April 2, 2015 § Leave a comment
“…the Lord’s Supper is a feast of forgiveness and reconciliation… The Supper is a gracious communion with a forgiving God; but it is also a supper we eat with one another, and that too will require forgiveness. God’s design for human flourishing cannot be satisfied in isolation.”
James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom
Tonight our church community will gather for a soup dinner. Together we will sing, hear a short message, and then share the Lord’s Supper. It is a Maundy Thursday tradition that began some four years ago, and has become one of the sweetest of evenings. On some level it is a reenactment of the night Jesus met with His disciples in that Upper Room, when He told them that His time to die had come. It was the night Judas would betray Him, and the rest of His friends would scatter.
The term, ‘Maundy’ comes from the Latin, ‘mandatum,’ and it means command. The connection is found in John’s gospel where Jesus says to His disciples (in that Upper Room), “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)
Whenever we gather at the Table of Christ, we not only reenact that dinner, but we also rehearse the Kingdom of God until Jesus returns and makes everything new. By gathering with people we may not see outside of worship, we retell the story of His reconciling love, of how He came and died and gave Himself. We remind ourselves that we are weak, broken and needy, but that our bond is a strong one because Jesus has come, and is coming.
And this is our good news…
March 29, 2014 § Leave a comment
“God’s work to release himself from his suffering is his work to deliver the world from its agony… When God’s cup of suffering is full, our world’s redemption is fulfilled.” Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son
I had no idea that the extraction of a wisdom tooth could be so painful, though I consider anything done in my mouth while in the dentist’s chair to be an act of violence. I thought the guy was going to rip my jaw off my face! It was like he was going to crawl inside my mouth. Sure, I’m an unapologetic anti-dentite (though I denied this to him – he had tools and drills and stuff at his disposal – you know, live to fight another day, and all that…).
And then there was the pain afterwards. A few hours following the extraction (the term alone is enough to elicit screams of panic and shrieks of terror!), I had a late afternoon meeting. All I could think of was my poor mouth. My pain. Me! It was freezing outside and I was sweating and daydreaming of romantic encounters with Extra Strength Tylenol, holding my jaw in my hand, in agony (proving that I’m no faith-healer).
It didn’t help for our Director of Worship to ask, ‘Is it safe?’ (you have to know the horrific scene in Marathon Man to grasp the depth of cruelty in this person that amazingly, I call ‘friend’).
So it is with pain. It demands our undivided attention, reminding us that all is not well with our bodies. When in pain, it is difficult to think of anything else.
And mine only lasted a day. But the world has been in pain ever since the fall.
Just yesterday a friend posted his sorrows on the birthday of a son that he and his wife lost – he would have turned seven years old. It was so painful I could barely read it.
Pain puts us on notice: in our homes, in our relationships, our minds – wherever it touches. We are cruelly reminded that the world isn’t what it was intended to be.
Amazingly, in the Lenten season we actually celebrate Christ’s pain, because His ‘via dolorosa,’ was not only a path of suffering, but also the passageway to a healed world. One day, what we see and know and experience and avoid and collide with every single day – will pass.
This is the narrative we sometimes miss in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, when we reaffirm that though pain occupies a place at the table in a broken world, it will not be seated at the Feast of Jesus when He makes all things new.
What good news…
March 22, 2014 § 1 Comment
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors… Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
This past week I was thrilled to meet up with an old friend and one of the most inspiring people I have ever known. When we first met, Jenni Gold was 10 years old and I was an 18 year-old volunteer church youth worker. Jenni has Muscular Dystrophy and was in a full body cast at the time, having had a steel rod surgically placed in her spine. Along with her parents, her two amazing sisters provided an environment of healing. The only thing they wouldn’t offer was sympathy, and this produced a will that far surpassed the strength of the rod in her back. We became fast friends, all of us. She fully entered into the life of our Youth Group. The word ‘limitation’ was not in her vocabulary. It still isn’t.
After graduating with a double major from the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Jenni, along with her husband Jeff, moved to California, determined to produce movies. Today she is the co-founder of Gold Pictures in Universal City, CA. On Wednesday we reunited in DC to see a viewing of her Documentary, CinemAbility, a stunningly beautiful film about the history of the entertainment industry in relation to people with disabilities. She was also in DC to accept the 2014 American Association of Persons with Disabilities Image Award, presented by Danny Woodburn (‘Mickey’ on Seinfeld!).
In accepting the award, Jenni sited Paul’s words in Philippians 4:13, thanking Christ who gives her strength, and so revealed the source of her amazing will and character. Somewhere along the way, in all she has endured and overcome, as a little girl, and since, Jenni met Jesus. And He has provided everything she needs to be nothing short of amazing.
She mounts up with wings like eagles. She runs and doesn’t grow weary. She walks and doesn’t faint.
And she happens to have MD.
It is Lent. The world is broken. Suffering is part of the daily narrative.
But Jesus has come. And in entering into our brokenness by subjecting Himself to temptation, sorrow and pain, even death, by His resurrection He has assured that until He returns, and regardless of our circumstances, we may dance to the song of His redemption.
Friends, there is no greater news…
Taken on Palm Sunday in 1977 when Jenni joined the church
November 16, 2013 § 1 Comment
“How I wish you could have known me in my strength.” Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
Last week, as we prepared to distribute the Lord’s Supper in our first worship service, one of our Elders, a lovely and faithful brother, dropped the trays he was to carry (Amazingly this doesn’t happen weekly by any who distribute the elements, ministers included. The trays are practically designed as ecclesiastical booby traps!).
Actually, they didn’t merely drop – they dropped, bounced and exploded out of his hands and onto my shirt, coat and pants, which meant that with no time to change in between services, I would preach our second with noticeably unfashionable grape blotches.
It’s a peculiar thing to walk around with such stains. At first I self-consciously offered explanations to any whose eyes wandered to the obvious (which was everyone). Few resisted opportunistic playful jabs.
The fact is, we carry our stains, and while most outside of us never detect them (and wouldn’t care if they did), without some intervening grace, we feel compelled to hide. Our own self-consciousness leaves us presuming that we could ever appear clean to the observing world.
This took me to our friend in the hospital that I wrote about a few weeks ago. He was in an accident in which ten of his twelve ribs were broken on the right side, some crushed and beyond surgical repair. Amazingly, doctors inform us that they will self-repair, that his ribs will find their way back to one another. Only they won’t exactly take the shape they had before the wreck. There will be bumps and funky angles involved – but they will heal – completely. And they will work.
With God it is never that we figure out how to escape our stains – or bumps – but that we finally rest in the love of a Father who likes us that way, believing that His repair is what He intended all along. In fact, our true escape is in no longer feeling the need to hide. As with Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh,’ Jacob’s limp and Christ’s scars, the unique contours of our broken lives become the identifying marks of God’s love and triumphs of His grace.
What better news could there be?
March 28, 2013 § 3 Comments
This evening, along with many congregations around the world, our church community will celebrate the night that Jesus met with His disciples in the Upper Room for what is commonly known as, ‘The Last Supper.’ Borrowing from a friend who pastors a church in San Francisco, for the past three years we have celebrated with a soup dinner, worship and the Lord’s Supper. It is a sweet time.
On the most surface of levels that night could not have been more disastrous for Jesus. Not only did He disclose his impending death, but also He had to arbitrate His friends’ objections, internal arguments and despair. Additionally, it was in that room that He confronted His chief betrayer, Judas. Later that evening He would be arrested, and the next day, put to death.
And yet there could not be a more hopeful dinner party than that evening, because in the midst of the sad news, the disappointed friends and the torment to visit Jesus until He died, came a promise: “I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29).
Though His friends could not see it, Jesus assured them – and us – that the end would not be the end, but the beginning that would find its greatest expression in God’s Kingdom. Interestingly this was the one and only feast that we know of Jesus inviting His friends to during His earthly ministry. This was His feast. I suspect that the food was incredible.
But it was only a taste. And by instituting the Lord’s Supper, He assured us that until the Kingdom comes and He once again sits with us, He will be our Feast.
Jesus will always be enough. What good news.