Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:44-49 | ESV
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’ Revelation 2:17 | ESV
Yes, that’s the story.
More or less.
And now we sit with our own story, and with our own choice of how to respond, which way to go.
We began the journey of these two weeks by considering those five characters and what each had to lay down. Each of us has something we need to leave at the foot of the cross as we pass by it this week. Something needs to be discarded. We each have a “stone” that needs to be released not merely from our hand but from our heart.
And then something needs to be received.
When Jesus appears to John in what we know as the book of Revelation, the Apocalypse, seven messages are delivered to seven early churches. Encouragement is imparted, warnings are given, and promises are deposited. “To him that overcomes” is the repeated refrain. To the one who surmounts it all, to the one who crosses the finish line, who holds on to what matters most, I will give, I will give, I will give… And of all the itemized blessings, perhaps most meaningful for us as we pass the cross this time is the “white stone with a new name written on it that no one knows except the one who receives it.”
Each time we pass the cross, each time we encounter Christ, there is something to leave with him and something to receive from him. And whatever is represented by this white stone, this much is sure: it speaks of imparted, discovered, unfolded identity.
To find Christ, to encounter the cross is to, in significant ways, lose ourselves; and to find Christ and encounter the cross is to find ourselves, to discover our true nature and identity in ways we simply cannot fathom.
And this is just the beginning…
What one significant “stone” have you been challenged to leave at the cross? What is your “white stone” that he has passed on to you this season? What is your take away from this journey of the cross?
Lord, I seek not yours but you, and in the finding of you I at last truly discover myself. Through my experience of the cross, let me experience you more fully and deeply – and move more freely into my new identity in and before you than I have before imagined possible. Through Christ.
But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying. Luke 9:43-45 | ESV
And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45 | ESV
Yes. What a week.
Having prepared through experiencing some solitude, silence, and focused attention in prayer, we now come to the crux of the week.
Actually, whether we have prepared or not, the crux – the cross – comes.
Two powerful dimensions converge in the cross of Christ: unbearable, unbelievable grief and suffering and intense, off-the-charts joy.
“You will be sorrowful, but the world will rejoice.”
And at the foot of the cross we, with Mary, laugh with tears. It seems incomprehensible. It certainly was for the disciples who witnessed it all-firsthand.
Jesus warned them in plain language repeatedly.
We are going to Jerusalem.
I will be rejected.
I will be betrayed.
I will be handed over to the Romans.
They will condemn me.
They will beat me.
They will crucify me.
They will kill me.
I will be buried.
And I will rise again on the third day.
But they couldn’t see it.
And when it came, they ran from it.
And we do the same.
We still seem to think that Christianity is all about joining in his triumphal procession on Palm Sunday to the accolades of the crowds and to kingdom come in Jerusalem (finally, this time!) rather than joining him in his death march to Golgotha, ending up forsaken and scorned by the world on the hill of the Skull.
We still imagine it’s about being piled on with blessings rather than stripped of everything. And few of us give or received the sermons those early preachers of Christianity passed on to new believers:
“We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”
If we thought Jesus took up the cross so we wouldn’t have to, he doesn’t quite let us get away with that. As he tells us of his cross, he hands us our own.
And then he calls it “discipleship.”
Engaging in the heart and life of Jesus is engaging in the grief and intense joy of the cross.
This is the real work and significance of Easter.
Life is hard, and this will be no exception.
But watch it explode with significance when Christ is in the center of it – not merely getting us out of our Gethsemanes and Golgothas, which will come, whoever we are – but empowering us to shine now and forever through them.
Yes, what a week.
What a life.
What Gethsemane, what Golgotha are you facing right now? Who is helping you bear your own cross?
Lord, give me the grace to embrace my own Gethsemane, my own cross, and let me find you in the midst of it. Let my grief be fully mingled with that intense joy that issues from you. As I contemplate your cross and sacrifice, let me not only be filled with gratitude for what you have done, but be empowered to embrace the path you have for me. Through Christ.
Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Matthew 26:38-44 | ESV
In his final hours, of all the things he could have been passionate about, of all the activities he could personally pursue and urge us to embrace, Jesus focused in on prayer.
“Watch and pray so that you don’t enter into temptation!”
He was slightly emphatic about the whole thing.
Clearly they didn’t get it.
All too often we miss it too.
Prayer as an empowering spiritual dynamic can seem ever so elusive to us. We know prayer as a ritualized formality. We know it as the “911” emergency level when we’re in a tight spot needing immediate assistance or answers. We also know it as something we feel incredibly inept at and guilty over our lack of it. I suspect most of us can use a healthy dose of how Dallas Willard describes prayer in the introduction to his revised edition of his book Hearing God:
Hearing God’s directions is only one dimension of a rich and interactive relationship. Obtaining guidance is but one facet of hearing God. Ultimately, we are to move beyond the question of hearing God and into a life greater than our own – that of the kingdom of God. Our concern for discerning God’s voice must be overwhelmed by and lost in our worship and adoration of him and in our delight with his creation and his provision for our whole life. Our aim in such a life is to identify all that we are and all that we do with God’s purposes in creating us and our world…Learning the two-way communication between us and God will develop as a natural part of such a life. It is very important to remember and to always keep before your mind this fact: You are an unceasing spiritual being, created for an intimate and transforming friendship with the creative Community that is the Trinity.
We need just such prayer.
Out of it flowed Jesus’ anguished cries in the garden that summoned angels to his side as he was pressed beyond measure. It was ground saturated not only with his tears, sweat, and blood, but with his intimate relationship with the Father. It was thoroughly Abba ground.
Whatever Holy Week we may be facing – a week of holy beauty or holy horror or whatever mixture of the two – the threefold cord of solitude, silence and prayer will serve us well to be ready for what it will bring and what he will do through it, and through us.
What does prayer look like for you? What do you most struggle with in prayer? What significant moments can you see out for focused prayer to your Abba? What might this look like for you?
Lord, teach me to pray as you prayed. Free me from false and harmful conceptions of prayer that keep me from experiencing the rich dialogue with you that prayer is intended to be. Show me how to practice your presence this week. Through Christ.
Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” Matthew 26:6-13 | ESV
The last week of Jesus’ earthly life started loud.
Met by a crowd bursting with enthusiasm, screaming “Hosanna to the Son of David,” swinging palm branches, and singing children amidst a tumultuous pilgrim crowd, his Sunday entrance was anything but low key. By the time he made it into the temple all he had time to do was survey the scene and then leave the city, looking for a place of solitude.
The following day was kicked off with clearing the temple courts, overturning tables, driving out animals (both human and beast) and shouting, “You have turned my Father’s house into a den of thieves!” People flocked to him that Monday. Healing, teaching, and sparring with members of the religious establishment who prodded him with questions and challenges.
Tuesday was a day filled with more teaching, more healings and many stories – with the grand finale of a searing final condemnation of the religious establishment as he “left their house to them desolate.” Leaving the city, he sat with four of his disciples on the Mount of Olives and gave them a glimpse at Jerusalem’s final, cataclysmic days.
And then came Wednesday when he did…
Wednesday of Holy Week is often called the “Quiet Day.”
The day of silence.
No controversial stories.
No showdowns or face-offs.
Wednesday was a quiet day in which one key thing happened: someone stepped forward to do something extravagant for him.
The anointing in Bethany was evidently on this quiet day, and stands as a timeless reminder not only of one woman’s sacrifice of worship on Jesus’ behalf, but of our desperate need, shared by Christ, of just such a quiet day where we can receive rather than pour out.
That Wednesday seems almost to have been a midweek Sabbath for Jesus before the final plunge.
Think of it.
During his final week, his final moments on the planet as Jesus of Nazareth,
He took a day to simply be.
This may not work for you today as we observe Holy Week.
It may not be possible on a regular basis.
But it stands as a challenge for us to seek it – and the gift waiting for us within it.
When’s the last time you really had a day off? What is the greatest challenge for you in really, truly stopping and experiencing silence?
Lord, show me how to stop this week. Teach me how to be still, how to allow even one day, one morning or afternoon, or just one hour to be uncluttered by noise and activity. Give me the wisdom to clear the deck so that I might be ready to give and receive as you would have it. Through Christ.
Reflection 6 of 10
But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray. Luke 5:15-16 | ESV
And every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet.And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him. Luke 21:37-28 | ESV
Solitude was a regular practice of Jesus.
Crowds would crowd and clamor, needs and needy people would always be at hand. And Jesus made a habit of slipping off and heading out into…
During what we know as Holy Week – the last week of Jesus’ life on earth – Jesus seems to have made it a daily routine to slip out of the city at night and retreat to a place of solitude on the Mount of Olives. In fact he seems to have become so predictable in this that Judas knew exactly where to lead the soldiers when they came out to arrest him: to the secluded Garden of Gethsemane.
Having spent last week with the five key characters of the Easter story with whom we are connecting this year and seen what they had to leave at the foot of cross with Christ, we now come to Easter week itself.
How do we prepare so we receive all that we can from the experience of this week?
Jesus’ practice that week gives us a starting place not just for being prepared this Easter season, but for being prepared for what we suspect will be any season of crisis and conflict.
For some of us such solitude may come easy – perhaps far too easy; with others it may be as foreign as speaking Swahili. But whether inclined or significantly disinclined, this week is an opportunity to break the norm and intentionally seek some enriching moments of solitude.
Find your Gethsemane.
Perhaps take a friend or two so you can experience solitude together. Such solitude is simply breaking the tyranny of the urgent and noisy and embracing the primacy of breathing and being.
Find your Gethsemane.
Perhaps take some Psalms with you as companions as well.
Does solitude come easily for you, or is it excruciating torture because you hate to be alone?
How can you stretch yourself in seeking some solitude this week?
Lord, lead me to my Gethsemane, to my quiet place this week. Show me how to slow down and breathe and be. Through Christ.
Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” Matthew 27:15-19 | ESV
We don’t even know her name, nor do we know what she dreamt that night.
Tradition tells us her name was Claudia.
Our imagination has to fill in the details of her dream. But whatever it was, she had “suffered much” because of it.
Perhaps it was a painful dream of all they would lose – all she would lose – if this man, this Galilean peasant, was delivered over to voices clamoring for his death with her husband’s complicit involvement.
Perhaps, as is the case with so many people of politics or privilege, her greatest fear and the primary reason a dream would cause her to suffer would be anything that threatened the loss of position or status.
Few words can be as unnerving as the one Paul shared with the early Corinthian believers:
“This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. I want you to be free from anxieties.”
Everything is about to change, the board of life is going to be reset.
And I don’t want you to worry about it.
Most of us who have possession and status would rather not contemplate the idea of living as though we didn’t. We like our stuff and we cling to our status. Perhaps this was driving Pilate’s wife, just as it drove the high priest to “prophesy” that one man would die and thereby save the nation, because if he didn’t die the Romans would come and steal their place and their nation. The instinct for self-preservation and status-maintenance (or, even better, improvement) runs deep.
Of all the things we are willing to leave at the feet of Jesus, our stuff and our status may be the hardest, the most sticky, as we, like the rich young ruler, go away sorrowful,
for we have many possessions.
What thing or things do you find yourself clinging to the hardest? What is the key to letting go of our stuff and our status?
Lord, take my faith to that place where with Paul I find myself saying, “Whatever was gain to me I now consider loss for the sake of knowing Christ.” Let me hold whatever stuff and status I may possess here with an open hand before you to be used, or released, as you would have it. Through Christ.
So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” John 18:33-38| ESV
1. A person who believes that all people are motivated by selfishness.
2. A person whose outlook is scornfully negative.
The Pilate we meet in Scripture fits that.
And we fit it pretty well ourselves.
Many reject the Gospels’ telling of Jesus’ trials and judgment at the hands of Pilate because he comes off as having a heart – a cynic’s heart maybe, but a heart nevertheless. History otherwise tells us he was a sheer, calculating, political brute who wouldn’t have hesitated for a moment at the thought of crucifying such a Galilean peasant as Jesus.
Clearly, Pilate was no saint.
Like all those given authority in the realm of humanity, he was there to “give justice to the weak and maintain the right of the afflicted.” It’s clear Pilate was responding to different political DNA.
Yes, these were there in spades.
But his heart was the heart of a cynic.
He saw a religious council moved by envy, an ignorant crowd manipulated, a fellow politician (Herod) that can be played to his own immediate and long-term advantage, and a peasant that defied the cynic’s categories, a peasant that seemed to change all the rules. A peasant that aggravated him to the point that the cynic’s heart cried out the quintessential question of every cynic, “What is truth???”
We can try washing our hands and posturing ourselves all we would like, but in our pragmatic “show me the money” culture, we are all cynics.
Everyone has an angle.
Everyone wants to play me.
Everyone has an agenda.
We live in the shadows of suspicion of any and everyone – especially if they have power.
I learned it as a mantra through my childhood from a cynic father: trust no one.
Fewer dungeons are more dank, dark, and deadly. Such a self-imprisoning cell will ultimately consume us, as it evidently did Pilate. Perhaps that day with Christ before the manipulated throngs was merely a footnote in his personal memory, but it was the moment that ultimately defined him – but not in the way it could or should have. There was no happy ending in Pilate’s life. And even if there had been, his cynic heart wouldn’t have been able to accept and embrace it.
How good and beautiful to drop our heavy burden of cynicism before the wonder of God in Christ
as we take a mustard seed of faith in its place…
To what extent do you recognize cynicism as a dominating factor in your life? Where do you see it most evident in you? How can it give way to faith in us?
Lord, free me from my cynic prison, my fortress of doubt and skepticism that sees little good in anyone or anything. Give me reborn eyes of wonder to see your beauty in the worst of people and the darkest of circumstances. Through Jesus.