Toward Jerusalem
reflections for the journey through Lent

Over the past several years, I have been awakened to the strength and beauty of the season of Lent. As I become intentional about my journey toward Good Friday, I arrive at the celebration of Christ's atonement prepared and ready. The meaning and symbolism then have had the time to settle in my soul, and this enables me to engage fully in Christianity's most sacred day.

The Lenten practice that has been the most helpful to me is to journey with Jesus through the gospels as he makes his way toward Jerusalem. This series will guide you on this journey, providing you with 47 days of reflective thought from the gospels. I invite you to journey along with me and, more importantly, with Jesus as we travel with him Toward Jerusalem.

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Day 1: Resolute

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem (Lk 9:51). As early as Luke chapter 9 we see Jesus boldly and steadily heading toward the Cross. His followers couldn't understand it; maybe few of us truly understand it still.

Reflect today upon Jesus' single-minded purpose. How do you respond to his steady determination to give his life for you?

Day 2: Preparation

Preparation: Jesus' resolution to head toward Jerusalem necessitated training and growth in those he would leave behind. So he sent the Twelve out on an expedition to build their faith and confidence (Luke 9:1-6). They walked through the land preaching and healing, things which, until that time, they had only watched Jesus do. God worked in the challenge, and the challenge prepared them for bigger things yet to come.

How is a challenge you're facing these days building your faith? How might your perspective change if you grew in confidence that today's challenge is doing some significant preparation within you?

Day 3: Retreat

As soon as the Twelve had arrived back from their expedition, Jesus loaded them in a boat to head to a quiet place (Mark 6:30-32). I wonder what they talked about as they rowed through the open water, capturing the time they had before the crowd cut short their retreat. Stories surely flowed, backs were slapped, laughter roared, and Jesus delighted at this incredulous band of brothers who were having the time of their lives in doing life with him.

Have you taken Jesus' invitation lately to head with him to a quiet place? Have you thought about what you would tell him, what questions you would ask, and what you desire to hear from him?

Day 4: Packed Lunch

Thousands met Jesus and his disciples on other side of the lake, and the crowd's desire to stick around offered a teachable moment. "You give them something to eat." "Impossible! Preposterous!" Providing food for 5000 was definitely beyond the scope of the disciples' faith, even given their growth spurt on their recent expedition through Galilee.

bread and fish

Jesus took 5 small loaves and 2 fish--the contents of 1 boy's packed lunch--and fed the multitude. Then he gave his men a tangible, tactile, bring-it-home lesson of his sufficiency: a basketful of leftovers for each one of them, 12 baskets in all.

What is in your packed lunch which you'd like to bring to Jesus? Perhaps it's talents or skills which seem so small which could be multiplied if placed in Jesus' hands. Maybe it's personal traits, longings, work of self-effort which, if surrendered, he would be free to transform. What would it look like to trust his sufficiency today?

1st Sunday Contemplation

Read John's version of the story of the feeding of the 5000 (John 6:1-15) and then allow yourself 5 minutes of 'imaginative daydreaming'. Enter into the scene and picture the event unfolding before you. What do you see? What do you hear? What is it like to feel the crowd pressing in around you? What are the tastes, and the scents around you?

Let the story run again and place yourself as a character in the scene. Notice your responses, your thoughts, and how Jesus is speaking to you through this encounter.

What did you picture, and what did you gain?

Day 5: Wind & Waves

Jesus wasn't in the habit of using his power to defy the laws of nature in getting from one place to the other. I wonder about his intention as he makes his way across the water in the pre-dawn storm to re-join his men (Mt 14:22-33). They have fought against the wind and the waves all night. Now, weary and frightened, they think Jesus is a ghost. Peter, bold in faith, steps out of the boat and walks. That is, until he takes his eyes off of Jesus.

Once back safely in the boat, the wind was immediately stilled, which prompted the response by all: "Truly you are the Son of God (Mt 14.33)." The events of these days had been focused on building the disciples' faith. Tomorrow we'll look at why this was necessary.

Day 6: The fickle crowd

Yesterday's crowd is in a different mood the day after the miraculous dinner when they find Jesus back on the other side of the lake. “What miraculous sign will you give that we may see it and believe you (John 6:30)?” What more could they need actually? If only they had been willing, they would have grasped what Jesus was offering--not bread that fills temporarily, even as yesterday’s bread from heaven had, but bread that fully satisfies. “He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty (v.35).” Yet instead of receiving it, this group argues, tripped up by their scepticism. And then they walk away. Read the full meditation

When you are confused or disappointed with God, does your response look more like that of the followers who grumbled and turned away (Jn 6:60) or of Peter who declared: "To whom else would we go? You have the words of eternal life" (Jn 6:68)?

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Day 7: Imperishable

Before the crowd at Capernaum begins to grumble, Jesus shares some amazing words of life with them (John 6:26-40). He knows that the crowd has sought him because of the meal they've received the previous day. But distributing perishable things was not his reason for coming to earth. Jesus ever remains focused on his prime reason for being: to give life to the world. He rewards the thirst for the imperishable--the eternal--with life.

Ask yourself today, Do I come to Jesus because I want to get more from him (the perishable)? Or do I come because I want more of him (the eternal)?

Day 8: Self-perception

It has been a remarkable 24 hours for the Twelve and they sure have lots to consider. So much for their well-deserved retreat after their first missionary endeavour!

self in a mirror

Big accomplishments are often accompanied by big life lessons. Read Luke 10:17-20 today which records Jesus' response to the 72 disciples when they return from their mission. Jesus affirms their joy as they report to him all they have done. But he also warns them to rejoice at the right thing. Rejoicing at what they have accomplished can be dangerous. It's much better to rejoice at what they have been given.

Self-centredness will always trip us up. The journey toward Jerusalem is one of exchanging our "look what I can do!" for a "look what Jesus has done!" Lenten disciplines aid us on this path. They give us a mirror on the path to a healthy self-perception. How are they helping you so far?

Day 9: Purity of heart

A group of Pharisees comes to Galilee from Jerusalem to teach Jesus a thing or two about purity (Mark 7:1). Jesus replies with words from Isaiah: These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away. (Mk 7:7/Is 29:13).

How is your own heart preparation going during this Lenten season? Take a moment today to examine yourself: How do your words line up with your intention, the closeness of your heart with God's heart. (Mk 7:20-23 could also help you in this.) Then breathe in God's grace for your short-comings, knowing that God honors your honest self-reflection.

Day 10: Who is Jesus?

Peter has figured it out: You are the Christ, the long-awaited Messiah, the One who will save Israel. His answer is right on the mark, and he is commended for it. This has been revealed by my Father in heaven. You're a rock, Peter, and I have a great future for you in building my Kingdom, including being vested with power and authority (Mt 16:13-20).

Compliments are nice but they are also tricky, a lesson Peter would soon learn (our passage for tomorrow). Today reflect on these words from Calvin Miller:

"To linger when we are complimented, to make too much of personal affirmations, to study our own cleverness-- all of these can addict us to human praise and steal from us our desire to have more of Christ." (A Hunger for the Holy)

2nd Sunday Contemplation: Rebuke

Jesus tells his disciples that he must suffer and die to fulfil his mission. Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him but he gets a stern rebuke in return. Out of my sight, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.

Whew, a rebuke doesn't get any stronger than that! The 'things of God' for Jesus mean that he needs to walk the path of death. He isn't looking forward to it and he certainly doesn't need his closest friend trying to talk him out of it. It is necessary, so he will do it.

Take some time today to contemplate this whole exchange between Jesus and Peter (Mt 16:13-23). Enter into the emotion of the story, allowing yourself to experience the highs and the lows of the exchange. Reflect upon both men's experience. Sit with the contrasts and contradictions. Close your time by talking with Jesus about it.

Day 11: Cost

From this point on in the story, Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem. From his night of solitude after having fed the 5000, the opposition grows, and it never subsides. Are you tracking with Jesus as he prepares himself for what is to come? Reflect today upon what it cost Jesus to fulfil his Father's plan.

Day 12: Self-denial

On his path of self-denial, Jesus requires like-mindedness from his true friends. "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it (Mt 16:24-25)."

What does losing your life for Christ look like for you today?

week 3

Day 13: Glory

Carl Bloch, Transfiguration

One day on a mountaintop in Galilee, Jesus was revealed in his glory. For a moment in time his clothing became dazzling white, as bright as a flash of lightning (Lk 9:29), and his face shone like the sun (Mt 17:2).

In this remarkable event, known as the Transfiguration, the veil of Jesus' humanity lifted and his deity shone forth, demonstrating to his closest disciples that he is God, and not merely a man.

Years later, Peter reflected back on this moment saying, "We were eyewitnesses of his majesty (2 Peter 1:16)." One day followers of Jesus will also be eyewitnesses of his glory. Spend a few moments today imagining, as well as you are able, what this might be like. How would you like the prospect of this bright future to affect your perspective of your present reality? Close with thanking God for this gift.

Day 14: Affirmation

The Transfiguration scene holds much so we'll linger here for a bit. A cloud descends upon the James, Peter and John and a voice speaks, "This is my beloved Son, and I am fully pleased with him. Listen to him (Mt 17: 5)." Jesus' identity, declared by Peter just a few days earlier, is now declared by the authority of the Father.

"Listen to him!" These words are so important to the disciples, who couldn't comprehend that dying was a necessary part of the plan. It's as if the Father is saying, "This change of tone you're hearing…this talk of death…I want you to know that my Son is not talking nonsense. Open your ears and your minds. Comprehend what he's telling you!" read more…

Take a few minutes in silence today to listen to Jesus. Is there a mystery you need him to speak into? Are you carrying a burden in which you need to hear his voice? Hold this before Jesus...and listen.

Day 15: Moses & Elijah

Transfiguration aux 6 personnages (Macha Chmakoff)

A third element of the Transfiguration scene is the appearance of Moses and Elijah. We know nothing of what was exchanged in their conversation, but the presence of these two particular historical figures speaks volumes. The Old Testament has significant things to say about the coming of Elijah and about a prophet who would be like Moses. The appearance of these men at this crucial time in history proclaims Jesus to be the focus and the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy and hopes.

He is affirmed as the whole point of the story.

Take some time today to worship Jesus as the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the hope of all the earth. (Interested in more? Check out my sermon page on The Transfiguration)

Day 16: Egos

It isn't long before Jesus once again speaks to his friends about the suffering he would endure: "The Son of Man is going to be delivered over to human hands. He will be killed, and after three days he will rise (Mk 9: 30-36)."

"What were you arguing about on the road?" Jesus asks (v.33). Instead of puzzling through what their Master was trying to teach them, they were caught by their egos, and the significance of Jesus' message could have been lost to them that day. So Jesus takes a little child into his arms to bring his lesson home.

How about doing a little heart check to explore how you are responding to Jesus' initiatives in your life? If Jesus were to take a child into his arms in conversation with you today, what lesson might he bring home?

3rd Sunday Contemplation

It is Jesus' greatest miracle to date and John devotes an entire chapter to tell the story. A man who has been blind from birth is healed on the Sabbath, initiating a remarkable exchange of incredulity, unbelief and faith.

I believe!

Take a little time today to read John chapter 9. Then read it a second time, slowly, and stop to ponder just one of the interactions. Take one exchange-one sentence perhaps-and sit with it. Consider its significance. What does it communicate to you? How does it connect with your life? What significance does it speak to you today?

Day 17: Good Shepherd

"I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me…and I lay down my life for the sheep (John 10:14-15)." Jesus' statement stirs up many images: The good shepherd whose sheep trust him to lead them well, contrasted with the thief who needs to deceive them to work his evil intent (John 10:1-10). The Psalm 23 picture of being safe and secure in the good shepherd's care. The Luke 15 story of the shepherd leaving the ninety-nine in search of the one lamb who was lost. Then there is the picture of the shepherd who becomes one of the flock, unblemished, offered up as a sacrifice (Isaiah 53:4-9).

Choose one of these images to reflect upon. Let it meet you where you are today, offering something fresh and current. What does it speak into your life today?

Day 18: One question

It's a fine question that the rich young ruler asks. If we talk about quality questions, you don't get much finer than this, and not many people have asked it of Jesus during his years of ministry.

"What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Asked with urgency: he runs to Jesus, in a culture when rich men do not run. Asked with humility: on his knees, in a posture of worship. A profound exchange ensues, followed by an unhappy ending. But one thing gives me hope for this man. Jesus looked at him and loved him (Mark 10:21).

What question lives deep within you that you would like to bring before Jesus' loving gaze? Which question carries not only urgency but also depth, your essential question, which you can ask with humble awe?


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Day 19: Devotion

demdaco_fatheranddaughter

There was a home in Bethany which provided welcome hospitality for Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. A delicious meal. A pillow for his head. Stories shared amongst good friends. Each time we meet Jesus there, we see Mary at his feet. Devoted. Eating up his words. Catching every nuance. It warmed Jesus' heart to welcome her there at his feet. It satisfied him even more than a well-cooked meal (Luke 10:38-42).

What would it take to carve out a few minutes today to give Jesus your undivided attention? Ken Gire's prayer of devotion might help to usher you there.

Day 20: Grief

The next time we meet Martha and Mary, they are mourning their brother's death (John 11). They had sent word to Jesus when Lazarus was sick, but Jesus has delayed his coming. Both greet him with the words, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!" Is it disappointment that keeps Mary housebound when she hears that Jesus has come? We know that she stays put until Martha relays Jesus' request to speak with her.

Disappointment. Heartbreak. Mary falls at his feet and honestly shares her regret. Then Jesus, deeply moved in spirit and troubled, weeps along with her (John 11:33-35).

What do you do when God seems absent, unresponsive to your calls for help? How does Mary's cry to Jesus connect with you?

Day 21: Glory 2

Jesus' response to Martha's cry about Lazarus' death is profound. “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this (John 11:25-26)?" Martha believes, to the extent that her mind can grasp at the time. "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." "I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God."

As Jesus commands the stone to be rolled away, she objects, "By this time there is a bad odor!" to which Jesus replies, "Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?" Then he proceeds to demonstrate God's glory as he calls Lazarus out of the tomb, four days after he has died.

This is one of the occasions when I wish the gospel narrative said more. What happened next in this remarkable scene?! If you were to write a closure to this scene at the tomb, what would you include? What responses do you envision from Martha, Mary, Lazarus, the disciples? How do you think their understanding may have been deepened that day?

Day 22: Plot

John, a master narrator, builds the tension in his story by focusing on the response of Jesus' opponents. Some who had come in friendship to comfort the sisters tattled to the Pharisees who called a council meeting. They weighed out their strategy, motivated by disbelief, fear and power, and then the high priest threw down the gauntlet with these prophetic words, "You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish."

So the plot is settled and the players are all in place to execute God's sovereign plan (John 11: 45-54).

Sit in prayer with Caiaphas' prophetic words. What is the response of your soul?

4th Sunday Contemplation: Gratitude

Ten men afflicted with leprosy approach Jesus as he heads toward Jerusalem (Luke 17:11-19). He sends them toward the city also, and as they went to show themselves to the priests, they were healed. One came back, praising God, filled with gratitude and exuberance. The others simply went on their way.

Picture the story. The men, afflicted by a horrific debilitating disease. The effect: poverty, dependence, exile. Their call: desperate, spoken from a safe and respectable distance. Their experience of realizing they are healed. The return of the one. Imagine what it was like…for the man…for Jesus. Then place yourself in the scene, aware of what Jesus has done for you. Do you come back in gratitude? Or do you go on your way, obedient to what Jesus has told you to do?

Day 23: Faith

Never give up. That's the message of Jesus' parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8). The judge in the story, though unjust, granted the woman's plea simply because she refused to give up asking. If even an unjust judge responds to persistence in this way, Jesus reasons, how much more can God be counted on to answer his children!

Yet the story ends with a catch. When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on earth? His question implies that faith will be in scarce supply on that day.

How does this parable connect with your story today? What challenge or encouragement does it speak to you?

Day 24: Humility

The time is short and Jesus' teaching moments begin to take a prominent place in the gospel narratives. Today's story (Luke 18:9-14) focuses on humility, the spirit of seeing ourselves as God sees us. The Pharisee was proud of his own righteous acts and counted on them to prove him better than 'lesser' men. The tax collector relied only upon God's mercy to justify him. His prayer, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner' and his heart condition were pleasing to God.

How is your heart condition today? Consider praying the tax collector's prayer throughout the day, allowing it to work within your heart.

"When you give up your illusions of control or helplessness and accept your need for God, all that God has opens to you." Marjorie Thompson

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Day 25: Like a child

Luke records an encounter where Jesus sweetly welcomes little children on his lap while the disciples lite into the children's parents, rebuking them. Jesus' men have a thing with rebuking, I notice. What is that about? Do they think their master is too busy to give his time to little ones? Or too important? Or are they?

child with Jesus

I'm confident that Jesus simply loved holding children, loved locking eyes with them, eyes so open, so real. As usual, he creates a teaching moment. "Do not hinder the children from coming to me, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it (Luke 18:16-17)."

What do Jesus' words communicate to you today?

Day 26: Bartimaeus

It is Jesus' last miracle on his way toward Jerusalem as heals blind Bartimaeus along the roadside in Jericho (Mark 10:46-52). Bartimaeus shows remarkable boldness and faith as he refuses to be deterred by the ridicule of the crowd. "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stops, calls him to him, and asks him what he wants him to do for him. "Rabbi, I want to see!" His faith is commended and his request is granted, and Bartimaeus joins the crowd in giving praise to God as they head toward Jerusalem. Read the full meditation

The story begs the question: What do you want Jesus to do for you? In your heart of hearts, what is your deepest desire? Would you be so bold as to bring your request to Jesus and ask him to meet you in it?

Day 27: Zacchaeus

Another life is transformed as Jesus passes through Jericho. This man is scorned, not because of an impairment, but because of his vocation. Tax collecting breathes deceit and extortion. Zacchaeus' fine house and clothes have been bought at the expense of the ordinary man who barely ekes out a living.

Too short to see over the crowd, Zacchaeus climbs a tree to satisfy his curiosity about Jesus. Before the afternoon is past, his curiosity becomes his houseguest, his fortune is diminished, and his world is forever changed.

"Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost (Lk 19:9-10)." In one moment of exuberant response, Zacchaeus is absolved from his deceitful lifestyle and commended for living out his faith. Jesus' response is surely accompanied by smiles, laughter and deep joy. For this he has come to earth. For this he is going to his death. To seek and to save those who were lost.

Take a few moments to imagine the scene. Focus in on Zacchaeus and the inner response to Jesus which so transforms his life. Then focus in on Jesus and his response--first his response to Zacchaeus and then his response to you. What do you see, hear and receive? And how do you desire to respond?

Day 28: Anointing

 mary at jesus feet

Jesus visits Bethany just before he makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, for Mary, Martha and Lazarus are welcome companions at this important moment. Mary's devotion overflows. Pure nard, an expensively fragrant oil with an intense and earthly aroma, fills the room as Mary pours it over Jesus' feet and wipes it with her hair. It is an intimate act of tremendous devotion.

Judas views this as terribly wasteful and seals his decision to betray the Lord. Jesus commends Mary for it. "Leave her alone. Ït was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me (John 12:7-8)."

'For the day of my burial.' Mary's act of devotion was bestowed early but wash perfectly timed. Ken Gire captures the significance in his poignant poem Broken Vases.

5th Sunday contemplation: Jubilation

palm branch

People are gathering from all over Israel for the Feast of Unleavened Bread. From the west they follow the river valleys. From north and south they walk the road along the mountain ridge. From the Jordan region, they climb the steep mountain incline.

As they draw near to Jerusalem, the word spreads through the crowd. "Bethany, that's the home of Lazarus whom Jesus of Nazareth raised from the dead!" Jesus and his followers join the masses on the road (Luke 19:28-40). The word passes through the crowd, "Jesus is here! He's just up ahead." Curiosity turns to excitement which crescendos into jubilation. "Hosanna! Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"

The Pharisees demand a rebuke. Yet Jesus, ever humble but overflowing with joy, declares, "If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."

It is just as it needed to be. Death waits just around the corner, but this is a moment of joyful celebration.

Picture the scene unfolding before you and add your voice of praise today to that of the jubilant crowd.

Day 29: Lament

Temple Mount from the Teardrop Church

Jesus pauses in the midst of the jubilation, gazes over Jerusalem, and weeps. "Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing (Luke 13:34)."

"If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace-but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come on you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you (Luke 19:41-44). "

Jesus knows that by the end of the week the crowd will change her tone and cry out for his execution. He knows that before 40 years have passed, his lament will become reality. The Jewish temple, renowned throughout the world for its beauty, will be destroyed. His people will be scattered and the temple mount laid bare until Islam claims it for its own place of worship.

Therefore Jesus pauses amidst the jubilation and laments. How does Jesus' lament over Jerusalem touch you today?

Day 30: Contradictions

"The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified (John 12:23)." The statement oozes contradiction given the shameful manner in which Jesus will die. With a troubled soul and the very human struggle to be relinquished from the task ahead, Jesus affirms that dying is the very reason he has come to this hour. Through this the Father will be glorified (v.27).

A seed dies before it can be multiplied. Another contradiction. (John 12:23-33 is full of them.)
Love your life and you'll lose it.
Die to self and you'll be honoured.
Lift Jesus up in death an he'll draw all people to himself.

Bring one of these contradictions into God's presence today. Give space in your soul for its mystery, and listen for how it speaks into your life.

week 6

Day 31: Light

It's the final subject of his public teaching ministry recorded in John's gospel. "I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness (John 12:46)." "Put your trust in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light (John 12:36)."

When light shines, darkness flees. How is light (or darkness) at work in your life these days? In your world? Is there an invitation for you in these words of Jesus?

Day 32: Servanthood

footwashing

It is Jesus' final meal. The lessons imparted will be seared forever into the minds of his men. The meal is already in progress and no one has been humble enough to do the foot-washing duty. So Jesus does it himself, stooping down twelve times, painstakingly rinsing the travel dirt from between toes, and drying the calloused walking feet with a towel.

"Very truly I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them (John 13:16-17)."

The disciples had a rough weekend ahead but they emerged from it as humble servants, ready to stoop at the feet of those they would lead. Take a few minutes to talk with Jesus about his example and exhortation. What prayer does he author in your heart as you sit with him?

Day 33: Given for you

Jesus celebrates the paschal (Passover) meal with his disciples a day early for the next day, as the rest of the pilgrims will be heading to and from the temple with their paschal lambs, Jesus will be dying at Golgotha, the once-and-for-all Sacrifice that is sufficient to atone for Sin.

He takes the unleavened bread, gives thanks, breaks it and passes it around the table. "This is my body given for you (Lk 22:19)." He takes the ceremonial cup, the Cup of Redemption, and pours significance into it. "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you." (Read more on the significance of the Passover meal they celebrated that night.)

Sit with the mystery of the sufficiency of Jesus' sacrifice. His body, broken for you. His blood, shed for you. Respond to him from your heart.

Day 34: Loneliness

Death carves a path which we all must walk essentially alone. This reality pierces the intimacy of the Upper Room that night.

Jesus has just shown his friends 'the full extent of his love' by humbly washing their feet (John 13:1) when the weight of the loneliness begins to settle in. "He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me (v.18)." "One of you is going to betray me (v. 21)." "Will you really lay down your life for me, Peter? Before the cock crows you will disown me three times (v.38)." Betrayal. Denial. His band of brothers scattered in his hour of greatest need.

Sit with this scene long enough to feel the loneliness. If this calls forth pain of your own--of betrayal, denial, abandonment, rejection--bring these into Jesus' compassionate presence. The man of sorrows who is familiar with suffering (Isaiah 53:3) desires to be present with you in your pain.

6th Sunday Contemplation: Farewell dinner

Farewell dinner (6th Sunday Contemplation): Luke tells a very compact story of the farewell dinner Jesus has planned for himself. In just a few verses (Luke 22:24-38) we read about the disciples' dispute over who is the greatest, Jesus' correction, the promise of his kingdom, his prediction of Peter's denial, and the dark night and day that lie ahead.

Take some time today to sit with this story. Read it slowly, perhaps out loud. Use your imagination to picture the scene as the 'dinner party' progresses. Engage your emotions-with Judas, Peter and the other disciples, with Jesus, with yourself. Place yourself around that table. What would you like to say to Jesus? Open yourself to his response to you.

Day 35: Comfort

"Do not let your hearts be troubled (John 14:1)." These words are spoken by one who was well acquainted with a troubled heart. Just recently Jesus has said in public, "Now my heart is troubled and what shall I say, 'Father, save me from this hour?' (John 12:27)" Later on this night he will sweat blood as he wrestles to choose obedience, to follow through with what needs to be done to see the Father's plan through.

But Jesus also knows what to do with a troubled heart. Draw close to the Father, and find comfort in the Holy Spirit who lives within. So he says, "You know him, for he lives with you and will be in you (14:17)." And then he blesses them with peace. "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (14:27)."

Is your heart troubled? Does peace evade you? Draw close to the Father and find comfort in the Comforter. For it's in that place where Jesus' peace flows like a river.

Day 36: Connection

Jesus imparts what is on his heart for his disciples that final evening. He is soon going to depart, but they are to remain in him. It is in this 'remaining' that they will lead fruitful lives (John 15:1-8). The word 'remain' seems a little flat to me. The older word 'abide' captures it better. Peterson's The Message captures the meaning brilliantly: "Make your home in me just as I do in you. When you're joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant (v.4-5)." [In Dutch, the Willibrordvertaling has my preference: "Laten we met elkaar verbonden blijven" is so much richer than simply "Blijf in mij"; "let's stay connected with each other" vs "remain in me".]

Intimate and organic connection is sure to bring glory to God. The harvest is produced naturally, and is never forced. It is yielded out of connection with the Vine which provides all the needed resources.

What keeps your connection with Jesus intimate and organic? What hinders it? How could you abide a little more closely during this Holy Week?

week 1

Day 37: Gethsemane

statue, Jesus in Gethsemane

The olive grove called Gethsemane is located just across the valley from the temple. It is a familiar spot for Jesus and his disciples, offered likely by the owner as a place of rest and prayer away from the bustle of the city.

Jesus has headed toward Jerusalem, toward this night, in unswerving obedience to the Father: "I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me (John 14:30-31)." Even so, much wrestling lies before him in the olive grove this night. Torture and a shameful, gruesome death are but hours away, and Jesus' will must be mastered in the face of the fear.

Ponder today the choice for obedience that Jesus made. Stand still with what he said about his motivation, how he was moved forward out of love for the Father. Then express your gratitude for what he was willing to endure for us, for you.

Day 38: Mock Trials

king's crowns

Bound in the darkness, Jesus is ushered back across the Kidron Valley to face his accusers. The decision on his execution has already been made and it was pure convenience that Judas has expedited their plan. Under the cover of darkness, away from the crowds, they have Jesus right where they want him. A few well-played tactics and the job will be done.

Meanwhile Jesus knows better than they what all is at stake. Caiaphas has said it already, unaware that his words were prophetic. "You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish (John 11:50)." Several horrific hours of abuse and torture lay before Jesus and then his work will be finished. Salvation for the world purchased at the price of his innocent blood.

Read one of the gospel accounts of Jesus' arrest and trials before today is done. How do you respond to his submission in the hands of his accusers? To his calm under intense pressure? To his willingness to endure all of this for you?

Day 39: Sacrifice

The pilgrims who have come to Jerusalem for the Passover know the ritual well:
  • Head up to the temple with their unblemished lamb to offer it before the Lord.
  • Slit the lamb's throat proclaiming, "It is finished" and offer the blood at the altar.
  • Head back to the family to provide the meat for the evening meal.

Back and forth they go. Some pass by a hill called Golgotha where another sacrifice is being offered. One Sacrifice, sufficient for all (Hebrews 10:8-10). At noon an eerie darkness stretches over the sky, providing a backdrop for the events of the afternoon:

  • At 3 o'clock at Golgotha another "It is finished!" is proclaimed.
  • At the temple those serving inside hurry outside with the news, "The curtain has been torn from top to bottom!"
  • In the cemetery across the Kidron Valley, graves open up as the earth trembles.
  • The Roman centurion on guard at the execution site remarks, "Surely he was the Son of God! (Mt 27:54)"

Picture the scene and feel its wonder. What is your honest response to the happenings of this day?

Day 40: The day between

Grief. Numbness. Disbelief. Shame. Sorrow. Explore these emotions, each one experienced quite acutely by Jesus' followers on this day.

You may want to reflect today on what you have gained from the past 40 days. If you have fasted, what has the discipline offered you in return? Have you walked a little closer to Jesus because you have journeyed with him along the road toward Jerusalem? Turn your reflection into thanksgiving as you anticipate his Resurrection Day.

Easter Day: Because He is Risen
A poem by Gerard Kelly

Because he is risen
Spring is possible
In all the cold hard places
Gripped by winter
And freedom jumps the queue
To take fear's place
as our focus
Because he is risen

Because he is risen
My future is an epic novel
Where once it was a mere short story
My contract on life is renewed
in perpetuity
My options are open-ended
My travel plans are cosmic
Because he is risen

Because he is risen
Healing is on order and assured
And every disability will bow
Before the endless dance of his ability
And my grave too will open
When my life is restored
For this frail and fragile body
Will not be the final word
on my condition
Because he is risen

Published in Spoken Worship



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