10 Reasons Holy Week Can Become More Powerful during the Time of the Virus

Rembrandt - The Three Crosses

Holy Week is the pinnacle of our Lenten journey, drawing us into the Passion of Jesus. This year, our Holy Week journey finds us simultaneously facing into one of the worst crises of our lives with the COVID-19 pandemic. This past weekend I reflected on the significance of this intersection of Holy Week and COVID-19, leading me to write these ten reasons our Holy Week journey can become more powerful during the time of the virus.

  1. Stripped – In this time, our activities and lives feel stripped of so much that seems normal. We can fight against this, or we can enter into it with an openness to what God may want to do with us during this time. I think of the physical reality that Jesus was stripped of His garments (Matthew 27:28) speaking to His complete yielding to the Father’s will. May we, too, enter into this Holy Week with humble openness to God. This is no passivity nor resignation, but the living trust in God as our Good Shepherd these days.
  2. Helplessness – During this time, we encounter our helplessness more clearly than ever before. We are put in touch with one of the central realities of the Lenten journey, which is that we are helpless in life apart from God.  We can more deeply cry out to God, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-26).
  3. We all will face death – Lent teaches us about the fragility of life, and the truth that we will all face death. Death is unavoidable for all human beings, even if we do believe that there is hope of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ journey to the Cross brings into sharp focus this great reality, while also reminding us that “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26).
  4. Consolation removed – Because of public health considerations, we face the removal of many of our normal consolations in life, such as friendships, meals with others, and many of the normal pleasures of life. In Holy Week, we see Jesus stepping beyond the consolations of human experience into the place of desolation. He loses His dignity, His clothing, His friendships, and eventually His life. As we let go of many of our own consolations, it reminds us of everything that Jesus lost during His Passion.
  5. Forsakenness – The ultimate desolation is Jesus’ forsakenness from the Father, and the isolation that results. Some of us  may feel abandoned in this time, even forsaken by God. Jesus’ cry of dereliction from the Cross shows us how great the sense of abandonment was between Jesus and the Father as He cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). In our own forsakenness and isolation we experience some measure of the weight of Jesus’ forsakenness for us.
  6. Suffering surrounds – In the news and in our lives, we are suddenly surrounded by human suffering. We cannot shelter ourselves from it, as some of us have had the luxury of doing in times past. When insulated from the suffering, we often wonder why Jesus’ suffering should be necessary. However, when we face suffering so clearly, we are put in touch with the reality of Jesus’ suffering on the way to the Cross. This makes us more aware of the cost of Jesus’ Passion in Holy Week.
  7. Mental anguish – When praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said to God, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Luke tells us that Jesus experienced such anguish that “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). As we wrestle with mental pressure and struggles with anxiety because of COVID-19, we are able to have some sense of the weight of the world pressing in upon Jesus during Holy Week.
  8. Tears for those in need – Because of the pandemic, we now see the suffering of others so clearly that it becomes heartbreaking to us. Often times our hearts are hardened to others, but this is softening us to the reality of human need. As Jesus looked at Jerusalem after the triumphal entry, He “saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19:41). Our tears meet with Jesus’ tears over those in need for humanity as we journey through this week.
  9. Hungry to belong – Our hunger for belonging is high in this time of physical distancing. We miss shaking hands or giving hugs. We miss having grandchildren sit on our laps to read a story or passing dishes around the table with friends. We want to experience relationship, and we can do that thanks to technology, but the barriers are high. This leads us into an encounter with our own needs and loneliness that we often try to avoid. We realize that underneath this is not just our longing for God, but also the God who longs for relationship with us. His longing is so high that He will suffer anything to bring reconciled relationship and belonging.
  10. Longing for hope – Our longing for hope – for life after this death – pulses like the beating of our hearts. We cannot wait for this to “be over,” so that we can return to “life as normal.” We all know that life will not be the same normal that we experienced before, but we still hope for it. How much more meaningful is the resurrection of Jesus Christ than in these days where the longing for hope rises up more sharply than ever before?

Unseeing in Sleep

Pray that you will not fall into temptation (Luke 22:40)

Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation (Luke 22:46b)

the disciples
unseeing and tired
eyes sagging, bodies sore, sleep surges up,
engulfs vigilance at the vital hour.

Jesus’ question, ‘Why are you sleeping?’,
sounds strange to sleepwalkers,
whose ears fail to hear the rhythmic feet
marching to the Mount of Olives
with malicious intent.

they have no answer for such questions.
it is the silence of sleepyheads
who do not think straight,
lost in limbo between dreamworlds
and real worlds.

Lord, touch us who do not see or hear,
who fail to understand temptation
in the grey light of slumberland.
Lord, awaken us from sleep
that we may rise and pray
in the dark of this new day.

[This is the first in a group of six original poems composed for Holy Week.]

Enrique Simonet, He Wept Over It

Enrique_Simonet_-_Flevit_super_illam_1892.jpg
Enrique Simonet, Flevit super illam; oil on canvas; 1892.

On Fridays, I post a work of art that has caught my interest. Since January, these posts are themed around the Minor Prophets, with occasional extras, such as this one about Jesus looking over Jerusalem before the triumphal entry.

Previous posts in this series:

What Is Ash Wednesday and Lent?

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the traditional season of Lent, a 40-day journey (minus Sundays) toward Easter. Here are some common questions about Lent.

“What is Lent all about?”
Lent is more than a worn-out tradition marked by self-absorbed sorrow and meal-skipping. Instead, Lent is a journey into greater depths of life with Jesus Christ. The 40-day journey reminds us of Jesus’ 40-day temptation in the desert before starting His public ministry. It reminds us of the people of Israel led by Moses through the wilderness for 40 years before entering the promised land. We enter into Jesus’ journey toward, into, and through the Cross. It is a preparation for a deeper experience of the joys of the resurrection on Easter Sunday.

“Why do people have ashes on their foreheads ?”
It is common practice on Ash Wednesday for Christians to begin the Lenten journey on Ash Wednesday by having the sign of the cross marked upon their forehead with ashes. This is a sign of our mortality, “that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14) and to dust we shall return. The ashes also are a sign of repentance similar to what we encounter in the Scripture: “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). In some traditions, the ashes are made from palm branches used on Palm Sunday of the previous year, thus connecting one Lenten journey to another through the suffering of Christ.

“Do we need to pay attention to human traditions like this?”
No, there is no Scriptural requirement to observe Lent. However, generation after generation within the Christian church have found great value in observing this focused journey toward remembrance and celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It may rescue us from merely ordering our lives around academic or holiday calendars, where the high points of Spring are holiday vacations or Easter candy. Instead, we order our lives around the life of Jesus Christ, with His Cross and Resurrection as the high points of celebration.

“How should I observe Lent?”
Lent is intended to be a community journey, so it is important to enter into this with others. This happens best through a local church community that takes on certain practices together, such as our 40-Day devotional at Eastbrook Church. Along with that, I often encourage the practice of traditional Lenten spiritual practices, such as fasting, prayer, sacrificial giving, and reading Scripture. These practices strengthen us to say “no” to ourselves and “yes” to God, through the movement of abstaining from something (fasting), turning to God (prayer), and putting another discipline in its place (almsgiving).

Here is a short video we put together at Eastbrook to help explain the significance of Ash Wednesday.

Micah, part 1 [God in the Ruins]

God in the Ruins Series GFX_App Square

This past weekend at Eastbrook I continued our series on the message of the minor prophets, “God in the Ruins,” by looking at the first five chapters of the book of Micah.

Micah prophesied to both the northern and southern kingdoms during the reigns of kings Jotham (742-735 BC), Ahaz (735-715 BC), and Hezekiah (715-686 BC). He is mentioned in the book of Jeremiah as one who spoke during Hezekiah’s reign (Jeremiah 26:18). He witnesses the fall of Samaria and the northern kingdom in 722 BC, but also speaks about the coming exile for the southern kingdom, which happens after the time of his ministry. Micah hailed from Moresheth Gath, about 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem. His name literally means “Who is like Yahweh?” and his prophecies focus on both the doom coming upon a straying people and the hope that God will bring.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series on the minor prophets here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities to connect.

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Jesus, Jairus’ Daughter, and the Eyes of Faith

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Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her. ‘Stop wailing,’ Jesus said. ‘She is not dead but asleep.’ (Luke 8:52)

This story is familiar for many of us. Jairus approaches Jesus about his sick daughter, and Jesus agrees to accompany Jairus to his home. On the way, someone meets Jairus from the house to notify hi that his daughter has died. Jesus encourages Jairus to believe, and they continue on their way. When they arrive, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John with the girl’s parents, and they approach the girl’s body. Speaking the phrase, “My child, get up!”, Jesus raises her from death. We remember this story because it is so striking to see Jesus’ bring life in the face of death.

But equally striking is Jesus’ exhortation to stop wailing when the girl is dead. Equally shocking is His statement that she is not dead after all but merely asleep, when all the facts say otherwise. We have to ask ourselves some questions. Does Jesus see things others do not see about the girl’s physical condition? Does Jesus see something in the purposes of God that others do not see? Is Jesus speaking a rebuke of some sort about a lack of faith? Is Jesus poking fun at the people who are there?

The last question seems unlikely because Jesus rarely did that sort of thing to people in grief, but directed His piercing critiques to the hypocritical. The third question seems possible, given that faith is a theme throughout this story. The first question seems unlikely because all evidence pointed to the girl’s actual death, and there is no evidence from the text that Jesus had examined her in some way. The second question seems to draw closest to the heart of what is happening here. Jesus sees something that others do not see about what God wants to do in this situation, and that it is connected to the call to faith/believing.

Jesus’ ability to see beyond the natural and into the realm of God’s kingdom purposes with clarity is a gift beyond most of us. We see physical phenomena with natural vision, failing to consider or apprehend the magnitude of the vision of faith related to God’s plans.  Jesus’ vision was different.

Lord, give me eyes to see what You have in store, even today. May my eyesight become more like Jesus’ eyesight, for the glory and the fullness of Your kingdom.

The Weekend Wanderer: 8 February 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

The Course - Jessica Bruah“The Cancer Chair: Is suffering meaningless?” – Christian Wiman, American poet and Professor of the Practice of Religion and Literature at Yale Divinity School, writes about his journey with cancer and questions about the meaning of suffering. Always an astute craftsman of words (if you haven’t read My Bright Abyss, do yourself a favor and read it sometime soon!), Wiman brings together reflections on his own cancer, the book of Job, Friedrich Nietzsche, Simone Weil, Albert Camus, and the Cross of Christ.

 

0_DydTubCNbDSFL-mb“From the Abundance of the Heart” – Alan Jacobs shares an essay on a topic that more of us should think about, particularly in the social media era: the power of our words. Relating an experience of giving a lecture based on an essay he had written but not yet published, Jacobs encountered the sourness of his words as they came out of his mouth, bringing a sense of conviction about the fact that these were both his words and words of which he did not approve at the same. There are some interesting insights here about the words of Jesus: “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).

 

Vector picture of Human Evolution“What If We Don’t Have to Choose Between Evolution and Adam and Eve?” – When I was working as a college pastor in the early 2000s, we conducted a teaching series called “Hot Topics,” where we engaged with controversial issues facing students in relation to faith. One of those topics that continues to be hotly debated in certain circles is the relationship between creation and evolution. Just this past year, S. Joshua Swamidass, a computational biologist at Washington University in St. Louis, published The Genealogical Adam and Eve: The Surprising Science of Universal Ancestry in an attempt to change the terms of the debate. His book is up for a Reader’s Choice Award at InterVarsity Press. Here’s an interview with Swamidass about his book and his thought-provoking claims.

 

Dorothy Sayer mystery“‘No Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition or Mumbo Jumbo’: Dorothy L Sayers and the Detection Club” – Dorothy Sayers, one of the most incisive writers and thinkers of her era, is perhaps known best today for her connection to the Inklings, a group of writer including J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. Christians may know her for her radio play, The Man Born to Be King, or The Mind of the Maker, but Sayers was well-known for her mystery-writing with the Lord Peter Wimsey novels. Sayers founded the Detection Club to support mystery writing, and it apparently still exists today. Who knew?

 

rohr_edit“Richard Rohr Reorders the Universe” – These days I cannot seem to take more than a few steps within Christian circles without someone mentioning Richard Rohr. He is one of those authors whose influence looms large for those who are seeking to reengage with faith and spirituality in an ecclesially disillusioned age. There are certain impulses about Rohr that I appreciate, some theological moves that deeply concern me, and a few other things about him that just drive me nuts. Love him or hate him, you have to reckon with Richard Rohr in discussions of faith today. Back in July, I shared Matthew Milliner’s helpful “field guide” to Rohr, and just this week Eliza Griswold offered a more personal look Rohr and his influence in North America today.

 

Steve Gillen“Willow Creek’s interim pastor to step down as church drops top candidates to fill Hybels’ shoes” – Speaking of ecclesial disillusionment, Willow Creek continues to reel after the leadership crisis surrounding misconduct accusations against former Senior Pastor Bill Hybels. After the top two candidates for filling the Senior Pastor role were released by Willow Creek, Steve Gillen, Willow’s acting senior pastor, tendered his resignation effective March 17 because of the protracted nature of the search. Looming in the background are recent accusations that Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian, an influential founder of Willow Creek and mentor to Bill Hybels, has also been accused of sexual harassment and misconduct both at Willow Creek and during his time at Wheaton College. May God purify His church and have mercy upon His people.

 

Music: Asgeir, “Until Daybreak,” from Bury the Moon

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]