THURSDAY: THE UPPER ROOM & THE GARDEN

THURSDAY: THE UPPER ROOM & THE GARDEN

Note: On Palm Sunday, I preached from Christ’s triumphal entry to his arrest in the garden this Thursday night (audio here). Having spent time studying the Gospel accounts and reading The Final Days of Jesus by Kostenberger and Taylor, I tried to lay out the narrative for our congregation’s eyes – hoping we could see more of Jesus together in the text. Below is the portion of my manuscript for Thursday, where we find Jesus and his disciples celebrating the Passover feast, and we end the night watching from the shadows of olive trees as Jesus is betrayed and arrested like a common thief. May it serve you as you look to enter into Christ’s grief this week, and as we approach tomorrow, Good Friday -the tomb filled- then Easter Sunday, when it was found empty.


It’s Thursday: Passover. This is the day, and by Old Testament law, the meal has to be eaten inside the city walls. Everyone is making plans, homes are full of relatives and the lines at the checkout are full of last minute shoppers.

Jesus knows that it’s going to be a long night, and his heart is heavy with what is ahead. You can’t separate his deity and humanity, it’s wrong to think he enters into this evening without emotion, fear, or the call for courage in the face of grief and pain.

Jesus is not a victim of circumstance or of power outside his control. He has been, is and will be in control at each turn of this week – regardless of what worldly power and demonic minds think is at play.

But tonight is his last meal to eat before he dies.

Tonight is his final chance to sit with his friends before their last three years are changed forever. It is their last supper together.

And tonight is a different kind of Passover, it is the last Passover of Old Covenant.

The blood of the lamb of God brings in a different and stronger word – the New Covenant is coming.

Given that this past week has made him a bit of a celebrity – where Jesus spends Passover is a big deal. It seems like he arranged dinner ahead time, and maybe with some secrecy.

I say this because when the disciples asked about dinner plans – he sent them find a man who was looking for them. It was already taken care of. Dinner that night was in a house at end the street, in a large upstairs room with high windows. There were a couple of columns spread wide across the room, a low table in the middle and cushions set out in a U shape to lean on while they ate. Jesus is sitting in the middle of the center table, and everyone is laying on their side, leaning on their left arms, feet out from the table, eating and drinking with their right hand.

The gospels all give nuanced accounts of dinner that night. It’s not that they saw or heard different things – they’re writing a narrative and include what hits their target audience best. That’s part of why I made that hybrid out of Mark.

John includes the most robust description of the night, detailed chapters about dinner and what Christ taught over the meal – but he doesn’t address what we call The Last Supper, what we know as communion. The synoptics, Matthew, Mark and Luke cover this in a pretty tight fashion. Like earlier, I mashed together their versions to help us today.

As we read this text, know that we’re standing together against the inside wall of the upper room. You can see the sun fading outside the windows, as stars will soon begin to show. The candles and lamps are lit inside, and the table is set for a  feast. Where it has been a triumphant week for many, the air in the room has turned sober. Jesus is talking about being betrayed, about suffering, about his body breaking, his blood spilling, about leaving – and a Helper coming.

We pick up in Mark 14:

[Mark 14:17] And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. [18] And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” [19] They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” [20] He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. [21] For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”   

[Matthew 26: 25] Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”

[Luke 22: 15] And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. [16] For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” [17] And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. [18] For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” [19] And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” [20] And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

As there had been at many points that week, I’m sure a couple glances were shared between the disciples. They didn’t quite get what he was saying, but Jesus knew. Like I said, purposeful little anchors in memory. John says that Jesus does this so that when the disciples are sifted, they can remember he told them ahead of time. Jesus does this that their faith might be strengthened in their persecution. Jesus loved them, and looked out for them to the end.

We can tell from where we’re standing that the plates are empty – the meal is done, and there is one less of them at the table. Judas left early, some think to buy forgotten food or run an errand, we saw Jesus tell him something and then he was gone.

Throughout the meal we’ve heard them sing several times, but now, before the table is cleared and things are done – tradition calls for the final song: Psalm 118.

As we stand in the shadows of the room, the sun is long gone, the moonlight hits the rooftops around us, and the faces inside are lit only by flickers of lamplight. Their voices begin to echo off the stone walls.

And as we watch this circle of friends, of disciples and their Lord singing, we hear these words come from their mouths. One wonders Christ’s own thoughts as he sang, both text and subtext, together in his voice:

Psalm 118

[1] Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!

[5] Out of my distress I called on the LORD;
the LORD answered me and set me free.
[6] The LORD is on my side; I will not fear.
What can man do to me?
[7] The LORD is on my side as my helper;
I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.

[14] The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.

[17] I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the LORD.
[18] The LORD has disciplined me severely,
but he has not given me over to death.

[19] Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the LORD.
[20] This is the gate of the LORD;
the righteous shall enter through it.
[21] I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.

[22] The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.

[23] This is the LORD’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.

[24] This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

[28] You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God; I will extol you.
[29] Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!

After they sing, they leave through a door in the far corner off to our right, and head down the stairs, into the street. The Bible tells us they are headed to the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prays and wrestles his will to the ground with his own blood. He prays for his disciples, his friends. He prays for those who would come to believe in him – for you and me.

On the last night of his life, Jesus prays that God would let us see his Glory, be one with him, and that God would keep us from evil. Jesus asks his Father that we might be a sign to the world, in unity and love, that He, Jesus, our King, is the true son, sent by the Father.

As we stand now in the darkness of the garden, we’re again hidden in the shadows, this time by thick olive trees, squatty trunks as round as tires and heavy with branches.

Jesus is walking toward us. Exhausted from prayer, he comes back to find his three friends, Peter, James, and John sleeping just off to our left. Their spirit is willing, but their flesh is weak.

If there is any time to be awake – you would think it is now. These three have already been woken up twice by Jesus – but it’s late, the meal was long, the wine is heavy, and their bodies are tired. Jesus rouses them once more, saying something about it being time.

Wait, what are they looking at? Do you hear it? The footsteps? Do you see the torchlight? There is a mob coming quickly in the darkness.

There’s an awkward greeting, the hug of a friend, a kiss of betrayal, and a night of injustice ahead.

His is a heart full of grief, like no one has ever known.

Righteous, victorious and humble.

This is our King, and this is his hour.

Tuesday in the Temple

Tuesday in the Temple

On Palm Sunday, I preached from Christ’s triumphal entry to his arrest in the garden this Thursday night (audio here). Having spent time studying the Gospel accounts and reading The Final Days of Jesus by Kostenberger and Taylor, I tried to lay out the narrative for our congregation’s eyes – hoping we could see more of Jesus together in the text. Below is the portion of my manuscript for Tuesday, where we find Jesus in the temple. May it serve you as you look to enter into Christ’s grief this week, and as we approach Good Friday -the tomb filled- then Easter Sunday, when it was found empty.

 


Jesus is back in the Temple, and the religious leaders have a plan: it’s time to trip Jesus up in front of the crowd. Their goal is to discredit him, shame him or quiet him. It’s time to show the people who is really in charge.

We pick up in Mark 11:27–33

[27] And they came again to Jerusalem. And as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him, [28] and they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?”

Tell us Jesus, who do you think you are? We are the ones with authority here in the Temple – we are the High Priests.

[29] Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. [30] Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.”

[31] And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ [32] But shall we say, ‘From man’?”—they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet. [33] So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

Got’em. You can see it – they were afraid of the people, so they punted. This is happening real time in public because they want an audience. They want to get the crowd back. But it’s not working, and now everybody is paying attention.

Jesus leans in with three parables, all pointed at the Priests, Scribes and Pharisees – and they are not subtle. He brings the parables of the two sons, the tenants, and the wedding feast. They’re each a sermon in themselves – so hear this: they all point to the religious leaders as unbelieving, treacherous, disobedient, and out of the kingdom. Jesus is exposing their hypocrisy and pronouncing judgement just as publicly as they questioned his authority.

Can you imagine the crowd at that point? What level of shaming, jeering, disdain or shock do you hear in the air? Or was it just awkward silence and hard stares?

What color is the rage in the hearts of the priests?

They can’t find a good way to arrest Jesus without inciting a riot. They are afraid of the mob – and they want the hearts of the people. They’re stuck – but they keep trying to trick him into incriminating or discrediting himself. There are legal and theological questions put before him, all tricks with the end goal of Roman arrest or religious heresy.

Jesus answers them all perfectly. He finds the third way and leaves them speechless, some of them awed, but most doubling down with resentment and anger.

At this point, Jesus seems ready to be done with it. He leans in again with his own question: Here’s Matthew 22:42–46

[Jesus asks,] “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,

“Sit at my right hand,

until I put your enemies under your feet”’?

If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.”

If you’re in the crowd, This is your guy! He’s your 16 seed upset and the top team just got shut down.

With the Priests and Pharisees silenced, Jesus lets them have it in front of the crowd.

He spends 36 verses – which took me just under 5 minutes to mouth quietly in Starbucks, which was probably awesome to watch. Jesus puts them on blast and pronounces 7 woes with specific accusations about their character, sin and condemnation. And he does it in the temple, in front of the crowd, to their face.

You can read it at length for yourself, but in Matthew 23 he makes statements like this:

Jesus, talking to the Priests, Scribes and Pharisees in front of the crowd and his disciples:

[2] “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, [3] so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. [4] They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. [5]

[13] “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.

[17] You blind fools!

[25] “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.

[27] “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. [28] So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

[33] You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?

Jesus isn’t playing anymore. He didn’t come to align himself with the Priests and Pharisees. There are no more veiled statements or subtle parables – they’ve poked enough today, and the day is ending with everyone clear about where Jesus stands: the old way of life in the temple is over, and the Priests, Scribes and Pharisees were just put on notice that their time is up.

What do you feel, standing in the crowd? After hearing Jesus say all that to the so-called Holy Men?  What do you feel right now? How tense is that room?

Now what would you feel if you were the Priests and Pharisees? You can’t even get a word in, you just want this guy to shut up and go back to the sticks. Now he’s in your face in front of everyone and he’s reading your mail. Every shame you hide, every space you lie to yourself, and he’s dropping truth bombs all over your self-made kingdom.

What are you feeling? They feel threatened. Cornered. Insulted. Red-faced, tight jaws. Some of them are confused, some near to truth, but all of them are blind. And they don’t like feeling like this. They’re not used to feeling like this.

That evening, as Jesus leaves the temple, he says to his disciples:

“You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.” Matthew 26:2 

And while they walk back to Bethany, a group of men, still in town, meet up in the dark of night, behind locked doors, and start talking.

You know this kind of talk. The airing of complaints, of frustration, of mounting anger and wounded pride. Air swirling with “How dare he? Who does he think he is? Doesn’t he know who I am, who we are? Someone needs to shut him up. Did you see the way the crowd looked at him? The way they looked at us. This is getting out of hand.”

And then a plan comes together. A plan to make him be quiet, to make an example of him, and to teach the crowd who to follow.

“Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, [4] and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. [5] But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.” Matthew 26: [3-5]

They can’t arrest Jesus with everyone in town, it’d be too risky. He’s too popular. The quickest they could do it is after dinner on Thursday. The Passover meal will be over, and people will be sleeping off dinner, or leaving town to get ahead of the traffic. With the crowds lessening, and under darkness – they can put things in motion that will make him pay.

Herbert’s Prayers Before & After Preaching

Herbert’s Prayers Before & After Preaching

Before Sermon:

O Almighty and ever-living Lord God! Majesty, and Power, and Brightness and Glory! How shall we dare to appear before your face, we who are contrary to you in all we call you? For we are darkness, and weakness, and filthiness, and shame. Misery and sin fill our days: yet you are our Creator and we your work. Your hands both made us, and also made us lords of all thy creatures; giving us one world in ourselves, and another to serve us; Then you placed us in Paradise, and were proceeding still on in your favours, until we interrupted your counsels, disappointed your purposes, and sold our God, our glorious, our gracious God for an apple. O write it! O brand it in our foreheads for ever: for an apple once we lost our God, and still lose him for no more; for money, for meat, for diet; But you Lord are patience, and pity, and sweetness, and love; therefore we sons of men are not consumed. You have exalted your mercy above all things and you have made our salvation, not our punishment, to be your glory: so that then where sin abounded, not death, but grace superabounded. Accordingly, when we had sinned beyond any help in heaven or earth, then you said, Lo, I come! Then did the Lord of life, unable himself to die, contrive to do it. He took flesh, he wept, he died; For his enemies he died; even for those that derided him then, and still despise him. Blessed Saviour! Many waters could not quench your love! Nor no pit overwhelm it. But though the streams of your blood were current through darkness, grave and hell; yet by these your conflicts, and seemingly hazards, you did rise triumphant, and therein made us victorious.

Neither does your love yet stay here! For this word of your rich peace and reconciliation you have committed not to thunder, or angels, but to silly and sinful men: even to me, pardoning my sins and bidding him go feed the people of your love.

Blessed be the God of Heaven and Earth! Who only does wondrous things. Awake therefore, my lute, and my viol! Awake all my powers to glorify you! We praise you! We bless you. We magnify you forever! And now, O Lord! In the power of your victories, and in the ways of your ordinances, and in the truth of your love, lo, we stand here, beseeching you to bless your word, wherever spoken this day throughout the universal Church. O make it a word of power and peace, to convert those who are not yet yours, and to confirm those that are: particularly, bless it in this your own kingdom, which you’ve made a land of light, a store-house of your treasures and mercies: O let not our foolish and unworthy hearts rob us of the continuance of this your sweet love: but pardon our sins and perfect what you’ve begun. Ride on Lord! because of the word of truth and meekness and righteousness; and your right hand shall teach you terrible things. Especially, bless this portion here assembled together, with your unworthy servant speaking unto them: Lord Jesu! Teach me, that I may teach them: sanctify, enable all my powers, that in their full strength they may deliver your message reverently, readily, faithfully and fruitfully. O make your word a swift word, passing from the ear to the heart, from the heart to the life and conversation: that as the rain returns not empty, so neither may your word, but accomplish that for which it is given. O Lord hear, O Lord forgive! O Lord, harken, and do so for your blessed Son’s sake in whose sweet and pleasing words, we say, “Our Father…”

After Sermon: 

Blessed be God! And the Father of all mercy! Who continues to pour his benefits upon us. You have elected us, you have called us, you have justified us, sanctified and glorified us. You were born for us, and you lived and died for us. You have given us the blessings of this life and of a better. O Lord! Your blessings hang in clusters, they come trooping upon us! They break forth like mighty waters on every side. And now Lord, you have fed us with the bread of life: so man did eat angels’ food: O Lord, bless it: O Lord make it health and strength unto us; still striving and prospering so long within us until our obedience reach the measure of your love, who has done for us as much as may be. Grant this dear Father, for your Son’s sake, our only Saviour: to whom with you, and the Holy Ghost, three Persons, but one most glorious, incomprehensible God, be ascribed all Honour, and Glory, and Praise, ever. Amen.

 

 

George Herbert, Collected Works (Everyman’s Library) 255-6.

The Way of Pain – Wendell Berry

The Way of Pain – Wendell Berry

Reading an old collection of Wendell’s poems tonight, and came across The Way of Pain. It’s a lenten poem if I’ve ever read one, four stanzas looking toward Jerusalem.

The Way of Pain

1.
For parents, the only way
is hard. We who give life
give pain. There is no help.
Yet we who give pain
give love; by pain we learn
the extremity of love.

2.
I read of Abraham’s sacrifice
the Voice required of him,
so that he led to the altar
and the knife his only son.
The beloved life was spared
that time, but not the pain.
It was the pain that was required.

3.
I read of Christ crucified,
the only begotten Son
sacrificed to flesh and time
and all our woe. He died
and rose, but who does not tremble
for his pain, his loneliness,
and the darkness of the sixth hour?
Unless we grieve like Mary
at His grace, giving Him up
as lost, no Easter morning comes.

4.
And then I slept, and dreamed
the life of my only son
was required of me, and I
must bring him to the edge
of pain, not knowing why.
I woke, and yet that pain
was true. It brought his life
to the full in me. I bore him
suffering, with love like the sun,
too bright, unsparing, whole.

Wendell Berry

And with thy knife but prune and PARE,

And with thy knife but prune and PARE,

I’ve been back with my copy of George Herbert the last few weeks, sitting and retracing his lines in the evening. They seem to give more with each pass, and are a fruitful space. Here is one I enjoyed tonight:

 

Paradise

I Bless thee, Lord, because I GROW
Among thy trees, which in a ROW
To thee both fruit and order OW.

What open force, or hidden CHARM
Can blast my fruit, or bring me HARM,
While the inclosure is thine ARM.

Inclose me still for fear I START.
Be to me rather sharp and TART,
Then let me want thy hand and ART.

When thou dost greater judgments SPARE,
And with thy knife but prune and PARE,
Ev’n fruitfull trees more fruitful ARE.

Such sharpness shows the sweetest FREND:
Such cuttings rather heal then REND:
And such beginnings touch their END.

Easter is Coming: a Homily for Lent.

Easter is Coming: a Homily for Lent.

Luke 22:39–46

[39] And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. [40] And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” [41] And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, [42] saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” [43] And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. [44] And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. [45] And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, [46] and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (ESV)

 

The disciples and Jesus have just finished dinner together in the upper room. When they were done eating, they stood and sang together, they sang a portion of the psalms that dealt with suffering, death, and deliverance.

After singing, Jesus led Peter James and John to the garden to pray. The moon lights the top of the olive trees, these wide canopies that spread out, causing thick darkness under and between them in the garden.

The disciples are spent. They’re emotionally worn out, confused, scared, and it’s late.

There is no coffee, they just ate a long meal and shared wine– and now they’re in the dark, kneeling, praying, leaning against trees in comfortable stillness.

And Jesus says, keep awake! Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.

In Matthew and Mark’s Gospels, they talk of how Christ went off to pray, and came back twice to find Peter James and John asleep. “Peter!, he says, “You couldn’t stay awake one hour?!?“ “The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

There were good intentions to stay awake, but they gave into comfort, they gave into exhaustion, and they slept.

You and I have the privileged position of looking at this night in history and thinking, “Come on! Stay awake! Don’t you know what is about to happen and who he really is?!?”

But how often have you chosen comfort over looking to Jesus?

Chosen distraction over facing reality?

Slid into sleep to escape pain, overwhelm, or fear?

Meanwhile there is Jesus, wrestling his will to the ground with his own blood.

Lent helps us to stay awake.

It’s a practice to align our hearts by walking away from comfort

To align our will with the Father’s

As a friend says, ‘to follow the pattern of the self-emptying Jesus,’

Instead of the pattern of our self-protecting flesh.

46 days to keep watching and praying.

Asking God to give us a sense, a taste, a sight of the weight that Christ bore right here in the garden, surrendering his will to the Father’s, all the way until he declared it done, “It is finished.”

Lent is a rhythm of fasting and feasting.

We enter into discomfort, into self-denial, because Easter is coming.

And He’s calling us to stay awake, to watch, to pray.

That we might not enter into temptation

That we might be prepared for suffering as it comes

And that we might worship in knowing He endured suffering that we might be made whole.

Be Kind to Yourself.

Be Kind to Yourself.

In a conversation about counseling methods this year, a friend made the statement that people will begin to share things and their voice will shake, or they will fight down tears. They will apologize and try to hurry on, and he will encourage them to recognize these signs from their body that are trying to get past their words and be noticed. We are embodied creatures, and often we fight to be all head and expect our bodies to just keep up. They betray us, and can feel things better than our thoughts can at times.

Which is partially why I was grateful and a little surprised while standing at the kitchen island this morning, serving pancakes to my daughter, and in a moment I went from singing to tears as the song behind me turned over a new verse:

Well how does it end when the war that you’re in
Is just you against you against you
Gotta learn to love, learn to love
Learn to love your enemies too

You can’t expect to be perfect
It’s a fight you’ve gotta forfeit
You belong to me whatever you do
So lay down your weapon, darling
Take a deep breath and believe that I love you

Be kind to yourself.

I’ve heard Andrew say that he wrote this song for his daughter, and then realized how much he needed it himself. This morning, looking at my own daughter, thinking of all I hope for her in these words and the years ahead, I hit the same stop in my own road: that I needed to take a deep breath myself, and believe. My tears betrayed my disbelief, and my weariness of it.

God is so good to meet us in moments like this. How generous He is to his children.

Maybe you need to hear these words too. Take a moment and listen to Andrew singing with his daughter (and his son on drums):