Rabbit Trails 4.1.18

Strains of Thought:

I recently finished Alan Jacob’s How to Think, and in looking at his other work I came across this article, which centers around the theme of technology and formation. I think you should read it. He labels our computers and cell phones ‘ecosystems of interruption technologies’ (let that sink in for a second), and then draws some lines that are important to notice:

Our “ecosystem of interruption technologies” affects our spiritual and moral lives in every aspect. By our immersion in that ecosystem we are radically impeded from achieving a “right understanding of ourselves” and of God’s disposition toward us. We will not understand ourselves as sinners, or as people made in God’s image, or as people spiritually endangered by wandering far from God, or as people made to live in communion with God, or as people whom God has come to a far country in order to seek and to save, if we cannot cease for a few moments from an endless procession of stimuli that shock us out of thought.

It has of course always been hard for people to come to God, to have a right knowledge of ourselves and of God’s threats and promises. I don’t believe it’s harder to be a Christian today than it has been at any other time in history. But I think in different periods and places the common impediments are different. The threat of persecution is one kind of impediment; constant technological distraction is another. Who’s to say which is worse?—even if it’s obvious which is more painful. But I really do think we are in new and uniquely challenging territory in our culture today, and I don’t believe that, in general, churches have been fully aware of the challenges—indeed, in many cases churches have made things worse.
When George Whitefield and John Wesley were preaching sermons that created the First Great Awakening, they almost always started by trying to arouse in their hearers a conviction of sin. The typical sequence of their sermons looked like this:
1. You are a sinner, though no more, or less, of a sinner than anyone else.

2. We sinners cannot rescue ourselves.

3. But God in his grace and love has come to rescue us.

4. So we need only to accept that grace and love, in penitence, to be reconciled to God.

But I don’t believe we can readily reach people today with the same sequence. The very idea that I am a sinner sends me groping for my smartphone to avoid unpleasant emotions. I think this will be especially true for the majority of North Americans whose basic default theology is what the sociologist of religion Christian Smith and his colleagues call Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. For such people an awareness of sin is going to be hard to achieve—certainly at the earlier stages of their Christian lives.

If you start groping for your smartphone at the hint of existential pain, then true knowledge of God is at danger of being pushed out of your waking moments. In her work, By the Renewing of Your Minds: The Pastoral Function of Christian Doctrine, Ellen Charry joins Jacobs’ reasoning:

Knowing God is the key to self-knowledge, and self-knowledge is the key to self-despair, and self-despair is the entry point for a sanctified life with God. (p232)

Self-despair is the entry point for a sanctified life with God. When you wake up to the false story of self-sufficiency and see yourself rightly – who you are in light of who God is – then you see God rightly, and you find yourself at the beginning of wisdom.

Things I’m listening to:

I’ve rekindled my relationship with Mars Hill Audio Journal. Man alive, this is a great thing. Well worth the investment of subscription.

James Bryan Smith hosts a podcast called Things Above, which he calls a podcast for ‘mind discipleship’ (e.g. setting your mind on *things above*). I’ve listened to just a few episodes, and appreciate the tone and trajectory of what I’m hearing.

Books I’ve been in contact with the last few weeks:

Kevin Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Doctrine
Dru Johnson, Human Rites: The Powers of Rituals, Habits, and Sacaments
Ellen Charry, By the Renewing of Your Minds: The Pastoral Function of Christian Doctrine

Quotes I’ve enjoyed:
Blessed, plainly, is that life which is not valued at the estimation of others, but is known, as judge of itself, by its own inner feelings. -Ambrose

I count myself as one of those who write as they learn and learn as they write. – Augustine

In the self-assured world of modernity people seek to make sense of the Scriptures, instead of hoping, with the aid of the Scriptures, to make sense of themselves. – Nicholas Lash

*This type of digest is proving to be a place for me to consolidate things I would normally put on social media. I’m trying to be better about doing it here than there, and I like how it gives space for thoughts to breathe some before they’re shared. I hope for shorter articles in-between, perhaps when summer is upon us.

rabbit trails – 3.8.19


I do a lot of reading, writing, and researching these days. I come across things I keep, things I want to share, and things I think others need to know about. These are often outside of the trail I’m on, but things I want to chase anyway. I’m still trying to write actual pieces and articles for this blog, this is a simply place to share the trails with you, and maybe you’ll find one to chase on your own, or together.  Enjoy. – MK


The Present-ness of Poetry

I think you should read poetry, and so does Meg Kelley. Her article, How Poetry Taught Me Presence, is a helpful push toward the settling nature of the verse, and why working through a stanza or two actually helps you re-enter your world. Kelley writes, “On the other side of the poem is an expanded appreciation of what simply is, including the simplicity in who we are, enabling us to walk out of the poem as someone else: the person who pays attention.”

If you want to work on paying better attention, the season of Lent that started this week is a great space for you to engage with poetry and focus your mind on the journey Jesus took toward his death. George Herbert, a faithful 17th century Welsh priest, wrote about the crux of Christian hope through the Savior’s vantage point in his work, The Sacrifice. If you had to start somewhere with poetry, start here.

 @danwhitejr on pastoral pain: 


Look at the stats on that tweet. Over two thousand likes, two hundred plus responses. I’ve found myself returning to this tweet several times over the last week because it has been hanging on the fringes of my mind. I read the comments. All of them. I read the threads around some of the retweets.

The pain of pastoral ministry is multifaceted and real. The loss of relationship when your vocation is treated as a commodity for relief from pain or help in crisis leaves indelible marks when things end in the type of ghosting Dan talks about here. It hurts to care for people. We are people with short memories and long records of caring for ourselves first. Dan struck a nerve with this, and then he spent time following up with people in the comments. He encouraged them toward getting professional help to sort through the emotional wounds incurred in the service of the people wounding them. It is a disorienting pain, because it doesn’t effect the pastor alone, but his wife, his children all feel the ripple effects of trying to sort the pain. As Dan recommends, and for more issues than this alone, spending time with a counselor on a routine basis is a healthy move for those in pastoral ministry.

@marksayers on spiritual ferment and breakthrough

My podcast library is pretty eclectic and ecumenical. A recent subscription is the Pattern Podcast out of Kings Cross church in London. It’s a podcast about the spiritual patterns of living that Christians are called toward in daily life. Mark Sayers joined them to talk about the practice of joy, and ended up giving a brief overview about why the patterns/habits/disciplines are necessary and needful for the Christian life.

In responding to a question about the historical nature of spiritual patterns/disciplines, Mark states a central question, then goes on to answer it: How do I use what the people of God have used throughout history to actually shape my life to one that reflects God’s kingdom, one that flourishes in how God wants it to flourish?

The people of God from the early church followed certains patterns which enabled them to exist in a way that was in sync with what God was doing in the between, where the kingdom is here but not here fully yet. So we still need to be formed. From the earliest times they prayed together, read the Scriptures together, they didn’t give up meeting together, they had times of solitude, times of sabbath. They’ve always been there since the times of the early church. There’s always a temptation to fall back on religiosity and often practices are good, but practices must have the presence. Practices without the presence become problematic, but also presence without practices can go loopy sometimes. So they work in synergy together.

He’s then asked about the interplay between spiritual disciplines and life in the Spirit: So there have been moments in the charismatic church where we’ve been a bit nervous of religiosity of ‘oh- spiritual disciplines’ – be careful – talk about how these disciplines and patterns actually release us into greater freedom.

Mark: The sort of image I’ve used recently for charismatics, for those of us who want to push into the Spirit’s power —I thought about this as I was opening a jat of pickles. I have been buying these expensive probiotics and then I was reading that I could just buy a cheap bottle of pickles. What’s interesting about the pickles is that they sit in this still space, and as they ferment they actually gain in power. So I started to think about it more, and for charismatics there is this time where the Spirit sends us out, we’re released and stuff happens—and we desire those times. There are other times where God has us fermenting, where nothing seems to be happening. But in those quieter times we’re actually going deeper in Christ, in a sense we ferment and the good bacteria goes deeper in us to be released into our system. So I see practices working like that – they are a discipline which teach us patience, and I think patience and relying on God speaking to us through these pattern ways balances out beautifully those moments of release by the Spirit.    

The ferment of habits, forming our character by the ordinary and patient means of the Spirit, joining the apostolic church in their daily practice of being recreated into the image of Christ. Dallas Willard calls these patterns something you do that over time enables you to become the kind of person for whom it is increasingly easier to do the things that Christ calls us to.

You can hear the whole interview here.



rabbit trails – 22.2.19

I do a lot of reading, writing, and researching these days. I come across things I keep, things I want to share, and things I think others need to know about. These are often outside of the trail I’m on, but things I want to chase anyway. I’m still trying to write actual pieces and articles for this blog, this is a simply place to share the trails with you, and maybe you’ll find one to chase on your own, or together.  Enjoy. – MK


Things I’m reading:

I’ve been waiting for Justin Earley’s book, The Common Rule to release for about six months, so to get a hard copy in the mail this week was a real treat.

The book is a work around habits, which according to Justin, ‘shape you more than you shape them.’ I’ve long been a fan of intentional habits, identity formation, and thoughtful living (Dallas Willard caught me young with The Divine Conspiracy) and Justin’s work is a standout addition to this genre of work.

The crux of the book centers around 4 daily habits, and 4 weekly habits – both of which are rhythms of embrace and resistance.

If I’m following what he’s suggesting, it means that each day I’m taking a moment to kneel in prayer 3x a day, I’m in the Word before I’m on my phone, I’m eating one meal with other people (engaged in conversation), and I’m spending an hour a day with my phone off (which enough reports tell you makes a significant mental difference in your presence with those around you).

On a weekly basis, I’m spending one hour a week in conversation with a friend, cultivating relationships (which is most preferable in person, fully present), I’m fasting from something for 24 hours, I’m taking a sabbath (to remind myself of being a creature with limits who should rejoice in their Creator), and I’m saving all the passive use of media (scrolling, surfing, binging) for a scheduled block of time rather than all the snippets of time, presence, and focus that I hand over between lights, pauses in conversation, or pings from my phone.

And the end of these habits is the formation of a person who is present, growing in love for God and love of our neighbors.

Justin’s voice is engaging and helpful as he shares what he’s wrestled through to make these thoughts clear. I have found myself thankful for a lot of sentences in this book that I can tell are the fruit of sustained thought. In fact, I have been using a nighttime blessing he wrote as part of our bedtime routine for the last eight months or so, and it is sowing the truth of God’s love into our children with succinct language that I’m thankful for.

Might just be something to what he’s saying.

In the same vein, when I first read Deep Work, I realized Cal Newport was a disruptive thinker within a social media generation. I’ve had his latest work, Digital Minimalism for about a week and a half, and I’m in the final chapter. Newport’s call is to reduce passive use of technology for the sake of re-instilling high quality leisure and activity to our lives – which is outside of our screens and in the real world with real people. There is better life, better habits, and greater work for us outside of the digital kingdoms we have been lured to control through companies monetizing our attention and neurobiology.

If you think that’s a dumb paragraph, then leave facebook, twitter, or instagram on your phone and try to stay away for more than four days. Little hits of dopamine are effective pulls back into technology.

Sherry Turkle wrote a brilliant work on this topic called Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. I was sobered, and chilled, by her work. Cal’s book is having the same effect. In fact, this Rabbit Trails series of posts is a way to thoughtfully put his directives into place. I can share with you what I’m enjoying in a controlled fashion without the pull of likes, hearts, double taps or messages to endlessly cycle back to. If you like anything or want to engage – you can email me and we get to move toward a real conversation.


One other:

If you haven’t heard or seen me reference Klyne Snodgrass’ work, Who God Says You Are: A Christian Understanding of Identity, then I owe you this: *you should read this book*. I’ve spent the last two years on somewhat of a dive into emotional health, relationships, dealing with shame, and christian identity and Klyne’s book is one I keep coming back to read again (the other is Curt Thompson’s The Soul of Shame).

What I like about Klyne’s book is that he handles the ordinary aspects of our life that we inherited, that we experience, and that we live out—then he shows how the gospel of Christ impacts and renovates all of these parts of life. The final chapter, An Appeal to be a Whole Person, is worth the price of the book.

My friend Lore Ferguson recently read it and said it is a contender for her book of the year, and being that is February, I feel like that is a strong rec.  Read it. Thank me later.


Things I’m enjoying:

The Bible Project‘s app Read Scripture has been the missing link in a yearly reading plan that I didn’t know I needed, but am thankful for. Their videos are worked into each book, giving you an overview of major themes and content, then leading you into a few chapters at a time and a psalm. Try it out! It’s free, and awesome.

The Leader’s Journey Podcast has been something I’ve been sure to catch the last six months or so. They have done a helpful series on emotional intelligence, and are in the middle of one on trauma informed leadership. Not sure I need to say much else than you should spend a minute and look at their lineup.

Lastly, my colleagues run a podcast called Knowing Faith, and I think it is wonderful. Hearing three friends (and guests!) talk through topics of faith and help make hard things a bit clearer is a real treat—and help—to the church. I’m thankful Kyle had the vision, and I’m thankful this is something our church supports. I have met people from all over the country who listen to and are benefitting from the meat of this podcast. Give it a listen.

Things I need to remember: 

The evening is a time of vulnerability. (Earley)

Opening the household table on a regular basis creates an undercurrent of the Christian life that mimics the adoption ethic. The table is open, not closed. (Earley)

Leave good evidence of yourself. Do good work. (Gary Rogowski via Newport)

Lastly, as I am trying to turn towards lent and Easter, I found myself listening (once again) to Andrew Peterson and shedding tears on the way to work after three little words: His heart beats.

Easter is coming, friends.

Shame on us.

Shame gets on us from the inside. Wielded like a sword by sin, it separates us from our own selves, from others, and from God.

As you head into another year, may this be a space for you to sit still enough to begin to hear where shame drives you apart – from yourself, from others, and from God.

These two songs have been ringing around in my head about the battle of this voice, and the struggle to hear true words in the middle of wishing I’d done, I’d been better.

Beloved in Christ, shame’s story isn’t the end for you.
May we hear the voice of the Father louder each day.




Abide in My Love.

Last Sunday I preached my final sermon as one of the pastors at The Village Church Fort Worth. This Friday I begin a new role as the Director of the Training Program within The Village Church Institute.

We spent the time looking at John 15, and the love of God for those in Christ Jesus. I’ve spent the last 15+ months in this passage, praying and pleading in a season of pruning and pressing to abide. I was thankful to end five years with these people in this passage, looking at the love of Jesus.

I’ve been using the same language for us as a people, hopeful it would sink into our thoughts as a congregation:

God is who he says that he is, and what he says about you is true.

I caught myself in this season needing to nuance it for my own heart:

God is who he says that he is, and what he says about you – what he says about how he feels about you – is true.

Help us believe this, Lord.

Here’s the audio.

Good Friday: The Tomb Filled

Note: We walked through this tonight in our Good Friday service. As with my preparation for Palm Sunday, Kostenberger and Taylor’s work, The Final Days of Jesus, has been a rich aid in studying the text and preparing messages for this week. I recommend you get a copy of their works for both lent and advent.

I pray the visual below helps you enter into Christ’s grief as you look upon the cross this Good Friday.

This morning, as you were driving to work, possibly settling in at your desk,  getting your youngest up from their nap, or headed to class – Pilate was having a tense conversation with the Holy Men, the Priests, and Pharisees – and Pilate seems to be losing.

Try as he might, Pilate can’t agree with them about the threat level of this man Jesus. He keeps trying to turn Jesus loose, and the Holy Men finally threaten to write a heated email and cc Pilate’s boss (Caesar), along with a few tersely worded tweets about how Pilate can’t do his job unless he does what they want.

And Pilate is nervous. His wife is telling him she’s had a dream about Jesus, and he should back away quickly. Jesus is puzzling him, because he’s not acting like any terrorist or criminal Pilate’s ever seen. There is something not right. The only thing he can sense for sure is the envy of the Priests that Jesus is threatening their popularity and power.

The threat against his loyalty to Caesar is enough for Pilate. Surprisingly it comes from the High Priests of God, who should be looking for the Kingdom of God  – but who deny God’s King, pledging their loyalty to King Caesar as they condemn King Jesus.

This week has left the holy men, the priests, scribes and Pharisees, thirsty for revenge, and ready to let Jesus taste their power – real power – as they know how to work a crowd, move the mob, and push Rome’s buttons.

These priests, these keepers of the house of God, get what it is to make things happen. They’ve pressed and pushed throughout the night without sleep – but it’s been worth it for this moment – because now no one is singing Hosanna for the prophet, there is no praise for Jesus. There are no palm branches or royal carpets today.

The faithful have left town, and the remnant that was here before has remained after. What change did Jesus even think he could make in five days? Look at him next to Pilate, unable to shield his eyes from the morning sun, his hands bound behind his back. He looks so weak now. No pithy questions, no high judgments from his mouth anymore. In fact, he’s said next to nothing all night. Like a little lamb, he’s been silent.

And now this lamb is the scourge of Rome. Time to hand him off and watch the work of the holy men play out.

Jesus has been surrounded by crowds this week.

On the hills outside town, a kingly welcome by a longing people.

In the temple, a mixed room of open ears and blind eyes, hope and hatred in every degree.

In the moonlit shadows of the garden, pawns and puppet masters come to arrest him.

All morning an angry mob of Jews, screaming for his death at the freedom of a known terrorist.

And this morning, Pilate has sent him to a battalion of Roman soldiers to be prepared for crucifixion. Here is Jesus: tied to a post – hands outstretched in front of him, a shirtless man surrounded by 600 yelling, mocking, snide, belittling roman soldiers.

And one fierce whip: The Scourge. Nine strands of leather knotted with glass and metal. It often took the lives of many sentenced to crucifixion before they ever made it out of the yard.

Imagine the angle, looking down from above. The white sand, a red speck surrounded by a thick pulsing, moving shiny outer ring. One man, standing in his blood, alone in the center of 600 angry voices, pacing, threatening, harming with each minute.

Hear their cries.

Now mute their voices. 

Hear the crack of the whip.

The Gospels give little to no details of the agony of the cross. Most times you hear specifics referenced, people are trying to give color and context to the pain and punishment Christ experienced, and for some reason – the bible doesn’t lay it out for you. It’s not for shock or sensation – but for sight that we think on Christ’s suffering. Blindness, evil blindness is ruling this day, and we need to know sight is possible.

Some of those 600 probably sat down for lunch while Jesus’s hands and feet were nailed in place. They had their fun. Can you see them eating now,  joking about the robe and the crown?

While some of you worked through lunch, and others of you made PB&J’s for the third day in a row, Jesus was crucified.

And his mom watched it happen. Can you feel her tears? Her boy, losing blood by the second, nailed to a log and being yelled at by a crowd. Her boy, whom she bled to bring into the world, now bleeds as he leaves it, and she can’t make it stop.  

The Pharisees watched it too – and they didn’t want it to stop. Look what they made happen. They took in the full view, they heard the crowd damning his name, and it was sweet music to them – they were back in power.

You can feel their satisfaction. No more “woe to you, hypocrites”. No more threats.

Imagine the smugness in their eyes, the sick joy in their voice as they get close enough to his feet, but far enough to keep clean from his blood. Looking at Jesus, they are drunk with power. One priest stands before the others, in front of the people, and loudly says:

“He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.” (Matthew 27:42-43)

Little do they know how much The Father desires the Son. These Holy Men have no sight for the players they are in a cosmic war. They see themselves generals, and they are lego men – but their words, their hate, their worldly authority are daggers at Jesus, because you cannot separate his humanity and his deity – for he is himself. He, human and divine, is nailed to the wood, and he, human and divine, has to endure these insults, this pain, and the next few hours until his death.

And while you were cleaning up from lunch, washing dishes, or heading back to the office, the sun went dark. Now the moon was full last night, so it’s no solar eclipse. It is the brightest and hottest part of the day. It’s an early Spring afternoon, and it’s black as night outside.

If you’re able to think above the sadness, or see past your hate – the darkness in midday might make you pause for a second.

Zoom out from this scene, and onto the wide scale of what’s happening – authors say this kind of darkness has typically meant three things among God’s people in the Old Testament:

  • It is a sign that humans are ignorant of their sin.
  • It is a sign of Divine Lament.
  • And it is a sign of Divine Judgement.  

Jesus is on the cross, and the sky has turned black.

Just this week he told the parable, and now they play it out: The owner of the vineyard sent his son, and they killed him and threw him out – wanting the inheritance for themselves.

The darkness could be all three: sin, lament, and judgment.

The Pharisees yell: He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him.

And they echo Psalm 22:
7 All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
8 “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Christ knew his life was required. Hebrews 12 tells us that it was the joy set before him that helped him endure.

And in the middle his pain, in the middle of his body failing: his shoulders long out of socket, his legs cramping, his lungs filling with fluid and every breath a struggle, God begins to pour out his wrath on sin.

Unseen by our eyes, Angels watch on in confusion, and Demon smiles drop as God moves, not to rescue the Son, but to punish him, the sinless, for all sin.

Divine judgment on rebellion, lust, addiction, stolen glances, misplaced hopes, anger, proud moments and stubborn hearts. His hatred of arrogance, lying, cheating, abuse, murder, of twistedness and darkness and evil.

His right punishment of all things that have come and gone, and that will come and go against his perfect standard, design, and creation – God’s divine judgment is poured out on the only sacrifice that is able to absorb, pay for, and shield others from all that is deserved by sin and should be felt by sinners.

Absorb. Pay for. Shield.

These actions are coated in Christ’s grief – they are colored with his blood. Living in perfect unity and presence with his father – he feels – for the first and only time in his life, a relationship destroyed by the weight of sin.

But he feels it on the scale of every broken relationship rolled into one, an unimaginable absence of love and affection and presence and stability and safety while he is bleeding out on a cross, yelled at by men who mock his name and his father – while his mother and his friends look on.

It is the most unbearable part of the day, and Christ is alone in it.

He alone experiences this grief – and he doesn’t give in to death in the middle of it.

After a few hours, the crowd had grown quiet watching these three men, many probably left knowing that death was imminent. It’s about when you started thinking of what was for dinner or leaving early to beat Friday traffic. By mid-afternoon, it had likely grown quiet on the hill outside town.

One poet uses the mocker’s words, and imagines Jesus thinking to himself: But, O my God, my God! why leav’st thou me, The son, in whom thou dost delight to be?

And the dark silence is broken as Jesus cries out loud: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46)

A little while later, through bruised ribs and spent strength, he pulls himself up for a breath, and with exhaustion and tears, says, “It is finished.”

That same poet, some 1800 years later would write this moment from Christ’s voice:

But now I die; now all is finished.
My woe, man’s wealth: and now I bow my head.
Only let others say, when I am dead,
                                             Never was grief like mine.

This is our King. Dead upon the cross.





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.

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