All the goodness that ever existed had been sucked out of the world.
Nothing. Empty. Dark. And we were suddenly, completely alone.
It was so…. Dark.
O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down, Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown; How pale Thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn! How does that visage languish, which once was bright as morn!
What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain; Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain. Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place; Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.
– Latin 12th c.; German, Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676) Translated, James W. Alexander (1804-1859)
We may think of the Last Supper the way Leonardo da Vinci portrays it in his famous painting: Jesus seated at the center of a long table with his disciples on either side of him. But that’s probably not the way the room was set up. Several tables would have been arranged in a “U” shape, with couches around them, for the guests to recline as they ate.
Find your place at one of these tables. As the host, Jesus is sitting near the end of the U shape, and John is on the end, next to Jesus. John is in the “right-hand man” spot, ready to get up and provide anything the host requires during the meal. Since he is sharing a dish with Jesus, Judas must be reclining on Jesus’ left, which is the guest of honor spot. … Peter is probably on the other end of the U shaped arrangement, where he can get John’s attention and keep his eyes on Jesus throughout the meal.
Jesus has washed the feet of each disciple, demonstrating the kind of servanthood he wants them to show one another. But after he has washed their feet and returned to his place, Jesus becomes troubled, and announces that one of the twelve will betray him. It’s the guest of honor, the one who is dipping his hand into the same dish as Jesus.
Just as Jesus could wash Judas’ feet, and feed him the bread and cup he shared with all the disciples at his last meal, he expects us to offer grace and hospitality to all our sisters and brothers, even the ones who insult us, even the ones who talk about us behind our backs. Even the ones who don’t much like us. Jesus “loved them to the end” – every one of them – so that we might love one another in just the same way.
John closes this chapter with the new commandment from Jesus to love one another, just as Jesus has loved: fully, to the end, every one of us. Our identity at this Table is not so much in the noun “disciple,” but in the adjective, “beloved.”
The farmer from North Dakota shook his head as he looked out the bus window. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many rocks,” he said. We were in the middle of day three of our pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and I realized a farmer from North Dakota probably had a unique view of the landscape of Israel.
Rocks mean work. Rocks must be cleared before plowing and planting can happen. And the farmer was right: rocks were everywhere we looked. In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus talked about seed landing on rocky soil. Here was clear evidence that Jesus used common experience to get through to his listeners. They would have known exactly what he meant by “rocky soil.” Rocks dotted every green hillside, every lush valley. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many rocks.
The season of Lent is nearing its end. We often describe the season of Lent as a journey toward the Cross, a path we follow to become more faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.
But that path can be a rocky one. Judas had a hard time keeping up, because Jesus wasn’t going the direction Judas thought he should. Judas stumbled over his own ideas about what Messiah should be. In the end, it cost him everything.
The roads Jesus walked were not always smoothly paved. When we choose to follow Jesus, we accept the challenge of walking where we might not otherwise want to go. The season of Lent gives us an opportunity to examine our hearts, and to recommit ourselves to the Way of the Cross. This Way is often steep and difficult to follow. It may be littered with rocks that can trip us up if we aren’t careful. But Jesus leads us on, giving us sure footing if we look to him.
Will you join the journey to the Cross, and learn what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?
“Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” – Matthew 11:6
Original artwork by Rev. Chris Suerdieck, used with permission.
During the middle of the 20th century in America, churches across America posted John 12:20 in the pulpit where the preacher could see it. “Sir, we would see Jesus” encouraged a whole generation of preachers to remember their primary task: showing Jesus to people who need a Savior.
In fact, the entire Gospel of John was written with this very purpose in mind. Near the end of the book, John writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)
If “seeing is believing,” we can imagine the Greeks who came to Philip were hoping for more than a glimpse of a celebrity. They were hoping for more than an autograph. They not only wanted to see Jesus, they wanted to believe.
The literal translation of the phrase “we would see Jesus” or “we wish to see Jesus” sounds awkward to our ears. But to get a better understanding of what these Greeks meant, the literal translation might be helpful. Here’s what they were saying: “Mister, we are willing to be perceiving Jesus.” Not just “we’d kinda like to see this Jesus guy” or “we want to see him so we can tell our friends back home that we did.”
We are willing. Our desire includes the understanding that this encounter is going to change us in some way, and we are willing to take the risk. We are willing to be perceiving. We want more than the opportunity to lay eyes on Jesus. We want to perceive him, to know him, to understand him, to recognize him as the Son of God. And we realize this isn’t a one-time-and-we’re-done sort of thing. It’s an ongoing relationship. We are willing to be perceiving Jesus now and indefinitely into the future. Mister Philip, sir, we want more than a backstage pass. We are willing to know Jesus personally, whatever that means. Are you willing?
Luke’s gospel doesn’t include waving palms or shouts of “Hosanna!” in the story of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. I mentioned in the Palm Sunday sermon that the story we know can make it hard for us to accept the story we hear. But what about the other stories that are happening at the same time?
For example, it might be important for us to know there were two parades into Jerusalem that day. While Jesus entered Jerusalem from the east, approaching the Temple from the Mount of Olives, Herod entered the city from the west, demonstrating his military strength and allegiance to Rome.
Throughout this coming week, you will need to make some choices. Which parade will you join? Which leader will you follow? Each day this week, I will post a scripture passage to read, a short devotional, and original artwork generously shared by Methodist pastor Chris Suerdieck. May your Holy Week devotions bring you nearer to Christ.
Art by Rev. Chris Suerdieck, used with permission.