Betwixt and between…

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As we continue our Lenten series “The Story” at St. Andrew’s, today we were taking a look at Jesus’ life on Earth. The time before his ministry, or at least leading-up to his ministry. There isn’t a lot of Biblical material on this time and Geoff handled that (very well!) by taking some time to look at the doctrine of incarnation – the idea that God had to become one of us for the plan of salvation to work.

In the middle of his sermon, Geoff mentioned that believers today don’t question Christ’s humanity. We find it easy to believe that a man named Jesus lived in Israel a couple of thousand years ago. We find it easy to accept that he was, indeed, a human being. We struggle with the concept that he was also divine – the Son of God. But it wasn’t always that way. Early believers struggled to believe he was really a man. They found his divinity easy to grasp – after all, he performed miracles and rose from the dead. But they felt that it must be that he only “seemed” like a human.

I was glad Geoff pointed this out because it made me think of how much difficulty we have with paradox. We like things to be black or white, not a shade of grey. We like to be able to label something, definitively. To put a name on it. To understand it.

We’re not so good at dealing with “both/and” situations. We’re not so good at living in the tension between two possibilities. We tend one way or the other. So with Jesus, who was both God and man, we tend to highlight one of those things and downplay the other. In seminary, we call this having a high Christology (ie, it’s easy for you to accept Christ’s divinity) or a low Christology (ie, it’s easy for you to accept Christ’s humanity).

But the thing is…the life of faith is one lived between. Between our sin and God’s salvation. Between the moment of birth and the moment of death. Between knowledge and mystery. Between who we are and who we were created to be.

It’s not easy to live in the betwixt and between, but it’s good. It is there that God meets us. In the middle of our mess, in the middle of our confusion, in the middle of life.

During the journey through Lent, may you find yourself a little more at ease with paradox. May you find yourself living betwixt and between, and may you know the God who meets you there.

So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.
Hebrews 4:14,15 NLT

Funny…

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, and a lot of my friends are posting on Facebook about green beer, and going out to the pub. But one of my friends posted something that just cracked me up. It’s an old clip from The Muppet Show. It’s silly and it’s frivolous and it’s fun.

Sometimes during Lent, people get the sense that laughter is not ok. That we are meant to be downcast and heavy hearted for the entire journey. But I don’t think that’s realistic. Life is weird, friends. It can have you crying one minute and then giggling like a fool the next. Real life is kind of messy that way – emotions don’t stay in nice neat categories, they spill over each other and weave through each other.

And life is the richer for it. God made us to laugh (and to cry, and to feel all the other things we feel), and though there are times when it is inappropriate to do so (which makes whatever is funny all the funnier…don’t you think?), for the most part I think God delights in our laughter.

So watch and laugh my friends, and when you do – try to feel God’s delight.

A cheerful heart is good medicine,
but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.
Proverbs 17:22 NLT

Living…

tramonto sul mare

Tonite I had the opportunity to watch a movie with my GRACE Group. The theme of how to live life well was prevalent in the film, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

Lent is a journey from death to new life – we start on Ash Wednesday, acknowledging the fragility of our lives, the ease with which we sin, the sacrifice of Christ which was necessary for our salvation. And then for 40 days we walk toward Easter – that morning when life triumphed over death. The grave was empty and the world made new. My colleague/friend/teammate Geoff is fond of saying you can’t really GET Easter unless you’ve done the full journey. You have to have Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, a long silent Saturday before you get to celebrate the Resurrection.

Slowly, I’m coming to the belief that you have to have journeyed properly through Lent. Not just giving up chocolate or swearing. Not just singing some of the hymns that are written in minor keys (goodness, the Lent section of our hymn book is a tad on the dreary side, isn’t it?). Not just acknowledged Lent with your lips.

But actually walked that whole journey. You have to have stood, slightly awkward with a smudgy cross on your forehead, aware of your sin, on Ash Wednesday. Thought, acted, prayed and read your way through the weeks of Lent. Each day with the cross looming on the horizon. Each day with the thought and question of what it all means. Taken Communion on Maundy Thursday. Wept on Good Friday. Tried – knowing it was impossible – to get back to what the disciples must have felt on that long, quiet Saturday.

Only then, can Easter Sunday really be celebrated. Because Easter is something like life. You cannot fast-forward through it to get to the parts you like. You cannot simply have a montage and a cool song to deal with all that will happen on the journey (don’t you sometimes wish life was a movie?). You cannot understand the ending unless you’ve experienced the beginning and all the (sometimes boring) bits in the middle.

Living well doesn’t happen suddenly because you wanted it to. It happens slowly, over time. It is the result of a thousand little decisions. It is the choices you make in front of others and in private. It is the meal you shared with others and all the ones you ate alone. It is the failures that lead to an eventual success. Living well is more than the sum of its parts – it is all the parts themselves put together that somehow make a good life. And if you take your eyes off the goal, it is so very easy to get lost.

Jesus said,

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
John 10:10 NRSV

Jesus came that we might live well. That was his purpose – to give life. And he contrasts it with the thief’s (read: enemy, Satan, evil) purpose.

During this season of Lent, may we take the time to think about how we are living. May we journey through each day with the cross looming on the horizon. May we draw closer to the One who came to give abundant life.

Word LESS…

Ok, so I’m not completely wordless this evening as we continue our journey through Lent. But I am tired. It has been a long day, with much to do. So I don’t have a lot of words. A few, but not a lot.

Today we had a funeral for another pillar of our community at St. Andrew’s. Tears were shed, and when I came across this image, I thought it quite apropos:

tears

Sometimes our days are marked by tears. In this season as we journey towards the cross, toward the way of sorrows taken by Jesus, tears seem appropriate and significant. So remember, when tearful days come your way, that Jesus wept. And that God reads our tears as if they were the most eloquent of prayers. In His presence may we find comfort and peace.

Sunday…

Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb. Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint. Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.” The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him.
Matthew 28:1-9 NLT

On Sunday of Holy Week…everything changed. The stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty. Death had turned to new life. Mourning to dancing. Grief to rejoicing. And sin to salvation.

This is why we celebrate. It is why we care about the story at all. It is why we sing and study and pray.

Because Jesus loved us enough to die. Because Jesus loved us enough to live..in order that we might live forever.

Christ is risen! Christ risen indeed.

Hallelujah!!

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Saturday…

Saturday of Holy Week is – in my mind – associated with silence. For the disciples this must have felt horrible. Their friend and teacher, the one they believed in as the Messiah, was dead.

I don’t know what they went through that day, but I can imagine it was not good. I imagine them feeling like the grief was crushing them. After all, it wasn’t just the death of their beloved teacher (which would have been bad enough) it was also the death of their hope in him…their hope of heaven and new life and the Kingdom of God.

I imagine that they must have been totally bewildered – wondering how all of the miraculous power, the paradigm-shifting teaching, and the deep love they had witnessed in Jesus, could end so horrifically. They must have wondered how it could have ended at all.

When I am feeling shocked, bewildered and frightened about the future, I have certain passages of the Bible that I turn to…words that help me remember to trust that God is in charge and that and that I am safe in Him.

So for this Holy Saturday, I am sharing one of my favorite Old Testament verses, which may have brought some comfort to the disciples, if they repeated it to themselves. I have used this verse before on my blog, but as far as I am concerned, it’s a classic that bears repeating.

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

Jeremiah 29:11 NLT

Friday…

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Good Friday is always a struggle for me. I love Jesus and I am so very thankful for all that he accomplished on the cross. I am glad we take time to remember and recognize his sacrifice. And I am not averse to sad stories and sad songs. In fact, people who know me well, know that my favorite movies, books and songs are the ones that make me cry a bucket of tears before they are through.

So you would think I would be in my glory on Good Friday. But I struggle this day. I think it is because the pain Jesus went through is more than any anguished character in fiction. Jesus wasn’t just living out a tragedy for the sake of a good story. He was defeating my sin. The things that I do wrong, the hurt that I cause in this world, the parts of me that are broken ad dark and horrible – those are the things Jesus faced and healed on the cross. Only – not just for me. For every person who ever lived. The burden is too big to imagine. Too vast to comprehend. And he didn’t deserve any of it – he was spotless, whole, clean.

This subject is so heavy, I can only dwell on it for a certain amount of time. It hurts my heart to think of it, and so once the worship service is over, I move on. Not in order to forget, but because I simply cannot dwell on the subject for too long. It’s too painful

My practice has been to spend Good Friday amongst friends. Today, I stood at the foot of the cross in the morning, and then laughed and cuddled and shared food and a silly movie with my friends and their children. I believe times like this are a gift from God, and I believe that Jesus was our honoured guest as we spent one together today.

Good Friday is a dark day in the Christian calendar. But it is also a good day. Because sin and death and darkness were defeated on this day. Because Jesus chose to love each of us more than his own life. And so every year I come, and I spend time at the foot of the cross, and I remember.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:6-8 NIV

Thursday…

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Thursday of Holy Week is called Maundy Thurday. Maundy means “mandate” and is a reference to the new commandment Jesus have his disciples while at table with them:

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
John 13:34, 35 NLT

This is also the night on which the first Communion (Lord’s Supper, Eucharist) was celebrated. It was the night during which Judas lead the chief priests to the garden of Gethsemane an betrayed Jesus with a kiss. It was during this night that Jesus healed the soldier’s ear. And it was during this night that Peter denied Christ three times.

These stories are so well known to me. And every year they bring me to tears. I believe it was all part of God’s plan from the beginning. I believe it all had to happen exactly as it did. I believe Jesus knew exactly what he would face in the final days of his life. And I believe he went there willingly, out of his deep love for humanity.

Still, it breaks my heart that his pain and suffering was necessary. And it continues to be necessary because of me…because of us.

This is a tough night for me each year, in my walk of faith, and tomorrow will be even more difficult. But you can’t get to the salvation am celebration of Easter without walking through the dark and difficult days leading up to it. And there are things to be learned on a dark night like this. Not the least of which is how very thankful I am that Jesus went there for me, and for you.

Wednesday…

On Wednesday of Holy Week we find this occurring:

Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests to arrange to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted when they heard why he had come, and they promised to give him money. So he began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.
Mark 14:10, 11 NLT

Judas’ betrayal is not spur-of-the moment. It is planned. “He began to look for opportunity…” Those words break my heart because they show that Judas has truly turned against Jesus, against his mission and ministry. Judas is no longer focussing on bringing the Kingdom of God into reality. He is looking for an opportunity to betray the One who fulfills the Kingdom.

I always find myself sort of outraged on Jesus’ behalf. I ask myself, “How could he?” How could Judas who was Jesus’ friend and disciple, betray everything that Jesus is about. Those of us who love Jesus in today’s age, WISH we could have had the chance to walk and to talk with Jesus as Judas did. How could he squander that opportunity?

And then I remember something Peter Wilson wrote:

Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think…

I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when I close my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and lend my support to an unjust and corrupt system.

However there are moments when I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm it when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed.

And I realize that far too often I have stood in Judas’ shoes. Denying Jesus, betraying him, turning away from his mission and ministry in favor of my own desires.

I am humbled by this realization. And once again amazed that the power of Christ’s forgiveness is wider, deeper and more persistent than my sin.

Tuesday…

On the Tuesday of Holy Week – the final week of Jesus’ life on Earth – Jesus was feisty. He cursed a fig tree because it didn’t bear fruit, he tussled (verbally) with the priests and teachers of the law, he prophesied about the destruction of the temple.

Some of the toughest words of Jesus are spoken on this day, as the cross looms closer and closer.

Was Jesus just cranky? Was he just feeling the pressure of the ordeal he would face at the end of the week? Was he just sick of the people who didn’t listen and didn’t understand?

I think Jesus was passionate. I think he knew his time was short, and his message was incredibly important. So his words are strong, they leave an impression. He is not just saying nice things to comfort people. He is shocking people into hearing the message of Heaven.

As always, Jesus is absolutely committed to seeing people come into a living relationship with God. He wants people to get it, and to LIVE it. And I love that about Jesus.

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples,“The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach.”
Matthew 23:1-3 NLT