Even in the midst of the sorrow, pain, and shame of the cross, Good Friday is still very good.
I do not look forward to Good Friday. I’m an upbeat kind of guy. A negative situation is always an opportunity, not a problem. The glass is always half full, and more is probably on the way.
But all that changes on Good Friday. Sure I feel down and out other days of the year. The waves of life will do that to you. But Good Friday plunges me into a much darker place. Waves of sadness, emptiness, and hopelessness come crashing in on Good Friday.
For many years, I took part a Tenebrae service on Good Friday (from a Latin word meaning “darkness”). During the service, a candle is extinguished after each reading of the last seven words of Jesus on his way to the cross. The sanctuary gets progressively darker and darker. After Jesus’ last words from the cross are read, the last candle is put out, plunging the sanctuary into darkness. The last words hanging in the air are the question, “What is to become of the light of the world?”
We left in silence contemplating a world where God never came to save, where the light never shined into darkness, where all was death and silence forever. We left still burdened with our sin and lost in our brokenness. The reality of it all was devastating.
After a Good Friday service like this, even the most affable of people cannot resist the pull toward the abyss. Alcoholism, addictions, anger, violence, or any kind of struggle to overcome a world made meaningless all make sense to me on Good Friday. I can understand why people respond to the darkness of the world with more darkness, more destruction, more death. Why not? What else is there to do?
And yet for Jesus, for the one who died that Good Friday death, Hebrews 12:2 tells us that it was “for the ...
Mary Magdalene both clung to the risen Christ and went out to bear witness.
Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me … Go instead to my brothers and tell them ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”—John 20:16–17
The Resurrection is an unprecedented event in history. In the words of C. S. Lewis, it is a miracle of the New Creation. Something of which the world has had no previous experience at all has entered the old order and radically altered it. The great reversal has begun. The new wine has burst the old wineskins. Even familiar relations with Jesus in the old creation no longer suffice. Now, it seems he can only be recognized by those to whom he chooses to reveal himself.
The story of the Resurrection is also the story of human love at its best. When all else fails—even faith and hope—love comes through intact. It may be weak in comparison to divine love, but it is strong enough to move the heart of the Lover. Such is the love of Mary Magdalene.
What makes Mary’s devotion to Jesus unique may have begun early in his ministry when he cast seven demons out of her (Luke 8:1–3). Mary had known the terrifying power of spiritual enslavement and the exhilarating freedom of following Christ her teacher. Here was a Rabbi who treated women very differently. From that day, her admiration and love grew.
Mary followed Jesus to Jerusalem. When all the other disciples fled (Mark 14:50), she stood in solidarity with other women to witness his agonizing death on the cross (Matt. 27:55). Love refuses to be cowed. Love perseveres when hope is extinguished. Mary witnessed Jesus’ ...
According to the gospel of John, the cross casts us into community.
We Americans tend to be a sentimental people. This makes it difficult for us to look directly into the horror, shame, and degradation of a death by crucifixion. When Jesus says to Mary, “Woman, behold thy son” and to John “Behold thy Mother,” we often interpret this saying of our Lord as a sentimental invitation to take good care of your mother. I am a mother, and I definitely want to be taken care of! But this is not what the Fourth Evangelist, John, wants us to understand. In the Fourth Gospel, the mother of our Lord plays a quite different role.
In the side aisle of the chapel where I often worship, there’s a beautiful, unusual altarpiece. It depicts one of John’s memorable stories, the marriage feast at Cana where Jesus says to his mother, “Woman, what have you to do with me? My hour is not yet come” (John 2:4, RSV throughout). In English, this sounds very rude. In Greek it is more respectful, but we notice that Jesus does not call her “Mother,” and she responds to him not as his mother but as one of his followers—one who is beginning to have a glimmer of an idea about who he is.
She says to the servant, “Do whatever he tells you” (v. 5). She is learning to be his disciple. That’s what Mary represents in the Gospel of John. She does not appear again in the Fourth Gospel—except in passing and in company with others—until his hour actually does come and he is crucified. From the cross, once again Jesus calls her “woman” rather than “Mother.” Her identity as Jesus’ mother is not important to John.
In John’s gospel, Mary stands out as a particularly faithful disciple, one who follows Jesus through ...
The celebration of Christ’s resurrection stands in contrast to Christmas joy.
Easter joy has been harder to come by this year. Between the growing ugliness of American politics and the acrimony within the church body, I’ve found it harder to anticipate looking up from the broken body of my Lord to rejoice this Sunday in the resurrected and ascended Christ.
When I shared my struggle with a good friend, he suggested I revisit a collection of sermons that the 19th-century priest John Henry Newman preached in Oxford in response to the challenges of his own day. I turned to Newman and found a surprising insight: In his view, my tempered joy is not merely acceptable or tolerable but rather called for as a deeply Christian response to Easter.
In a sermon titled “Keeping Fast and Festival,” Newman begins with a comparison of Christmas and Easter. At Christmas, he says, we rejoice with the “natural, unmixed joy of children.” Easter joy, however, is not the same. This joy is experienced as “a last feeling and not a first.” It grows out of tribulation, as Paul writes in Romans 5, emerges from the harvest (Isa. 9:3), and comes after (and out of) Lent and Good Friday.
In other words, if living through Lent teaches us even a little about how Christ bears the world’s suffering, then our Easter enthusiasm should look different from our response to God’s arrival as a baby at Christmas. It should feel more seasoned, more aged, and more worn. Easter joy isn’t the joy of children, says Newman, but rather of convalescents who have received the promise of healing, who are starting to get well but still regaining our strength after a Lenten season of confronting our weakness and sorrowing over our sin.
Newman’s image of Christians as convalescents brings to mind ...
What Jesus' arrest and trial can teach us about facing opposition.
“So again Pilate asked him, ‘Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of’” (Mark 15:4).
When we approach Easter, there are many things we think about: Jesus’ death in our place, the disciples’ lack of understanding, God’s choice to have women be the first witnesses to the empty tomb, resurrection hope. There is a multitude of directions to go when thinking about the end of this most significant week in history.
But there is one we rarely consider: how Jesus got through that experience. Yes, we note Gethsemane where he wrestled with his coming fate and eventually handed it all over to God. But what did that mean for him? Is there anything for us to learn from how Christ faced the intense rejection by the world that the Cross represented?
During the entire second half of his ministry, Jesus taught his disciples that they would face opposition, resistance, and rejection just as he did. Their spiritual development depended upon how to cope with this reality—a reality our churches today are struggling with as we move into an increasingly post-Christian context. John O’Sullivan, former editor of the National Review, defines it this way: “A post-Christian society is not merely a society in which agnosticism or atheism is the prevailing fundamental belief. It is a society rooted in the history, culture, and practices of Christianity but in which the religious beliefs of Christianity have either been rejected or worse, forgotten.”
What can Jesus’ arrest and trial teach us about our own calling in such a world? How do we best remember what many in the world have forgotten?
Jesus was betrayed by one of his own. He was examined about ...
Even as Jesus struggled, he was resolute about what he wanted most of all.
“He fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will’” (Matt. 26:39).
When we sing the old hymn “I Am Thine, O Lord,” Fanny Crosby provides us with words to express what we want to say to God on our best days:
Let my soul look up with a steadfast hope, And my will be lost in Thine.
Certainly this is a worthy aspiration—that our desires would be so conformed to the will of God that they would become indistinguishable from his. Yet we often find our desires in conflict with his. When we said “Your will be done” as part of the Lord’s Prayer as we gathered with the saints last Sunday, we meant it ... or at least we wanted to mean it. But it was a vague notion at that point. Today we find ourselves a bit offended by what God seems to be requiring of us. His will—which requires self-denial—has come into conflict with our will that is bent on self-preservation. We’ve begun to wonder if it is really possible that our will could ever be lost in his.
It is at this point in the struggle to submit that we find companionship, hope, and help as we peer into the scene that takes place in Gethsemane, a garden on the Mount of Olives given a name that means “oil press.” As we gaze into the darkness of that night, we can see that Jesus is being squeezed like an olive in a press, to the point that his sweat is dripping off of him like drops of blood. We can see that he is sorrowful and troubled. Then we hear him say to the disciples he has brought along with him, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matt. 26:38).
Update: Under James MacDonald, Chicago-area megachurch was in “serious violation” of 4 out of 7 stewardship standards, says Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.
Update (April 17): Harvest Bible Chapel has lost its standing with the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), months after controversy over founding pastor James MacDonald culminated with his firing.
The ECFA board voted today to terminate the Chicago-area church’s membership status due to “significant violations” to four of seven of the association’s financial standards, citing “direct and substantial evidence” uncovered in the past week.
The association said that Harvest withheld pertinent information about their finances and policies during earlier reviews.
According to the ECFA, Harvest failed to comply with standards around governance, financial oversight, use of resources and compliance with laws, and compensation-setting and related-party transactions (full requirements listed in the earlier coverage below).
The violations are serious enough that the organization said restoring Harvest’s full membership status was “not a viable option.”
Original post (March 16): Harvest Bible Chapel had its accreditation suspended this week by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), after “new information” led to concerns that spending under former senior pastor James MacDonald was in “serious violation” of 4 of the agency’s 7 standards for biblical and ethical financial stewardship.
“During the indefinite suspension, the church may not represent that they are an ECFA member or display ECFA’s membership seal,” wrote president Dan Busby in a statement released Friday afternoon. Harvest used to display ECFA’s seal prominently on its online giving page.