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Good Friday – “You Did That For Me” – Day 38 of Lent

Crucifixion copy For Good Friday, I invite you to listen to this recording of my colleague and Beeson classmate Steve Dunmire singing Pierce Pettis and Jonell Mosser's beautiful song, "You Did That for Me." Steve recorded this on Good Friday morning in his office. I hope that it blesses you at the end of this important day. 

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 "You Did That For Me "
(Pierce Pettis, Jonell Mosser)

Don’t have to cry anymore
Don’t have to worry ‘bout what’s in store
Walk that road exhausted and poor
Don’t have to cry anymore

Don’t have to know it all
Don’t have to be so proud, stand so tall
Climb that mountain only to fall
Don’t have to know it all

You did that for me
You did that for me
You wore the chains so I could be free
You did that for me

Don’t have to be ashamed
Don’t have to hang my head,
Shoulder the blame
Wondering if my life’s been in vain
Don’t have to be ashamed

Man of sorrow
Well-acquainted with grief
Dragged to the city dump
Spread-eagle on a cross beam
Propped up like a scarecrow,
Nailed like a thief

There for all the world to see 

A Mandate and a Meal – Day 38 of Lent

Last_Supper  Tonight, Christians around the world will gather around a table to remember Jesus' Last Supper with his disciples. Whether it's in a local church in Park City, a cathedral in England, an open air church in Africa, or an underground house church in North Korea, and regardless of the native language of those gathered at the table, these powerful signs of bread and cup point us to the reality of the lengths which God has gone to save us through the sacrifice of Christ. Think of the elements as a kind of universal "sign language" that communicates the good news of Christ in shorthand. 

"Maundy" Thursday is so named from the Latin word "maundatum," which means "command" and from which we derive the word "mandate." It's a reference to John's Gospel, where Jesus commands his disciples gathered at the table to "love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34-35). This muddled group of men, each with his own ambitions and desires, each with his own expectations of the kind of kingdom Jesus was going to bring to power, was confused by Jesus' behavior and words at the table. Jesus had washed their feet, doing the job of the lowliest servant, had re-interpreted some the symbols of the Passover meal to include himself as the sacrificial centerpiece, and had quieted the disciples' bickering by issuing them this last commandment–to love…always, to love one another. That was how they would be known as his disciples.

Some two thousand years later, we still celebrate the meal but we're still trying to figure out how to love one another. Recently we were again reminded that there are groups out there who call themselves "Christian militias" who perpetrate violence against their supposed enemies rather than love. Jesus' command would seem to make "Christian militia" a gross oxymoron. We read about other Christians whose anger at those with whom they disagree leads to name-calling and threats. The politics of the day polarize us and pull us away from the politics of the Kingdom, whose currency and capital is love for all, especially for those with whom we struggle. When we choose malice over mercy, rancor over righteousness, and politics over prayer, we are far from what Jesus called us to be. 

Yet, Jesus' command still stands. Tonight when we break the bread and drink the cup, we cannot miss the fact that Jesus was the victim of the world's worst hatred–his body broken and his blood shed by those who saw him as a threat or a charlatan. Holding bread and cup in our hands, however, we remember that the broken and bleeding Jesus forgave even those who tormented, tortured and killed him because "they [did] not know what they were doing." He loved even those who crucified him, and calls us to love in the same way. 

In the early church, and even in today's liturgy, one of the acts the church engages in before receiving the elements is to pass the peace. This isn't merely to be a greeting time, rather it was designed so that those in the church who had disagreements or disputes with one another could speak together and be reconciled and at peace with one another before coming to the table. 

As you hear Jesus' command, "love one another as I have loved you," on this Maundy Thursday, with whom do you need to be reconciled? To whom do you need to turn your malice into mercy and your griping into grace? It may be someone close to you, or someone you don't even know personally but you're angry at what they've said or done. As you pick up the bread and the cup tonight, lay down your anger and hatred and ponder Jesus' command and example–to love.

Jesus vs. Christ – Day 37 of Lent

Goodmanjesus  Every year at this time, you can guarantee it, there's some kind of controversial article or book that's published about some aspect of the Jesus story that will ostensibly shock or shake the long-held assumptions of Christian faith. We've had the DaVinci Code, the Talpiot tomb, the counterfeit Shroud of Turin, The Gospel of Judas, Thomas, and others…each trying to some way to challenge the history of Christianity or show the church in a conspiratorial light. Never mind that the authors of such material rarely, if ever, deal with actual evidence or accepted historical method. In these days of the internet, if someone publishes something there's a certain segment of the population that will take it as gospel, regardless of its origins.

This year's conspiracy du jour is found in a new novel by bestselling British author Philip Pullman (who wrote the atheist-tinged The Golden Compass). In The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, Pullman speculates that Jesus had an evil twin brother named Christ who secretly records and embellishes his good brother's teaching and appropriates them for nefarious ends (i.e. establishing the Church as a power broker). The book is part of a series called "Myths" which is being written to "rework" famous "legends."

Some Christians are very threatened by such works, even to the point of venting their anger and threatening authors like Pullman. That's regrettable and wrong, of course, mostly because it makes the point that Christians are often so wrapped up in defending the faith that they become disconnected from it through acts of anger and violence. It's like the oxymoronic placement of the words "Christian" and "militia" together–not a biblical idea and certainly not one of which Jesus would have approved. 

I, for one, have come to realize that these annual pokes at Christianity can be a wonderful source for discussion and to focus people on what they really believe and why. Pullman's work, for example, is really a re-imagining of the kinds of things liberal Jesus scholars have been saying since the 19th century–that the historical Jesus and the Church's Christ are two different entities. Such a claim forces us to look deeply at the Scriptures and early Christian history to understand how the early church came to be in the first place and how Jesus' death and resurrection were the real catalytic points for the movement. When Christians say things like, "Jesus died on the cross for my sins" or quote John 3:16, often they do so without knowing how that works theologically or historically. 

Rather than writing screeds and threats at the Pullmans of the world, we should be engaging them reasonably, demonstrating that Christian faith has a historical foundation and witnessing to a deeper connection to history using, as far as possible, evidence and reasoned arguments. One of my primary roles as a pastor, I believe, is to help people be able to not only have faith, but to understand the reason and history behind that faith–to think as well as feel. 

The Passion of Jesus in Luke – Day 36 of Lent

NTWrightOfficeFinal  As I was preparing for Holy Week services yesterday I came across some audio from a recent lecture by Bishop N.T. Wright on the passion narratives in Luke's Gospel, which I found to be both helpful and profound. Wright is Bishop of Durham in the Church of England, and one of the most prolific and intriguing New Testament scholars of our time. The lecture takes about an hour, but is worth your listening as we look ahead to Easter. I invite you to grab a cup of coffee, a notebook, and a Bible and give yourself the opportunity to hear a great scholar and preacher as he takes you through this amazing story. You will be enlightened and inspired!

The Passover Connection – Day 35 of Lent

Eucharist  One of the connections between Judaism and Christianity is the symbolism and celebration of freedom represented by the Passover meal for Jews and the eucharist for Christians. On Thursday night, Christians will celebrate Maundy Thursday ("Maundy" comes from the Latin phrase "Maundatum Novum" which means "new commandment"–a reflection of Jesus' Last Supper command in John 13:34-35 to "love one another as I have loved you"). We'll celebrate holy communion as a sign of Jesus' sacrificial death on our behalf, becoming the Paschal Lamb who takes away our sins–images that have their roots in the Passover meal. 

For those of you who want to know a little more about how Jews celebrate Passover today, I found this two-minute video on Bing this morning, which gives a great overview. My friend, Rabbi Josh Aaronson, sums up the Jewish story in this way: "They tried to kill us, we won, let's eat!" The story of Israel is the foundational story of Christianity, and Jesus' reinterpretation of the symbols of Passover to represent himself and his mission was a sign that God's liberating power from the slavery of sin and death was and is now available for all people–Jew and Gentile alike. 

I've talked to some folks who like to skip the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services because they're too "depressing," but I have said to them that one cannot understand Easter without them. Indeed, one of the things I love about Holy Week is that it forces us to confront the reality and pain of death in the story of Jesus. His death is a reminder of our own mortality, and his resurrection a clear promise that death can and will be defeated by the power of God. In a world that likes to deny the reality of death by focusing on "spirituality" and a kind of Platonist dream of a disembodied afterlife, Holy Week reminds us that Jesus did not come to lead us to some higher plane of spirituality, but rather to enter into our pain, to die our death, and to redeem us through his own suffering. 

I invite you this week to ponder over the Exodus story laid beside the story of Jesus so that you might see how God's liberating power is making all things new.