“It Is Finished…” But What About The Resurrection?

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A few months ago I attended the filming of Adam Hamilton’s study of John. I sat in the audience, smiling and holding a coffee mug, while a camera crew filmed a series of six devotional presentations. After each devotional, Adam opened the floor for questions from the audience members.

Toward the end of the day I raised my hand to ask, “Why would Jesus say ‘It is finished’ if he hadn’t yet resurrected?” 

Adam responded well, but I still wanted more of an answer. So I researched and read quite a bit, and came to the realization that in order to understand the “It is finished” verse, we need to know a bit more about the full scope of the Gospel of John.

Of the four gospel accounts, John portrays Jesus as the most confident and determined. Jesus performs a lot of miracles, talks of himself in “I am” terms (which cues back to God’s description of Himself in Exodus 3:14), and predicts his death over and over again. One of the greatest examples of John heightening Jesus’ sense of mission is how he depicts Jesus praying before his arrest. I wrote about Luke’s account of Jesus praying on the Mount of Olives earlier this week and entitled it, “When Jesus Also Doubted.”

In contrast to Jesus sweating blood and praying for another way out in Luke, John claims that Jesus began his prayer, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, so that the Son can glorify you. You gave him authority over everyone so that he could give eternal life to everyone you gave him. This is eternal life: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent. I have glorified you on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. Now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I shared with you before the world was created.” (John 17:1-5).

It’s almost as if Jesus had a to-do list while he was on the earth. In his prayer before his arrest, Jesus acknowledged to God that he had checked off most of the boxes, and now he needed to subject himself to arrest and death in order to complete the list.

So Jesus proceeds through his persecution and crucifixion, and in the moment just before he died, he proclaimed, “It is finished.” In his death, he had completed all of the tasks that God had commissioned him to do while he was on the earth.

The resurrection, the moment of in-breaking hope, happened three days later. But that wasn’t on Jesus’ to-do list; it was on God’s. In the moments before Jesus dies in Luke, Jesus states, “Father, into your hands I entrust my life” (Luke 23:46). Jesus placed his hope, trust, and life in God, knowing that God would resurrect him.

Jesus completed so much while he was on the earth, and in his final breaths he finished the last task on the list. And that’s what we mourn and what we celebrate today. That Jesus had to endure such violence, persecution, and death, while knowing that God always held him, and would never leave him nor forsake him. Jesus knew that in dying, his trials on earth were over, and that God would physically resurrect him three days later. And upon his resurrection he would no longer suffer — he would instead spread hope, joy, and celebration.

What Jesus Said About The Afterlife

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As a chaplain and a pastor I get a lot of questions about the afterlife. People want to know what happens in the moments after we die.

I have heard a variety of answers from other pastors about this weighty and pertinent topic. Some of them use what I call Chutes & Ladders imagery, claiming that the faithful among us begin climbing a ladder to the heavenly gates, while the others find themselves whooshing down a hellacious slide shortly after death. Others give an answer that sounds something like teleportation — upon breathing our last, our souls get zapped into heaven or into hell. And still others merely shrug their shoulders and state that we simply can’t know.

I struggle with these answers, mostly because we can’t find them in the Bible. And what we do have in the Bible holds a lot more meaning than Chutes and Ladders, teleportation or, worst of all, the absence of existence.

In Luke 23:39-43, Jesus is hanging on the cross with two robbers who are also hung on crosses on either side of him. Then this happens: “One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus insulted him: ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ Responding, the other criminal spoke harshly to him, ‘Don’t you fear God, seeing that you’ve also been sentenced to die? We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus replied, ‘I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.’” 

Jesus doesn’t say that we need to climb or slide or teleport to a new location. We’re simply with God after we die. And if we’ve been trusting God throughout our lives to faithfully walk with us, doesn’t it make sense that we wouldn’t be on our own after death? 

When Jesus claims in Matthew 28:20 that “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age,” we need not think that God’s presence somehow disappears upon our passing from this life. It seems to me that in many ways, our journey with God simply continues.

Without proof-texting, and without eschewing the Bible, we can read the story of Jesus on the cross and know that as he died, he firmly believed that his spirit would live on with God. While he didn’t talk about heaven, hell, clouds, or fire, he did speak about paradise. And not just paradise for himself, but also paradise with us.

So may we hold tight to the hope of paradise today. May we prayerfully reflect on the meanings of Maunday Thursday and Good Friday. And in the midst of the fear, doubt, and ambiguity that all of us face at some point or another, may we rest in the knowledge of our future place in paradise.

Slowing Down

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It struck me yesterday how busy Holy Week is. Especially for pastors and lay members in the church — we have so many services that hold such importance, all squished into a very small window of time.

With so many events taking place, it seems easy to lose sight of each movement of Holy Week. But then again, as I read the Passion Narrative again this week, I realized how easy it is to push past some of the most meaningful moments in the text in an effort to get to the resurrection.

The story of Peter’s betrayal is a text that I have previously rushed through. Jesus had already predicted so much that came true, and Peter’s denial didn’t seem to really move the story forward in any especially distinct way. Yes, Jesus predicting Peter’s denial in Luke 22:31-34, and Peter’s actual denial in Luke 22:54-62 show Jesus’ power to prophesy, as well as Jesus’ unfailing love for Peter. It’s an amazing story, but in the scope of the crucifixion and resurrection I found it easy to skim past.

If we pause and give these verses just a little more attention, we see a much larger narrative at work. We don’t typically tie Jesus’ beating and taunting in with Peter’s denial, but as my husband and I read the text this week he pointed out connections that can change the way we look at this text.

Just after Peter denies knowing Jesus in Luke 22:54-62, the writer begins describing how Jesus’ captors beat and taunted him. The text states in verses 63-65, “The men who were holding Jesus in custody taunted him while they beat him. They blindfolded him and asked him repeatedly, ‘Prophesy! Who hit you?’ Insulting him, they said many other horrible things against him.”

On the surface it just sounds like they’re mocking him. Like they’re taking one attribute Jesus claimed to have, and daring him to do it again. And in Jesus’ resolve, he holds back and refuses to give in to their taunts.

The text is far more subversive than that. The writer wants us to see that as Peter fulfills Jesus’ prediction of denial, Jesus’ captors dare him to prophesy. Yet Jesus doesn’t need to yell out a new prophecy, because Peter is literally fulfilling one at that very moment.

These are moments that we can miss in the midst of Holy Week and in the chaos of our lives. But they’re sitting in our Holy Book, waiting for us to grasp them. So may we slow down and pay attention today and in the coming days. Because as we prepare to approach the cross and the tomb, we have such greater truths to grasp than even this.

When Jesus Also Doubted

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I recently came across a post that Rachel Held Evans published in March 2013 called “Holy Week for Doubters.” In it, Rachel describes the questions that many of us fear asking on Holy Week; the deep questions of faith and doubt. Those questions can often catch more of our attention on Holy Week, as we attend numerous services, travel to visit family, suffer through Good Friday, and celebrate on Easter Sunday.

It struck me as I read her post that we are not the only ones who doubt on Holy Week. In fact, Jesus endures a time of great trepidation and doubt just before his arrest. 

After Passover Jesus goes on to the Garden of Gethsemane or to the Mount of Olives, depending on which gospel you’re reading. He retreats there to pray. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s accounts, his prayer time is tumultuous. Particularly in the gospel of Luke, Jesus experiences a moment in which the reality of his circumstances come to the fore, and he is petrified.

Luke 22:41-46 states, “He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed. He said, ‘Father, if it’s your will, take this cup of suffering away from me. However, not my will but your will must be done.’ Then a heavenly angel appeared to him and strengthened him. He was in anguish and prayed even more earnestly. His sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.” 

I have had a number of times in my life in which I felt the weightiness of doubt. I began asking questions, reading a lot, and wondering what really holds up and stands strong in the end. However, I have never reached such a point of anguish as to begin sweating blood.

Jesus knows his fate in this situation, and doubts his ability to endure it. So he seeks. And the response he receives is a heavenly angel who arrives to give him strength.

Sometimes when we doubt, we need comfort more than answers.

I often describe the spiritual journey as a Jenga tower. Do you remember that game? A series of blocks all stacked upon one another, slowly growing while simultaneously creating more holes. And if you touch the wrong block just a little too hard, the whole tower comes crashing down.

So we resist asking questions, we hold them close to our chests, in an effort to prevent all that we’ve built and all that we believe from falling to pieces.

The beautiful thing, though, is that after those blocks are scattered across the floor, we get to pick them up. And instead of building one tall tower whose pieces all have to fit just right, we can build a house. 

We begin anew with a foundation on the God who understands doubt; the One who once sweat blood in a garden, who once begged for God to change his circumstances. And we create a home. A home that we can change, that we can remodel, and mostly that we can dwell within, knowing that the ground upon which we stand has promised to remain with us always, to the very end of the age.

Climbing Trees

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Confession: I was a back-pew sitter for three years of my life. I was young and enthusiastic about the ministry I witnessed at the new, hip church I began attending, but I sat in the back row. I remember feeling welcome in the services, but not in the community. The church was happy to have me attend, to worship, and to hear the sermon, but for some reason each of my attempts to get plugged into a small group, Bible study, or some form of community failed for the first three years of my attendance.

While I read the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10 this week, I found myself thinking back on that time in the church and identifying with Zacchaeus. You can read the full text here, but this is my summary:

Zacchaeus is a short, little guy, and a tax collector, and he hears that Jesus is coming through their town. He really wants to see Jesus, but he can’t see over the crowd of people. So he climbs up a tree, and Jesus calls to him and asks to stay in his house. Zaccheaus celebrates the honor of hosting Jesus in his home, but those in his community grumble, stating, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” In response, Zacchaeus declares to the Lord that he gives half of his goods to the poor, and that he has returned four times the amount of any extra money he took from those in his community. And Jesus responds, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

To fully understand this story, we have to understand the job of a tax collector in the 1st Century. To get the job, individuals would submit bids stating that they would collect a certain amount of money, and the person who bid the highest typically got the job. The highest bidders were also often the richest in their communities, because they knew they could use their own wealth if they didn’t meet their quotas. The tax collectors would then often hire out other individuals to collect on their behalf, and that’s why Zacchaeus is specifically cited as “a ruler among tax collectors” — he probably had subordinates working for him. The payment system required the tax collector to give the governor the amount of money he originally bid, and everything left over was his profit. So you can see how the system could get corrupt pretty quickly, and why the community may be ambivalent about helping him out.

Zacchaeus was an outsider — he was the one who collected taxes in his community, and therefore they struggled to trust him. But Zacchaeus flies in the face of their stereotypes and projections, and proclaims that he has gone overboard to remain righteous and just within the parameters of his vocation.

I can’t get over the image of Zacchaeus in the tree. He climbs up there, knowing that he is too little to see over the crowd and knowing the the crowd simply won’t help him. So he dwells up in the tree, waiting for Jesus.

It makes me wonder how many people in our lives and in our communities are waiting up in the trees. They are too fearful to face the crowd below, or the crowd pushed them up there because they didn’t believe or behave the way the crowd wanted them to. And out of their love for Jesus and their fear of the Church, they choose to live in the trees. 

The back row was a nice tree to live in — it gave me the opportunity to witness and to encounter Jesus every week. But can you imagine the sweetness of having a community who pulled me down, embraced me, welcomed me in, and led me to Jesus? I have since been blessed to experience that in a number of other congregations, and the warmth of that acceptance is indescribably good and holy.

So let’s look around us today, let’s peek up into the trees of our lives and our communities, and let’s see who may be yearning to be drawn back in.

Gratitude and Attitude

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We have a funny little saying in our household: “Gratitude and Attitude.”

I came up with it one day while my husband and I were shopping. Early in our relationship I learned that my husband reviles shopping, especially in malls. One day we had to go to a department store to get him new jeans. While he was trying on a variety of pairs in the dressing room, I ran back and forth to return pairs he didn’t want, exchange sizes, and find better styles. I thought I was doing a great job, and frankly, it was quite a bit of work. So when I returned to the dressing room with another armful of jeans, and he let out an audible, “Uuuuggghh,” I pointed my finger at him and stated, “Gratitude, sir. Gratitude and attitude!”

I realize that most people don’t spout self-help maxims in the middle of the menswear department at Macy’s, but that’s beside the point. In that moment, I saw a direct connection between the amount of gratitude we express, and the attitude we present to the world, and I decided share that realization with the fellow shoppers in our vicinity. 

The gospel of Luke depicts a similar scenario in chapter 17, verses 11-19. The text states, On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’ When he saw them he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ And he said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.'”

So ten men receive healing from Jesus, but only one returns, and he begins “praising God with a loud voice.” The man also happens to be a Samaritan (for more information on the relationship between Jews and Samaritans, read this article). Jews and Samaritans had a virulent relationship; yet, after receiving healing, the Samaritan comes to recognize and praise God.

His attitude changed. In the moments of healing, the Samaritan transformed from a man who was outcast and begging, to a man who was joyful and praising. 

The other nine did not return. We don’t have the ability to know how they felt, or how their attitude and outlook changed after their healing. We do know that they chose not to return to offer gratitude and praise God, though.

So may we instead emulate the Samaritan today. When you feel something bothering you and getting under your skin, take a step back, and perhaps whisper “Gratitude and Attitude.” Choose to be grateful today. Because while everything may not be perfect in any of our lives, each of us has something or someone we can be grateful for. And that one word of gratitude can change how we encounter and praise God in the world around us.

God and Weddings

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My wedding day was the best day of my life thus far. I have heard so many wedding horror stories, and have even witnessed weddings in which the bride and groom are stressed out, strung out, and ready for the whole celebration to be over, so they can get back to their normal routines. Our wedding was the opposite. It lasted about 5 days, and every moment was way better than we ever could have hoped.

A few months before the wedding, someone imparted this rather macabre wisdom to me. She said, “the only moments in your life that everyone you love will show up for you at the same time will be your wedding and your funeral. So enjoy this one.” I know, it’s pretty dark. But in a strange way, I took it as an encouragement to soak in each moment of my wedding week.

The Bible contains so much wedding imagery, which made a lot more sense to me after my wedding day. The wedding day I enjoyed was the closest I had felt to experiencing heaven — the elation of proclaiming my love for my husband in front of God, while surrounded by every person who has helped shape who my husband and I are, and who led us to where we were in that moment. It felt holy and sacred and the closest to the renewed world God ultimately promises us.

As I read Luke this week I found another instance of wedding imagery that also contained a directive that I think most of us can appreciate. Verses 7 through 11 state, “Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.'”

Jesus uses wedding imagery to discuss the joy and honor of humility. I think this is why I love weddings so much, and was able to appreciate my wedding day as much as I did. Weddings are a time for us to witness and celebrate the love of two other individuals. Most of us would never dream of making someone else’s wedding day about ourselves — instead, we take a posture of servitude, lifting up the bride and groom and caring for them in a variety of ways. From blessing them with gifts for their home, to picking up flowers and cupcakes, to holding the bride’s dress so it stays beautiful and spotless. We love to honor others, and the bride and groom, for that one day, get to receive the celebration of those who love them the most.

In the biblical text, Jesus insists that we take that lowest of places at an honoring event such as a wedding, so that we may then be asked to take a higher place by the host. Isn’t that a posture we can take every day, though? Humbling ourselves, serving others, looking out for their needs, and trusting that one day we will experience the honor and love that we continue to give as well. So may we experience life today as a wedding banquet, lifting up those around us, treating each moment as a time for solidarity, and recognizing the love and honor in our midst.