Friday, April 06, 2012

GOOD Friday!

It’s the end of the most significant week in the history of the world.

A week of final moments. Jesus and the apostles’ last meal together. The last time Jesus prays in the Garden. The concluding confrontation with enemies. The final encounter with pain.

And the last event. . . a daring display of unleashed divine power. The entombed Savior unbound by a holy explosion. What was a sepulcher is now a symbol…landmarking the greatest victory in the most crucial battle.

A week of final moments. A week of endings.

Or is it the beginning. . . .?
Chapter One

When I was a young boy I was part of a church corps which took communion to the shutins and hospitalized. We visited those who were unable to come to church but still desired to pray and partake of communion. I must have been ten or eleven years of age when we went to one hospital room that housed an elderly gentleman who was very weak. He was asleep so we tried to wake him. We couldn’t. We shook him, we spoke to him, we tapped him on the shoulder, but we couldn’t stir him.

We hated to leave without performing our duty, but we didn’t know what to do.

One of the young guys with me observed that even though the man was asleep his mouth was open. Why not? We said. So we prayed over the cracker and stuck a piece on his tongue.

Then we prayed over the grape juice and poured it down his mouth.

He never woke up.

Neither do many today. For some communion is a sleepy hour in which wafers are eaten and juice is drunk and the soul never stirs. It wasn’t intended to be as such.

It was intended to be an I-can’t-believe-it’s-me-pinch-me-I’m-dreaming invitation to sit at God’s table and be served by the King himself.

When you read Matthew’s account of the Last Supper, one incredible truth surfaces.

Jesus is the person behind it all. It was Jesus who selected the place, designated the time, and set the meal in order. "The chosen time is near. I will have the Passover with my followers at your house."

And at the Supper, Jesus is not the guest, but the host. “And [Jesus] gave to the disciples.” The subject of the verbs is the message of the event: “he took…he blessed…he broke…he gave….”

And, at the Supper, Jesus is not the served, but the servant. It is Jesus who during the supper put on the garb of a servant and washed the disciples’ feet.

Jesus is the most active one at the table. Jesus is not portrayed as the one who reclines and receives, but as the one who stands and gives.

He still does. The Lord’s Supper is a gift to you. The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament, not a sacrifice.

Often, we think of the Supper as a performance, a time when we are on stage and God is the audience. A ceremony in which we do the work and he does the watching. That’s not how it was intended. If it was, Jesus would have taken his seat at the table and relaxed.

That’s not what he did. He, instead, fulfilled his role as a rabbi by guiding his disciples through the Passover. He fulfilled his role as a servant by washing their feet. And he fulfilled his role as a Savior by granting them forgiveness of sins.

He was in charge. He was on center stage. He was the person behind and in the moment.

And he still is.

It is the Lord’s table you sit at. It is the Lord’s Supper you eat. Just as Jesus prayed for disciples, Jesus begs God for us.6 When you are called to the table, it might be an emissary who gives the letter, but it is Jesus who wrote it.

It is a Holy invitation. A sacred sacrament begging you to leave the chores of life and enter his splendor.

He meets you at the table.

And when bread is broken, Christ breaks it. When the wine is poured, Christ pours it.

And when your burdens are lifted, it is because the King in the apron has drawn near.

Think about that the next time you go to the table.

One last thought.

But they are sacrifices of thanksgiving as a salvation received, not sacrifices of service for a salvation desired. We don’t say, “Look what I have done.” We instead, in awe, watch God and worship what he has done.

Both Luther and Calvin had strong convictions regarding the proper view of the Lord’s Supper.

“Out of the sacrament and testament of God, which ought to be a good guest received, they (the religious leaders) have made up for themselves A good deed performed.” (Martin Luther, Luther’s Works American Edition, 36:49)

“He (Jesus) bids the disciples to take: He himself, therefore is the only one who offers. When the priests pretend that they offer Christ in the Supper, they are starting from quite another source. What a wonderful case of topsyturvy, that a mortal man to deserve the body of Christ should snatch himself to the role of offering it.” (John Calvin, A Harmony of the Gospels, 1:133.)

What happens on earth is just a warm-up for what will happen in heaven. So the next time the messenger calls you to the table, drop what you are doing and go. Be blessed and be fed and, most importantly, be sure you’re still eating at his table when he calls us home.

Chapter Two

It's nearly midnight when they leave the upper room and descend through the streets of the city. They pass the Lower Pool and exit the Fountain Gate and walk out of Jerusalem. The roads are lined with the fires and tents of Passover pilgrims. Most are asleep, heavied with the evening meal. Those still awake think little of the band of men walking the chalky road.

They pass through the valley and ascend the path which will take them to Gethsemane.

The road is steep so they stop to rest. Somewhere within the city walls the twelfth apostle darts down a street. His feet have been washed by the man he will betray. His heart has been claimed by the Evil One he has heard. He runs to find Caiaphas.

The final encounter of the battle has begun.

As Jesus looks at the city of Jerusalem, he sees what the disciples can’t. It is here, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, that the battle will end. He sees the staging of Satan. He sees the dashing of the demons. He sees the Evil One preparing for the final encounter. The enemy looks as a spectre over the hour. Satan, the host of hatred, has seized the heart of Judas and whispered in the ear of Caiaphas. Satan, the master of death, has opened the caverns and prepared to receive the source of light.

Hell is breaking loose.

History records it as the battle of the Jews against Jesus. It wasn’t. It was a battle of God against Satan.

And Jesus knew it. Jesus knew that before the war was over, he would be taken captive.

He knew that before victory would come defeat. He knew that before the throne would come the cup. He knew that before the light of Sunday would come the blackness of Friday.

And he is afraid.

He turns and begins the final ascent into the garden. When he reaches the entry he stops and turns his eyes toward his circle of friends. It will be the last time he sees them before they abandon him. He knows what they will do when the soldiers come. He knows their betrayal is only minutes away.

But he doesn’t accuse. He doesn’t lecture. Instead, he prays. His last moments with his disciples are in prayer. And the words he speaks are as eternal as the stars which hear them.

Imagine, for a moment, yourself in this situation. Your final hour with a son about to be sent overseas. Your last moments with your dying spouse. One last visit with your parent. What do you say? What do you do? What words do you choose?

It’s worth noting that Jesus chose prayer. He chose to pray for us. "I pray for these men. But I am also praying for all people who will believe in me because of the teaching of these men. Father, I pray that all people who believe in me can be one . . . I pray that these people can also be one in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me."

You need to note that in this final prayer, Jesus prayed for you. You need to underline in red and highlight in yellow his love: "I am also praying for all people who believe in me because of the teaching." That is you. As Jesus stepped into the garden, you were in his prayer. As Jesus looked into heaven, you were in his vision. As Jesus dreamed of the day when we will be where he is, he saw you there.

His final prayer was about you. His final pain was for you. His final passion was you.

He then turns, steps into the garden, and invites Peter, James, and John to come. He tells them his soul is "overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death," and begins to pray.

Never has he felt so alone. What must be done, only can he do. An angel can’t do it. No angel has the power to break open hell’s gates. A man can’t do it. No man has the purity to destroy sin’s claim. No force on earth can face the force of evil and win—except God.

"The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak," Jesus confesses.

His humanity begged to be delivered from what his divinity could see. Jesus, the carpenter, implores. Jesus, the man, peers into the dark pit and begs, "Can’t there be another way?"

Did he know the answer before he asked the question? Did his human heart hope his heavenly father had found another way? We don’t know. But we do know he asked to get out.

We do know he begged for an exit. We do know there was a time when if he could have, he would have turned his head back on the whole mess and gone away.

But he couldn’t.

He couldn’t because he saw you. Right there in the middle of a world which isn’t fair. He saw you cast into a river of life which you didn’t request. He saw you betrayed by those you love. He saw with a body which gets sick and a heart that grows weak.

He saw you in your own garden of gnarled trees and sleeping friends. He saw you staring into the pit of your own failures and the mouth of your own grave.

He saw you in your Garden of Gethsemane—and he didn’t want you to be alone.

He wanted you to know that he has been there, too. He knows what it’s like to be plotted against.

He knows what it’s like to be confused. He knows what it’s like to be torn between two desires.

He knows what it’s like to smell the stench of Satan. And, perhaps most of all, he knows what it’s like to beg God to change his mind and to hear God say so gently, but firmly, "No."

For that is what God said to Jesus. And Jesus accepts the answer. At some moment during that midnight hour an angel of mercy comes over the weary body of the man in the garden. As he stands, the anguish is gone from his eyes. His fist will clench no more. His heart will fight no more.

The battle is won. You may have thought it was won on Golgotha. It wasn’t. The final battle was won in Gethsemane. And the sign of conquest is Jesus at peace in the olive trees.

For it was in the garden that he made his decision. He would rather go to hell for you than go to heaven without you.

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