy prophets speak of Christ and His purpose for coming into this world. Perhaps you can pray for those lost souls who need the Savior’s tender touch and commit to living your life more and more for the Lord. Maybe you can visit a graveyard and think about the difference between dying in sin and dying in relationship with Him. And is there someone today with whom you may share the Good News of salvation? Remember, there may be lonely lost souls coming to church on Easter who need a gentle voice welcoming them into the family of faith this day.
The Feast of the Resurrection is coming. Have a blessed day and prepare your heart for all that it means!
Father, as I think of your Son in the grave, I find its silence stirring my soul to deeper contemplation about salvation and all that Jesus did for me. In His time in the tomb, He conquered death itself and became the just judge of the universe. Thank you, Jesus, for saving me. Thank you for your great love, the love that spoke from eternity into time, the love that went through hell and back so that I could have the victory in Christ. Thank you for the Resurrection. I offer you my love and my life, in Jesus’ name, Amen!
As they were saying this, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you.” But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.
Then he said to them, “These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:36-49 RSV2-CE)
The ground had shaken and the angel had rolled back the stone. His appearance was such that the men guarding the grave fell down as though dead. The women had gone to the tomb and found the body gone. They saw a vision of angels telling them not to seek the living among the dead, but to go to Jesus’ disciples and tell them the wonderful news of His resurrection! Peter and John had looked into the tomb and saw nothing but the burial cloths folded and left in the place where the body had been. Jesus had appeared to Mary in the Garden and to the two believers on the road to Emmaus. Hearts were burning and minds were racing. No one completely understood. How could they? The Spirit had not yet been given.
It is in this context that we enter into the reading above. This was no ghost they were seeing. This was a real man with flesh and bones, breathing, eating, touching and speaking. Jesus was resurrected. His body had no more limitations. He could enter the room through the locked doors. He had no more pain or distress. He had conquered the grave and come back to open the minds and hearts of those He loved. The dark night was over and the new day had dawned. Nothing would ever be the same again.
There are so many readings we could look at: sayings from our brother Paul on life in Christ and the power of the cross and resurrection; prophecies and types from the Old Testament that have been fulfilled in Christ. We could recall with great joy the parables and healings and miracles that led to this day of days! But I would rather sit in the Upper Room with the Disciples and marvel at my Savior suddenly appearing, smiling with love, breathing on me and calling me to receive the Holy Spirit. I would rather listen to Him calling me to be a witness and to wait for the power from on High to descend on me in days to come.
Jesus is risen. Halleluiah! What more can we say? This journey has been a lonely one, a lovely one, a deep one, and lasting one; for we have walked that rugged road to Calvary with our beloved Savior. We have seen the old, old story fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Our lives are forever changed for God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). And while we may think the story has ended, in truth it has only just begun. With the Disciples, we can remember the purpose for which Jesus came and hear our calling to go into all the world for Him…
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20 RSV2-CE)
Father, thank you for this journey of Holy Week with your Son. Thank you for loving us so perfectly, so completely, that you sent Jesus to die in our place, to overcome our pride, our selfishness, our foolishness, and our sinfulness. May your Holy Spirit guide us and gift us to go into the world to make disciples, to love our brothers and sisters, and to reshape the world for the love of Jesus. May this Day of days be a new beginning for us, for the rest of this year and the rest of our lives. We offer you our thanksgiving, our praise, our love, and our lives, in Jesus’ name, Amen!